The topic of binge eating with PCOS comes up quite a bit when I’m working with clients because binge eating is very common with PCOS. Because of the limited resources for PCOS coupled with the constant “advice” to lose weight, this is a recipe for a poor relationship with food that often leads to bingeing.
You may be wondering if you can practice intuitive eating with PCOS if you experience binge eating, and the answer is yes! Moving away from dieting and having a more peaceful relationship with food and your body can be soooo helpful for binge eating and PCOS!
Binge Eating and PCOS
Binge eating is characterized by
- Eating large amounts of food quickly in one sitting
- Finding it difficult to stop eating
- Eating to the point of discomfort
- Intentionally eating secretly or alone
- Doing all of the above even when you’re not hungry
- Feeling shame and embarrassment around your binges
I sometimes see people mistakenly use the word “binge” to describe simply overeating. Occasionally eating past the point of fullness, enjoying dessert when you feel like you shouldn’t have it, or grabbing fast food and ordering the “large” size are not considered binge eating. Someone who binges usually feels out of control during a binge and there is incredible shame attached to binge eating.
Binge eating disorder is a severe disorder that can affect your quality of life. Treating BED should be prioritized over any other part of PCOS management.
If you experience binge eating, I want you to know that you’re not alone. This is something I help many clients with. It is treatable. Your well-being matters.
Why Do People Binge with PCOS?
Binge eating is a coping mechanism and is often used to manage unpleasant emotions. It sucks to feel difficult emotions and work through them… so it makes sense that we may want to avoid them and substitute them with something more pleasant like food.
Many people view binge eating as the problem, or something that needs to be fixed. But actually, binge eating is the solution to a problem. In order to heal binge eating, the focus should be exploring and addressing the underlying unpleasant emotions and what is actually leading to bingeing.
This is where things can be challenging with PCOS unless you have the proper care team in place who are educated on the harms of taking a weight-centric approach to managing PCOS. Many of my clients experience binge eating because of painful experiences related to PCOS. Some of these include:
- Painful experiences growing up related to dieting and weight loss (like being put on a diet, going to Weight Watchers, food being withheld).
- Being told that the only way to manage PCOS is to lose weight, leaving you without tools to manage your hormones.
- Dieting and going through cycles where weight is lost and gained back.
- Wanting to feel accepted or “normal”.
- Fears around health with PCOS.
In order to truly move past binge eating, it is important to build a care team who is focused on your overall well-being rather than the number on the scale.
Intuitive Eating with Binge Eating and PCOS
Intuitive eating is a framework that combines nutrition education with your own thoughts and feelings around food so that you can move towards making food choices from a place of self-care. It’s also described as ultimately working towards feeling pleasant physically, mentally, and emotionally with eating. Doesn’t that sound lovely?
SOOOO many of my clients make food choices from a place of fear, worry, or shame. But it is possible to have a healthy relationship with food with PCOS, where you’re making food choices from a place of self-care and empowerment. Intuitive eating can help you get there.
Intuitive eating is made of 10 principles, which I outline and help you explore in my free intuitive eating workbook, and these don’t need to be followed in order. Here are a few principles that are especially helpful for binge eating and PCOS:
Challenge the food police:
When you binge, you may say unkind (or downright mean!) things to yourself. Working on quieting these voices in your head and treating yourself with more kindness and compassion is so important for binge eating.
Coping with Emotions with Kindness:
So often, emotional eating is viewed as bad or something we need to correct. What if you viewed it differently? Emotional eating IS a valid coping mechanism. Food can bring us joy, peace, and comfort.
If you feel like emotional eating isn’t serving you well, you may be tempted to shift your focus to your actual eating behavior (like binge eating) and try to “stop” that with willpower. I would encourage you to shift your focus to what you really need underneath to soothe those uncomfortable emotions, and being kind to yourself in the process.
Gentle Nutrition for PCOS:
Gentle nutrition is a concept where nutrition recommendations are incorporated in a flexible way with a focus on addition. The intuitive eating book itself only addresses basic nutrition recommendations for the general population, so this is where it can be beneficial to work with a PCOS dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating to help you understand how to blend the intuitive eating framework with PCOS recommendations.
Two big areas of focus for PCOS and binge eating:
- Eating enough. Because restricting food plays a huge role in binge eating, making sure you’re eating enough is key. Most of my clients are not eating enough, independent of whether or not they binge.
- Balancing blood sugars. Insulin resistance is common with PCOS, and binge eating can make it worse. Focusing on eating regularly and adding in fats and proteins to your meals can help with carb cravings and feelings of uncontrollable hunger.
Closing Thoughts on Binge Eating and Intuitive Eating with PCOS
Binge eating with PCOS is treatable, and you can be an intuitive eater even if you’re binge eating now or have a history of binge eating. Having a support team who is focused on making sure you’re eating enough and prioritizing your mental health and overall well-being is really foundational.
If you are in a place where you want to decrease binge eating, then I’d love to help you! My services can help you improve your relationship with food while also managing your PCOS.