How I Beat Binge Eating
A Personal Story + A Step-By-Step Guide
The first time that I can remember having binged, I was eight years old. I couldn’t find anyone to play with during lunch hour (the girls in my class had a habit of hiding from me), so instead, I bought a few chocolate bars from the vending machine and sat in a corner on my own. As each bar was devoured, I felt less and less upset and a sense of numbness overcame me. Food became my best friend and for over a decade, I binged every single day, if not multiple times a day.
At the age of twenty-one, I finally hit my breaking point. My binge eating had become all consuming and had stolen everything from me: my happiness, my relationships, my academic success, and so much more. I finally found the courage to speak to my doctor and to open up about the behaviours that I had been keeping a secret for so long. I was officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder and it was then that I began the extremely challenging but equally rewarding road to recovery.
You may be asking yourself, what exactly is binge eating anyways? Common symptoms can include: eating an unusually large amount of food rapidly in a small amount of time, feeling that your eating behaviour is out of control, eating even when you’re full or not hungry, eating alone or in secret, and feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty, or upset about your eating.
Another question that I am commonly asked is: what causes someone to binge eat? The answer varies greatly from person to person, but binge eating is commonly linked to trauma, difficult emotions, and difficult memories. Binge eating is also often the result of physical or mental restriction. Engaging in binge eating is not a choice or something that you can blame yourself for. It is simply your body's innate way of coping and trying to keep you alive. Binge eating does not discriminate and can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. The good news is that with the right knowledge and support, you CAN stop binge eating and heal your relationship with food (even if you’ve tried a hundred different times, a hundred different ways, and aren’t feeling very optimistic).
Here is an oversimplified explanation of how to stop bingeing:
STEP 1 — STOP DIETING & EMBRACE INTUITIVE EATING
It is very likely that you have been, or still are, dieting. In Western culture, there is immense pressure for women to maintain a certain weight and shape. Diets are often marketed as a way to achieve the thinness that is idealised and to avoid the fatness that is stigmatised in society. Unfortunately however, dieting does not work in the long term and actually increases your risk of gaining even more weight than you lost initially. The main reason why diets don’t work is that they prescribe far too little food. When we do not eat enough from all food groups, the body tips into a state of semi-starvation. If we do not respond to this hunger by eating, the physiological pressure to eat builds up until we are driven to eat. When we are physically and psychologically driven to eat, we often eat more than we had planned, eat foods that we had previously tried to avoid, or lose control to the point of binge eating. When this happens, we may worry about how this eating will impact our weight, diet more strictly than ever before to 'make up' for it, and set ourselves up for a vicious cycle to overeat or binge again. In contrast to dieting, intuitive eating is all about embracing internal cues of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. By embracing intuitive eating, you will learn to reject the diet mentality, make peace with food, and truly honour your body.
STEP 2 — LET GO OF ALL OR NOTHING THINKING
It is common for those who struggle with binge eating to think in terms of black and white. For example, you may tell yourself that you aren’t allowed any chocolate at all. As a result, when you inevitably end up eating a piece of chocolate, you will feel as though you have completely failed. Once you feel this way, it’s easy to think, “now that I have broken the rule, I may as well eat all the chocolate in my house.” The truth is that one piece of chocolate won’t change your body or impact your health in any measurable way and therefore, the most successful and sustainable approach that you can take is to accept the existence of a grey zone.
STEP 3 — COPE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WITHOUT USING FOOD
Distress is part of life and you cannot avoid experiencing it. Among those who binge eat, it is common to be especially sensitive to intense emotions. Therefore, they utilize food as a means to manage their moods, and achieve short-term relief by avoiding or getting rid of negative feelings. It is essential to learn to tolerate and bear up under pain and distress. This means that you become aware of, and accept, yourself and your current situation in a non-judgemental way. This is when distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills are needed.
STEP 4 — IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS
In order to stop bingeing, it’s critical to determine what triggers the binges in the first place. Firstly, consider what your favourite binge foods are. Next, think about what individual purpose they might be serving. What are you feeling when you’re bingeing? Are you feeling frustrated? Anxious? Are you feeling empty? Bored? Once you’ve determined why you’re bingeing, think about ways that you can meet those needs other than with food. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you could meditate or if you’re feeling bored, you could call up a friend and go for a walk with them.
STEP 5 — GET BACK ON TRACK
It’s unrealistic to think that if you’ve struggled with binge eating for any amount of time, that you’ll be able to stop cold turkey and that it’ll never happen again. If you do experience a lapse and binge, the most important thing that you can do is be compassionate with yourself. Imagine how you would treat a friend if they confided in you that they had binged, and treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding. The second most important thing that you can do is plan your next meal and ensure that it’ll be balanced with a source of protein, carb, and healthy fat. Lastly, take some time to engage in deliberate self care whether it be physical (ex. getting enough sleep), emotional (ex. creating healthy boundaries for yourself), psychological (ex. learning something new), or spiritual (ex. connecting with nature).
Please remember that no matter what your challenges are or how insignificant they may seem at times, they are valid. You deserve to free yourself from obsessive thoughts and worries about food and your body. If you’ve been looking for a sign, this is it. This is the nudge you’ve needed to seek help and to take back control of your life. I offer a 12 week 1:1 coaching program and I have created a course designed to help you beat binge eating & find food freedom. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to connect with me on social media or check out my website! I look forward to hearing from you.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Health Strategist at Respect Your Body
Emma is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and health strategist. She supports women in building healthy and sustainable lifestyles from a holistic approach, focusing on intuitive eating and effective exercise. She specializes in working with women who struggle with binge eating, dieting, and other forms of disordered eating. Emma's unique approach combines her work with hundreds of patients in clinical and community settings, the evidence based best practices in the field, and her own unique experience with a binge eating disorder.