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Why Do We Overeat and Have Bulimic Attacks? How Can We Prevent This from Happening?

By Edited Aug 28, 2016 1 3

We all have our moments, when we suddenly behave like a “bulimic”.  Since this is something that has happened to me a lot, I wanted to share my learnings on this and I hope this will help you find some solutions. I am 1m70 tall and weigh about 59 kilograms. I have been up to 65 kilograms in the past and down to 55 kilograms. So my weight has not been varying too extremely. Enough, however, to make me feel like the ugliest woman on earth and guilty when having a bulimic attack.

What just happened?

It’s Thursday night and the weekend is coming soon. I ate a nice meal at night and do not feel hungry at all. My flatmates are here and we have are chatting away. Everything seems to be fine. Yet, once everyone falls asleep, I go back to the kitchen – and there the “food war” begins. I eat whatever I find that appeals to me: chocolate bars, nutella, bread with butter and honey, yogurt, cereals, cookies, etc. What just happened? I probably swallowed about 3,000 kilocalories in 20 minutes. Why?   

Spanish paella

Why did I do this?

Over the last couple of years I found out several reasons for me to act like that. Maybe you will find one of your reasons and hopefully my tip to prevent it the next time will help you!


1) I had a bad day at work

I started working 3 years ago, and now I know that over-eating for me can be directly related to work. In particular, when I have had a long day at work, coming back home around 10pm, frustrated because of the lack of time and maybe some other issues at work, my brain seems to be asking for a compensation. It wants to be rewarded for all this hard work and tension I am putting on it at the moment. I come back home, and already on the way back I am thinking of chocolate, sweet cereals, or a cookie that remained from the weekend. It is hard to resist, and the desire builds up on my way back home. It is as if this were meant to divert my attention from other, rather unpleasant, matters.


Quick fix solutions:

-       Do sports instead: on your way back home, go to the gym first. You should feel much better or at least you will have deserved your cookie.

-       Yoga, with its breathing exercises, can help you calm down and focus on what’s important in life. You should be getting back to the big picture rather than the will to fulfil a spontaneous desire.

-       Make sure you are not alone when you come back home: if your flatmate or boyfriend is there, there are fewer chances that you will let yourself go. And probably a good conversation with them should give you what you need, namely get out your frustration or think of something else. If you fear going back to the fridge once they are in bed, let them know. They should de-dramatize the situation and maybe help you not do this (or at least not feel guilty!).

-       Have nothing sweet at home: this worked pretty well for me until my new flatmates moved in. They have plenty of nutella and other cookies on their shelves. Unfortunately, they told me that I could feel free to have some of theirs at any time, which makes resisting much more difficult…

Long-term solution:

You should have a more balanced life. First, I found that when I am tired, my desire for sweets is higher and my capacity to resist is lower. There is a “whatever” effect, which pushes me to have more and more sweets. So if I regularly come out at 10 pm from work and do not get enough sleep (and unless my work is an absolute passion – in which case my brain will probably not be as frustrated) I know exactly that these bulimic attacks will happen at some point. I therefore have to change the situation and make sure I come home earlier and start having good nights sleep again. Of course, if the job is highly frustrating by itself, you should rethink the position itself in order to remain healthy on the long term.

2) I was bored and eating was a way out of my boredom

I had this when I started working 3 years ago. I was a junior full of energy, freshly graduated from business school and I wanted to work a lot, learn a lot. However, after I had just been hired, our activity stopped for a few months. I was desperate. To divert my attention, I started going to the local Café every two hours to get a cookie or a piece of cake. Obviously, this was not helping and I put on about 4 or 5 kilograms in 2 to 3 months.

My solutions for this:

-       I asked for training possibilities. Being in the financial world, and since I was willing to learn a lot, I decided to buy the CFA books and started reading them. Of course I could have just read all the material we had in the company. But with the CFA books I had a goal, and a precise path to reach it. It helped me be self-disciplined and find an answer to my frustration, until the activity came back.

-       Later on, when there was lower activity again, I launched a social initiative with my colleagues. In times of low activity, this helped me find a meaning to my work.

I would say that the best way to fight boredom is being more proactive. And usually, it brings in a virtuous circle.


3) I had a meal that did not satisfy me (too small or not good), and I felt like eating something that I like to compensate

This happened to me a lot in my early twenties, when I finally got aware of my bad food habits and started to move away from loads of pasta and bread to more vegetables and fruits. The way to get there was not easy, especially because I tried a lot of things I did not like. For instance, you try to cook a healthy meal, with fresh vegetables and chicken, and it turns out to be an absolute disaster and tastes not good at all. Well, back then, I would still eat that meal, since I would not dare to throw away a freshly cooked meal. However, after I would have finished, I would always eat something to compensate for this bad meal (mostly sweets – chocolate, cookies, etc.).

My solution: If there is one thing you should invest in, it is your meal. In many instances, your meals are your pleasure of the day. Do not underestimate this or your brain will ask for a compensation. If you do not like what you just cooked, honestly, it might be best to just throw it away and buy something at the local bakery instead. It’s a learning path, and sometimes it will be hard for people who do not like to spend too much money (like me). But my last intent to spare money on food by buying low quality items, which did not taste great, ended with a bulimic attack (again). In the end, it probably cost me more that way than if I would have bought a nice meal at the local restaurant (let alone the fact that it is not good for your health!).

4) I felt lonely and needed to fill this hole (moving to another city)

This situation is a famous one. This happened to me 3 years ago, when I moved to another country to start my job. It was my first week at work, and I was quite busy. So when Friday arrived, I had forgotten to make plans. I am a timid person, so a last minute option was difficult, let alone going out on my own. So I walked home (it was summer) and felt depressed that I had nothing to do and nobody to meet on such a nice Friday night. The kitchen became my shelter, and I ate way too much yoghurt with honey. I felt a bit sick and went to bed.

My solution: know yourself. If you are timid and moving to a new city, move in with flatmates. Use communities such as CouchSurfers to get to know people quickly. Organize things in advance. At the beginning, if you feel lonely, it is better to meet people rather than staying alone, even though you might feel that they do not fit your character perfectly.

Of course, there are many other situations that can bring you to overeat and have a bulimic attack. However, I hope the above just helped you. And if not, please let me know your point of view. If you think of other situations, well, maybe I have been through it as well and just did not list it up, in which case I could share my thoughts with you.



Nov 27, 2013 1:59pm
Great article - thanks for sharing. I think many people can relate to emotional eating, at least from time to time. I wonder if you have tried Mindfulness - it's a type of meditation, and practising regularly can help you to train your brain to regulate your mood. It's also an excellent way of practising portion control. Good luck!
Nov 30, 2013 6:16am
Thanks a lot Beth. This sounds interesting, can you recommend any site, book, podcast or the like? My mindset definitely plays a key role, and very often in my case "extreme conditions" lead to "extreme reactions", which is why living a balanced life so far prooved to be the only long-term solution for me. But Mindfulness could help me when I am confronted to these extreme moments - which will always happen, even if less often than before...
Dec 5, 2013 9:49am
Jon Kabat-Zinn's books are a great starting place. There are also loads of mindfulness resources online now, as it's becoming more popular. Good luck! B:)
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