Despite how you feel after an unhealthy binge, your body copes with it better than you think.
We all know food is part of our survival. It provides us with those much-needed nutrients to optimize our ability to function. Too often are our intentions good when it comes to wanting to and actually eating healthy. The first few days we feel great about making that change and that gives us confidence to keep going. But life gets in the way. Whether it be the stress of a job, relationship, family, societal issues, or personal problems, we often abandon that mentality we had at the beginning of the week and turn to our vices, one being comfort food. While comfort food can be exactly what we crave in that moment, it can lead to an unfortunate binge keeping us from achieving our weight loss or gym goals and putting us in a self-loathing pit of guilt.
But the body is better at adapting to these binge days than we may think. So, while we feel terrible that next day, or even two days, our mind is not matching what our body is doing. It is important to note that this isn’t a license to overeat, for continuous and frequent overeating can be detrimental to your training and overall health. But the occasional binge during a holiday or a special occasion is okay. Maintaining a healthy diet and solid workout routine provides some flexibility for the occasional binge without totally destroying all of your gains. But again, the keyword there is some.
Why A Binge Occurs
Binge eating occurs for a number of reasons. Dieting, believe it or not, is considered a gateway to binge eating. An unhealthy diet, or one not properly done, can lead to skipping meals or not eating enough during the day (1). With this, your chances of binge eating increases significantly because once hunger strikes, you are most likely not going for a head of lettuce. That first stop is the snack drawer to see what salty, sugary, high carb foods hide inside. While people diet for any number of reasons, the main one is for weight loss. It is important to not get stuck in the vicious loop of negative body image (2). With continued workouts in the gym, you may be burning a large amount of calories and won’t need to deprive yourself of your favorite foods.
Stress is something all of us suffer with. The stress of succeeding, of perfection, and of achieving that desired toned physique in the gym are just a few examples of countless things that stress us out. When stress strikes, one of our unfortunate coping mechanisms is called “emotional eating”. This can turn into a binge quickly (3) and ultimately lead to a period of depression. From depression, that leads to a negative body image, which leads to us committing to a diet, where unfortunately the risk of binge eating is high, and the cycle continues all over again.
How It Affects The Body
Binge eating causes your stomach to stretch and the hormone leptin is released, which is your body starting to tell you that you’re full. Your insulin levels spike with the uptake of glucose and your blood pressure increases (4) as a result of glucose moving into the blood stream. After the initial binge, you may feel insanely full, or even nauseous, and sleeping can be quite difficult as a result of post-binge discomfort.
How It Affects The Mind
The idea to indulge in a binge usually starts with the mind. To use dieting as an example, if you are too low on calories, the mind starts to crave food which elicits a response to find food your body is missing. Other mental health factors like guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, and depression (5) all play into the decision to indulge in an occasional binge. Sometimes it can be boredom, but it can also simply be a holiday where the host has prepared an illustrious feast and you decide today is your day. When you start, both dopamine and serotonin are released (6) and offer you a sensation of pleasure until the meal is finished. Once they begin to come down, you start to feel the negative effects of the binge.
The Body’s Resilience
With all of this said, it is important to know that this occasional binge will not totally knock you off the gain train. While you may feel like it did, your body is much better at handling this occasional gluttonous event than you may think. In the short-term, you will find that no significant increase in fat mass or overall weight occurs (7). For the occasional binge, your body deals with it by using additional carbohydrates and shifting your metabolism to use the excess carbs. Moreover, your blood sugar levels and insulin production remain unchanged (8). Much of this is dependent on an already healthy lifestyle with a good dietary plan and solid workout routine already in place. Don’t beat yourself up for enjoying the holidays too much and trust that your routine and your body can handle it.
We all love to eat. Some of us love to cook and create amazing dishes while others of us simply like to eat and enjoy those amazing dishes. Sometimes that love of eating takes over and we end up indulging in the occasional binge. Whether a result of stress, poor diet control, or simply a fun night out that ends in a quick binge, it can make us feel down about ourselves for potentially putting all of that hard work in the gym at risk. But it is important to know your body can handle the occasional binge fairly well and can bounce back from the gluttonous endeavor. It is crucial to have a good diet and workout plan already in place to keep your body moving at its optimum capacity, but if that occasional binge does strike, know your body is resilient enough to handle it.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Foulds Mathes, Wendy; Brownley, Kimberly A.; Mo, Xiaofei; Bulik, Cynthia M. (2009). “The Biology of Binge Eating”. (source)
- Duarte, Cristiana; Pinto-Gouveia, Jose; Ferreira, Claudia (2014). “Escaping from body image shame and harsh self-criticism: exploration of underlying mechanisms of binge eating”. (source)
- Harvard Mental Health Letter (2012). “Why stress causes people to overeat”. (source)
- Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2015). “Mechanisms that link compulsive binge eating with hypertension identified”. (source)
- Ely, Alice V.; Cusack, Anne (2015). “The Binge and the Brain”. (source)
- Volkow, Nora D.; Wang, Gene-Jack; Baler, Ruben D. (2011). “Reward, dopamine and the control of food intake: implications for obesity”. (source)
- Hengist, Aaron; Edinburgh, Robert M.; Davies, Russell G.; Walhin, Jean Philippe (2020). “Physiological responses to maximal eating in men.” (source)
- Hengist, Aaron; Betts, James; Edinburgh, Rob (2020). “Here’s how to body reacts to one-off overeating-new research”. (source)