Can you help me stop binge eating? Several days a week, typically after work or later at night, I end up wolfing down sugary and starchy snacks. Why can’t it be vegetables I want to devour? It’s been a problem on and off for most of my adult life. When I was younger I could get away with it more but now it’s taking a toll on how I feel about myself and how I fit into my clothes. How can I end this cycle?
You are certainly not alone. Many people struggle in their relationship with food.
Help is on the way, and it starts with learning what I call the four Cs of binge eating: consciousness, cycle (physical, mental, emotional), compassion and connection.
Cultivate more intentional presence with food and bring awareness to what triggers you to binge. I’m assuming most of them are emotional triggers. Emotional eating is either a way to deactivate (avoid, numb, distract, procrastinate) and/or a way to activate (seek sensation due to boredom or to feel more excitement and energy).
When you are triggered by uncomfortable feelings, slow down and ask yourself: What do I really need right now? Once you get out of the reactive mind and calm your nervous system you’ll be more likely to respond out of your true needs versus react out of habit.
Slow down preceding a binge, and also practice slowing down while eating. Try closing your eyes for the first three bites of each meal and let yourself actually taste what you’re eating. Most people find that they’re satiated earlier.
Recognize that you’re stuck in both a physical and emotional cycle. The physical cycle of alternating between restricting food followed by subsequent binging happens because the body is trained to keep you in homeostasis — so no more purging as a form of punishment for binging, because this doesn’t work.
And to answer your question about vegetables: This is because the chemical properties in simple carbohydrates (as well as cheese, my downfall) elicit feel-good neurotransmitters similar to drugs. This is why sugar is a drug. A legal drug, but drug no less.
You’re also caught in an “all or nothing” thinking cycle (either I can have sugar or I can’t have any at all) which gives too much power to those foods on the “no” list. There’s also an emotional cycle of guilt and shame happening, which doesn’t empower you to make changes. That leads me to the third C …
Rather than a militant, mean approach, be kinder and more understanding of yourself. Pay attention to the context of your circumstances that led to the difficult feelings in the first place. This is actually what leads to change in eating habits.
Don’t expect to tackle this alone. Would you tell someone addicted to drugs to just buck up and deal with it themselves? Hopefully not.
Your relationship with food is one of your most primal relationships, so you need to enlist support from others to help keep you accountable and keep you from feeling alone. Talk with a licensed therapist, meet with a nutritionist, find a support group, cook and share meals with friends and family and find a personal trainer to help you feel more invigorated and empowered in your body.
This is about developing more intuitive eating habits, including giving yourself permission to eat when you’re hungry; deriving pleasure and satisfaction from eating and savoring your food; taking time to focus on inner feelings after a meal is done; understanding the emotional root of the “problem” and then finding other ways to soothe yourself; seeing your body as your own and knowing you can trust it to help take care of you; and, finally, being kindhearted and compassionate with yourself throughout this journey.