What is binge eating?
We need food to survive. It's something to be savoured, enjoyed, and grateful for. At the same time though, for some, it can cause great discomfort especially when feeling a loss of control around food.
People who binge eat generally eat large amounts of foods, often to the point of discomfort, and feel unable to stop eating. A binge may be considered more food (such as 7 cookies) or less food (such as 2 cookies) depending on the person. Overall, binge eating can vary significantly from person to person. One individual might binge once in a while, whereas for another individual binge eating might be a daily occurrence. Occasional binge eating on its own isn't considered an eating disorder, but rather, is categorized under a larger umbrella term of "disordered eating" behaviours.
Tips to achieving a balanced eating mindset
The following are some approaches that can help us create a more balanced relationship with food. Aim to implement these changes slowly, within your comfort level, and while being kind to yourself.
1. Become aware of word choice
It's completely natural to feel like food helps to calm our nerves and emotions. When vocalizing the delicate relationship between our emotions and food choices, our selection of words can be extremely powerful. The aim is to try to catch ourselves when saying things such as the following:
- "Before every exam, I can't help myself: I devour an entire bag of chips."
- "Whenever my partner and I get in a fight, I go straight for the comfort foods."
- "Whenever I put my kids to sleep, I get this insatiable drive to eat chocolate. I'm so tired, I feel I have no willpower."
When we vocalize the relationship between our stressors and binge-eating food of choice, we start to cement the relationship in our minds. The ego gets involved, and the ego is easy to identify when we find ourselves using "I am" statements. For example, "I am someone who just can't stop," or "I am someone who eats a whole tub of ice cream when I'm stressed."
The thing with the ego is it doesn't like to be proven wrong. So much so, that if we are presented with the option to skip on the binge-eating behaviour, we still might not skip it. This is because we've identified ourselves as someone who binges, each time.
Instead of saying "I am someone who always eats comfort food when I'm sad," we can try to say, "I used to be someone who always ate comfort food when I was sad." We take the present-tense wording and turn it into past-tense wording. This might feel like we're being untruthful to ourselves at first, but words are powerful. With time, repetition, and belief in the process, this small change in wording can cause a shift in our mindset.
I've had several clients who've used this practice and saw a considerable shift in mindset. It takes time, consistency, and a real belief that it can become a behaviour of the past. At the same time, it might not be a practice for everyone. I had one client in particular who said she felt like they were lying to herself by using past-tense wording. As a result, she didn't want to continue with the practice. It helps to know there's no one-size-fits-all approach to overcoming binge-eating tendencies. What works for one person, may not work for all. Use the tips and strategies in this article as tools in your toolbox, using those that resonate most with you.
2. Be mindful of emotional eating
If we eat when we're down, we might find that there's no amount of food that can fill the void created by our emotions. Does this mean we shouldn't eat at all when upset? Not necessarily. We might have a life circumstance that's making us feel down for the time being, and that's perfectly normal. It's okay to enjoy comforting foods during times like these, but it's important to be mindful of when this type of behaviour persists.
What can help is to allow ourselves to enjoy treats and comfort foods when we are in a good mood and in a positive state of mind. This helps to break the association we may have created between a certain food and a particular emotion. Before we enjoy any treat, we can ask ourselves if we truly feel like having it. If not, perhaps we're in the mood for another treat. Checking in with ourselves may seem strange at first, but it's a way to build mindfulness and better insight into our eating behaviours.
3. Separate from the evil twin
Our evil twin is that voice inside of us that tells us what to do or what not to do. Some of us might have one evil twin, some might have two, some may even have all three:
|No.01||Strict twin: "don't screw up and eat that cookie. You're on a diet and this doesn't fit the plan!"|
|No.02||Extreme twin: "well you messed up already and already ate 2 cookies so you may as well finish the whole box now. Tomorrow we start fresh!"|
|No.03||Encouraging twin: "you just worked out for 30 minutes? Well done! Now you deserve that second slice of cake."|
We can start to listen to this dialogue inside our heads and identify when it's one of the twins talking. We can start to recognize the twin as being someone outside of us. After all, it's not always us who's doing the talking.
When we realize it's our "evil twin" talking, we can start to repeat the word "nourish" over and over again in our heads. We ask ourselves, "does this nourish my mind, body or soul?" By doing this, we may realize that eating an entire box of cookies isn't nourishing to our mental state. But equally, restricting also isn't nourishing. Especially if enjoying a cookie when we're in a positive mood is something we desire and could truly savour.
4. Don't "should" on yourself
When we use the word "should," there's a sense of resistance and guilt that comes our way when we don't fulfill that "should." Saying "should" sometimes makes us want to rebel - it's the inner child that doesn't like being told what to do. Ultimately, we may end up doing the opposite, which can later make us feel guilty or inadequate. Instead of saying "should," we can greatly benefit by saying "could" in its place.
By saying "could," we give ourselves the option to choose whichever option nourishes us more.
Instead of saying, "I should not have the cookie," it becomes "I could have the cookie if I'm in the mood for it." The answer might be no, in which case we choose not to eat the cookie. Or the answer could be, "Yes! I would feel nourished by having this right now. It will make me happy and I truly am in the mood for it." If we choose yes, we allow ourselves to savour it, and honour ourselves for tuning in to our true desires without self-sabotaging.
5. Talk to someone
Admitting to someone that we have binge-eating tendencies can be a terrifying thought, but the right support can make all the difference. Find someone you know you can trust, and someone who you believe will understand. In addition, we highly advise visiting a dietitian or even your family doctor who might be able to refer you to a dietitian or other professional for trusted support. Share your feelings and emotions on the topic, why you think you do it, what your triggers are, and what support you may need. Sometimes, the process of simply talking it out can help reduce the burden and help us gain clarity. Once we paint a clearer picture for ourselves, it may get easier to progress towards gaining strength and self-control around food.
Offer yourself compassion and honour where you're at. Remember that the process takes time, and it's something that can be overcome. Believe this more than anything else.
As difficult and overwhelming as it may feel, you can and will overcome this. Know that it takes repeated efforts over a long period of time. With a positive mindset and the right support, you'll start to see this cloud of hardship drift away. We hope you found the tips in this article helpful. We wish you all the best in your journey to balanced eating.
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