If you struggle weekly or even just occasionally with binge eating, I don’t have to tell you how devastated, shameful, confused, and powerless a binge leaves you feeling. Binge eating is increasing as an epidemic in our food obsessed society, causing many to Google, “How Do I Stop Binge Eating?” in urgent need of a solution. This is actually how many of my clients find me before joining forces to take down their unwanted binge eating behaviors. Today I’d like to help you better understand binge eating itself to better support you in healing your struggles with binge eating.
First of all, I am going to note a few very important points. The first being, that binge eating is a behavior, and going beyond that, it’s a symptom. The bingeing isn’t the root problem, it’s a symptom that something else is going on that desires your attention. Think of it like a headache, a headache could be a symptom of dehydration, lack of sleep, eating poor quality foods, inflammation, stress, amongst many other things.
Treating the headache with aspirin really doesn’t get rid of the root reasons that cause that headache to appear in the first place or prevent it from reappearing again. It’s the same with bingeing. I like to say bingeing is the Universe’s way of calling your attention to bigger things. So, you are not a “binge eater” definitively or indefinitely. You simply struggle with the behavior and symptoms of binge eating which you CAN change and resolve.
Secondly, many of our food challenges today including binge eating, restrictive eating, yo-yo dieting, weight obsessions, and food obsessions are a collective issue. What does that mean? It means that when one struggles with their relationship with food it’s not completely their fault. The messages and ways of the world, media, family, life events, diet industry, all of them contribute to the formation of your relationship with food. 100% of my clients in their 30s-60s have challenges with food from decades ago, many of them from before they were 15 years old, a time when a child’s mindset chews and assimilates messages from their environment and is highly influenced in the formation of their relationship with food, body, self love and acceptance.
When we struggle as adults, we tend to think it’s our fault because we’re the one’s bingeing, we point the finger at our face, hard. So listen good….it’s not your fault. These collective issues have simply personalized within you and fallen into your lap (lucky you!). BUT…You ARE now Response-Able, which means, you now are ABLE to RESPOND to what you do with these issues. Which is why you’re here, so good job!
What is Binge Eating?
Binge eating, emotional eating, and overeating belong in the same zip code but they are all unique to one another. Binge eating is basically industrial strength overeating. It is intense, and often times associated with the term “compulsive eating”. The term, “compulsion” is defined as “that which we must do”….meaning, it HAS to happen. Negotiation isn’t available. But why is it so powerful over us?
Binge eating is an “out of control” behavior that serves as a balancing act for a place in life where we’re in “tight control”. Please re-read that again. When the body is overly stressed it shifts from parasympathetic nervous system dominance (a.k.a. a relaxation state) to sympathetic nervous system dominance (a.k.a. stress state).
We call this “stress chemistry” because there are so many psychophysiological shifts happening here, just as there would be from the stress chemistry created in response to a tiger trying to eat you! These are the same survival instincts our ancestors had to help them survive, but today, our threats aren’t lions and tigers and bears, it’s overworking, overwhelm, lack of time, lack of help, food restriction, fear of getting fat, pressure to win, fill in the blank!
When experiencing real or perceived (very important) stressors and threats, the body can go into a flight, fight, freeze, OR feed response. Just like the flight, fight, or freeze response, this FEED response happens automatically (compulsively).
It’s the body’s way of trying to look after you and maintain homeostasis. High stress builds = bingeing to reduce stress and regulate emotions. The brain learns that after food is consumed, the body must shift back into a relaxed state in order to digest it so it learns feel bad –> eat food–> feel better. This feed response / balance act happens automatically, similar to when get hot your body sweats to bring your temperature down (homeostasis). That’s why you feel powerless when it happens. Just as powerless as you trying to stop the sweating. It’s compulsive, unconscious, and is a survival instinct, so stop shaming yourself.
Contrary to what you may know, binge eating can happen ANY frequency (once a week, once a month), can be any time, can be any amount, and can be any food. Binge eating is NOT a “brain chemistry issue” and can be worked with, listened to, and transformed without the use of pharmaceuticals. Binge eating again, is the symptom and a band-aid strategy for your body to temporarily deal with undigested built up stress in the body, so, now that you are RESPONSE-ABLE, your goal is to be your own doctor and discover what’s behind this built up stress in the body? What’s causing it? Let’s explore solutions to common stressors that may be feeding your binge cycles.
How Do I Stop Binge Eating?
#1 Slow Down
Now you know that a binge usually happens when the body is in stress chemistry aka that “flight or fight” response. So one of the biggest contributors that can push your body into this stress chemistry is living your day to day life at warp speed.
Today we tend to never take time for ourselves, live in the moment, appreciate, say “it’s ok” when we don’t cross everything off our list for the day’s tasks. We are a very “type A”, perfectionist-like society in my opinion, and consistently try to shove 1 more accomplishment, 1 more task, 1 more errand into our day, and let our not-so-urgent priorities like our self care and health go by the way side. We are constantly going and constantly achieving. Slowing down doesn’t mean you sit on the couch (although feel free to!). It simply means, taking some moments for yourself, picking up activities or interests that have nothing to do with the “have-to’s” and that bring joy to your life. Joy = relaxation = no stress chemistry. So get out there, and start living and binge on LIFE.
How Do I Stop Binge Eating?
#2 Nourish Your Body
Restricting your calories because you’re afraid to binge, afraid to gain weight, afraid of fat, afraid of carbs, whatever the reason, puts your body in a stressed state. Many of my clients report bingeing after a period of time when they were restricting. Being malnourished in calories, or simply specific macronutrients, puts the body into stress chemistry and you back at risk for bingeing. The body here is stressed and calling for nourishment (binge = a balancing act to a tightly controlled macronutrient intake). If eating carbs or eating fat in your diet scares you, this is where the action is for you to get working on.
Restriction doesn’t only come in the form of nutrients, it’s also comes in the form of enjoyment. You could eat enough calories technically, but if you aren’t enjoying what you are eating, your brain doesn’t get the full check in the box that you ate, so over the course of the day or week, your brain will send you signals to eat that ice cream, those cookies, any of those pleasurable foods you try to avoid. Why? Because avoiding pleasure in food is like avoiding oxygen to breathe. Hold your breath for two minutes and watch what happens after you allow yourself to breathe…you GASP for air. When you deprive yourself of enjoying any food you put into your body, at some point, you’ll GASP for pleasure, and it will feel extreme because it finding pleasure in food is a psycho-physiologic need as a human need. This is where many create belief systems that they are addicted to food or can’t control themselves around certain foods, when in reality, their body was just acting on their behalf to ensure they ate, survived, and lived another day.
How Do I Stop Binge Eating?
#3 Stop Trying To Be Perfect!
Us humans REALLY like control and predictability. Those that struggle with perfectionism know exactly what I’m talking about. We like things to be a certain way, according to our timeline, and our standards. We set the bar unrealistically high which continually causes us to feel inadequate or convinces us we are failing, pushing us to work harder, longer, diet harder, and take even less time for ourselves.
Do yourself a favor and accept that not everything you want to accomplish with your food and weight is a perfect, linear process to which you will and need to be perfect as you go through this process. Life, the Universe, it doesn’t work that way! Improving your physical and emotional health is not like making a spreadsheet and crunching numbers. By doing so, you are putting so much pressure on yourself and creating a personal internal stress bomb that’s about to blow into a binge cycle (remember, binges breed in stress chemistry!) Reset that bar to be one that leaves you excited and eager to achieve, but not negative and inadequate. This is NOT an act of lowering your standards, this is understanding the reality of how making change with your health and mindset works. It’s also a reminder to meet yourself where you are at NOW. We all have our ultimate desired outcomes, but you’ve got to take it one step at a time to get there.
How Do I Stop Binge Eating?
#4 Remove Toxic Thinking
The brain goes into stress chemistry regardless if it’s a real threat (like you’re about to be evicted or eaten by a tiger) or a perceived threat (you think you’re fat, you fear weight gain, you don’t think you’re worthy). Your brain doesn’t know the difference. SO much of the stress people experience results from their perception of a situation. Examples of toxic thinking include: “I shouldn’t be eating this”, “If I eat that I’ll get fat”, “I don’t want to go, people will judge me”, “I hate my body”, “I’m not good enough”, “No one will love me if I’m fat”, “OMG I binged again! I’m never going to get this!” and the list goes on…
The good news is this means that you can change your perception and therefore change your level of stress! So notice toxic thoughts that are driving you into stress chemistry and acknowledge they no longer serve you and practice more positive, proactive, compassionate, non-perfectionist thinking.
How Do I Stop Binge Eating?
#5 Evaluate Areas of Your Life You Are Trying to “Control” Too Much
This is a biggie. The “tightly controlled” something else that is feeding your binge eating can be found, yes, in the nutritional realm but also your personal and emotional realms as well. So you need to sit back, and reflect honestly. What are other areas of your life, your inner world, that are calling for your attention to let go a little bit?
Money, emotions, work, communication, deeper personal desires, truth speaking, sexual energy, and other people are areas many of my clients experience tight control. Maybe you keep to yourself a lot and never express emotions honestly, or perhaps you’re constantly trying to please your boss at work and you’re not establishing boundaries for yourself? I always say my work and coaching personality is a combination of Dr Phil, Jillian Michaels, and Tony Robbins because I have to wear a lot of hats and see big picture when it comes to helping big problems. How we do food is how we do life, and again, food is just the symptom so I’m always on the lookout for, where is life calling my client?
I hope you found sound, realistic solutions to your question, “How Do I Stop Binge Eating?”. Take a deep breath and begin to look at bingeing as a gift, rather than a curse. When a negative power is revealed such as binge eating, it means there’s a positive power calling to be unleashed. Power is good, it’s desirable, and changes form within you. There is much to be gained in this journey, don’t be afraid of it, instead lean into it.
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