Everything was going so well, you had been really good, you’ve got this you thought. That is until something triggered you and it set you off on a binge episode. You couldn’t help yourself. Your favourite foods came out that you had said you were never going to eat again. You felt a loss of control and you could not stop eating. How are you ever going to recover from binge eating you ask yourself?
Now post – binge, you are feeling sick and feeling disappointed and angry with yourself. Why did I do it? Feelings of guilt start creeping in and you vow never to binge again.
What is the difference between binge eating and overeating?
It is quite logical to ask yourself after a binge-eating episode, am I just bingeing out or am I compulsive overeating? There is a big difference between the two according to the DSM 5 (The diagnostical and statistical manual of mental health disorders). Some of the symptoms of binge eating are; Eating an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time. You have a sense of a lack of control. Consuming foods when you are not physically hungry. Eating more rapidly than normal and or eating past feelings of fullness. It is also accompanied by the feeling of disgust and or feelings of shame and guilt over the amount you have eaten.
Whereas compulsive overeating is; eating more than usual at a meal. Eating past the point of being full. But it does not have the rapidness to it. There might not be the same level of disgust. There may not be the same triggers. In other words, there may be no pattern to overeating, whereas binge eating will have triggers and bingeing will happen on a regular basis.
Want to lose weight?
Your first consultation is FREE.
Ask any questions to find out how therapy can help you.
The Binge Eating Cycle
The binge cycle is where you feel trapped in this cycle of binge eating and then restriction and no matter how hard you try to escape, and recover from binge eating it does not happen.
The steps are 1. Feeling ok in life, then a trigger happens. 2. Binge. The trigger causes you to feel the urge to binge, the urge is too strong to resist. 3. After a binge you feel shame, and disappointment within yourself. You feel you have failed, and feel inadequate. 4. You vow never to binge again. Do you go back on a low-calorie diet as a compensatory measure, to right the unplanned binge? The restriction leaves you feeling good for a short while, but then FOMO (fear of missing out) creeps in. This then brings us back to point 1, feeling good for a short while, until something triggers you. This restrictive period is unsustainable. For Binge eaters, it feels like a boring way to live. You are depriving yourself of the foods that you love, even if it is ice cream and junk food.
Many of those foods have psychological factors or associations set up with them. For instance, chocolate not only tastes good but makes us feel warm and soothed. It can perk us up psychologically when we are feeling down. Individuals with binge eating therefore have emotional binges or start emotional eating. They use food to suppress strong feelings or to create positive intense feelings. When we reduce our food intake and take out the food that makes us feel good but do not replace it with intrinsic feel-good emotions life is going to drive us back to what feels good, hence when a trigger happens we unconsciously head straight for the food that fills that emotional void.
This is useful to know because we have these good intentions to stop. At times, trying to stop an episode of binge eating is like trying to stop a freight train. After a binge, it is usual to go into that deprivation cycle. It is hard to recover from binge eating when we are trapped in this endless cycle. These tips are going to help you to stop future episodes and escape that binge-restrict cycle.
1. Forgive yourself
You can see from the cycle above, that after a binge, it is natural to have feelings of depression and other negative emotions. Verbally we beat ourselves up about how useless we are that we cannot stop. To prevent ourselves from going on a future binge, we need to pause and reflect. Forgiving ourselves is the first step. Taking a breather from the negativity to realise episodes of overeating is not our fault, it is our years of programming that got us to where we are now. Bingeing is a form of mindless eating, meaning it is an unconscious automatic reaction. Note that if you are reading this, it is because you want to stop. You are able to stop, you just may not have the tools yet. Find ways to start treating yourself like you would a very good friend. By being supportive of yourself and understanding.
2. Stay off the scale
A day after binge eating, it is natural to have remorse and feelings of stress. We automatically want to jump on the scales to assess how much weight we have put on because having a fear of weight gain is real. If we have put on weight, it’s another opportunity to beat ourselves up. We are then letting the scales dictate our feelings. It creates an unhealthy relationship between us and the scales and can cause a negative body image. It causes us to go back to our diet mindsets and can push us into the restriction zone.
3. A diet will not work.
People with binge eating want to counterbalance the binge eating by going back on a low-calorie diet. This is our way of finding homeostasis, a balance within ourselves. We may also have been brought up in a diet culture, so this is all we know. Depending on how much we have binged, may be counterbalanced by the amount we want to restrict ourselves. It is this restriction that causes us to stay in that binge eating cycle. A diet gives you ideas to help you with weight loss, but it is not going to help with disordered eating. General advice about binge eating is a restrictive diet can cause compulsive eating. It is the dieting that can make it hard to recover from binge eating.
The trick therefore is to look at the foods you have banned and allow yourself a little bit of it. Some people say to me that this is really hard because they know if they have a little, then they find it hard to stay in control around food and they can’t stop themselves and that little bit leads to a lot or another binge.
So people are forever trapped and going from one polarised end to another. Start by making one healthy food swap. If you love chocolate go for a darker chocolate. If you binge on fizzy drinks swap it for carbonated water. Aim to bring in a source of protein with your meal. Make one swap at a time so you do not become overwhelmed and it starts to become sustainable and you are teaching your mind and body new habits.
4. Regulate your eating
To help escape this binge-restrict cycle, A good place to start is by eating meals at regular intervals. By eating regularly, you are training your body and mind to recognise food is coming. You are not putting yourself in a stressful situation by starving yourself. Your mind also gets used to eating regularly and by that, you start learning appetite control. You learn to only eat what you need and you start noticing and being okay with feelings of hunger. You can then start to meal plan and create a healthy eating schedule. Make sure you have food in your fridge, which makes it easier to eat healthily and eat regular amounts of food.
5. Identify reasons for a food binge
If we look at the cycle, there is normally a trigger for what sets you off on an episode of overeating. Sometimes the trigger can be obvious, like you saw or heard something, or someone said something that upset you. The bingeing is your way of coping with the upset or feeling. At times the trigger may not be so obvious. If you have an obsession with body image that is going to play a part here. There may be more than one trigger each time you have a binge. The way to find out is by making a note of when you binge. When you are in a more positive place after your binge, take your time thinking about what your trigger could have been. This way, you can start managing your binges by either avoiding the triggers or by learning to manage them differently.
Long-term solutions to address binge eating
Helping yourself after a binge is a positive step. Though, you do not want to be in a position of fire-fighting all the time. This can keep you trapped in the cycle and make you feel worse. By looking at longer-term you can make small changes that will have a big impact on your eating.
1. Allow flexibility in your diet
Start to build in areas where you can loosen the rules with food. Where can you allow yourself something of what you want each week or even each day. For instance, if you drink fizzy drinks and you drink 5 cans a day, rather than nothing cut it down to 1 can at a time where you can enjoy it. This is so you get your fix of sugar and stop craving it. This is also going to aid you in weight loss.
2. Practice Mindful Eating
A big part of eating recovery is mindful eating. This is where you are paying attention to what you are eating, how you are eating it, and how you feel eating it. This helps you to connect to your food, connect to your body, and feel, rather than eating in a frenzied way. Come away from distractions whilst eating. So switch off the TV, stop looking at your phone, and just sit with your food and enjoy the tastes and textures. Part of your recovery journey is to improve a healthier relationship with food and create a healthy body image.
3. Tips for dealing with negative feelings and behaviours
A trigger for our binge eating is often our unpleasant emotions. They can be so suppressed and we can feel so quickly that our brain has not had the opportunity to catch up so we don’t know what emotions that has triggered us.
Build in a routine where we are taking time out mentally to relax and destress. This could be 10 minutes of meditation each day. Journalling each day. This process allows us to be introspective. We start learning to deal with situations in a better way for us. Being less stressed means our eating starts to become more enjoyable because we no longer reach out for food when we are stressed.
4. Build your relationship with food
Our relationship with food can take on a love/hate relationship. We want to avoid it and not eat it if we can. However, that is not the answer. Healing emotional eating is about building a relationship with ourselves. The way we are with food, is often a reflection of how we are with the rest of our lives. For example, we could be controlling with food and that permeates the rest of our life as well. Make a note of how you feel about food, or write a letter to food about how you feel.
5. Behavioral therapy
If you have had eating issues for a while, it may be difficult for you to see how you can escape this binge-restrict cycle. It can be hard to do it on our own because we are mixed up in our own emotions and thoughts that are keeping us stuck, we cannot see outside of our own thought process.
Therapy sessions are a good way to help you see your patterns clearly and understand them. Seeing a mental health professional is a good step, so is an eating disorder specialist therapist. CBT has shown to be effective for Binge-Eating therapy. The therapist will understand what you are going through and help you to break free from the binge-restrict cycle and help you find yourself.
For more information on eating disorders