What is binge eating
Binge eating is defined as “consumption of large quantities of food in a short period of time”, but how we THINK about this binge is what can determine as being part of a binge eating disorder.
What I want to point out, this wasn’t just a few binges or bad ‘weeks’ with eating.
For those that may not know, I’ve had my history with disordered eating habits.
This was something that consumed my mind so badly it was impacting my mental health significantly. Whilst overcoming binge eating, I unfortunately learnt along the way you cannot expect your behaviour to change unless you are PRESENT, MINDFUL and willing to WORK on changing.
I also had to give myself time to heal by NOT focusing so hard on my physique goals and strip things back to work on the internal bullshit.
I would say I have “healed” for the better part myself properly over the past 12 months.
That doesn’t mean 12 months ago I was binging rapidly… it means since then I am not consumed by the same negative perception of food that could or would lead to binges.
It’s essentially an addiction.
It’s mentally consuming, always on your mind and you feel completely out of control of the behaviour. Something that would be so hard to comprehend for others. I was sick of hearing people say “well just don’t eat as much”.
Food behaviours are far more complex than that. A binge for some may be a cheat day or something they don’t over think, for me it was something I did in private, something I did when greatly impacted by stress and it would riddle me with absolute guilt it developed into bulimic behaviour (purging).
I also dieted for way too long last year (8-10 months in toral due to covid) and noticed my food perception started to change back to old habits and I knew I needed to reflect on this to regain my strength.
Over the past 3 years I’ve worked tirelessly on improving my perception with food, it’s not an overnight success. But don’t let that scare you from trying to work through things. I just mean it to change a behaviour, we must get to the root of the cause and work through numerous systems and process to ensure you do ever resort to old behaviours.
Desire to change
To change a behaviour, we have to WANT to change.
Healing from an eating disorder is a continual process, but what needs to change is how we think and speak to ourselves during these intense moments where we feel ‘out of control’.
I wrote down a list of reasons for why I wanted to change as an example:
- For body building goals
- Eat for health, not for stress
- To enjoy social time without stress
- To show my body love, not punishment
Finding your reason for changing this behaviour is what helps to keep you heading in the right direction.
Managing Binge Eating
During moment of intense stress, I would find myself turning to excessive amounts of food as the first point of call as a coping mechanism.
During these times our cortisol is high, we experience symptoms of anxiety, our mind is racing… It can be extremely hard to bring you back into a para sympathetic response (relaxation of our nervous system).
This is why binge eating for many is a coping mechanism.
What we don’t realise is excessive amounts of food only encourage an increased heart rate, adrenaline and it does not help bring us back into a relaxed state of mind.
Being present is hard when we experience these emotions, we want to take ourselves out of the moment and do anything to relax or deter our mind from being present with the racing thoughts but being present is essential in self-awareness during these moments.
Why am I thinking this way?
What are my triggers for feeling this way?
Asking these questions and perhaps even taking pen to paper can push you to slow down and relax.
Another strategy for me is I count.
I count to 10 and use breathing as a way to bring my mind and body at peace with one another, I then am able to relax and think more rationally about my decisions.
There are other ways we can focus on being more present and therefore being aware of our internal thoughts and feelings:
- Cold water therapy
- Turning phone off hours 2 before bed to relax
For some who diet significant amounts of time may find themselves in a position of binge eating. Others, may be in this because of poor coping mechanisms.
It’s important to mention how we eat can play a huge role in why we feel the need to binge or why it’s happening in the first place.
Eating to support your mental health with food is essential but there’s no rules to it, what I’ll provide here is a guideline to some logical ways to improve your perception with food in relation to your own needs.
For those that binge in moments of stress and anxiety, even if you have specific competitive or physique goals, I highly recommend you think about putting your goals on a backseat first.
You cannot simply do two things at once, overcome binging and prep for a comp, or aim to lose a % of body fat. One thing at a time.
So in this instance, I would strip everything back to “healthy” untracked eating.
Untracked will allow you to eliminate the stress of “dieting” and just focus on healthy foods and fuelling your body correctly. You also must in this time FORGET caring about body fat gain. In time once you create great sustainable habits with your eating you will be in a in a more appropriate position to diet. Now is not the time.
If you’ve been dieting for long periods of time and find yourself becoming food obsessed, maybe they way you’re eating is too strict for you to maintain. Having a flexible approach to food (IIFYM) can help to keep to your nutrition goals with more variety. Sometimes this means not necessarily having a meal plan but tracking foods in you enjoy whilst keeping accountable to your macro targets. I still encourage having someone to guide you through this like a nutritionist or coach, who can keep you accountable and keep you on track without neglecting the benefits of healthy food in your plan.
For some, IIFYM can be more of a trigger for some who are experiencing binge eating. If this is you, perhaps having a guided approach to eating WITHOUT macro target focus but from a health perspective can help to improve your perception of food and reduce feeling restricted. The focus should therefore be on nutritious foods full of vitamins and minerals and wholefood sources you can still enjoy. You can also reach out to a nutritionist for a guided approach to ensure you have someone you can be mentored through this process if you don’t trust in yourself to do it on your own.
How we interpret our way of eating does dictate our perception of food. The diet culture is renowned for making us feel as if we have to eat a certain way, but my advice is ALWAYS to eat the way in which you can maintain a healthy balanced life.
I do not recommend anyone who is experiencing disordered eating to never take part in a physique competition prep UNTIL they have worked through their eating behaviours and have a positive mindset with food.
- Remove the labels with food (stop using words like “cheat” or “clean” food or other types of labels to describe food. Food is food).
- The only time any food is off limits is if it causes you gastrointestinal upset, or if it is a “trigger” food for you just for the interim
- Once you have worked on healthy behaviours with food, “trigger” foods become easier to deal with and your perception of them completely changes
- Limit processed foods (not eliminate) as research shows they do contribute to affecting brain function and pathways (do your own research)
- Tell your closest support network that you need their support, don’t be afraid to be honest about your plan as it will make it easier to stick to
Journaling your thoughts about yourself can be overwhelming and scary. Not a lot of us like to admit our negative perceptions of ourselves in fear of being judged or appearing weak.
No one is perfect, especially as a woman I find we judge ourselves extremely harshly and struggle to live up to our expectations of ourselves that are completely irrational.
What I recommend, is writing down how you think and feel during or immediately after a binge, when negative thoughts or food obsessive thoughts are popping into your head. This is the first step in being able to break down the ‘why’.
Mindfulness is beneficial to yourself as you grow and develop as a human. If we are unaware of why we do things, it’s going to be impossible to change them.
You simply can’t ‘wing it’.
Mindfulness also means that when we are eating, we are present with ourselves and in that moment we are focused. This helps to channel positive thoughts regarding food and eating and help to change perceptions of food. It’s about changing food time to being “sacred” so that we learn to value our meals and our food is beneficial to our health, NOT a coping mechanism.
When I was at my binging peak, to be mindful with my meals, I would sometimes close my eyes and focus on the food. What is the texture? What is the taste? How does this feel in my mouth?
I recommend the following to encourage mindfulness with food:
- NO tv, no music, no distractions whilst eating
- No talking or communicating with others around you
- Praying or blessing the food you’re eating (telling yourself food is fuel and it has healing properties, not a punishment behaviour)
- Eating in an environment that signals to your brain eating (NOT in bed)
- I think that last point is important to note, as our beds are our “resting” place. A place of comfort. We do not want to associate food with comfort especially when healing from binging behaviours.
Here is an example of a journal entry from someone who may be experiencing extreme binging behaviour and how to self-direct your thoughts:
|TIME AND THOUGHTS||WHY||STRATEGY|
|8am – woke up, felt awful about my body today||Looked in the mirror and the negative thoughts started happening||“I am worthy, I accept who I am, I love who I am”|
|9am – couldn’t stop thinking about food all morning, ate even though I wasn’t hungry||Wanted to self-punish for how I feel about myself today||“Food is not comfort, it is fuel, punishment means I am not looking after myself”|
|12pm – ate lunch and kept thinking about food even after I ate||I was full but I couldn’t snap myself out of feeling sad about myself and guilty||“10 deep breaths, I am safe, It’s never too late to look after myself, I have not done permanent damage”|
Social media influence
Social media can be a great resource when it comes to information from your biggest influencers, but make no mistake, the information can sometimes be a negative influence over your food behaviours.
Unfollow anything that plays on your mind and impacts your way of thinking!
What happens now?
I want to give love and light and hope to anyone that experiences this behaviour right now to say, it will be okay.
You will be challenged.
You will feel weak at times.
You will have to work VERY hard not to go back to old behaviours when stress rears its head or you feel riddled with anxiety, especially in a lockdown.
But what these processes will allow you to do is be CONCIOUS of how you choose to respond to any situation you’re faced with.
And remember… your identity is not your eating disorder.