You may or may not have heard of binge eating disorder; certainly when it comes to eating difficulties it’s not as commonly mentioned as bulimia or anorexia. Around 2% of adults have binge eating disorder (or BED) which doesn’t seem like many until you see that 30% of all women who request weight loss treatment have problems with binge eating. BED is often linked with being obese or overweight because unlike other eating disorders it doesn’t involve purging or excessive exercise to maintain weight.

The mechanism of hunger results from a complex interplay of hormones and nervous system. No one can voluntarily trigger hunger. Hunger is stimulated by the autonomic nervous system just as the urge to open bowels or pass urine. When the urge comes you can postpone it.

People with BED cannot stop eating when they are not hungry or even full enough to cause discomfort. They often eat more quickly than others or will eat in secret to avoid embarrassment and will feel guilt or self-disgust following a binge.

There are many theories why people binge eat, from childhood trauma to dieting to depression but recent research has been looking at the brains of sufferers. This research has suggested that the ‘pleasure centre’ of the brain is less responsive to chemical changes. One particular neurotransmitter, dopamine, drives pleasure-seeking behaviour; whenever dopamine is released it makes you want to have more of the same. On the positive side dopamine causes you to be motivated since whenever you’re successful you get a dopamine hit. Sadly, eating or drinking sugar can also have the same effect and dopamine is also linked to addictive behaviours such as alcoholism, gambling and drugs.

Research into sugar addiction has been linked to dopamine imbalance or resistance. Role of dopamine is to make you hungry or crave food but if the pleasure centre is resistant to dopamine, you are not satisfied and end up eating more. As with all addictions, you don’t know when to stop and need increased amounts to feel the same ‘high’.

This recent study has found a ‘neurological basis’ for binge eating which might mean that traditional methods of counselling and psychological treatments might need to be reconsidered or perhaps supplemented with medications. Studies have shown that certain serotonin receptors can be stimulated to inhibit binge eating. If you are a follower of our blog you will be aware of how significant serotonin is if you are trying to lose weight; in fact, there is a serotonin-based drug, which is already being produced to treat obesity in adults.

If you are one of the many people who don’t like the idea of weight loss tablets, there are more natural ways to stimulate your serotonin production including tyrosine or vitamin B rich foods such as dairy products, low fat proteins, green vegetables and whole grains. By reducing your stress levels and improving the quality of your sleep you can also increase serotonin production.

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