Anxiety, Anger, Making a Mistake or Hunger—What Are Your Biggest Binge Triggers?

What makes YOU want to eat? Book Club [previous posts]

One of my favorite parts of Cynthia Bulik’s book, Crave, is Chapter 4 where she explains the “eating profiles” she’s discovered over the years and tries to help people figure out which one they fit into.

Of course the reasons why we binge eat are complex, and can change over our lives, but what Dr. Bulik managed to do was really nail down some of the main emotions that typically trigger people to binge. She has 10 different types in her book, but I’ve quickly outlined four of them here that really resonated with me.

Which one (or more!) of these sounds most like you?
1. The Angry Binger
This is the type of person who might have a string of angry or resentful thoughts going through their head, but perhaps doesn’t know how (or doesn’t think it’s OK) to express them. So they eat to stuff them down and relieve them.

2. The Low Self-Esteem Binger
The motto for this type might go something like this, Dr. Bulik writes: “I already suck, so I may as well make myself feel worse.” Your brain is hurling insults your way when you mess up at work or go shopping and nothing fits and food seems to be the only thing that will make you feel better in that moment.

3. The Nail-Biting Binger
Anxiety! Ahhhh! You’re stressed, you’re panicked, you’re freaked out. It feels like things are piling up and about to bury you…and food calms you down.

4. The Running-on-Empty Binger
This is where those of us who yo-yo-dieted or binge and restrict might fit in best. You try to go for hours without food—or for days and weeks without your favorite foods—then eventually break down and inhale the contents of your entire refrigerator.

Like I said, at some point in my life, I have fit into all of the above. These days, I find that anxiety is usually what triggers thoughts of food. When I feel anxious, I know I’m at risk—and most times I take the actions necessary to process and relieve that emotion the healthy way: Telling my husband about it just to get it out of my own brain; doing a short meditation; going for a jog or doing Pilates; journaling; or, if it’s an unfinished task that’s making me anxious, sitting down and starting to tackle it.

What are your biggest binge triggers? And how do you fight them?

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21 Responses to Anxiety, Anger, Making a Mistake or Hunger—What Are Your Biggest Binge Triggers?

  1. CC says:

    I love the book club idea- just a little late in getting my own copy. Gotta order it from another library to come to mine!

    Anyway, the profiles mentioned basically all fit me. Someone criticized me at work? I must be the worst person in the world- binge on sweets. I have a deadline looming and I’m afraid my work isn’t good enough quality? I must be woefully stupid- binge on anything. I go clothes shopping and nothing fits right? I must be destined to forever be fat and lumpy in this body- binge until I gain 5 more pounds.

    It’s really hard to break out of this… I’ve gone through “good” years when I’m close to my happy weight and deal with stress/emotion by exercising and talking with friends. I’ve also gone through “bad” years when my weight has ballooned up, exercise doesn’t seem to help, and I’m ashamed to let other people in.

    This is a “bad” year and I’ve gone into treatment, but the weight isn’t coming off and it is such hard work in therapy:(

    Sites like this help though. Thanks for the wonderful posts! I look forward to reading them.

  2. Olivia says:

    I recently read a self-help book about binge-eating, and the author (I forget her name :s all I remember is that she’s a psychologist in California who specialises in eating disorders and has recovered from one herself) said that in the vast majority of cases, one of four emotions triggered binges: Anger, Anxiety/Stress, Fear and Embarassment. I have to fully agree with her, and it really helped me to pinpont what brought on particular binges. After I’ve binged and can’t figure out why, I ask myself if something has happened to trigger any of those four emotions, and so far, the answer has always been yes. It’s been an extremely helpful exercise to get to know myself & my patterns.

    • runboti says:

      Could you remember the title of the book? I would be interested in reading it.


      • Olivia says:

        After some searching in my library’s online catalogue, I found both the name of the book and the author: Losing Your Pounds of Pain by Doreen Virtue.
        Honestly, I prefer Geneen Roth’s books on the subject, because Virtue’s book focuses more on abuse that binge-eaters have suffered from in their childhood.. And she sometimes goes on to describe pretty graphically the abuse that some of her clients have suffered from and how it affected their eating. It’s not a book for everyone, but I found that there was some very interesting parts.. (I have not been abused, but there are also cases about indirect abuse, such as having parents who neglect you, or with anger issues or alcohol/drug problems, which I can definitely relate to)

        & Apparently, her book ‘The Yo-Yo Diet Syndrome’ is very good as well.
        Hope that helped :)

  3. Kate says:

    While on the diet I was a low self esteem eater (basically I would eat so much to punish myself for any perceived faults) or while in grad school I was an anxious eater. The angry eater part in this chapter didn’t click with me until I read a section on binging from this old book on eating disorders I checked out from the library (Eating Disorders: When Food Turns Against you by Ben Sonder.)

    In the description of angry eating, Sonder says if a child, while learning to assert themselves, meets with a harsh reaction from parents that part of development is stunted. OR if a child spends a lot of time with an angry (or violent) family member (in my case, my dad) anger is seen as an emotional state to be avoided-and the child tries to be nice, agreeable, and pleasant.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m not assertive at all. My inability to assert myself drives my husband batty, but its such a habit-being this nice, agreeable Kate-that I don’t know how to assert myself appropriately.

    • Kasain says:

      I completely know what you’re talking about! My total inability to be even somewhat less than agreeable or pacifying drives me crazy sometimes when I’m just getting pushed around because I just can’t bring myself to cause strife even for an obviously good reason. I think that might have a lot to do with my binge eating, at least I have control over it and it’s not harming anybody else right? But apparently it is, I know I’m not the most emotionally stable at those times, and I know it has a negative effect on the people around me. Thanks for helping me link those together >_< it helps to know the causes so I can better prevent their effects.

  4. Angie says:

    Hi - I am definitely ‘The Nail-Biting Binger.’ The other categories/descriptions fit, but it’s the stress that sends me into a panic and I seek refuge in food. It’s crazy because I just feel terrible after and worry that I won’t be able to stop binging.

    I wish I had good advice about how to avoid a binge. I know that some days I say ‘I might binge later, but not right now.’ Other times I go for a walk, drink some water, or try to find some quiet for meditation/journal writing. These things all help. The bottom line is that I do not always do enough to work my way out of a binge. Instead of choosing healthy, healing behaviors, I plunge into the food and then just feel terrible / act terrible due to guilt. OK - that’s all for now - A

  5. Trish says:

    I’m definitely a combination of the Nail Biting Binger and the Running on Empty Binger…If I’m home and just stressed with how much work I have to do, I’m the nailbiter who RAIDS my cabinets without even realizing it. If I’m at school and running around all day, I often completely forget to eat…then when I get home, and sit down on the couch for a hot second, I realize how hungry I am and end up bingeing. The only thing that has really helped me is to pack lunches and prepare meals in advance so that when I’m running around, I don’t forget because I have lunch and snacks right there with me. Also, if I’m home and stressed and eyeing up my cabinets, I GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! I’ll go to the gym for 30mins, or take my homework and go over to Starbucks and a grab a tea and fruit salad. It works wonders for me!

  6. Veronica says:

    I have been all at some point but the one that always seems to be around is “The Low Self-Esteem Binger.” I have really low self-esteem and it really sucks. People don’t make any better when they say that the person I am right now is not good enough. Like, I’ve had once person tell me that my shy personality is not good. Hearing something like that is a blow to my already low self-esteem. Stuff like that makes me just want to eat and eat until whatever I am feeling goes away.

  7. thefrenchie says:

    I relate to most of these though today i just finished an essay i’ve been writing for 4days and i had to give it back today at lawschool and when i went to print it up my computer crashed down. I was so sad,desperate, annoyed whatever and i knew i was about to binge so i told myself to resist the urge since that would only make the whole situation worst..Eventually i cave in and went groceries-binge shopping.And now i’m even more miserable.So i guess today i was the angry binger..

  8. Heather says:

    I am big on all 4, but the anger binge is usually my strongest. I spent the last 2 years in a constant state of anger. I got screwed over by a business partner and ended what I thought was going to be a relationship with ‘the one’. Whenever I think about either of these people or happen to see them or hear about them, my immediate reaction is to eat. Crunchy foods are big for anger binges. Chips work wonders…but so does deep friend anything. It’s insane. Part of me wishes I could just confront both of them and throw all of my anger in their faces. I hate that they are living their lives comfortably…one of whom is $50 000 richer because I had to buy out his lying-con artist ass (which I found out post buyout) and the other is living with the wife he told me he was separate from. I’ve tried writing it down, but it just makes me angrier to see it all in black and white. I’ve decided that the only viable revenge to get is to become uber successful in my business such that $50K seems like small change, and to be in a happy and healthy relationship. Unfortunately, these things both take time and energy and crunching on things is a lot easier. I recently bought a punching bag and am getting it installed in my garage…thought being that I can punch my way out of a binge and pretend it is both of them with every hit. The only other thing that I have been working on is an attempt to replace the crunch factor with better binge foods…veggies and dry cereal.

    It baffles me that on some level, my brain thinks that I am punishing other people by hurting myself. Seriously? It makes no sense at all. First of all, they don’t care. Secondly, every chip I eat (and by ‘chip’, I of course mean ‘bag of chips’) I am letting them win…again.

    What’s weird is that guy I mentioned on here a while back…the one who I decided not to be crazy around…turns out, he gained 70 pounds as a result of a bad relationship and eventual break up and has spent 2 years losing it again…so he actually gets my headspace when it comes to food and is really good about it. When I get stressed or rage-filled about something, we go out for a normal dinner or to the movies or just out for a drink. I’m glad that I told him.

  9. lailai says:

    i think i pretty much cover everything. For me though, after ive binged the night before, i’m too full to have breakfast, so i skip it and that’s how i end up at #4, the other’s happen periodically

  10. Victoria says:

    I really identify with you guys! I have binged for so many different reasons. Generally I start binging because I’ve been hungry from over-restricting, and, when I first realise I’ve broken my “good” period, I think that, since I’ve stuffed up now, I might as well stuff up properly and then get back to being “good”. But what happens is that I wake up the next morning feeling down, and I eat to make myself feel better. As the days go by (my binges normally last a few days now), I progressively become angry, depressed, emotional, sad, and overwhelmed, and for each of these feelings I eat more, until the point that I wake up, spend a few hours feeling disgusted with myself, then promise to go on a diet and instantly feel much better.

    At the moment, I’m working on stopping the restrictive dieting in the hopes that this will ease the binges. I’m trying not to let myself get too hungry. I’m also trying to find new ways of dealing with my emotions, because food really isn’t working very well!

  11. Victoria says:

    Totally forgot to say, I also think I binge because it’s one of the few “nice” things I do for myself. I spend so much time beating myself up that binging is one of the only times where I let myself go and don’t criticise myself . Everything else I do frequently has a level of self-criticism: when I exercise I am annoyed at myself for being so unfit, when I get my hair cut I look in the mirror and beat myself up for not looking like a super-model, when I spend time with friends, I think about how much my weight has changed since they last saw me!! So I guess that, for me, part of overcoming binging will be finding much nicer, more productive ways to be kind to myself.

    • Jennifer says:

      Victoria, I read your post and it’s like a mirror image to me. I avoid seeing friends because I have said to myself “the next time I see them, I will be slimmer” and when I’m not, I beat myself up and when I do this, I binge and binge some more. Or I binge eat because “it’s one of the few nice things that I do for myself”. and then I feel guilty about it and binge some more. I used to do more active things but now that I have gained so much weight, I feel unheatlhy, or like when Im out walking, that people are staring at me that all I realy want to do is turn around and get back in teh safety and comfort of my home. I know that there is strength in numbers and that together we can accompolish almost anything. Im glad I found this site. I have faith that we can all get through this together and help one another.

      • Lisa says:

        What about loneliness? I think that’s why I’m on this 2 week binge or binge-fighting streak. Broke up with boyfriend two months ago. Right decision, but what a giant void is left there now!

  12. […] happens, I can feel quite queasy and unsettled. Those feelings of anxiousness have been a big binge trigger throughout my life. Like many of you, I used mounds of food to numb them and “deal” the best way I knew […]

  13. Lisa says:

    It feels odd cuz I don’t feel I relate that much to those 4 categories. I think the stress/anxiety one. Eating or munching will calm me down and give me a sense of control, even help make a difficult work task, for example, easier to face, with my “friend” right next to me.

    But right now, I think I’m having a difficult binge-period because of loneliness. I had a break up a couple months ago, and although life is better in many ways, the loss left a giant void inside me.

    I’ll never forget- a therapist of mine once said, when you fill empty inside, you fill yourself with food. (And the flipside was the desire to purge emotion-so purge literallyl.) But the first half has definitely been true with major losses in my life.

    Anyway, I know it’s a step to identify what makes us binge-but it seems while I can say, X or Y is the trigger, it doesn’t make it easier to stop it. Maybe I just don’t know what to do next.

    Regardles, I’m new, and this site is AWESOME!

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.