One of the most complicated relationships a lot of us have is with our food. Food is such a big part of our culture. From the time we are children we are rewarded with food and comforted by food. Many fond memories are created with friends and family gathered around a table, eating, drinking, storytelling, and laughing. Food is tied to our emotions, and sometimes we may not realize it until we change the way we eat for one reason or another – a diet, a medical condition, a shift in our thinking – and we see the emotions that come up for us and the reactions of those around us. This month, at the request of one of our readers, we are going to talk a little bit about our relationship with food, specifically in the context of binge eating – what it is, and what you can do about it if you think it might be an issue for you.
What Is Binge Eating and Binge Eating Disorder?
Most of us at one time or another has eaten past our level of comfort. Whether it was a time when we ate a whole container of ice cream in one sitting, too much food on Thanksgiving, or maybe we just couldn’t stop eating that really great pasta or fantastically cheesy pizza. You get the idea. But for some of us, binge eating occurs on a more regular basis and can be accompanied by damaging byproducts such as negative thoughts about ourselves and our lives, depression, obesity, or medical conditions that occur as a result of obesity. According to the Mayo Clinic, Binge Eating Disorder effects both men and women and is characterized by excessive overeating that feels out of control and becomes a regular occurrence; eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as over a 2-hour period; feeling that your eating behavior is out of control; eating even when you’re full or not hungry; eating rapidly during binge episodes; eating until you’re uncomfortably full; frequently eating alone or in secret; feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating; or frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss.
Binging can be an escape, a way to not feel an otherwise uncomfortable feeling. In some cases, much like restricting ourselves, binging can feel like a way of taking action or control to make ourselves feel better. To end binge eating, it is important to figure out what underlying feelings are creating the urge to binge in the first place, and to begin to take action to address those. All of the suggestions contained in this article are difficult to do, but they are possible. Think of them as tools for your toolbox. Some might resonate with you, others might not. Maybe commit to trying one or two and see how you feel. Have patience with yourself. You didn’t find yourself in this position overnight and so it won’t be fixed overnight.
Putting an End to Binge Eating
I believe that the first step to ending binge eating is awareness, being aware of our behavior and having a desire to change it. Next, slowing down and becoming mindful of what is going on for us when we eat, even when we aren’t binging. To become more mindful, start by pausing before you begin to eat a meal. Try beginning each meal by taking several grounding breaths in and out through your nose, counting to four during each inhale and exhale, notice how you are feeling. Perhaps you notice you are feeling uncomfortable, sad, joyful. Just notice. Think of this as the information gathering stage. If you are a fast eater and have trouble slowing yourself down, try chewing each bite at least 20 to 30 times. This will not only make you more aware of what is going on for you, it will help you to fully taste your food. It will improve your digestion, and you will begin to notice that you are feeling fuller sooner. It may sound silly, but when I started slowing my pace of eating and fully chewing my food, I was amazed at all of the flavors I was missing out on!
It might also be helpful to keep a journal. Without editing, write about how you feel about eating. Explore how you feel before a binge, during, and after. What was the conversation surrounding food when you were growing up? What is your behavior like when you eat? For example, I notice that I have a tendency to eat too quickly, sometimes frenetically. I eat beyond the point when I know I am full and I tell myself that I can’t stop because it tastes good or the texture is great but I have learned that there is more to it. In those moments, I am eating to avoid a feeling or to hold onto a good one. Don’t judge what you learn, just notice.
If you feel a binge coming on, ask yourself what is really going on. Have a conversation with yourself and explore the feeling that you are trying to avoid by eating. Knowing your emotional triggers – the feelings, moods, interactions, or relationships that drive your urge to binge – can help you begin to create a strategy to address those issues. For example, say to yourself, “I am feeling hurt and ignored. Instead of eating I will…”
In addition to your emotional triggers, begin to see if you can identify your food triggers and don’t keep them in your home where you have easy access to them. Developing a regular pattern of eating can also be helpful. Restricting or not eating enough can often rebound resulting in a binge.
A recent study conducted at Deakin University in Australia found that a regular yoga practice can help those who are struggling with this issue. Yoga can help you become more aware of how you are feeling and what you need physically and emotionally. It can also help you develop the ability to do what is right for yourself, even when others may be doing something different.
If the Binge Starts
If the binge starts, try to become aware of what is happening, try to become mindful. Tell yourself you can make a choice to stop at any time. Try to see the binge as multiple decisions, not one big decision. When the binge concludes, don’t perpetuate the cycle by starving yourself for a time following the binge. If you do that, you are only setting yourself up for another binge. Above all, forgive yourself. Have compassion for yourself. Try not to judge yourself but learn from the experience, recommit to yourself, and set your sights on how you might avoid the next binge.
These suggestions are tools to help prevent the occasional binge or if you have Binge Eating Disorder. If you think you fit the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder, help is available. Go online or consult your doctor for support groups in the area or for a list of therapists that specialize in working with eating disorders. Again, most importantly, be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and know that at any time, you can choose compassion, you can choose to do something healthy for yourself. Know that you can change your story.
As always, thank you for reading, take care of you, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions on this or any other wellness-related topic.