How Can I Avoid Bingeing?
Let’s explore the strategies and causes for change
Binge eating is something that people occasionally do, like at Christmas or on a special occasion.
The bingeing behaviour that I’m referring to is when you consume large quantities of food in a short amount of time, often to the point of discomfort, accompanied by a loss of control.
While certain thoughts and feelings can be temporarily relieved by a binge eating episode, it is often followed by intense emotional turmoil. Feelings of guilt about eating certain foods or eating in a certain way can contribute to the shame around having binge eating disorder. Shame and guilt can affect attention and concentration at school or work and can result in secretiveness around behaviors. It affects relationships and increases social isolation.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder among Americans. It is not due to laziness or a weakness in character, as is often stated, and the reasons people binge can be categorised in three main areas:
Bingeing caused by restriction
When you are overly hungry, it’s almost impossible to pay attention to hunger and satiety cues. The physical drive to eat is so strong it usually overrides everything else.
The same is true when you hold yourself back from eating certain foods.
It may be hard to accept that restricting food is a set up for a binge, but bingeing is a rebellious act against rigidity, rules, and restrictions.
If you have been on a diet for quite a while and have restricted your favorite foods, it is normal to indulge in them in one sitting. This is part of the “I will start again on Monday” mentality, where we find ourselves almost obliged to finish all the cookies because we won’t be allowed to have them again when the diet starts.
This is also when foods are labeled “good” or “bad,” and there are foods “on” and “off” the list. Restriction leads to bingeing, which leads to feelings of guilt and restriction.
Bingeing as a result of strong feelings
Emotional eating is common for everyone once in a while. Still, emotional eating can turn into bulimia or disorder eating behaviour if you do not find other ways to deal with your feelings.
Do you go to food after a fight with a partner or friend, or when things don’t go too well at work?
Do you eat because you are sad, lonely, or fearful?
Do you find yourself bingeing on carbohydrates rich foods?
Then you may be experiencing emotional eating. Bingeing on highly palatable (and off the “good” list) food changes the brain chemistry, reinforcing more bingeing.
Unconscious or habitual bingeing
This type of binging is used to escape or numb out. It is very common when you procrastinate something that you don’t want to do, such as a difficult phone call or talking to your boss about a delicate matter.
You might even don’t know why you are eating, and that’s why it’s called unconscious eating. In this case, it is important to avoid places or situations that encourage this type of behaviour (ex: watching TV to zone out after a stressful day). If your binge is linked to procrastination, learn to set small and achievable goals to avoid overwhelm.
The next time that you have an urge to binge postpone the urge for 5–10 minutes and write down what has triggered it and what you are feeling. Is it also essential to ask yourself what you need; the answer may be straightforward (a weekend alone) or quite complicated (leaving your relationship), but it is fundamental to bring awareness to your thoughts and feelings.
How can you decrease or avoid bingeing?
As common sense as it sounds, it is crucial to identify what triggers your behaviors before moving forward. If you don’t know how to prevent obstacles from blocking your path, it will be much more difficult to recover, as you won’t go too far.
Think about it now: what is/are your trigger/s? A person? A place? A feeling?
Jolt it down, spend some time thinking about what it is, how to prevent it, and how to keep it away from you, especially when you feel vulnerable and prone to binge.
Although distraction is seen as avoidance, it is a skill to master when dealing with binge episodes. It is sometimes enough to do something different to take us away from an overwhelmed state of mind.
What can you do instead of mindlessly eating?
- Call a friend or someone that you trust
- Go for a walk in nature
- Go Marie Kondo and clean up the house
- Paint, read, watch a video with puppies or kitties
- Go for a drive or listen to loud music
Find that thing that sparks your soul. It doesn’t mean that it will work every time, and that if it doesn’t work you are a failure, but it is definitely worth giving it a go.
Very similar to distraction, self-soothing is a way to show your body and mind that you care deeply about yourself. It is also a way to connect with your deeper self and calm your nervous system, in a matter of seconds. You can self soothe with all 5 senses, and I’m going to give you some examples taken from the book of Costin and Grabb.
Sense of vision: look at nature or pictures of people you love, look at art, watch a fireplace.
Sense of touch: take a hot bath/shower, have a massage, pet an animal, put on your pj.
Sense of taste: have your favourite cup of tea, buy a new lip balm, eat your favourite meal.
Sense of smell: burn a candle or incense, use your favourite perfume, put fresh flowers in the house.
Sense of hearing: listen to a CD, meditation track, to a fountain or waterfall.
Support is essential in life, and especially when going through recovery.
If you are struggling with bingeing behaviour, share your story with someone you trust, and ask them to be your support network. It doesn’t mean you have to call them or email them every day, but it is comforting to know that someone has your back.
Unless you find a professional, most of your friends won’t have the rights answers at the right time, but this shouldn’t stop you from sharing what is going on with you. It is essential to let it out and move on with your life.
Research has shown that texting can support a person changing the behaviour.
It is a good idea to text before engaging in a bingeing episode, or to book an appointment or call, to celebrate a win, be held accountable, or when having a difficult time.
Texting provides connection, accountability, and can serve as a distraction. Sometimes just knowing that you can reach out, or simply send a text, helps us navigate a tough time.
People, even professionals or the one the loves us the most, aren’t always willing or ready to support us, as they are all dealing with life and its ups and downs. It is useful in those moments to hold a transitional object that reminds you of someone you find supportive. My daughter goes to sleep every night with a bunny, since the day that she was born. Find your bunny and carry it around with you all day long.
FIND A RECOVERED PERSON
It has been shown that the most helpful tool in recovery is to speak and spend time with a person that has already recovered. It can’t be more accessible in 2020, thanks to the help of social media and the internet in general.
It can be a friend or a professional, but look out for success stories, and don’t be afraid to ask for support.
Claudia is a Qualified Nutrition & Dietetic Consultant (BHSC) specialised in hormonal balance, women’s health, and disorder eating behaviors. She sees clients online and in clinical practice; you can find more about her or the Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery program by following her on Instagram, Facebook, or by checking her website.