If you’re like most people, some of your favorite comfort foods are foods high in carbohydrates (carbs). When people go on a diet, they often try to restrict foods high in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, this often ends up backfiring, leading to binging on high carbohydrate foods.

First, lets explore how carbohydrates and binge eating are connected, and later, look at how to reduce out of control carbohydrate cravings.

What Foods Contain Carbs?

Carbohydrates, one of the building blocks of life, are found in many different foods. These include fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, grains, pasta, rice, bread, legumes, some dairy foods, chips, and sweets like chocolate, pastries, and other baked goods.

The fuel supply provided by carbohydrates (glucose, another word for blood sugar) gives energy to our body and brain, allowing us to feel energetic and ready to tackle the day.

Why Do We Crave Carbs?

There’s a biological reason why we crave carbohydrates. Carbohydrates help with serotonin production. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that’s involved with sleep, eating and digestion. It’s thought that enough serotonin in the brain regulates anxiety and boost mood.

Carbohydrates are a key factor in the production of serotonin, so restricting carbohydrate can leave us vulnerable to low physical energy, insomnia, digestive issues and low mood. Because we are hardwired to use incoming carbohydrates, to rest and rejouvenate our bodies, and for our well nurished brain to help us feel good; it makes sense that we crave carbohydrates when there isnt enough on board.

When we’re not eating enough carbohydrates we start to feel tired. That could excelate in time to difficulty concentrating, fatigue, ‘hangry’, anxiety and depression. These symptoms can lead to increased craving for carbohydrates in an effort to help us feel better. Think about you favorite comfort foods, chances are they are high in carbohydrate.

What is Binge Eating?

The term “binge eating” is often used in day-to-day conversation to refer to occasional over-eating. It may interest you to know that the term had a clinical definition relating to quantity, frequency and duration of the eating behaviour in question in comparison to  average eating behaviour under the same circumstance. Although “subjective binge eating” and “over-eating” are legitimate areas of concern, strictly speaking, the clinical term Binge Eating is different from both subjective binge eating and over-eaten.

Binge eating involves frequently consuming large amounts of food very quickly, even when you’re not hungry. It is often done in secret, feels out of control, and/or experiencing momentary loss of awareness of the eating event, and involves extreme feelings of shame or guilt.

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious but treatable condition. There are many different potential causes of binge eating disorder, but experts agree that BEDlikely results from a combination of biological, psychological, environmental, and genetic factors.

How To Treat Binge Eating – Why Restriction Carbs Isn’t the Answer

Research clearly shows that restricting foods (like carbohydrates) usually makes people more likely to crave them and then binge on them. Therefore, rather than restricting carbohydrates, make sure to include ENOUGH (i.e. on average not too much and not too little) carbohydrates throughout the day. This will help keep your blood sugars balanced, and provide an (only one) important tool in your attempt to reduce carb cravings and binge eating.

Let’s take a look at how this adding carbs might work in practice. Imagine that at the moment, you currently drink a latte for breakfast, eat a plain salad with chicken for lunch, and a plain vegetable and meat stir fry for supper.

As you can see, this dietary pattern does not include many carbohydrate-containing foods. Over time, this could lead to imbalanced blood sugars, carbohydrate cravings, and perhaps even binge eating.

Now, let’s look at how you could add carbohydrates to the above meal plan. Instead of just having a latte for breakfast, perhaps you could add a bowl of oatmeal with fruit. For lunch, you could add a grain like quinoa or farro to the salad for a carbohydrate and fibre boost. At supper, you could still have the stir fry, but it could be paired with rice or noodles to ensure you’re eating enough carbs.

By keeping your body adequately fueled, you’ll reduce the likelihood of carb cravings and may even find that you have a more peaceful relationship with food now that you’re no longer restricting foods with carbohydrates in them.

Addressing Carb Cravings When They Do Occur

Sometimes, even if we’re eating enough carbohydrates during the day, cravings can appear seemingly out of nowhere. But often, we try to ignore these cravings. How many times have you been craving something, only to try and satisfy the craving with something “healthier”?

For example, maybe you wanted chocolate but tried to avoid it by eating an apple. The apple doesn’t quite hit the spot, so you eat a high proten snack bar. Throughout the course of the evening, you pick at various foods in your kitchen, but nothing quite satisfies the craving you have for chocolate. Eventually, after having all the alternatives, you give up trying to avoid the “unhealthy” chocolate and end up eating it.

The first lesson here is that you’ll end up eating way more food when you try to avoid the craved item, as opposed to honoring your craving. The second important lesson here is that placing foods in categories such as “healthy,” “unhealthy,” “good” and “bad”, tends to result in the long run on focusing on and overindulting on the “unhealthy / bad.” As a rule of thumb remember; All Foods Can Fit into a balanced diet.

Many people find that by being mindfully present as they eat, they’re less likely to binge.

If you’re struggling with binge eating disorder, you will likely need to work with a dietitian as well as a mental health therapist to learn about and address your particular reason(s)  behind your food craving and binge eating. Be sure to seek out practioners who have extensive training and working experience in eating disorders treatment.

Final Thoughts

While the belief is still circulating in society, that avoiding carbohydrates is the best way to control your craving and weigh; this strategy often backfires. Research shows that avoiding foods only makes you more likely to binge on them. Eating enough carbohydrate containing foods throughout the day is one of the key strategies in preventing, reducing or treating binge eating disorders.

Here at Eating Dynamiks and Therapy, we specialize in using dietary/eating management, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT) in the treatment of binge eating disorder. To learn more about eating disorder services at Eating Dynamiks and Therapy, contact us today.