Binge eating refers to eating 5,000 – 15,000 calories in one sitting. Stress and negative feelings often precede a binge eating episode, and binge eaters usually eat in secret and hide food. Besides drastically increasing the chances of being overweight or obese, binge eating is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and certain types of cancer.
The food that someone chooses when binge eating is often associated with specific aromas or the memory of a pleasurable experience involving eating in the past. These foods are always high in fat, sugar, or both. Carbohydrates were essential to our ancestors – this now primes us to binge on junk food, even though we won’t be running from a tiger anytime soon (hopefully). When we eat large amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods, the dopamine neurons in the brain become very active, just like they do when someone uses either cocaine or meth.
More than 60% of the calories that Americans consume come from processed foods. According to a study, the following specific five foods are the ones that we are most likely to binge on:
- French fries – according to researchers at the University of Michigan, French fries are the food most likely to be associated with problematic addictive eating behaviors, due to the irresistible combination of salt and fat.
- M & Ms – besides being a combination of crunchy and smooth, their round shape makes them melt rapidly in your mouth (not in your hands)!
- Oreo cookies – according to a 2013 animal study, these cookies are as addictive as cocaine and morphine. Researchers fed rats either rice cakes or Oreos or injected them with the drugs. The Oreos lit up the brain more than the drugs in scans.
- Cheetos – these chips literally melt in your mouth, a quality that is known as “vanishing caloric density,” meaning that you can eat a lot without your brain knowing how many calories you’re packing in.
- Doritos – these chips lack a dominant flavor, which makes us eat more, and the MSG in them increases appetite. Furthermore, they have a long “hang time flavor” which also leads us to eat more.
Binge eaters often consume strange mixtures of ingredients, such as mashed potatoes mixed with crushed Oreos, potato chips mixed with lemon, and pork rinds combined with Italian dressing and salt. Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham studied 507 students majoring in psychology including both genders, from their college and the University of Texas at El Paso, along with 45 individuals being treated on an outpatient basis for eating disorders in Cincinnati. Approximately 25% of the participants engaged in “concocting,” regardless of their age or gender. The researchers point out, however, that the number would likely be higher if the same survey were given to hospital patients, clinical patients, or psychiatric patients. Of the participants who admitted to “concocting” behaviors, 41% said that it resulted from a craving, while 9% said that they did it because they were physically hungry. The concocters felt excited and anxious while preparing their mixtures and felt ashamed and disgusted after they were done eating those mixtures. The study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The trick to overcoming cravings for these foods that are rich in fat, sugar, and salt is to come up with foods that combine these tastes without being too high in calories and fat. Examples might be:
- Baked sweet potato fries or chips
- Trail mix
- Low-fat Chex mix
- Bean chips, such as Beanitos©
- Fiber One browniesÓ
- Low-fat kettle corn
- Chocolate flavored oatmeal or cocoa wheaties©
- A piece of toast with mashed avocado and a sliced hard-boiled egg on top sprinkled with a salt-free seasoning blend
- Fresh strawberries with a light coating of melted dark chocolate
- Mashed and frozen bananas
- Roasted, spicy chickpeas, snap peas, or kale
- Wasabi peas
- Hummus or low-fat cheese and Triscuit crackers
- A slice of whole wheat toast covered with reduced-fat cream cheese and sliced fruit
- A cup of sugar-free hot cocoa with a dollop of low-fat whipped topping
- A frozen whole-grain waffle topped with unsweetened applesauce and cinnamon
- A baked potato topped with salsa and lite sour cream