It’s Not You, It’s the Dopamine: The Science Behind Binge Eating

Binge eaters deal with a lot of shame. Many often wonder why they can’t just have some willpower, ignore cravings, and lose weight. It gets worse when these binge eaters compare themselves to their friends who don’t binge. If some people don’t struggle with binge eating, why do others?

It turns out that there’s a scientific reason for binge eating: dopamine. Resources like, scientific studies, and psychologists agree: dopamine plays a key role in binge eating. Some people binge eat for the same reason that others smoke; Their brains are simply hardwired for it. It’s not a matter of willpower, so stop beating yourself up because you can’t “just” stop eating. When powerful neurotransmitters get involved, nobody can “just” do anything.

So does that mean there’s no hope? Absolutely not. Knowledge is half the battle. Once you know how food and dopamine impact your brain, you can finally do something about it.

What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine isn’t a bad thing. In fact, humans need it. Without enough dopamine, people deal with low motivation, fatigue, and a whole list of other struggles. Poor dopamine function can even cause conditions like depression and ADHD.

So, what does dopamine do? In the simplest terms, it makes you feel good. Your brain gets a dopamine boost every time you eat, have sex, exercise, or do any other beneficial activities. It’s a reward. You do something that’s good for you, your brain releases a feel-good chemical, and your body says “Hey! I like this feeling! I should do more of the thing that caused it.”

But what does that have to do with binge eating? Well, binge eating, like alcoholism or long-term smoking, comes from addiction. And if you’re predisposed to addictions (Thanks, genetics.), then things like food can hijack your brain’s reward system. Some people can eat a snack, get a quick dopamine boost, and move on. It’s not that simple if you struggle with binge eating, though. For binge eaters, even the sight of food can trigger a dopamine boost. Eating the food triggers even more dopamine. Over time, your brain gets addicted to the food/reward cycle.

How to Disrupt the Cycle

The bad news is that healing your dopamine receptors won’t happen overnight. The good news is that your dopamine receptors can indeed heal. With enough time and patience, you can break the cycle. Here are some things you can do to make it happen.

Rewire Your Brain With Mindfulness

“Mindfulness” became a buzzword a few years ago. You may have heard about its connection to meditation. You don’t have to meditate to practice mindfulness, though. You can practice it throughout the day. When you deal with cravings, you might practice mindfulness by acknowledging that craving and letting yourself feel it as you ride it out.

While eating, you can practice mindfulness by paying attention to how your body feels. Your dopamine receptors may be telling you to keep eating, but how does your stomach feel? Do you feel full, or still hungry? Your mind and body may send you different signals, so don’t ignore your body while you pay attention to your mind.


Figure Out Your Triggers

Addictions virtually always come with triggers, or things that make you crave the addictive substance. These things send signals to the brain. For example, stress might be one of your triggers. When some people get stressed, they turn to food for comfort. If a person consistently reaches for food every time they feel stress, that person will create a habit.

Maybe you struggle with triggers and habits, too. If that’s the case, think about what your triggers may be. Notice when you feel the need to binge, and ask yourself what sparked that need. Once you start noticing these patterns, you can make adjustments in your habits.

Use Tools

Addiction is a serious thing, and breaking an addiction requires tools and support. Fortunately, you have resources available, including books, websites, and apps. These app creators understand how dopamine and other brain chemicals play a part in binge eating. The app helps people figure out their triggers, use mindfulness to handle cravings, and learn how to break the cycle.

Whatever resource you choose, having tools on your side can make all the difference. Once you understand the root causes of your binge eating, you can get to work on the plan that works best for you.


  • Tamra Phelps

    This is really on the money. I definitely have times when I binge eat–even to the point where I’m eating even after it is uncomfortable to continue eating. It’s a compulsive behavior, I think.

  • Kate Sarsfield

    They say that you can’t have enough of a good thing but anyone who deals with addiction issues will tell you different.

  • heather

    I love when I learn things that I never knew before when reading a post. This post was super informative and helpful thanks for sharing.

  • Piroska

    Thanks for the interesting article! I’m lucky that I’m not able to binge eat, but I understand what a difficult eating disorder this is.

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