10 tools to help you break free from Binge Eating
Food addiction refers to compulsive overeaters who engage in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, also known as binge eating; eating an unhealthy amount of food while feeling that all sense of control has been lost. This behavioral addiction is characterized by the consumption of high fat, high sugar foods, the types of foods that activate the reward system, releasing the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. In addition to serious medical conditions binging can lead to such as obesity, high cholesterol, depression, heart disease, and diabetes, binging can also leave you with low self esteem and negative self love.
Do you feel like you are not in control, but the food is? You eat more than you think you should, you eat until you feel sickly full? It can happen due to stress, anger, and even happiness. Ultimately it happens from having a complicated relationship with food. It is a vicious cycle, binging to fill your overwhelm, and then binging again to mask your guilt.
Whatever the reason you’ve found yourself binge eating, what can you do about it?
- Let go of diets and deprivation. There is a good chance that a diet is what spiraled you into binge eating in the first place. Often people classify food as “good” or “bad” and don’t see food as a source of nourishment; instead food is feared and obsessed over. We deprive ourselves, and deny ourselves food we crave and love. Eventually deprivation doesn’t work, and this usually turns into a binge. “Diet foods”, “low fat” and “low calorie” foods leave you feeling very unsatisfied nutritionally, and often these foods are full of artificial sweeteners and cause more intense cravings. You have to give yourself PERMISSION to eat your favorite foods, with joy. Incorporate healthy foods – you’ll quickly learn to enjoy them because they nourish and become you. I like to use the term subtraction by addition. Adding in healthier foods tends to “crowd out” unhealthier choices. When you add something, something else naturally falls away. Plus you’re focusing on something you CAN do rather than trying to NOT do something you’re already in a strong habit of doing. Eat mostly real, whole foods. What are some foods you can ADD to your meals? Stock your house with real whole foods you enjoy weekly. Plan ahead and prepare meals you will eat through the week so you don’t get home from work and have to figure out what you’re going to eat. This creates decision fatigue and you end up on a binge. Become a conscious eater – eat what you wish, but remember moderation. Don’t deprive yourself. This is a surefire way to get so hungry that a binge is inevitable. Keep your blood sugar stabilized with regular meals.
- Forgive yourself. Let go of what you ate yesterday or last weekend, today is another day. Be kind to yourself, you’re going to slip up. Stop trying to be perfect, striving for perfection often results in no progress at all. Forgive yourself, move on, and focus on something positive. Trust your body will break the food down, and then get back onto your journey of healing; it can handle an imperfect food decision or day. Learn to find, and live in that balance. Learn to eat your favorite foods with zero guilt, you will be much happier.
- Tune into your appetite and eat when you are hungry. Learn to listen to your body, its smart. It may take some time, but you can re-learn your body’s natural innate cues of physical hunger. I always have something in my bag just in case I get hungry when I am out; a bag of nuts is my go to. Just having that bag of nuts there gives me peace of mind, and the feeling that I always have access to food. If you aren’t hungry enough to eat those nuts, you aren’t hungry.
- Remember that food is abundant. People often tell me they fear there is not enough food at meals. Maybe they’ve deprived themselves for so long they fear food is scarce. Remember you can always have more later or tomorrow. Keep some for tomorrow instead of eating the whole thing now, or don’t have any at all because you know it won’t be your ONLY opportunity to eat that food. Food is abundant. We live in a world where food is everywhere! The body can’t handle too much food at once. Have some now and have some later. Don’t take the candy just because you fear you won’t get the chance to later. Dieters often tell themselves they can’t have whatever it is later or tomorrow, just get through right now, and don’t worry about tomorrow until you are there.
- Remember you are good enough. The number on the scale does not indicate your self worth, that number does not define you. For many, it helps to seek a counselor, friends or some support system to remind yourself of this or to figure out what you don’t believe you are. You need to make peace with yourself in order to have a peaceful relationship with food.
- Food is food.Why do we give it so much power? Food shouldn’t be such a complex thing in our lives. Food is here to keep us alive and well – that’s it. It’s not there to comfort us or fill in emotional gaps. We give it too much emotional power. When you feel yourself on the verge of a binge, stop to take a breath and think about what that craving really means. Are you really in need of a hug, a walk in the woods, a glass of water, a good talk with a friend? Do that first. Tune into your body, what is going on for you in this moment? Ask yourself, “how am I feeling right now?” Find if you are happy/sad/anxious/upset, and figure out how you can better deal with that emotion.
- Plan ahead. And snack in between meals – this really helped me. I always have access to healthy snacks whether I am at home or out. And I will plan ahead as best as I can the night before so I have a rough idea of where I’ll be able to access healthy meals if I am out. Or perhaps I need to pack my own healthy meals. If I am at work, I’ll ensure I have nuts in my bag.
- Sit down when you eat. Never ever eat when standing, on the phone, in front of the TV, or in front of the fridge. This is my golden rule. You will over eat if you do because you are not being conscious of what you are putting into your body. Sit down with every meal. Always put your food on a plate.
- Make each meal pleasurable. Get satisfaction out of your food! I get pleasure out of planning and preparing my meals, and I make them visually appealing. I sit down calmly and enjoy each mouthful. I usually say a blessing before I eat, expressing my gratitude for the food, and my ability to nourish myself. It creates a peaceful feeling when eating, and I feel satisfied after the meal. I don’t feel like eating more. I eat what I want and say no to food I don’t like. Eat the foods you actually love. This will come as you begin to heal your relationship with food.
- Remember to Chew! Check out this past blog post on why it is so important to chew your food properly, it really is one of the best things you can do for your health right now. The longer you chew, the less you will eat, a natural way to decrease portion size. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full. Chewing longer gives your body more time to catch up on this process, and realize you ARE full. Chewing more give you time to get more pleasure from your meal (see tip 10). Remember, your stomach doesn’t have teeth!
Granted, all of these tips take practice. Just as binging becomes habit, so does the act of doing something else in response. It will take time. You don’t develop disordered eating habits overnight, so you can’t expect to break them overnight either. But know that each time you utilize one of these tools instead of a trip to the kitchen to soothe yourself, the closer you are to being binge-free, you’re developing a muscle. And you really can get there! Be patient, and consistent, you want to develop eating habits you can sustain long term. Focus on actions you can take on a daily basis. Choose the tips that sound easiest to you, and start applying them right now. Remember, reach out for support, we are stronger together.