It’s been a rough day and you cannot wait to get home and kick your shoes off. The gym class you were meant to attend is no longer appealing, and seems more like a hassle than anything, so you decide to blow it off. You’ll go home instead and chill on the couch. Your journey home consists of replaying the days events along a running commentary of just how nothing seemed to go right.
You know what? It’s been a hard day, might as well relax and have a treat with dinner.
Something nice might make you feel better.
As soon as you open the front door, you dump everything in the hallway and beeline for the kitchen. Nothing in the fridge will satisfy your cravings, and you don’t feel like stir fry.
You want something nice.
You deserve a break. You pick up the nearest take-away menu and order your favourite pizza. While you wait for it to be delivered you have a poke around the pantry and find some snacks to keep the hunger at bay until your meals arrive.
Just a few bites here and there somehow leave the pack of crisps empty. Uh-oh. Oh well, it’s your night off. You’ll be good tomorrow. One night won’t hurt right? Besides, it’s been a long day.
Before you know you’re on the couch, having a few biscuits, a few crisps, some pretzels, and then dinner arrives. You’re feeling full, but still down about the day, and dinner is here, so you eat it all anyway.
Suddenly you consciously black out, and when you come to, you’re surrounded by empty packets of chips, chocolate, ice cream tubs, and the pizza box is empty. No one else is home, you know it was you. You feel sick, nauseated and like a complete failure.
What the hell just happened?
Sh*t! It’s ok. You’ll make up for it.
The guilt of it all is just too much so you either try to purge up the damage, swear to not eat until dinner again tomorrow night, or you’ll do a run, a spin and a pump class at gym tomorrow to make up for it.
Binging is the compulsive over-consumption of food followed by compulsive over-compensation, and it’s a lot more common than you may think. Even these situations, which may be a common occurrence to you, are a sign of a binge eating disorder.
Many people binge as a way of dealing with emotional disruptions. The mental pain that you are unable to deal with you try to numb by stuffing yourself with food, until the physical pain diminishes the worry of whatever was troubling you. Binges can last from a couple of hours, to a couple of days. Often bingers will eat when they are no longer hungry, and continue to stuff themselves way past the point of feeling full, barely registering what they’re eating.
The guilt of it all, however, overrides the initial pleasure of eating your comfort foods, and before you know you have devised a way to somehow negate the physical damage you have done through either purging, starving, or over-exercising.
Binge-cycles are detrimental not only to physical health, but to emotional wellbeing, as they deter dealing with the problem at heart, and create a cover-up problem. For many people the binge is triggered by something they feel is out of their control, whether that be a bad day at work, a fight with your friends/family/significant other.
I know for me I find it hardest not to over-eat at family functions, where pressure to eat the same enormous quantities as everyone else is justified by accusations of an eating disorder or anorexia if you don’t keep up.
In order to prove that I don’t have a problem, I end up over-eating, and considering I’ve “broken my diet anyway” the binge can continue long after the family meal is over, and until I end up on the couch, bloated, planning a marathon of exercises to complete the next day to burn off all those calories.
One of the hardest parts of binging, is the dissociation of food with pleasure. Many people are brought up with food being the centre of celebrations, such as Easter, birthdays, and for some people like me, any form of family get-together. So it seems natural to help heal and soothe yourself with something you find pleasurable.
Food is also everywhere. Unlike solving your problem through other addictive substances such as smoking and alcohol, which you do not have to have to survive, it is physically impossible to completely cut food out. You have to eat, and will never be able to abstain from food entirely.
Food itself, is not inherently evil, the problem is however, binging develops a negative relationship with food, whereby you begin to punish yourself or hurt yourself with using it as a weapon, and at the end of the day, no amount of Snickers is ever going to make the initial cause of the binge go away.
As binges are generally caused by something emotional or mental, it is important to identify the root problem and identify your triggers, rather than trying to hide the problem through physical torture. There are several things you can consider when attempting to overcome a binge-eating disorder.
1. Identify you triggers
If you find that you binge, and are not exactly sure why it is, it can be helpful to make notes of the binge-process as it occurs. If you feel a binge about to come on, make a note of what is going through your mind. What happened that day? What exactly are you thinking about? How are you feeling? Continue to make notes throughout the binge of how you feel when you are eating the foods you desire, and what you are thinking as you do this. When the binge is up, make notes once more of how you feel. Emotionally? Physically? Mentally?
Going through the binge-process after the fact via the notes you have made can be a great tool to help recognise the triggers of what is causing you to want to binge. This can help you identify the root causes and begin to deal with the issue at heart, helping to prevent future binges.
2. Deter the binge
If you know that you are about to lapse into a binge, it could be an idea to set up distractions to deter the binge, or have a list of things to do that do not involve food that you know make you feel better. This could be having a bath, going for a walk, phoning a friend, listening to your favourite pump-up music, watching a movie, or if you are lucky enough; nap it off. For me, I am a visual person, and things such as drawing (even though my skills do not transcend beyond stick figures), scrapbooks, doing my hair and make-up, or writing cards is a great way to distract myself. Once I have calmed myself, I can think more clearly about what was upsetting me, and without the physical pain of eating too much, I can deal more thoroughly with the situation.
One thing that could be helpful is creating for yourself a different type of goodies bag. Grab and envelope and some pieces of paper, and write down all the things you like to do that make you feel good without food. Put them all in the envelope and store in an easy-to-find place. Use the goodies bag as a lucky dip next time you feel a binge about to happen, and fully commit yourself to the activity you have selected. You will be surprised how fantastic this one actually is! Remember to choose activities that soothe you, and nurture you, as you do not want anything too stressful that could compound on the mental/emotional stress you are already feeling.
3. Have some fat
This might sound like an odd solution, but having a spoon of fat such as coconut oil and waiting for 15 minutes is a great way to deter a binge, whilst also blunting the hunger pains you may experience when you’re feeling down. Fat is very satiating, and is also a great mood elevator. You will find that you may not feel the desire to eat after, and you are able to more clearly deal with your binge trigger issue.
4. Practice Mindful Eating
It is not always the case that when we binge, we know exactly what we are doing. It is sometimes the case that you feel as though you black-out, only to return to consciousness when the damage is already done. One way to deal with this is to practice mindful eating. This can be achieved by making sure you eat with no other distractions around (i.e. at the dinner table) and by focusing on the food you are consuming. What does the food feel like? Look like? Smell like? What is the texture like in your mouth? Is it salty? Is it sweet? How does the texture change when you chew? Are there any sounds? By sitting down and paying attention to every bite you take, you consciously have to be in the moment. This could prevent a binge from occurring as you are forced to recognise every morsel you consume.
5. Deal with your triggers
Dealing with the trigger to your binges is the ultimate way to prevent binges from happening in the future. It is important to understand why it is you binge in the first place, and learn to address the issue through other means. If you feel that you are unable to deal with the problem alone then it is imperative you speak to someone, or get some professional help. There are as many reasons why binges occur, as there are people in the world. It is a very individual and sensitive subject, but if you can deal with it now, you could be well on your way to a binge-free life. Sounds liberating, doesn’t it?
Binge eating disorders can be very serious and very scary. It is hard to recognise that you may have a problem, but I can promise there is no point being afraid or ashamed. We all have our demons. It is better to deal with them sooner rather than later. If you feel you or someone you know have a problem with binge eating, I have to urge you to speak to someone about it. It can be terrifying approaching a parent, so perhaps a healthcare professional. And know, that if you ever need someone to talk to, Justin and I are here too!
I hope you have learnt a little from this very brief introduction to the binge eating cycle. There are so many great resources available if you want further information. Below are a list of sites and books where you can start. Feel free to leave a comment on how you deal with, or have overcome a binge eating disorder. Your guidance and support may just help others!