Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Revenge of the Binge, Redux

Why does this not surprise me?

Two studies in the October issue of Behavioral Neuroscience show that when animals are stressed, deprived and exposed to tempting food, they overeat, with different degrees of interaction. The powerful interplay between internal and external factors helps explain why dieters rebound and even one cookie can trigger a binge if someone's predisposed to binge.

Anybody who's been (or is) a binge eater (me) will tell you that when it's real bad, it's like trying to resist a drug. When I go cold turkey and I'm highly stressed and dieting, resisting junk food (highly sweet, highly salty, high carb), my whole body starts to shake and I can't think about anything else but the food I'm craving. This will last anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour. Now that I'm eating better, the withdrawl behavior doesn't happen anymore, and I've gone from binging (tons of food, say, 3-5,000 calories in some instances) to craving (a chocolate bar).

I still associate the cravings with stress (I ate chocolate last night, but wasn't "hungry." It was definately stress eating), but I've gotten to the point where because I don't deprive myself the rest of the day, I'm less likely to chow down when the stress eating does come up.

Ideally, I'll find other alternatives to deal with said stress. Working on that...

Opioids or endorphins (the brain's "feel good chemicals") play a key role in our liking of food. Yet external substances such as heroin and morphine mimic endorphins by binding to the same receptors in the brain, produce a sense of reward (among other functions). The researchers compared how binge-eating rats versus non-binge eating rats responded to drugs that either turn on opioid receptors (butorphanol, which treats pain) or block them (naloxone, which treats heroin addiction).

From the rats' responses to these drugs, Boggiano and her colleagues inferred how stress and dieting change the brain's opioid control of eating. The binge eating occurred after rats experienced both foot shock (stress) and cyclic caloric restriction (dieting). Either caloric restriction or stress alone were not enough to produce changes in food intake, but stressed and underfed rats ate twice the normal amount of Oreo® cookies, which rats find rewarding. In other words, animals subjected to both stressors became binge eaters, confirming how strongly these outside factors interact to change eating behavior.


Dieting + stress = binge behavior.

Well, yea.

I'm going to go finish up my breakfast now.

(via boingboing)

7 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

H. Abiff said...

Lord, it's more than just stress. Sometimes it's the only thing I can do to relax . OK, so maybe it is stress. I've been fighting binge eating for ages ... But what's bad is that my binging tends to revolve around carbs ... crackers, popcorn, etc. Stuff that isn't really unhealthy so it can be kept around, but when I binge (I'm down to about 2-3x a week, which is a big improvement from 6-10x a week).

What makes this particularly hard is that I'm a man, and doctors and therapists will often look at this as a woman's disease.

I don't normally post about my eating disorder because I don't particularly like talking about it. But it's nice to see someone not minding talking about it ... 

Posted by josh

jeff said...

"it's like trying to resist a drug" 

For me, I find it's worse than trying to resist a drug because eating is something I have to do, at some point.

Thanks for the info on binging, and thanks for keeping this stuff out in the open. 

Posted by jeffliveshere

jeff said...

...oh, and I love that their feeding rats name brand cookies. Is this some sort of weird product placement? :) 

Posted by jeffliveshere

Rajan said...

It's interesting that this happens to other animals. I always thought that it was peculiar to humans. I used to binge eat all the time. I would starve myself at times, but then I would crack and consume massive amounts of junk food. I wouldn't just have one cookie, I would have the entire packet. I remember at times I would feel slightly sickened by the sweet taste in my mouth, so I would start eating chips to counteract it.

I don't remember when it stopped for me, but it did at some point. It was like some kind of switch was turned in my head. Now I eat more healthy as a whole.

I still, however, have a hard time with resisting certain foods to the point where I do obsess about them. That bothers me, but then I'm not good with impulse control.

Gah, I'll stop stalking your blog now. I seem to have too much time on my hands.  

Posted by Rajan

T. Comfyshoes said...

Rajan, Back in my university days, I took a behavioral psych course, and was amazed how much rats are like us. Among other things:
- they like chocolate and sweets
- they have deprivation elation - where if you let them develop a taste for something, they'll consume it in moderation, but then if you take it away and give it back, they binge on it
- they have taste-dependent satiety - if you let them eat until they're full of regular kibble, they'll still eat chocolate chips if you offer
- they stop eating something if it's associated with them getting sick
- they can be made to develop a form of anorexia if you restrict their food and give them the chance to exercise

I wish I had all the references handy. But I guess the bottom line is, a lot of things that we attribute in ourselves to "poor will power", is stuff that seems to be hardwired into mammal brains. 

Posted by tr1c14

Kameron Hurley said...

Josh - yea, I like to talk about it, because it sort of takes the behavior "out of the closet" so to speak. A great deal of the cyclical nature of binge eating has to do with shame over it. Once I was able to fess up to it and just go, "Yes, this happens," it became waaaay easier to deal with it.

And dude, Raj - comment away! That's why I've got comments enabled, after all.. :)

I am also surprised all the time when I bring up binge eating that so many people do it. Not a surprise, I guess, in a dieting culture where high-carb, high-sugar, highly-processed food is so easily and cheaply available. And one that's so highly stressed. Coming off yet another high-stress day at work, I'm reminded that long-term, grinding stress really isn't something our bodies were supposed to deal with. Fight or flight, not hunker through constant pressure.

And yea, I was amused at the name-brand Oreos. What was up with that? 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Darjeeling said...

Actually, I found the last line in the news release rather interesting:

"Binge eating is normal," she says. "It's your brain's best way to respond to expected starvation. It's restrictive dieting and stressing so much about your body weight and shape that is abnormal."


Posted by Darjeeling