Overcoming the Urge to Binge

Do you binge?  Occasionally?  Often? 

Under what circumstances  are you vulnerable to bingeing?

I’d like to differentiate bingeing from emotional eating

In the chapter, “Overcoming the Urge to Binge” in my book Conscious Eating, Conscious Living, I define a binge as:

  • eating when you’re not hungry
  • eating without enjoyment
  • eating with a sense of urgency, rapidly, without really tasting or enjoying the food
  • feeling out of control, unable to stop
  • eating a much larger amount of food than your body needs
  • having a sense that, no matter how much you eat, it won’t fill the void
  • feeling guilty about your eating

Emotional eating, on the other hand,  is something that most people do.  We are not physically hungry but we eat because it’s there or it looks good or we are looking for something to calm us or distract us from an uncomfortable feeling or thought.  We may eat a little or we may eat a lot.  We are more likely to eat a lot (and it is more likely to turn into a binge) if we feel guilty about eating. And when we have eaten to cope with distress and we haven’t allowed the food to help us feel better (because we’ve eaten it without pleasure or relief), we will need more of it.   Because food, in this case, is our medicine. And if we use it as medicine every day, it will become a habit. So we crave it because we’ve become habituated to it (whatever the “it” is.)

Am I suggesting that we use food as medicine?  Yes.  If you need it.  If nothing else will help in that moment. I teach my clients many tools  but if the urge is so strong that they can’t access any of their tools, I suggest they use the food, choosing exactly what they want and eating it as slowly and with as much relief as they can.  Because then it only takes a little.  One or 2 pieces of chocolate or dates will do it for me.

But I’d like to make a few suggestions about how else you can deal with your urges to eat for emotional reasons.    And prevent binges.  Some of this you may have read here before, but I find reminders can be helpful.

Binge Prevention

-Don’t let yourself get too hungry.  If your blood sugar is low,  you are more likely to succumb to emotional eating and bingeing.  Nourish yourself throughout the day (never going longer than 4 hours, preferably 3, without eating) and carry snacks/small meals with you that include protein.

-If you really want that treat, let yourself eat it – slowly, with enjoyment and satisfaction. If you are white knuckling it and feeling deprived, your willpower will naturally give out at some point.    And then you won’t be able to stop with a small amount.

-Pay attention to uncomfortable feelings.  If they build until they’re unbearable,  you will need the food to calm yourself.  And at that point, a little won’t do t.

In other words, pay attention to how you’re feeling and learn some tools to take care of those feelings.  We’ve talked about some of these tools in past newsletters:

  • Go out for a walk or just step outside into nature. Take it in with all of your senses
  • Breathe (3 slow deep breaths, breathing out through your mouth and in through your nostrils, shifting from the sympathetic nervous system being activated (fight or flight) to the calm parasympathetic
  • Identify the stories you’re telling yourself that have made you distressed and realize that they are simply stories, not facts
  • Talk to the part of you that wants to eat and ask what it is feeling and what it needs. Try to have some kindness towards it.  If you’re in the upset feeling and can’t get distance from it, sometimes it helps to remember a time when we helped a friend or a child or an animal who was distressed.  See if you can experience how calm and loving you felt towards this being  and offer the same compassion towards this hurt part of yourself.
  • Use track #5 on my CD  (Coping with Feelings without using Food.)
  • Use EFT  – Emotional Freedom Technique (you can learn it online or  if live  in or near RI, you can learn it at my next “Overcoming Emotional Eating with EFT” workshop on April 23).  I have found that EFT will decrease the urge and the cravings enough that most people either no longer have the urge or it’s at a level they can manage.

If you do feel the urge to binge,

  1. See if you can take a pause and do one of the above steps
  2. If you can’t take a pause, because the urgency is too strong, remind yourself that you are not having an eating problem;  you are having a calming problem (that you are trying to manage with food.)  Choose exactly what you want.  Eat as slowly and with as much relief as you can, experiencing the food as medicine.
  3. If you can’t slow down your urgent eating, see if you can actually feel how it feels to be eating rapidly and compulsively.  And say to yourself, “I’m sorry that I’m so distressed that food is the only thing that can help.”  And then let it help. Try to slow your eating down a little so you can experience the relief.  Don’t beat yourself up for this. You need and deserve to be calmed.
  4. When the episode is over, try to get back on track with healthy eating. Drink water. Eat greens.  Add protein.  An episode of emotional or binge eating doesn’t need to trigger days of unhealthy eating.  Learn what triggered it, forgive yourself and let it go.  You’re just human, doing the best you can.  Like the rest of us.

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