Binging –a matter of willpower or genes?

Why does one person binge whilst another never does?

Heidi Klum chowing down on a burger for Carl’s Junior, but clearly she doesn’t have a bingeing problem.

As Christmas Parties kick-off, a new study could help you reduce your food.

New research from the University of Queensland and University College London may have the answer to why one person binges, and another never does.

And it’s not that some people have more willpower. According to Professor David Evans and his colleagues, if a young person has a particular variation of the FTO gene, they are 20-30% more likely to develop binge eating tendencies. This pattern is particularly evident in young girls.

In a world that still holds obese people responsible for ‘getting fat’ this is yet another reason for providing education and support to those who battle their weight and the urge to over-eat.

Genetic propensity for a condition does not mean it is a done deal. Binge eating, defined as ‘excessive overeating, often accompanied by a loss of control over the amount of food consumed’, is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Nutritionist Matt O’Neill outlines a Hunger and Fullness scale from 1 to 9 – 1 ravenous, 2 very hungry, 3 hungry, 4 slightly hungry, 5 neutral, 6 satisfied, 7 full, 8 very full and 9 sick. The aim for the binge eater is to not go past level 7, as the emotional aftermath is far worse than the calories eaten.

Weight management counsellor Ginette Lenham says, “clients often tell me that after a binge they are filled with regret and self -loathing. They promise themselves that was the last time, only to be even harder on themselves when they binge again. This leads to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and the tendency to binge more and numb the pain”.

Part of breaking this cycle states Dietician Arlene Normand is to identify and avoid triggers. You can more easily deal with triggers such as hunger, place, sight and people. You can carry a snack in your bag so you don’t get overly hungry, avoid driving down the road McDonalds is on, not stand in front of the cake shop window and rain check your date for all you can eat Yum Cha .

Other triggers such as anger, depression, frustration, fatigue, boredom, nervousness, happiness and loneliness are often far more powerful and complex. Simple strategies to deal with your emotion are to write down what you are feeling, chat to a friend or distract yourself and see if the desire to binge passes. Be kind and do not punish yourself if it does not.

As Ginette Lenham points out, “no two people are the same and working with a counsellor to understand your own triggers, sensitivities and challenges may be the first step in managing binge eating”.

If you or a friend is struggling with binge eating you can contact Ginette Lenham at

By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer 7 Owner of The Health Hub 

Rachel Livingstone

Rachel is a PT and Maternal Health specialist who found the gym at 14 through her weight lifting dad and never looked back. Originally from the UK she finally settled her wanderlusting feet on the shores of Sydney and can often be found on the back of a paddleboard exploring Rose Bay and the beautiful harbour.

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