primal brain binge eating

The Primal Brain’s Role in Normal Eating (and Binge Eating)

I received a good question from someone struggling with binge eating regarding which part of the brain—the higher brain (rational) or the lower brain (primal, habitual, instinctual, and pleasure-seeking) is involved in normal eating. This is topic I address thoroughly in the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide but I want to answer it briefly here—and direct you to a few other posts and podcasts episodes where you can learn more—because this issue can be nuanced.

The more primitive part of the brain (that I call the lower brain) has a fundamental role in eating, and when it’s functioning properly, we should be able to trust it to regulate our appetite and steer us toward pretty good food choices—based on our taste preferences and physiological needs. However, when restrictive dieting and binge eating become involved, the primal brain becomes dysfunctional—driving you toward massive amounts of food, as if that’s imperative for survival. To overcome this, it’s necessary to use the rational higher brain to override the primal brain’s (temporarily) faulty programming.

When you recover and end the binge eating habit, you are not banishing the primal brain. You are instead returning it to its normal role in regulating hunger and fullness and the desire for pleasurable food. However, in today’s modern food environment, I don’t think we can rely completely on the primitive, lower brain to guide our eating (like some proponents of an intuitive eating approach suggest). There are so many unnatural and over-stimulating foods that our appetite regulation system and our lower brain’s reward system weren’t meant to deal with. That does not mean we are powerless against those foods, but it does mean we need our higher brain to override any excess or problematic cravings.

Eating is never a purely rational experience, nor should it be. But in today’s world, I don’t think eating can necessarily be a purely primal-brain-driven experience either.

To explore more about this topic, you can check out the following resources:

Episode 16: Eating Intuitively: Is it Right for You in Recovery From Binge Eating?

Is Intuitive Eating a Remedy for Binge Eating?

Indulging in Food: Getting over Overindulging

Overeating: Don’t Overdo Self-Control 

Episode 47: What if I’m Overeating After I Stop Binge Eating?

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More resources for additional support:

Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private and highly personalized session. You will learn to change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.