No Longer Bound to Binge

Binge eating is a painful disorder, both physically and mentally, that has a gift for making us feel worthless, undeserving, and lazy. Wildly misunderstood, it is an addiction that controls our impulses with a rush of dopamine that accompanies each binge. Skeptics and self-proclaimed “health experts” look down upon those who struggle with binge eating, unaware of the psychological complexities that drive these self-harming behaviours. Stigmas surrounding binging seek to portray those who have are affected as lazy, unmotivated, or simply oblivious to the health implications that binge-eating might cause. Individuals who are lucky enough to have never experienced cyclical binging might even accuse those inflicted as being “too obsessed with food.” Perhaps you, too, have told yourself that you brought on your own disorder, due to a lack of diligence.

A simple explanation for such irrational behaviour seems favourable. Initially, it seems impossible to explain why we continue to binge eat knowing how poorly it makes us feel about ourselves. However, if you struggle with this form of disordered eating, you know better than anyone that there is nothing logical or enjoyable about planning, executing, and reflecting upon a binge. The effort that is required to maintain this pattern of binging is utterly exhausting. Many people who struggle with binge eating are, in fact, extreme perfectionists, and it is their desire to control anxiety-inducing situations that compels them to engage in such harmful behaviours. Highly disciplined people are often the most susceptible to this silent illness. For those who are struggling, let this be a hopeful reminder that you are much more in-control of your behaviours than you may think. You are not lazy, unhinged, or doomed; you are simplyoverwhelmed with negative emotions.

One of the greatest misconceptions pertaining to binge-eating is that it is solely a reflection of a person’s ability to manage their diet, which pronounces food as the cause of all our troubles. On the contrary, binge eating is merely a symptom of severe emotional discomfort that shows itself when a person’s mental health goes untreated. This explains why many individuals who binge eat also report experiencing irritability, depression, and shame & guilt, even when they are not actively engaging in a binge. Whenever we feel unequipped to cope with emotional discomfort, we shift our attention onto food (e.g. planning our next binge), because binging appears to be a more tangible method of managing our anxiety than deep-diving into the psychological trauma that is causing us to feel so out-of-control.

With that being said, this cycle of self-medicating fueled by temporary relief and prolonged suffering always seems to come to an end. Our minds and bodies can only take so much self-inflicted torture before we realize that something has to change –– that we cannot afford to sustain such painful methods of self-regulation. Talking to a licensed psychologist and/or dietitian is a highly effective and arguably crucial step towards dismantling a binge eating disorder, however there are also ways to prevent future binges through independent work. Here is a list of practical ways to minimize your vulnerability to binge eating that can seamlessly fit into your daily routine:

Tip #1: Eat Every Meal (including snacks)
Going back to the misconception that food is the enemy when it comes to binge eating, too many people fall into the habit of under-eating or fasting in an effort to prevent future binging episodes. What you may come to realize, though, is that your body and mind can only survive in a caloric deficit for so long and will crave energy from food until you finally sit down to eat. At this point, once you attempt to consume a full and balanced meal, it is likely that you will feel even more inclined to binge than ever before. Hyper fixating on restricting one’s food intake is just as much a form of displaced anxiety as binge eating, and both of these avoidant coping methods tend to bring us right back to square zero. So rather than depriving yourself of energy and nutrients or carelessly skipping meals, try to nail down a reasonably consistent mealtime schedule that you can maintain on a daily basis. You might consider meal-prepping or planning trips to the grocery store in advance – anything to ensure that you are well-fed and therefore less likely to binge in the future.

Tip #2: Know your triggers
Some situations cannot be anticipated, like sudden work emergencies or family falling ill. However, if you notice that you are more likely to engage in a binge eating episode around specific people, places, times, or foods, than it is worthwhile to identify them and plan ahead for your next encounter. For example, if you have a tendency to binge a specific type of snack more often than others, it might be helpful to start looking into an alternative that is less emotionally charged. This way, when you see that new food in your pantry you won’t suddenly be reminded of your formerly unhealthy relationship with it. Or, maybe you, like many people, are prone to binge eating late at night. If this is the case, then it may be useful to develop a more structured night time routine that disrupts your former binging one: a well-balanced dinner, evening walk outside, calming shower, and an early bedtime. Later down the line, it is important to expose yourself to these fear foods and other environmental triggers so that you can build up a tolerance against them. But in the meantime, it is more important to break the cycle of binging, so do what you can to avoid putting yourself in a triggering situation.

Tip #3: Socialize
As was previously noted, binge eating has a tendency to send us into a state of isolation fueled by shame and fear of others picking up on our behaviours. Though your instinct may be to shut down and hide yourself from exposure to other people, it can actually be quite beneficial to do exactly the opposite. Obviously not every meal can be enjoyed in the company of others. However, if possible, you might want to schedule in lunch dates or after-dinner face times as a way to distract yourself whenever you feel an urge to binge. By being in the presence of another person pre, during, and post-mealtime, you will not only be distracted with conversation, but you can also take advantage of an opportunity to observe and follow the lead of someone else who has more balanced eating habits. This might scare you at first – the thought of being in a scenario in which you must eat and are physically unable to binge. But, the more you can train yourself to eat normally in a social setting, the easier it will be to do on your own.

Tip #4: Water and walk
We are all familiar with the sensations that signal an oncoming binge: racing heart, dysregulated body temperature, sweaty palms, restlessness, ringing ears, inattentiveness, etc. If ever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with these intense physical symptoms, rather than rushing to get through the impending binge eating episode, instead try to drink a large glass of water and go for a walk. It sounds too simple, I know. Perhaps your urges feel too strong to push aside. However, if you can, try to prolong the binging impulse so that you have some time to distract yourself before actually making the decision to engage in harmful behaviours. Drinking water may curb your alleged hunger as well as physically satiate the body, providing a sense of fullness. Additionally, exposing yourself to fresh air or a new environment away from your kitchen pantry will buy you some time to reconsider your impulse to binge eat. Exercise is proven to promote a release of dopamine in the brain – the same one that appears during an episode of binge eating. During this time away, you might even be able to identify the real stressor that is causing you discomfort and unease, and by addressing it you could feel relieved of the urge entirely. Whether or not this is not the case, oftentimes cravings will subside around 15-30 minutes after onset. So, give your body and mind the time to work through urges before hastily numbing them with food.

Tip #5: Sleep on it
There is a certain feeling of urgency that accompanies the urge to binge, as was described in Tip #4. While there are strategies of self-removal that will help to physically distance yourself from an unsafe situation, you can also work toward reshaping thought processes that contribute to impulsive binge eating. Sometimes when we feel as though we must binge right this second, it can be helpful to remind yourself that the food isn’t going anywhere. This may sound counter-intuitive: why would I encourage myself to binge at a later date? But what this alternative intellectual approach reminds us of is that while the urges might feel particularly strong in the present moment, you can always act on them later. You don’t have to binge yet. Maybe a binge actually sounds like a really great idea right now: so good that you might stop at nothing to indulge in it. When this overpowering voice tells you that now is the only time to binge eat, remind yourself that the food will be there tomorrow. This way, you can at least give yourself the chance to experience feelings of discomfort in a productive way and sleep on it, knowing that if these positive coping mechanisms fail, then you have the option to try something else later. If you can remind yourself of this enough and make it to bed binge-free, you will surely wake up feeling relieved of yesterday’s urges and proud of your ability to overcome them. Procrastination is key when it comes to binge eating!

Tip #6: Join a support group
One of the most challenging aspects of binge eating is the immense self-loathing and shame that it instills within us. Although you may feel helpless and alone in your many attempts to stop the cycle, rest assured that you are one of thousands who grapple with the inability to single-handedly overcome binge eating. Talking about these feelings of guilt and shame and discussing effective treatment methods in a group setting will not only grant you the encouragement of others, but it will also free you from the burden of hiding your pain from the rest of the world. Binge eating is a disorder, one that you are neither responsible for nor required to disarm on your own. Practicing self-compassion with like-minded individuals who share your experience is a crucial component of recovery, so that when urges arise you have reliable and knowledgeable people to call on for support.

Bonus Tips:

  1. Keep Food Out of Your Bedroom: It is important to keep your spaces separate – kitchen for eating and bedroom for sleeping and relaxing. If you have a tendency to snack in bed, you may begin to subconsciously associate binges with what should be a restful space, which will only trigger binging urges. So, make your bedroom a sanctuary and stick to sit-down meals.2. Exercise Regularly: A healthy workout routine and daily movement goal will not only promote your overall health, but it will also provide you with feel-good endorphins that can improve your self-esteem. Re-introducing exercise into your life as a practice of selfcare can replace former binging sprees and supply you with alternative outlets for stress management.
  2. Exercise Regularly: A healthy workout routine and daily movement goal will not only
    promote your overall health, but it will also provide you with feel-good endorphins that
    can improve your self-esteem. Re-introducing exercise into your life as a practice of selfcare can replace former binging sprees and supply you with alternative outlets for stress
  3. Buy Feel-Good Foods: Incorporating foods that not only taste good, but also nourish your body will allow you to reshape your relationship with eating. No longer will food feel like a punishment. By investing time into preparing meals and discovering ways to experiment with food, you might actually find pleasure in establishing healthy eating habits. Food is fun!
  4. Write About It: Journaling is a preventative tool that can be implemented in a multitude of ways, including food logging, trigger identification, and self-exploration. When thoughts begin to clutter your brain, try writing them down on a piece of paper. Regardless of whether or not you intend to read it afterwards, brain-dumping can help you make sense of overwhelming emotions and clear your mind.

-Written by Madeleine Sopel, intern