Finding the Root Cause of Binge Eating

Transcript taken from Fitness Candor Podcast episode 135

00:14 Eric Feigl:Hey, everybody, welcome back to Fitness Candor Podcast. Kristen DeAngelis, Registered Dietitian, joins us again, a very uncaffeinated probably sad soul of a person that Kristen is because I just found out that she’s been without an abundance of caffeine since November. So, RIP, I guess. That sucks. It sounds so sad to hear that.

00:43 Kristen DeAngelis:Eric, it is a beautiful thing. My baseline energy is through the roof. I don’t need anything that makes me jittery.

00:51 Eric Feigl:No. No, I don’t believe that for a second. We’re gonna skip right past that though, and we’re gonna get into something that I think it hits close to home for both of us, it sounds like. We’re gonna talk a little bit about binge eating. And so what I really wanna start out with is, let’s define binge eating and then we can take it from there. So from your experience, since you’ve dealt with it more on the professional side than I have, what is the definition of binge eating? And then what do maybe people think binge eating is? How about that?

01:26 Kristen DeAngelis:Great question, great question. So I wanna go through more of the diagnostic criteria and then break that down a little bit. So really with binge eating, we’re looking at eating in a very finite, a discrete period of time. So it’s something of like one hour or two hours, it’s a short period of time, where it’s an excessive amount of food more than what anyone would classify as normal. I put in quotes “normal” ’cause everyone’s eating nowadays large portions, but this is specific, again, to that one or two hours, even 30 minutes and where there’s a real sense of complete lack of control, almost fear around it and really like… I personally relate to this where you feel like it’s an out-of-body experience and there is absolutely nothing that can stop you. It’s a real fear, it’s this huge sense of lack of control.

02:27 Kristen DeAngelis:So a few more items, not diagnostic criteria, if you are listening to the show, I’m just reading this off from the, which also has some really great resources and even some quizzes that you can take if you are suspecting that you might be suffering from binge eating. Binge eating episodes, if you check off three or more of the following, and I’m gonna name out a few. So eating much more rapidly or quickly, so just completely stuffing your face as much as you can get in as quickly as possible. Second would be eating until you’re overly really uncomfortably full. Third would be eating large amounts of food when you’re really not physically hungry. Four would be eating alone because of feeling embarrassed or feeling guilty or ashamed. Again, I’ll raise my hand, that’s definitely happened to me before. And the last one will be feeling disgusted with oneself or depressed or guilt and kind of that cycle that leads mentally after.

03:31 Kristen DeAngelis:So, yes, if you check off any three or more of that, then I would highly encourage to open up the discussion, check out this website, or reach out to me as someone who does work now with a variety of different types of eating disorder clients, it’s really important that we address it, nipping it at the bud and not letting it continue to go on and on and on for years.

03:56 Eric Feigl:So if a person checks off and they meet the criteria, obviously reaching out to that website or someone like yourself, experienced leader in helping someone manage those types of urges and that type of behavior, what are some other things that you recommend or strategies that maybe peole can start to incorporate and go from there?

04:24 Kristen DeAngelis:Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think it’d be helpful also to maybe identify because I think at times almost anyone can think that they have binge eating. And again, I think almost anyone could also benefit from working with a dietitian and nutritionist or a trainer or a health coach. But really when we’re looking at that more clinical aspect of binge eating, it’s again more of that complete lack of self-control and real discrete period of time. So I just wanna clarify that for someone who feels like, “Oh, well… ” My husband for example, we were talking about this last night and he’s like, “Oh, well, I checked up binge eating on your… ” I was having him read my sample intake form and I’m like, “Well, you don’t really have binge eating ’cause you don’t really feel guilty after, you kinda just like eat the 25 Oreos and then you’re done and you’re good and you think that that’s part of the weekend and like, you’re cool with it.”

05:26 Kristen DeAngelis:And for someone else it might be like, “Okay, I’m gonna grab the Oreos, go into my room and try to eat them as quickly as possible before someone wakes up or comes back in, and then I’ll discreetly put them back in the cabinet.” That would be more of a clinical sign that we’re being more aware of, “Okay, is there hiding going on? Is it excessive amounts in that finite period of time?” Just to clarify that. Is that helping a little bit just…

05:56 Eric Feigl:No, it definitely does because… So my brain goes in two different directions, so I’m gonna start over here. When I hear binge eating, what I typically see in my mind, and maybe a lot of other people do, is they see that person going through the drive-through and ordering five different meals and acting like it’s for somebody else. It’s that very like I would say stereotypical person drive-through in there, and they get home and they gorge it all, and then it’s almost like shark eyes, you know what I mean? Like everything just goes red and they black out, and that’s kind of what I think maybe a lot of people think of. I’ve had moments, and I don’t know if I should look at that and check things off were I’ve come home after a long day and I do the whole fasting thing, so sometimes most of the time I’m very controlled on what I eat and the amount that I eat and the portions that I’m, you know, done eating at a certain time and blah, blah, blah.

07:00 Eric Feigl:But there are some times that I’ve come home and I’ve had my giant salad that I usually have with like sardines and nuts and everything and then I’m like, “You know what, I want some sweet,” so then I’ll grab a half of a dark chocolate bar, which is like 80% cacao or something with a handful of blueberries or something. I’ll shove that down and I’m sitting there and I’m like, “Damn, I want something else.” Okay, so I’m gonna go…

07:23 Eric Feigl:And I keep going to a point where I’m like, “Alright, once 7 o’clock hits, I’m done eating.” I don’t know if that qualifies to me as being a clinical issue, but to me that’s like an episode that maybe a lot of people can relate to if they’re living an active lifestyle, maybe they have never had episodes like that. So I don’t know if there’s one area to put everybody in or if it’s like a big broad spectrum of binge eating. Is there? It is.

07:54 Kristen DeAngelis:Yeah, definitely a big broad spectrum for anyone, that’s for anything really. And so I think this point really relates back into what we talked about on one of our previous episodes, which was understanding the difference between physical and emotional hunger and how to identify stress eating and how to handle that. So I think that would definitely be an episode to go back to and evaluate. I would like to have people also think about, if this is occurring at least one time a week, and it’s been occurring at least one time a week for the past three months, that’s another clinical diagnostic criteria. So it’s kind of something else to think about.

08:37 Kristen DeAngelis:Also some other things that can happen though is stomach cramping, weight fluctuations that come up or down, and also really the disordered thinking around the binge eating behavior, so kind of getting into an all-or-nothing behavior. For me, I’ll share with you a little bit of my… And I was thinking right before we got on the show, I actually have not shared this with anyone so way to just share it with the whole world. That’s just how we roll.

09:08 Kristen DeAngelis:When I was in college, again my way to control was to control food and so when I didn’t eat enough, that’s when binge eating would hit really, really hard. And that’s a sign of, yes, I was physically not providing my body enough calories that it needed for the high energy and demands I was always going through, but I relate that to anyone if you are under, over or a normal weight. No one knows if you have an eating disorder based on your weight, no one knows that, because you could be under, over or a normal weight. What can happen though is when we restrict, so someone who wants to chronically be on a diet. That’s what now it’s leading into that cycle of binge eating and that’s how we start to address, “Well, how do we get to a solution?” Okay, so we’re restricting, we’re on a diet, and then we have restricted so much that now we want to go overboard and we overeat, and then we get those feelings of uncomfortableness, of guilt or shame, or whatever we feel. And then we say, “Oh, I’m gonna get back on the diet on Monday,” and then the whole cycle continues.

10:27 Kristen DeAngelis:And so, relating back to me, several years ago, and then also, if anyone’s listening and you find that you’re kind of a chronic dieter, that can also be a sign that you’re getting stuck in this habit loop. Because for me, I covered it up, I covered it up and would just love to try different diets, and I think it is fun to experiment on. I am always saying it’s important to experiment with your body, but I would take it to extremes. It was either hardcore vegan, hardcore vegetarian, hardcore Paleo, Whole30, fasting. And though all those things can be really supportive, but if you’re taking it into that all-or-nothing direction, that’s where it can become, yeah, a little more controversial. So just kind of 2 cents on that.

11:22 Eric Feigl:And thanks for sharing that because in our industry, people don’t realize like I think a lot of people will think that because you do what you do, I do what I do, we have our shit together. And that’s not true, like everybody has their own battles, we just happen to be in this field. And I think that’s one reason why you’re so good at what you do is because you’ve experienced some of those things that you help people with. Like, I’ve experienced some things that I help people with. Maybe this is a whole other podcast topic about how people should view the people that they work with, because [chuckle] we’re dealing with things also as we help people go through their things.


12:02 Eric Feigl:So something maybe that popped in my head when you were going talking about what you’re going through… Let’s say somebody is doing this binging one time a week for about three months, and it’s some fluctuation here and there, they kinda get back on the horse, they realize what they’re doing, and then they stop. When people think of binge eating, at least when I do, I don’t necessarily think of it as, obviously, it’s not a healthy behavior, but can it be done with healthy foods, healthier options? Or is it only using junk foods? Is there a separation of the two? In terms of the calorie content, if you sit down, eat a gigantic salad versus 25 Oreos, the calorie count and the feelings and the emotions attached to one thing might be different than the other, but is there some kind of cross-section there? Is it like, “Oh, I’m gonna go over board here just because I know it’s healthy, it’s fine, I’m gonna eat like 10 steaks?” Or is it only like, “I’m gonna go overboard because it is that unhealthy food?”


13:10 Kristen DeAngelis:Alright, so really good question, Eric. And again, I feel like I could project what people are thinking. They’re thinking that, “Yeah, if it’s healthy food, you can eat as much as you want and if it’s unhealthy food, that’s considered a binge.” But let me share you two experiences. For me, again, when I was in that all or nothing, there was a point in time I remember with this one day, I think I ate 10 apples in a row. Do you know how sick I felt after that? Even though I wouldn’t let myself eat anything that wasn’t healthy. The second example. I don’t binge on this, but I just love them. But I ate so many carrots and sweet potatoes in, I don’t know, probably a week and my skin literally started turning orange. My roommate was like, “Have you been spray tanning?” [laughter]


14:08 Kristen DeAngelis:So really though, I think this is an important conversation to have, it’s hard to identify. So again, the question will always come back up to, is there an emotional component to it, where it’s a lack of, like complete out of control? You feel like it’s an out-of-body experience, and even that hiding. So if you’re going through a drive-through, that’s also kind of like this little rebellion. It’s like I’m in my car, no one’s with me, no one can see me, I can do whatever I wanna do. So those are all signs. Yeah, so they’re all signs. Do you wanna get to some ways and strategies?


14:52 Eric Feigl:Yes, I do. Yup. One thing I do wanna add to that though is I brought that up because there have been times where I’ve come home and I’ll get into the cabin and I’ll have like the… And I have already said this once, like the healthy eating thing where I know, I get like this effet, I’ve already had more than I should have, screw it, I’m just gonna have another Thunderbird bar. [chuckle] That’s your fault by the way, the Thunderbird bar…

15:20 Kristen DeAngelis:Oh my God, I love those bars.

15:22 Eric Feigl:Have you had the mocha one? ‘Cause the mocha one will blow your mind.

15:27 Kristen DeAngelis:Oh, yeah. Yup, I got the whole box. I know.


15:28 Eric Feigl:And it’s only 9 g of sugar, which leads me to something else, why I bring this up? Because I look at the label I’m like, “I’ve already had one, I’m gonna have another ’cause it’s only 9 g of sugar and I allot myself 25 g a day, or some crap like that.” So I get those ideas in my head and I think it’s important for people to discern, like you said, the reason for the outburst. And I don’t even know what mine is sometimes. I get home, I’m just like, “Screw it, I’m gonna do it because either I think I deserve it or maybe I just had a bad day or maybe I just feel going off the rails.” I don’t exactly know what it’s linked to, and maybe I should dive deeper into that, but… So anyway, yeah, let’s go to the next piece and some strategies.


16:22 Kristen DeAngelis:Yeah, so I think it’s really helpful like what you just said is, number one, we have to understand the root, the root of where is this coming from? So in my example, and also even if you don’t think you’re under-eating, you actually might be under-eating because you’re getting back into that chronic diet, restrict diet, restrict binge, that cycle. For me, I was binging because I was physically restricting too much, and then when I started eating normal portions, my brain was still so scared that I wasn’t gonna eat enough, so I was constantly still kind of engaging in some of those behaviors. It took a while to break. And I wanna bring this up that recovery, full recovery from an eating disorder takes on average seven to eight years.


17:13 Eric Feigl:Wow.


17:15 Kristen DeAngelis:Seven to eight years, not seven to eight months, not seven to eight weeks, but seven to eight years for actual full recovery. So just keep that in mind, and really having compassion for us during the process. But what I will say is that, one thing that I think is very common when, for example, you get home or maybe at some time during the day and you’re feeling like pretty anxious or stressed, what can happen is, and this happens for me quite often. I know what low blood sugar feels like, low blood sugar feels shaky, a little bit nauseous, you kind of just feel like this flutteriness. For me, that’s what that, what low blood sugar feels like?


18:00 Kristen DeAngelis:And so, low blood sugar is physically you need to eat if you have low blood sugar. But what happens is that if we are highly anxious, if we’re having anxiety or panic of some sort or worry, we can have those same kind of fight or flight and adrenaline pumping through which we can associate, right? It feels the same thing in our body. So we feel like, “Oh, if I just eat something like this will calm it,” ’cause that happens to me often and I have to really slow down. Take some deep breath and understand, “Okay, is this adrenaline pumping through my system?” And to be honest, Eric, that’s actually why I stopped caffeine or stopped coffee. For me, it was exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and kind of those underlying symptoms for me, which when that happens, I confuse actual anxiety with low blood sugar. Am I hungry or am I stressed?


19:04 Kristen DeAngelis:So, right back to what you said, we really wanna identify, number one, where is this hunger coming from? And is it? It’s physical hunger ’cause, if it’s physical hunger and we have to look at the whole day or what does our day look like, ’cause for some people fasting might work, like for you, that might work, but for other people, you know, fasting might be further feeding into those behaviors.


19:31 Eric Feigl:Definitely, yeah, that makes sense. So we’ve been…


19:38 Kristen DeAngelis:Oh you’re good. Were you gonna say something too?


19:40 Eric Feigl:No, no, no, just that it kinda goes along with everything else we’re talking about like there are the different levels to the reasons why people are doing what they’re doing. So one thing is not a coverall in this situation. This is not like a, “Here this works for everybody, because you’re binging and go.” And the seven to eight-year recovery, that’s… Because you’re dealing with something physical and emotional and it’s gonna happen, these kind of things are gonna be every single day, you have to realize, maybe some people are like, “Holy cow, it’s gonna take me that long.” But in the time… Think about the time that a person has been maybe doing those behaviors, seven to eight years, it might have been longer, might be 20 to 30 years, those behaviors, seven to eight years. If that’s the actual outcome they’re looking at, seven to eight-year recovery time, in the course of an entire lifetime, that’s a drop in the bucket. It’s gonna feel probably not like that, but yeah.


20:38 Kristen DeAngelis:Yeah. And that statistic isn’t meant to scare anyone because I’ve been working with people who make just incredible, just beautiful, beautiful changes in a matter of six months or one year in working together.


20:53 Eric Feigl:Sure.


20:53 Kristen DeAngelis:But I can still see that there’s a lot of trouble with the language that they have, kind of the body image, the self-talk around foods, and that’s where kind of that like seven to eight-year period kind of keeps going and prolongs, just because it does take time to like really rewire the brain. And so that’s really where I would give my next suggestion as far as how to handle binge eating would be, not just to work with a dietitian but also specifically a therapist. I decided after college, I had people for a long time telling me to see someone and I was never really ready, I wasn’t really ever committed, and then I decided when I was ready and I started working with someone and she literally changed my life. I mean, I’ve moved back to Chicago now, I guess, like six years later, and I decided to work with her again because I just think working with someone in the mental health field is so, so helpful, no matter what you’re going through.


22:10 Eric Feigl:Yeah. On any level. If you have the two together, the dietitian and the therapist, that can be on the same level that’s even an added benefit.


22:18 Kristen DeAngelis:Absolutely. Yeah, I work with several therapists and we kind of dual action with our clients, which is so helpful, to really have that team approach. And I would say, additionally, to working with the therapist, a dietitian, a personal trainer as yourself. So that’s… I like to think of a support system of at least five.


22:41 Eric Feigl:Okay. Yeah.


22:42 Kristen DeAngelis:And I know that you and I have worked with clients personally, and our client has you, they have me. But I also ask, “Well, who else is on your support system? Is it your mom? Is it your friend? Is it a co-worker? Is it a church group? Is it a yoga community?” Find those communities because the second that that eating disorder starts to grow bigger and bigger inside of us, is when we isolate ourself. There’s a great film if you haven’t seen it, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2. And I worked with Joe very closely, I traveled throughout the world filming, Fat, Sick & Nearly… Showing the film tour for Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2. And it shows just this, it shows that when we isolate, we very easily get back into those binge eating behaviors.


23:37 Kristen DeAngelis:So, it’s a story that kind of shows that and demonstrates that very well, so I think building that support system, working with someone, being able to eat more regularly, more frequently, having a kind and compassionate self-talk towards ourself, and stating that, like compassion is saying that this is hard, this isn’t easy. This is gonna take time and there’s people just like you doing it, and so it’s reach out and find that support. That’s what’s gonna really make the difference ’cause that’s… For me, that was my journey. The second that I opened up and was ready to ask for support and have that dialogue, that’s when change happened, but when I hit it, when I isolated, it made it bigger and bigger.


24:24 Eric Feigl:Yeah, and then you’re kind of digging yourself out of a hole after that too, right? You probably feel like you’re starting from scratch and it takes you longer to tell people what just happened. And I know when you and I work together with people and I’m kind of guilty of being a little… And I’m working on this all of the time, but I’m guilty about being maybe a little more to the fact like, “Alright, you said it now, let’s do this kind of action.”


24:52 Kristen DeAngelis:That’s good though. Some people need that though.


24:54 Eric Feigl:Well, I think some people need that, but they also need… So in your circle, don’t just have an echo chamber of people. Make maybe one person can be that really stubborn hard head person that just says, “Hey, let’s do this, I’m here for you, you said I was gonna help you, now stop your shit and let’s do this.” And then somebody else can be like a little more, a little softer, and a little more sympathetic or empathetic. And there’s variance because that’s… Because your emotions vary. Our emotions vary. The reasons why we do things vary. In the moment, there might be one of those people you can reach out to differently, but they’re all on your team, and so having a support system is so freaking important and… But like you said, there’s… It’s not gonna happen overnight. This isn’t a fix. And maybe somebody out there who thinks to themselves, maybe I do have a binge eating problem, maybe I don’t, I’m not so sure.


26:00 Eric Feigl:There are resources out there for you to find out. And if you do, then there are ways to help manage that and it’s just as important as any other kind of habit like over exercise or you name it. There are a lot of these different tiers that we see ourselves in. And just because you’re not that person driving for the drive-through at 3 o’clock in the morning at Taco Bell ordering five things off the menu, that doesn’t mean that there might not be something underlying that can lead to something even more dramatic down the road.


26:34 Eric Feigl:Kristen, I hate to cut this short, but I gotta jump off here. I gotta get going. Let people know where they can find you again and where they can reach out.


26:45 Kristen DeAngelis:Yeah, thank you so much, I’d love to hear from you guys. I’d love to support you on your journey. You can find me on Instagram @kdwellness. My website is, and also You can reach out to me and find me there as well.


27:03 Eric Feigl:Perfect. And I’ll link all that in the show notes and all the hot topics that we discussed in the show notes. So Kristen, thank you so much. It looks like it’s beautiful in Chicago so I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and we’ll talk to you soon.


27:16 Kristen DeAngelis:Alright, over and out. Thanks, Eric.