What Binge Eaters Do When They Crave

By Joan Kent, PhD

Not every binge eater has binge-eating disorder (BED). But even those who binge less frequently than people with BED, or on less food, may struggle to control their eating.

That can be especially true when holiday treats — and holiday stresses — are all around us.

My PhD research was on women with BED. Before that, I ran a class for women who didn’t have BED but still binged periodically. They were longing to change their eating behaviors. The class was called Food & Eating Recovery.

This post is on how binge eaters handle cravings.

Binges and Cravings Were Familiar To Me

If you’ve read my book Stronger Than Sugar — or if you read my articles regularly — you already know that I’m a recovered sugar addict. In the bad old days, I did plenty of sugar-triggered bingeing.

I’ve also resisted many cravings. They showed up frequently. I wanted sugar almost all the time back then, but was able to resist most of the cravings for most of the day. (But not all days.) No doubt that helped me limit the number of my binges.

My dissertation included lots of evidence that eating sugar triggers binges. That was certainly true for the group that did not eliminate sugar during the 8 weeks of the study.

What I Learned Was New To Me

When the topic of cravings came up in the F&E Recovery class, we talked about resisting cravings. I figured everyone would relate to that behavior because they’d done it, too.

Was I wrong!

Most of the women in the class looked at me as if I were speaking Klingon. So eating behaviors were different in this group of binge eaters.

Instead, the notion of ignoring a craving seemed to be foreign to them. When they craved a specific food, they ate it — or as close as they could get to it at the time.

Did That Affect Their Weight and Health?

It did. As you might imagine, the women in the F&E Recovery class who gave in to all their cravings were more likely to be overweight. In many cases, they were obese and had metabolic conditions or other health issues.

As my PhD research showed, sugar has a lot to do with both weight and health.

Regarding weight, the vast majority of cravings were for sugary foods. The sugary foods the women ate when they craved sugar were typically also high in fat.

Why? Studies of “sweetness ratings” show that fat makes sugar taste sweeter. That may be one reason that a craving for sugar will lead to ice cream or brownies, rather than a roll of Lifesavers.

Of course, the fat added extra calories. But that wasn’t all.

Besides the calories, sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical — endorphin — that increases appetite. So giving in to a craving was likely to result in a high-calorie episode for the participants.

Sometimes — and for some of the women, often — it was a full-fledged binge.

Because sugar’s so addictive, many women in the F&E Recovery class were hooked on it. When they tried to go without it, they’d have more cravings. And, not surprisingly, more sugar, more fat and/or more binges.

What’s the Best Way To Handle Cravings?

If you’re tough enough to resist, you might try doing that — as often and for as much of the day as you can. It can help with weight control and health.

But that may not work for you. I’ve previously posted an effective, short-term solution for cravings: a teaspoon of liquid B-complex. (Please check with your doctor before trying this.)

For a long-term solution to cravings — in other words, eliminating your cravings completely — a change in diet is probably the only real answer.

If you’re looking to make changes in your diet or your eating behaviors, I can help you make that easy. Just visit www.FoodAddictionSolutions.com/Coaching and request your free Eating Empowerment call. Find out how simple it can be — and how great you can feel — once you’re free of cravings and completely in control of your food and eating.