We’ve all been there, one indulgence turns into two, and those two turns into three and before you know it your entire weekend has been one free-for-all binge.
Or you’ve watched every calorie you’ve consumed all day, you’re starving, and it’s 9 PM. You’re alone in your kitchen, and before you can even stop yourself you’re elbow-deep in what? Peanut butter? Ice cream? Chips? Sugary cereal?
A stand-alone instance or short period of indulgent eating doesn’t necessarily signify a problem. However, these escalated moments can be a dangerous gateway to yo-yo dieting, binging and restriction, and create a negative relationship with food – ESPECIALLY when you’re trying to prioritize a caloric deficit. I talk with so many women who claim that Monday is the never-ending cycle of “starting over,” and all week they take two steps forward, only to take a step and a half backward the second the weekend hits.
It’s daunting. Frustrating. Discouraging. Disappointing. And it can be really disparaging.
Emotional or binge eating or overeating are common struggles, but our society has made them feel shameful, riddled with failure, and taboo. While each case may vary in its severity this is a researched guide to help you find your own personal freedom from the handcuffs that food may place on you.
DISCLAIMER: If you feel powerless, hopeless, or truly overtaken by any of the above, please seek professional help. I am not an expert in this subject, and this blog does not replace medical advice or the advice of a medical practitioner. The below is meant to be helpful; however, cannot diagnose or truly unpack any struggles which may impact emotional wellbeing. The following is also intended to provide my perspective, as a non-credentialed nutrition enthusiast, and combat overeating. Finally, the below should NOT be taken out of context and read as material to promote starvation.
Let’s move on.
The Mayo Clinic defines binge-eating as a period in which one consumes unusually large amounts of food and feels unable to stop eating.
- Feeling that your eating habits are out of your control
- Eating regardless of feeling hungry or full, eating until you’re uncomfortably full
- Consuming food rapidly during episodes
- Eating alone or in secret
- Feeling depressed, ashamed or guilty about your eating habits and behavior
- Always dieting, but without weight loss
Can I be honest?
After I had my son, I dieted for nearly one year in an effort to regain my strength, lose the baby weight, and reach aesthetic goals. For MOST of that year, I was very level headed and strategic about my process. My deficit was marginal, my cuts were slow, and my progressive overload in training erred on the side of caution. But slowly, something in me started to shift. I began to identify a behavior pattern I’ve never experienced.
- Meals became OBSESSIONS
- I tracked calories flawlessly all day, only to nose dive into Skinny Pop, Pretzel Crisps, and Thin Mints at night
- Sometimes I would eat so rapidly, I wouldn’t even taste my food
- And finally, I would eat in PRIVATE.
I’d wake up in the morning, and commit to renewing my perspective but then it would happen again. And again. And again. Finally, I was like WHAT THE LITERAL FAHK?! It was a new pattern of behavior and it didn’t feel right.
I had two questions, “Why am I doing this?” and “How do I stop it.”
I didn’t know. So I did a lot of research, which shaped the following thoughts.
Grasping the TRUTH
A binge is an URGE which you FOLLOW whether you willingly do so or not, usually after a period of restriction. The said restriction is unsustainable and more often than not leads to yo-yo eating, and creates more than a pattern; it’s a neurological pathway that naturally lends itself to propagating these urges. That makes sense right?
If you tell yourself, “Self, That’s it. I’m not eating dessert this week.” What happens next? ALL YOU WANT IS FUCKING CAKE.
Urges, regardless of vice, in this case, FOOD, are primal and irrational, and they’re scientifically proven to be made worse by the following behavior:
- Restricting or eliminating certain foods
- Labeling foods as “good” or “bad.”
- Stress – or a fight or flight response
You may not be able to control these urges. But you can learn to outsmart them.
Rational Vs. Irrational Behavior
As mentioned the urge to overeat or binge originates from an IRRATIONAL part of your brain, which is like, really important to understand. So, your rational thoughts are NOT going to overpower them. Those irrational thoughts sound like you, they act like you, they’re really fahking good at convincing you everything will be okay.
Afterward, when you’re riddled with guilt where are those irrational thoughts? FRONT AND CENTER SHAMING YOU.
Therapy sessions won’t help. Goal setting won’t get you very far. Intentions, affirmations, or vows to change won’t be sufficient. Likewise, implementing tips like taking a walk, purging your fridge, or chewing your food 100 times will not help either. Put the self-help book down. It may help other parts of your life – but it more than likely won’t help you with this type of eating behavior.
You may be feeling crazy because you’ve been trying to solve your problems time and time again with one of those very methods — the very definition of insanity.
Binging is not about the body, or dieting, or training. It’s about the mind, and understanding how a thought process works, knowing your tendencies, identifying your triggers, and observing yourself in a way that gets you in touch with what’s happening WITHOUT JUDGING the current situation.
God, that’s so key, observing yourself without judgment, or feeling the need to act or fix takes so much skill. Furthermore, there are skills needed to regulate emotion.
It’s stressful living in 2019! You’re dieting; you’re working out, you’re working, you’re trying to save money, you’re dating, you’ve got a kid, you’ve got a dog, whatever it is. There’s a SHIT ton of noise that clutters our brains and overwhelms us and can make us UNCOMFORTABLE. And most of the time, that’s the trigger. A level of stress usually always accompanies urges around food. A fight – we’re going into survival mode. Or flight – I can’t handle this, I gotta hide, run, and do whatever I can to get away from this feeling. Better seek shelter in the pantry.
That is irrational.
Your rational thoughts can pause, breathe, and download a situation. Your logical self says, “Shit. I’ve got a lot going on. Time out. Let’s take a moment.” It’s hard to hear that voice because the irrational one is SCREAMING. But with patience and practice, you can listen to both, and you can tell one to STFU.
In that place in time, you do NOT have to fix every problem you’ve ever experienced. But you also don’t have to eat! You can sit with discomfort by realizing, emotion is just a shift in your energy, and it’s TEMPORARY.
So that’s it – be rational. Okay?
LOLZ. JK. OMFG, it’s HARD to be rational! It takes so much practice, and that’s okay. There is no finish line in this journey called life.
The Problem vs. The Pay Off
Food is a can be a pleasurable distraction to problems, but it will never be a productive payoff…kind of like your “self-care” bubble bath. It’s fine, but it’s not helpful.
As hard as it can be, it helps to compartmentalize problems and identify them as well as the pay off of your proposed solution.
Trigger: I’m stressed at work
- Irrational reaction: So many deadlines. No time. Lemme just nose dive into a bag of cookies. I feel better. Oh wait, no I don’t.
- Rational reaction: Stop. Pause. Think…I’m stressed at work. Cookies will not help me solve the problem I’m experiencing with my boss. This anxiety is making everything else in my life feel that much more stressful or overwhelming; I’ll call my boss tomorrow for help prioritizing my workload and scrub my to-do list to help find my focus.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Trigger: My boyfriend and I broke up
- Irrational reaction: Eating as a form of self-protection. If you’re not happy with yourself, you won’t date, or you won’t find the confidence to get back out there and try dating, or courage to do things on your own. Eat more. Date less. Never be heartbroken again.
- Rational reaction: Think…A few days of tears, the couch, and a pint of ice cream…and then whipping out your journal to figure out what the hell you want for your life now that that loser is out of the picture!! Bai.
Onward and upward.
Trigger: Dieting and Restriction
- Irrational reaction: Your body is hungry – which is a natural reaction to dieting – and starts screaming for sugary carbs and food out of fear that you’ll never have it again and it’s your last day on earth, and oh my god you better eat that cookie NOW.
- Rational reaction: Think…hmm something isn’t right with my previous behavior if this is how I feel by the end of the day. I can PROBABLY give my body what it needs instead of what I want and calm this sensation. Evaluate your eating habits to better manage your blood sugar, carbohydrate, and protein intake to avoid the crash sensation.
Help you, help yourself.
The Key Takeaway
Not only does this practice of compartmentalization help you avoid a binge but it also enables you to develop the values to live the rest of your life by helping you regulate your emotions.
These are just examples with many different combinations of triggers, irrational/rational thoughts, and this thought process can apply to thousands of situations.
This awareness of the irrational, subconscious nature of your cravings or urges helps stop the insanity of the “start over” mentality, and it’s the FIRST step to healing your relationship with food. Awareness is all you need – you don’t need to “figure it out” or “fix” anything and that alone will help change your entire approach.
Putting the above into practice is easier said than done, and it takes A LOT of practice, so again, it’s essential to be patient with yourself.
If you think about food thoughts in general, whether you’re dieting or not, hunger is a normal feeling. So is having thoughts around food or cravings. When you’re dieting they feel a little more urgent than when you’re not. Therefore, will power isn’t what needs mastering; it’s the approach. Willpower runs out, and it’s not reliable. Those irrational thoughts that say, “It’s okay – just eat the donut” has a way of kicking willpower to the curb.
That’s part of what makes us human, so don’t go down the path of beating yourself up!
- You can feel hungry or have a thought around food WITHOUT acting on it
- A food thought is NOT necessarily a call to action or directive
- Our body often confuses cravings for sugar or carbohydrates when it lacks something else like water, protein, iron, or sleep
- Emotional or physical stress are powerful triggers with solutions that don’t involve food
Note: There’s a difference between honoring your needs, fueling your body, and being mindful, and restricting your eating or starvation.
How to Stop Urges Before they Begin
The best way to manage an urge is to get ahead of it. By avoiding the very situations that get you into trouble, you’re already ahead of the game. Here are some ideas as to how.
When we label foods as good or bad, we create a negative relationship with those very foods. It automatically creates demand for the “bad” and devalues the “good.” Diets that lead to rapid weight loss usually cut out the main sources of excess caloric intake – which is is usually sweets, snacks, or calorically dense foods. But the moment you re-introduce those foods or allow yourself a “cheat” day you gain all that weight back due to caloric surplus or water weight retention. Rapid loss, rapid gain. Read more here.
Guilt and stress is the result of demonizing foods and choices and guess what – they are TRIGGERS! The cycle then continues.
Give Yourself Permission
Instead of restricting foods you love, permit yourself to eat them STRATEGICALLY and in moderation. If you’re an “all or nothing” eater, meaning you can’t have one chip without eating the entire bag, you may feel that need to do so because you’re unsure of the next time you’ll get a chance to indulge. There is a way to eat well, meet your calories, and enjoy food. At the same time.
Think about it. If you’re dieting, and you save 15% of your caloric balance for foods you enjoy and indulge in, you’ll NEVER feel deprived. Sure you may want more – but that’s where this practice comes in. You can have the cookie. And if you want another one, guess what? You can! TOMORROW. If you have a food thought, “That cookie was good. I want another one.” You don’t HAVE to act on it.
The food thought then becomes, “That cookie was good. I’m going to plan accordingly so I can enjoy it again tomorrow.”The very thought that it’s not scarce eliminates any sense of urgency or urge.
Experience your Food
Overconsumption often goes hand-in-hand with a lack of fulfillment. If you’re eating, without experiencing the food you eat, that’s an issue. I mentioned earlier at one point I was shoveling food in my mouth and not even tasting it – it was awful! That rapid-fire eating provides such a lackluster experience; it’s no wonder I wasn’t satisfied. To change my pattern I started implementing a few tips.
- Eat while seated – bonus points for a place setting, and placemat.
- Avoid multitasking with screens, phones, or work.
- Identify each ingredient, textures, and taste
They may seem simple (they are), but they make such a difference.
How to Move Forward and Find Freedom
This is by far the longest post I’ve ever written – are we absolutely exhausted?! Thank you for bearing with me.
With all of the above in alignment, it’s time to PRACTICE finding freedom from over-consumption or binging. I say, “practice” because it’s always going to be a work in progress.
Shift Your Focus
Whether you’re dieting or not, taking your mind off food can be a challenge. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, or any “mistakes” you may have made shift your mind to the good.
Celebrate SMALL wins
Understand that dieting and responding to our basic needs as humans are DIRECTLY COMPETING INTERESTS. We want to belong, and connect with other humans! In our society, a lot of that takes place over food and drink.
Don’t overlook your small achievements which incrementally get you closer to your goals. Did you stop yourself from demolishing the entire bread basket after one slice? GOOD FOR YOU. IT’S WORKING. Did you respond to a signal signifying you were done eating by taking home leftovers? HELL YES. HIGH FIVE. Or what about decompressing after a long day by taking a shower and mediating instead of heading for the freezer? NOT EASY BUT YOU DID IT.
Understand your needs versus wants and choose for YOURSELF what you consume.
Read that again (please).
It’s really empowering to choose for yourself what you put in your mouth. After all, it’s in your control. When you binge, you give your power away, and that feels super shitty.
When it comes to this topic, it’s easy to feel alone that the cycle you find yourself in will never end, and like you can’t get out of whatever rut is holding you back. Even if it seems impossible to find freedom do NOT give up on yourself, and be PATIENT.
The first step is ALWAYS to identify a need for change. The second step is to commit to working towards betterment. And the third is to extract your strengths.
Apply those very strengths to your mindset around fitness, and diet. You already have what it takes to thrive. You have to use it in a new, practical way.
Do you manage deadlines at work? Use that same organization to manage your grocery shopping and food prep. Are you a motivational speaker? Give yourself that same pep talk you do your clients. Can you audit major projects to find problems, holes, or competing interests? Understand your issues just like you do your clients’.
If you slip – remember – the best thing you can do is get back on track and LEARN from your experience. Tweak your program, adjust your schedule, and be kind to yourself.