8 ways your body reacts to a binge

Published: May 29, 2016


We’ve all had those days when the entire bowl of gulab jaamun just went missing — all while you noshed on them while watching your favourite episode of Game of Thrones. It feels amazing at first but it’s only a matter of time till you feel like you’ve abused your tummy and other systems! As compiled from Reader’s Digest magazine, discover the silent stress compulsive eating puts on your body, and do away with this gross habit once and for all.

The pancreas goes into overdrive

Have you noticed that we tend to never ever binge on healthy foods? Most people, in fact, binge on sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as foods made with white flour. In response to a quick intake of too much of these foods, the pancreas pumps insulin into the body, trying to counteract and manage the extra sugar suddenly present in the blood stream. This internally exhausts your body without you knowing it. Now you know why you feel sluggish and sleepy post binge-ing!

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Dopamine, the brain’s ‘pleasure hormone,’ gushes

“Whereas eating a healthy, balanced meal might release a moderate amount of dopamine,” says Denise Wilfley, Scott Rudolph University professor at Washington University in S. Louis and National Eating Disorders Association representative, “eating high-fat, high-sugar foods, like a pint of ice cream, might lead to a release of extremely high levels of dopamine.” If you binge again and again, the brain needs more dopamine to reach the same level of pleasure. It could take more food, or different types of food, to trigger that “feel good” sensation in the future.

You release adrenaline and cortisol

Did you know that the physical stress of binging stimulates these stress hormones? As the body feels various hormones surging, it strives for homeostasis, or balance, says Dr Wilfley. You might briefly feel the “rush,” marked by increased heart rate or sweating. This is followed by the “crash,” marked by lethargy, increased irritability, and sluggishness as glucose levels drop drastically. This could leave you irritable and cranky — the last thing you need is getting annoyed by your kids after a long day at work.

The brain “checks out”

“Mindful eating and binging can’t occur at the same time,” says Kari Anderson, executive director for the Women’s Centre for Binge and Emotional Eating. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, people used binge eating as a means of escape from self-awareness. “It’s really quite protective,” says Anderson. “In order [for the body] to even tolerate it, there’s a shift in mental state.” Make sure to always start with healthy proteins and salads before you dive into the chocolate cake sitting in the fridge.

Immune system takes a dive

Another shock to add to your worries — research has proved that overeating is a traumatic experience for your organs. As the body swings between high levels of glucose and insulin, immune function can dip for up to 24 hours after a binging episode, notes Dr Wilfley. If you don’t want to fall sick and maintain excellent health, you must give up this insalubrious habit.

You can’t tell if you’re really hungry

Ghrelin is the hormone that increases appetite, signalling that it’s time for a snack or meal. Leptin decreases appetite, telling us when we’re full. Studies show that chronic binge eaters actually have lower levels of ghrelin and trouble responding to both hormones overall — in other words, if binging is happening on a regular basis, it just becomes really hard to determine when you’re hungry or satiated. That means you might just be eating out of boredom and not because you’re hungry — recipe for weight gain anyone?

You might wake up more often

Do you wake up in the middle of the night for no reason at all? Do you never sleep soundly? Binging can make it difficult to rest effectively, according to Dr Wilfley. You might have trouble falling asleep and may wake up during the night out of discomfort, thirst, or acid reflux. Chronic acid reflux, or GERD, is common in people who binge-eat over a long period of time. These are silent signs of reflux you might ignore.

Afterthought: Then why do we binge?

“Binges are set up by your brain,” says Elyse Resch, a registered dietitian and co-author of the book Intuitive Eating. According to Resch, food binges are likely caused from food restriction or as a rebound from dieting deprivation. Binging to the point of discomfort more than once a week for over three months could signal a condition. In 2013, the American Psychological Association diagnosed Binge Eating Disorder (BED) as an official eating disorder that afflicts countless men and women globally. If you think you might have BED, talk to your doctor about helpful resources.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2016.

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