Binge-Eating is the kind of ‘silent-killer’ of eating disorders.
It hides itself well. It can be something you partake in once in a while if you’re at a party with friends, or something you do alone multiple times a week. It comes in many forms and to different degrees of intensity. As such, the word binge eating in my mind has come to be an umbrella term. One that cannot explain the many nuances, social pressures, internal struggles, or the following guilt that comes along with eating too much.
Many articles that address over-eating or binge-eating suggest that when you get the urge to binge, you should try things like “thinking about your goals” or “take smaller bites while you eat”.
All of these suggestions may be valid, but they fail to address what is really going on INSIDE of one’s head when binge eating occurs. I have personal experience with this as I struggled with an eating disorder for many years. When I binge ate it was because I had been starving myself for about 12 hours and the last thing I was thinking about were my “goals”. In fact, it was probably the ONLY time I wasn’t thinking about losing weight.
Binge eating brought me a kind of momentary escape from anorexia because I would suspend all my negative thoughts about food and just EAT (mind you, I was eating way too much because I was starving but it definitely felt good.) That was, until I stopped eating. Then the guilt would set in. Looking back, that was by far the worst part about binge eating. I was so hard on myself about it afterwards that it felt like something I had to keep a secret.
However, since my struggle ended I have been perplexed by binge eating and how much more common it is than we think.
Almost every one of my girlfriends has a day once in a while where they eat far past the point of being full and cannot seem to stop. I have in no way cracked the universal code for how to fix this but through my personal experience I have tried to understand why binge eating happens and find small ways that I can avoid falling victim to that mental state.
From my experience, binge eating is most likely to occur when your body or mind is feeling deprived this may mean physically deprived of food or emotionally deprived. Regardless of what you are craving (one thing in particular or just as much food as you can get your hands on), lets talk cravings:
WHAT ARE YOU CRAVING?
Are you just dying for some mac and cheese? A chocolate bar? Some pizza? If this is the case, I would do what Michael Pollan suggests: Eat what you are craving. BUT! theres a catch. You have to make it yourself. 100% from scratch and made from whole food ingredients. Look up recipes, go get ingredients, and make it yourself. This way you are controlling what goes into the food while also being very intentional about satisfying your craving. Not only does it bring some fun and enjoyment to the process, it also prevents mindless eating and I promise you will enjoy the finished product more.
Once it is made, take a taste and really enjoy it. Eat it slowly and listen to your body as it begins to get full. But seriously, ENJOY IT. Be proud of yourself for making such a delicious meal. Think about how different homemade stuff tastes then packaged. Don’t feel guilty for indulging. This is what your body wanted and you are entitled to eat it.
STOP THINKING ABOUT A “FRESH START”
Every day is a new day.
This positive mantra is actually a huge problem for people who struggle with binge eating. This is because once they’ve eaten one unhealthy thing, often they write-off the day. I’ve had one cookie… Might as well eat 10. I’ll be better tomorrow.
This mentality creates guilt around eating and puts far too much pressure on the next day as the “perfect” day. Instead, try to see the time following each meal or snack you eat as a fresh start of sorts. After a meal, notice how fuelled your body feels and how much energy you have. Don’t dwell on the amount you ate but think about the way you feel CURRENTLY. If you ate a cookie, you ate a cookie. Big woop. You wanted it at the time, you ate it, and now it’s over with. It doesn’t mean that you’ve undone your healthy eating for the whole day.
Only you can do that by mentally checking out of your healthy mindset.
If you feel too full after a meal just remember that your body will turn that food into energy and in a few hours you’ll be hungry again. THAT is your fresh start. If you ate something you deem “bad” at lunch, make yourself a healthy dinner once you’re hungry again.
The key is to stop thinking about food as an enemy or a saviour. Healthy food is not a “punishment” and unhealthy food is not a “treat”.
Food is where we get out nutrients and energy from and with that comes our mental attitude. Fuel yourself with too much sugar and processed foods and you’re going to feel sluggish and unsatisfied.
Further, your body reacts to the way that you treat it. If I eat a bag of chips at night, I wake up craving sugar and junk food. Alternatively, if I eat a nutrient dense dinner and some fruit for dessert, I wake up feeling energized and ready to start my day with something healthy.
Each day is not a “fresh start” by default. Any moment can be too.
EATING AT NIGHT
My friend sent me a text yesterday that read, “Breakfast: smoothie bowl. Lunch: avocado sushi with brown rice. After 6pm: 3 servings of pasta, veggie burger, soup, popcorn, entire bar of chocolate, popsicle, cookie, cereal. That was me today.” We laughed it off and even used some combination of the classic: “Tomorrow’s a new day.” After this exchange I thought about how many of my girlfriends struggle with this kind of eating schedule. We’re all very busy so there isn’t as much time to eat during the day but what this means is that at night our bodies are feeling extremely deprived of nutrients.
Eating at night isn’t bad, but what is bad is making up for all the nutrients you should have been getting all day. Next time you feel an urge to binge eat at night, don’t feel angry at yourself. Instead, look at what you ate during the day and if it doesn’t seem like enough, give yourself a break! Your body was probably intensely craving food all day, but it’s only when you slow down at night that you’re able to really think about it.
I don’t have all the answers here. All I have is a few personal experiences that have lead me to the conclusion that if you are mindful of how you feel while you eat, you are more likely to feel satisfied sooner. Binge eating is super complex and it stems from tons of different places – not just wanting food. Using food as a form of comfort was something I didn’t even touch on here but is a huge issue when it comes to binge eating. Like I said, it’s a complex issue with many different causes.
The best advice I can give (and the thing that helped me out of my eating disorder) is to allow yourself to enjoy food. Don’t let yourself feel bad for eating certain things or good for eating others. Let your body tell you that.
If you are mindful about how you feel when you eat, you can trust your body to send you signs about how you really feel post mac and cheese vs. post protein, whole grains and vegetables. I can almost guarantee that if you listen to your body, you will feel fuller and satisfied sooner than you think.