Food not only nourishes the body but soothes and satiates as well–which is a big reason why our relationship with food can get really complicated. Anorexia and bulimia may be the most commonly talked about eating disorders but binge eating (not to be confused with occasional overeating) is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States. It impacts up to an estimated 5 percent of the population, 40 percent of which are men–a surprising fact considering other forms of eating disorders are typically twice as common in women.
Before we dive into how to stop binge eating, let’s talk about what it is and how it’s different than overeating.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BINGE EATING AND OVEREATING
Binge eating is not the same as overindulging during a special event, the holidays or on vacation. Binge eating is typically a recurring behavior, not an occasional one and will typically have some, if not most of these characteristics:
Consuming large amounts of food even though you are not physically hungry
Eating more rapidly than normal
Eating until you are uncomfortably full
Eating alone or in secret
Feeling disconnected during a binging episode (also referred to as a “zombie” feeling)
Feeling disgusted, depressed, and/or guilty after overeating
The key difference between binge eating and conscious overindulgence is the distinctive feeling that the food is more powerful than you.
HOW TO STOP BINGE EATING
As much as I wish I could just rattle off some simple quick fix tips that will give you control and cure you of binging, its not that simple. With time and effort, binge eating disorder is beatable. Here are 5 things you can do to start to free yourself from binging and begin your journey toward a truly healthy relationship with food:
1. BEGIN EACH BINGE WITH A PAUSE
During a binge (which actually begins in your head, before food ever touches your lips), it’s important to realize that the part of you that wants to eat regardless of the repercussions is present and in control. Use this as an opportunity to create some space for thoughts and reflections before or during the binge. Gently ask yourself to try wait 60-90 seconds before putting the food in your mouth.
Do: Let yourself know that you are not stopping yourself from eating, rather, just taking a moment to pause.
Don’t: Tell yourself you can’t have whatever it is you’re craving. This will likely trigger rationalizations of why it’s okay to binge (i.e. “I didn’t eat that much today,” or “I’ll do better tomorrow”) and could also intensify the urge to eat.
2. DO AN “URGE INTERVIEW”
If you can successfully create a pause, begin an “urge interview”. Kindly and lovingly explore where the urge to eat lives. Is it in your head, your ears, chest, mouth, hands, or outside of you like a fog? Try to picture it, describe it. Then, gently ask yourself if there is anything else you might want besides food.
Do: Listen and wait for words to pop into your mind. You may hear silence or lots of noise–it’s different for everyone. See if another word or feeling comes up such as lonely, angry, sad, hyper or intense. Take deep, slow breaths and try to feel the air filling and then leaving your lungs while you explore the urge.
Don’t: Don’t dismiss the feeling of “nothing” when trying to do an urge interview. Even “nothing” is something. As well, try not to dismiss what might seem like silly or unrelated memories and sensations that emerge. It is all important information about why you are binging.
3. WRITE IT DOWN
After the pause and “urge interview” you may or may not continue with the binge–which is perfectly okay. The goal is to understand the binge more than to stop it and now is the time to document what you’ve uncovered.
Do: When you are no longer in the binge state, write down what you learned: where the urge lives; what it looked like; what it felt like; what thoughts popped into your mind. Did the urge get stronger or weaker? Was there an increase in anger, sadness or shame? Write it all down.
Dont: Don’t wait too long before you write it all down. It’s like trying to remember a dream after you wake up–the longer you wait the less you remember.
Do this as often as you can. Pause, interview, write. Gather as much information about the underlying feelings as you can.
4. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
After a binge it’s common to enter into a state of self-loathing. As powerful as that need to punish yourself may feel, I recommend practicing kindness instead.
Do: Be understanding and tolerant of yourself–like you would be to others. Remember that kind, loving, gentle voice from the “urge interview”. Think kind thoughts like, “You’re trying,”, “You’re a wonderful person,” or, “There’s more going on than just a lack of self control.”
Don’t: Put yourself down, punish or blame yourself. This might be the very hard for some. If so, write that down too.
5. SEEK SUPPORT
Exploring the urge or need to binge and practicing kindness may reduce the frequency and intensity of binges, but it’s also not a bad idea to seek support. Therapists who specialize in treating eating disorders can help you sort through and understand all the information you’re gathering and guide you on your journey. Organizations like the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can be a good resource to help you begin your recovery. Learn more about NEDA, and other eating disorder organizations around the world.
Because our relationship with food is so complicated and powerful, it takes much more than nutritional knowledge to repair it. But with patience, self-exploration and support, binge eating can be beaten. For those who have tried to cope with binge eating using restrictive and punishing methods before, ask yourself if they have worked. If not, maybe it’s time to try something different.