Binge eating is more common in those living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Even though it’s common, it may seem like no one talks about it. On the patient end, this may be because of the guilt and shame surrounding the topic. On the provider end, this may be due to a lack of understanding or a continued focus on weight loss no matter what the effect.
So let’s take some time to talk about binge eating, and common myths associated with PCOS and binge eating.
What is Binge Eating?
Binge eating is sometimes confused with overeating or being very full. Binge eating is NOT getting that extra slice of pizza after you are comfortably full. A binge would involve large amounts of food (usually worth more than one meal) consumed in a short period of time. I have a blog post that dives deeper into the characteristics of binge eating. The diagnostic criteria Binge Eating Disorder (known as BED) can be found here.
Whether you meet the criteria or not, you should seek help for binge eating if you feel like it’s negatively impacting your life!
There are a lot of myths about PCOS and binge eating, so let’s go through them together and set the record straight.
Myth #1: Binge eating means you don’t have enough willpower, and you just need to try harder or go on a new diet to overcome it.
While it’s common to blame yourself for binge eating, it isn’t fixed by willpower or dieting.
Fact #1: Binge eating is a message from your body that you have an emotional or physiological need that isn’t being met. It has nothing to do with willpower.
Binge eating is NOT caused by a lack of willpower – it’s caused by unmet needs. These unmet needs can be related to nutrition, mental health, or trauma history.
Unmet needs that can lead to binge eating:
- Untreated Insulin resistance: Most people with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning glucose (or sugar) has trouble getting into our cells to be used for energy. When this happens, you may feel physically hungry for more food – even if you’ve already eaten. This can leave you with intense cravings. Your body may feel like there’s no choice but to binge, especially on carbohydrates.
- Fortunately, there are ways to treat insulin resistance! When I work with clients, we focus on managing insulin resistance with nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle. Your doctor may also recommend medications to help with insulin resistance.
- Dieting/Restricting Food: Restricting your food intake will likely lead to constant hunger, which can easily lead to binging. We’ll touch on this more in myth # 2.
- Mental Health/Emotional Needs: Binge eating isn’t always about unmet physical or nutritional needs. Loss of a loved one, loneliness, relationship problems – the list goes on. If we’re not meeting our emotional needs, it can affect our behavior around food. Binge eating is sometimes a coping mechanism for our life circumstances.
- Trauma: History of trauma or ongoing trauma can contribute to binge eating. For example, if you’ve experienced trauma like inconsistent access to food, binge eating when you do have access could be your way of protecting yourself from hunger.
Myth #2: Trying a new diet will help stop binge eating
A new diet = a new way to restrict food.
There are so many diets recommended in the PCOS space, and it’s a misconception that dieting will help stop binge eating. Keto, intermittent fasting, calorie restriction – you name it. White it may be tempting to start another one of these diets to control binge eating for PCOS, it’s not an effective long term solution.
Fact #2: Restricting food physically and mentally leads to binge eating. Dieting isn’t the answer.
Have you ever gone on a diet and ended up feeling out of control around food? You’re not alone!
Dieting and focusing on weight loss only makes binge eating worse since they feed into the causes of binge eating. Any type of restriction, whether it’s a low carb diet, intermittent fasting, or reducing calories tends to backfire because you’re not giving your body enough nutrition. If you binge as a result of not eating enough, it’s a sign that your body needs more food – NOT a new diet. Dieting only leads to a cycle of restriction, binging, and guilt.
Dieting and restriction = binge eating = guilt. And then the cycle repeats itself.
This is why I incorporate intuitive eating principles into my PCOS nutrition education. Letting go of dieting and restriction is the foundation of managing PCOS – especially if you binge.
Myth #3: You’re a failure if you binge.
Failure is such a common feeling with both PCOS and binge eating!
Fact #3: Binge eating is more common with PCOS. You’re not alone, and you’re not a failure.
I’ve worked with a number of clients who experience binge eating and PCOS. It’s no surprise since those with PCOS can be 3 times as likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder than those who don’t have PCOS. Different studies show different statistics, but binge eating disorder can occur in up to about 23% of people with PCOS.
You’re not failing at managing PCOS if you binge. Past binges were a sign that you had needs that weren’t being met. Instead of focusing on shame, you may consider adding tools to help prevent binge eating in the future. These tools could include managing insulin resistance, adding nutritious foods (instead of restricting foods), and taking care of your mental health.
Closing Thoughts on PCOS and Binge Eating
Binge eating is so common with PCOS, but it can be hard to talk about because of the shame and myths surrounding the topic. It’s important to know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of! Binge eating is your body’s way of protecting itself from unmet needs.
When I work with clients, I never recommend a new diet or restricting foods to address binge eating. Instead, we address the causes that lead to binges all while reducing shame around the topic. Contact me if you’d like to get started healing your binges.
- Krug, I., Giles, S., & Paganini, C. (2019). Binge eating in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: prevalence, causes, and management strategies. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 15, 1273–1285. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S168944
- Grossman, D. B. (2021, March 18). Eating disorders are an active trauma, not a maladaptive coping strategy. ASDAH. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://asdah.org/eating-disorders-are-an-active-trauma-not-a-maladaptive-coping-strategy/