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Are You Binge Eating On 'Healthy' Foods? Can You Gain Weight & How To Stop

Nov 23, 2022
peanut butter smooth

We’ve all heard of binge eating on foods like cookies, cake, pizza, chips, and ice cream…but one side of binge eating that is less spoken about is binge eating on ‘healthy’ foods.

 

In this article, I’ll explain everything around over-eating on healthy foods including:

  • Why do you binge eat on healthy foods
  • If it’s possible to gain fat from binge eating on healthy food
  • If it’s ok to binge eating on healthy food
  • If binge eating fruit is ok
  • Whether binge eating on healthy foods still counts as a binge
  • How to stop binge eating on healthy foods

 

During my 10 years of binge eating, I certainly went through phases of bingeing on ‘healthy’ foods like nut butters, acai bowls, dates and nut bars. So, it’s an issue I completely understand! Let’s get into it! 

 

WHAT ARE ‘HEALTHY’ FOODS?

 

Typically, when clients tell me they are binge eating on ‘healthy’ foods - they mean foods like granola, smoothie bowls, hummus with bell peppers, nut bars, energy bars, apples with natural nut butter, and so on. 

 

Of course, ‘healthy’ is usually slightly subjective. For example, eating one cup of broccoli is fantastic - packed with nutrition and fibre. But eating 40 cups is pushing your body to its limits and is probably stretching your stomach to extreme discomfort.

 

For some - a bowl of granola might feel healthy - fibre, nutrients, and probably some nuts and seeds in there too. For someone else - it might be too high in sugar for them to deem it as healthy.

 

Peanut butter too! A great source of healthy fats, and some protein in there too. For others, it may feel way too calorie-dense to be ‘healthy’.

 

To a vegan, tofu may be seen as healthy whereas to someone doing paleo tofu is too processed.

 

We all know that the nutrition space is full of polarity. For every positive study on the health benefits of bell peppers - you could probably find another telling us how dangerous they can be.

 

But for the sake of this article, and given the examples my clients have shared with me over the years - ‘healthy’ foods are usually fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed foods.



BINGE EATING ON HEALTHY FOODS - WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?

 

Let’s first zoom out and look at why people binge eat in general - whether it’s healthy foods or not:

 

Common causes for binge eating:

  1. Prolonged or extreme physical restriction e.g. under-eating, excessive exercise without eating enough to make up for it, cutting out entire food groups like carbs.
  2. Mental restriction i.e. that feeling of deprivation or ‘diet starts Monday’ mentality. Often here we label unhealthy foods as ‘bad’ and feel guilty for eating them.
  3. Emotional suppression i.e. using food to cope with difficult emotions or life events like feelings of loneliness, moving to a new city, or trauma. 

 

Any of these could still cause you to binge eat on healthy foods. The distinction between binge eating on healthy foods vs. unhealthy foods is usually tied to those with orthorexic tendencies

 

What do I mean by that? People who struggle with the unhealthy obsession with being healthy often slide into binge eating territory, and when they do - it comes as no surprise that they may also binge eating on healthy foods. It is not always the case as sometimes people who are such militant ‘clean eaters’ end up binge eating the complete opposite of what they usually allow themselves. 

 

People may also binge eat on healthy foods to try to compensate for any potential weight gain - the thought process being: if I only over-eat on healthy foods, then I might not gain as much weight. We’ll get back to this later in the article though.

 

Others might binge eat on healthy foods by reasoning that ‘at least if I’m going to binge, let’s eat foods with more positives than negatives’. In other words - they choose to binge on foods that have more nutritional benefits, and less drawbacks. 

 

I have noticed though, in my years of working with 100s of clients - I have never seen a client only ever binge on healthy foods. It’s usually something they do as a phase which then changes to other types of binge foods especially once they notice the dopamine hit you get from high-fat, high-sugar foods (usually ‘unhealthy’) is higher. 

 

IS IT OK TO BINGE EAT ON HEALTHY FOODS?

 

While binge eating on healthy foods can still provide you with calories, macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibre - binge eating is still binge eating at the end of the day. It is still far surpassing the calorie limit that your body needs to be in equilibrium. It will still likely challenge various organs that are working in overdrive, and even push your blood sugar levels too high and for too long. 

 

And if you are binge eating on healthy foods to distract yourself from difficult emotions like loneliness, sadness or stress – EVEN if binge eating on healthy foods wasn’t harmful to your body - it’s still harmful to your mental health to be disassociating and numbing out from emotions. It stops you from feeling your feelings, learning what they’re teaching you, and taking action to make change. You’ll still stay in this cycle without facing the emotions. 

 

Truthfully, there are likely fewer drawbacks, though, of overeating healthy foods vs unhealthy foods. There are likely to be less harmful preservatives, additives, packed with refined sugar, and trans-fats – and overall they’ll have a less addictive nature to them. Most typical binge foods are highly processed and designed in a lab to feel addictive so at least binge eating on healthy foods doesn’t bring up that issue. 

 

If you are trying to gain weight and you’re doing so through binge eating healthy foods - it’s still harmful. Because it is still pushing your body too far too fast. I would recommend over-eating on healthy foods to gain weight but not by such an extreme degree.

 

IS BINGING ON FRUIT OK?

 

Similar to the above answer - binge-eating, no matter the food type, is not ideal for your body or mind. Specifically, with fruit - while fruit has fibre that helps to blunt the effect its sugar has on your blood sugar levels - eating fruit in HUGE amounts won’t be ideal in terms of blood sugar levels. 

 

Example: I used to binge eat on about 40 dates in one sitting - that was a LOT of sugar for my body to handle. And I could feel the real-life consequences of it immediately: diarrhoea, food coma, loss of energy, sugar highs. It clearly was not ideal for my body. 



DOES BINGE EATING ON HEALTHIER FOODS STILL COUNT AS BINGE EATING?

 

Yes.

 

Well, let’s revisit the definition of a binge. What counts as a binge:

 

  • Most binges usually involve eating more than 1,000 calories in one sitting, with a quarter of binges exceeding 2,000 calories.
  • It’s more in the psychology behind it though, with bingers usually eating alone, in secret, quickly.
  • After the binge, you usually feel emotionally distressed - guilty, regretful and panicked. 

 

So while typically binge eaters go for ‘unhealthy’ foods that are high-fat, high-sugar, highly-processed, binge eating on healthy foods still counts as binge eating. 

 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO GAIN WEIGHT BY BINGE EATING ON ‘HEALTHY’ FOODS?

 

Yes.

 

The simple fact is - if you are consuming more calories than your body uses, you will gain weight. More on the nuances of the Energy Balance equation here.

 

So if you are binge eating, let’s say, on 2,000 calories of hummus with carrots - and still eating 3 meals in a day - then you will very likely surpass your calorie limit and gain weight. 

 

A few differences with binge eating on healthy foods:

 

  • Your body expends more energy by digesting unprocessed foods like fruits, nuts, and veggies. Meaning that the calories on the pack (e.g. 1,500 calories of nuts), won’t necessarily be the amount of calories that you absorb as your body will expend energy to break down that food. You might only absorb 1,200 calories. Whereas with a food that’s already been highly processed in a factory like crisps - your body doesn’t need to put in as much effort to break down this food in digestion. So the 1,400 calories of those 1,500 calories of crisps might be absorbed.
  • Typically healthier foods are often low-calorie-density, high-volume foods meaning that it ‘feels’ like you are eating a lot of food because your plate is so full, but actually it’s not a huge amount of calories. A full plate of broccoli will fill you up, but it will be much less calories than a plate full of pasta. This means that it can be more difficult to binge on some types of healthy foods in extremely high quantities. 

 

However!

Oftentimes, the ‘healthy’ food reported to me by clients are actually quite calorie-dense like peanut butter and energy bars. 

 

Let me tell you! There was a time when I would binge on a 1kg bucket of peanut butter within a few days - and repeat this over and over. It was the fastest I had ever gained weight in my life! 

 

So while binge eating on healthy foods may sometimes prevent as fast weight gain as ‘unhealthy’ foods - you certainly can still gain weight - just like I did! 

 

Remember: if you’re over-eating consistently, you will gain weight. 

 

HOW DO I STOP BINGE EATING ON HEALTHY FOOD?

 

The answer will likely be very similar to ‘how do I stop binge eating?’. It’s about being real with yourself and identifying why you are binge eating. What is binge eating solving for you? Because you’re not doing it randomly - there is a reason. This is exactly what we cover in the 30 Day Reboot in great detail.

 

As spoken about earlier, a ‘healthy’ binge eater usually has some fear of weight gain and orthorexic tendencies - so this should be dealt with too (also in the 30 Day Reboot!).

 

GET HELP WITH YOUR BINGE EATING

 

If you’d like more help to stop binge-eating from someone who has been there and got out - take a look at my signature 30 Day Reboot course that you can start today. 

 

With Love,

Brid 

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