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Can Caffeine Lead to Binge Eating?

Binge Eating

In this post, we explore the relationship between caffeine and binge eating by answering the following question from a site visitor.

Hi Cynthia,

I have struggled with periodic binge eating for years. I have cleaned up my diet and follow and weighed and measured plan high in protein and non-starchy vegetables as well as some fats. My plan allows for black coffee and tea, which I drink liberally. I still struggle with periodic binging late at night. Is there reason to suspect that this is due to the caffeine intake? Thanks, Meg.

Hi Meg,

Yes, absolutely, caffeine can most definitely be a trigger for binging, compulsive overeating or food addiction and here’s why.

Binge eating, compulsive overeating or food addiction is caused by disrupted brain chemistry and impairment of the endocrine system. The goal in overcoming these eating disorders is to restore balance to the brain and the endocrine system.

One of the primary factors that must be addressed to achieve this goal is to maintain stable blood sugar levels at all times. When our blood glucose levels become elevated, it prompts the release of insulin. When insulin is released, then blood glucose levels plummet to very low levels and then low blood sugar symptoms like fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, and nervousness are experienced. This results in ravenous hunger and cravings for sugar and carbs as the brain will send out signals that says we need to bring blood sugar levels back up quickly.

However, when sugar and carbs are consumed, then glucose is elevated too high again and insulin is released and levels plummet again. A vicious cycle ensues that keeps one stuck in never ending cravings for sugar and carbs. This cycle can be interrupted by removing all foods and substances that contribute to this roller coaster ride. If blood sugar levels remain stable, then cravings will subside.

Caffeine Causes a Spike in Blood Sugar

When we consume caffeine (in any form), it sets off the stress response system. When the stress response system is activated, norepinephrine instructs the liver to release the sugar it has stored (glycogen) into the blood stream, because we need a lot of energy to deal with stress. However, this then leads to elevated levels of blood glucose, which as we described above will then lead to insulin release, low blood sugar and insatiable cravings for sugar and carbs. Therefore, consumption of caffeine is about the same as eating sugar, because it has the same impact on the brain and endocrine system.

Caffeine Weakens the Adrenal Glands

Additionally, each time the stress response system is activated the adrenal glands are called upon to release stress hormones that are needed to help support the body through this stressful time. Initially, this can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, which is associated with weakened immune function, impaired brain function, high levels of anxiety and fear, panic attacks, lower bone density, muscle loss, and insomnia to name a few. However, eventually the adrenal glands will become fatigued and then cortisol will not be produced sufficiently, which is associated with fatigue, loss of energy and stamina, blood sugar issues, inflammation, chronic pain, allergies and autoimmune disorders. Each of these situations may result in cravings for sugar and carbs or binge eating, in an attempt to self-medicate the symptoms that develop as a result of the disruption. Not only that, the adrenal glands are critical for managing blood sugar levels, so once they become impaired, then blood sugar management does not operate properly, which can then perpetuate the whole vicious cycle with blood glucose from this angle as well.

Furthermore, when insulin is being released all the time on a continual basis, this eventually leads to insulin resistance, whereby glucose will not be able to get into the cells. This then leads to more cravings for sugar and carbs or binge eating as our cells will keep calling for glucose even though the system may be flooded with glucose.

The other side of the coin in overeating disorders is brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters that modulate cognitive functions, energy, thought, mood and appetite may become out of balance, which then leads to cravings for sugar and carbs because these substances have the ability to artificially stimulate our receptors.  High or low histamine, excess glutamate or insufficient levels of GABA, low levels of serotonin, endorphins, or dopamine, excess or deficient acetylcholine, can all lead to major cravings for sugar and carbs, binging or compulsive overeating. The other primary goal in overcoming an eating disorder is to maintain balance with neurotransmitters in the brain.

Caffeine is an Addictive Drug

Caffeine is an addictive, mind altering drug, no different than cocaine and amphetamines that disrupts and then depletes many of these critical neurotransmitters that need to remain balanced. Consumption initially floods the brain with high levels of acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and glutamate which is why caffeine produces more energy, enhances cognitive functions, and boosts mood, but then when it leaves the system, neurotransmitters drop to lower levels. The brain responds to artificial or over stimulation, by downregulating production or responsiveness to the neurotransmitter. This is known as tolerance, and then more of the substance is needed to achieve the same results, which in this case is caffeine, and then one becomes addicted to caffeine to perform the roles of the depleted neurotransmitters. Caffeine also inhibits GABA, our primary calming neurotransmitter. All of which, can result in binging or compulsive overeating. Cravings may develop both in an attempt to downregulate the effects of a stimulatory neurotransmitter or replace an inhibitory one that is missing.

Furthermore, caffeine impairs absorption of many critical nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, zinc, potassium, iron, B1, biotin, inositol and others, many of which are vital for proper functions in the brain and the endocrine system and thereby controlling appetite and cravings for sugar and carbs.

Caffeine Encourages Overgrowth of Candida and Other Microbes

If the individual with food addiction, binging, or compulsive overeating has overgrowth of Candida or bacteria, which is very often the case, then the elevation in glucose that develops in response to caffeine consumption is going to feed these microbes and increase levels of overgrowth. Higher levels of overgrowth equals higher levels of toxins released from the microbes. The toxins released by Candida and other microbes can impair neurotransmitter production and function and blood sugar management themselves, which can also lead to binging and/or compulsive overeating.

Therefore, as you can see, caffeine is one of the primary evils for the individual who is trying to overcome binging, compulsive overeating, sugar addiction, food addiction, or addiction of any kind, and it must be eliminated completely from the diet to achieve successful recovery. This includes caffeine from any source (coffee, tea, chocolate, green tea, soda pop, energy drinks, etc.) Even caffeine free is not acceptable, because caffeine-free is not really free of caffeine — it still contains small amounts that will perpetuate this cycle. All other substances that impair brain chemistry and the endocrine system like sugar, grains, legumes, high-carb foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, marijuana and other psychotropic drugs must be eliminated as well. The diet should be rich in animal protein and fat.

You can read about each of these issues in more detail on this page and this page. Additionally, you can learn more about overcoming binging, compulsive overeating and food addiction in my free teleseminar, or you may want take a look at my Break Your Sugar Addiction Today Toolkit, where you’ll find an abundance of tools to assist you in your recovery process.

Can Coffee be Healthy?

I know that many people in the Paleo community think that drinking Bulletproof Coffee is acceptable. It is not. Adding fat to your coffee does not change the fact that caffeine is an addictive mind-altering drug, no different than amphetamines and cocaine or that it triggers the stress response system and everything else I’ve discussed on this page. A moderately healthy individual may be able to get away with consuming Bullletproof coffee, but the individual recovering from an addiction of any kind, as well as compulsive overeating, sugar addiction, binge eating, or an autonomic nervous system disorder will likely have the same negative effects and it will perpetuate their condition.

Furthermore, in our quest for health, our goal should not be focused on trying to figure out ways to manipulate a mind-altering drug (caffeine) into some other form that might be a little less destructive. This is addictive behavior – trying to find a way to continue one’s addiction. It should simply be eliminated from the diet.

Additionally, many people may want to argue that some studies demonstrate coffee has some potential health benefits. Again, even if there are some benefits that can be gained from coffee, it still does not change the fact that it is an addictive mind-altering drug, triggers the stress response system, etc. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter if some benefit exits, because it is outweighed by all the destructive effects of caffeine.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Chris January 26, 2016, 3:27 am

    Hi Cynthia,
    I’ve been following paleo for awhile now.
    I just discovered your site about a month ago and have been avidly reading ever since.
    I find your site to be unique with the depth of information you provide and the particular way you present it to the reader.
    After reading this, your article on adrenal fatigue, and others, you lit a fire under me to clean up my act and take action now!
    I decided to quit coffee cold turkey and have been exhaused since. I’m just starting to come out of my haze, and will not be revisiting coffee or caffeine again.
    I’ve also shaken some other bad habits, and have gone very low carb and cut out fruit as well.
    It hasn’t been too easy cooking and such, but I’ve already lost the cravings to overeat at night and I’m looking forward to losing some very stubborn weight around the middle.
    After I spend some time with this new shift I’ll most likley sign up for some phone time with you to do some fine tuning and make sure I’m on the right track.
    In the meantime, I’d like to extend a very heartfelt thanks for making this information available to all who happen upon it.
    Warm Regards,
    Chris

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins February 4, 2016, 10:09 pm

    Thank you Chris. That’s fantastic. Good job.

    Best,

    Cynthia

  • Chris February 6, 2016, 12:25 am

    Hi Cynthia,

    Maybe this is TMI for the comment section, but for anyone thinking that quitting coffee was/is a walk in the park for me…..

    Since writing my original comment. ( I quit two weeks prior ) I gave in and had a small Starbuck’s coffee to get through work.
    This is definitely more of a challenge than I thought. That darn stuff may as well be crack. I immediately wanted a second cup and got it!
    I’ve reigned myself in and have been making weaker coffee at home with a small amount of coconut oil to function. I was able to take a walk and plant a tree today, while in contrast I do a lot more sitting on the couch without it.

    I have still incorporated all the other changes and stuck with them, and I’m proud of that.
    I quit medical pot at the same time and that was way easier to give up than the coffee. I still have no cravings for it and it’s right in the cupboard, soon to be tossed.

    To make things even more complicated I suffer from autoimmune issues with H. S. which I’ve been able to manage pretty well, but for some reason flared a little after I quit everything. One constant is lots of skin flaking on my face, ears and scalp. I use Trader Joe’ s oatmeal soap. If I don’t I feel like I have a clay mask on and the flakes are prominent.

    The overall energy deficit, and good day/ bad day I’m going through is tough to mangage when I have to work.
    I feel normal and productive after coffee and just ok or (not) without it.
    I also didn’t think my bowel movements would be so affected and slowed down. I’ve started taking psyillum for both candida detox and to keep things moving. I’ve added charcoal, C, PB8, a multimineral with molybdenum, and silymarin to help detox. I took some caprylic acid and oregano, but I’m afraid to take too much since I’m already feeling so run down.
    I haven’t added anything specific for my adrenals yet.
    Surprisingly, I haven’t gotten any headaches, even without coffee, but I did get swollen glands and flu like symptoms, hot and cold, sweaty then not kind of stuff..
    Getting back to a normal sleep pattern was not as easy as I thought either, although
    I have been enjoying having lots of dreams since discontinuing cannabis.

    I certainly underestimated how long the recovery period was going to be and
    realize this is going to take awhile. Any advice to help transition? Am I out of my depth
    with this?
    I value your opinion and help.
    Thank-you,
    Chris

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins March 9, 2016, 6:23 pm

    Hi Chris,

    This is all very common for people coming off caffeine. I frequently work with people who go through severe withdrawal like this, as if they are coming off a hard drug like crack. It is one of the most difficult substances to overcome, especially because it is so deeply entrenched in our society. Even many people in the health field are encouraging people to drink coffee and do not understand how devastating it can be. You can take a look at the following pages for more information.

    http://www.holistichelp.net/blog/health-effects-of-caffeine-on-the-body/

    http://www.alternatives-for-alcoholism.com/caffeine-addiction.html

    Alternatively, if you would like to discuss this in more detail and get more personalized help, then you could set up a phone consultation with me.

    Best,

    Cynthia

  • Lisa April 24, 2016, 8:21 pm

    Bravo! I recently just kicked the decaf coffee habit. There’s enough caffeine in it to continue messing with my health. Decaf also caused me to have food cravings. Good riddance. BTW, the founder of BP coffee still suffers from histamine excess yet there he is, professing coffee is good for you. Meanwhile, he’s taking loads of supplements biohacking his way to where ever. Sigh!

    I’ve been researching and testing for seven years and have made huge gains in improving my health. You speak the truth and connect the dots. Very informative site. Thank you

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins April 25, 2016, 11:23 pm

    You’re welcome Lisa. Thank you. Great job.

    Best,

    Cynthia

  • Frank C August 12, 2016, 1:34 am

    Kombucha.
    So I have quit coffee a month ago, then switched to 1 tea bag of green tea per day, quit that now too, but still drink kombucha.
    Supposedly, only 1/3 of caffiene remains after brewing, 20% of sugar will still remain [or more], and it will mildly alcoholic at around 1% when fully brewed, or up to 4% in ‘green’ or partially brewed.

    So kombucha, has caffeine, sugar and alcohol, as well as the beneficial acids etc.

    I have autoimmune problems and am still quite toxic and overweight, even though I have no true alcoholic drinks like beer and wine, no more tea or coffee, no diary except for small amounts of acidophilis yoghurt and very minor amounts of cheese, quit gluten and almost rice now, living mostly on meat and vege.

    So you’re going to tell me I should just have a little apple cider vinegar instead? and skip the addictive kombucha that has a drug like quality that makes me crave more?

    I know already just by my bodies reaction and cravings, but but but, I dont know why I am asking? as I know already…..

    Thanks for creating such a great site.

    regards Frank C

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins August 27, 2016, 12:38 pm

    Yes, Frank the addictive kombucha (sugar, alcohol, and caffeine are all addictive drugs) should be avoided.

    Thank you and you’re welcome.

    Cynthia

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