I’m almost 4 weeks into the beta test of my new program Authentic Body Confidence,
and I am literally brimming over with ideas of things I’d like to post, blog, and make videos about– and of course, with practically zero time to do those things lol.
So I’m gonna share my thoughts today on an important topic which I’ve never discussed before:
Binging and emotional eating.
You probably know that I pretty much never talk about food, nutrition, or eating. It’s not that food and eating aren’t important, mind you. They absolutely are, for health, fitness goals, self-care, energy, and even self-love.
The reason I don’t talk about food and eating is twofold:
First of all, I’m not qualified. Food and eating are vast, complex topics. They span a variety of highly specialized fields that I am emphatically not qualified to tackle, from the science of nutrition to the psychology of eating disorders.
I know way too many fitness experts who are willing to tell their clients what/how to eat, as though food isn’t intensely personal, emotional, and frankly, a mental-health issue.
I’ve also seen mental health counselors and intuitive eating coaches who teach people how to stop being afraid of food, while completely ignoring the fact that what we eat determines how we look and feel.
To avoid clouding these murky waters even further, when it comes to talking about food and eating, for the most part I just keep my mouth shut.
I’ve always found the topics of food and eating painfully boring, and I just wanted nothing to do with it. (Looking back though, I wonder if maybe my apathetic relationship to these topics might have been a direct response to the obsessive relationship I saw demonstrated by all my female friends/classmates/clients/peers.)
That having been said, I am qualified to tackle behavioral change as a coach, and most of my clients come to me with baggage, and self-aggression around their eating behaviors.
One such behavior is binge eating.
Binge eating is a disordered eating pattern that a lot of my clients find themselves engaging in, anywhere from “occasionally” to “regularly,” in which they eat a lot of food, usually to the point of discomfort, and often feeling unable to stop.
When a similar thing happens in reaction to stress, we tend to call it “emotional eating.’
To a person who feels driven to binge or emotionally eat, logic and reasoning tend to be completely useless tools.
Often, my clients report thinking “I shouldn’t do this, I know I’ll feel like shit after,” even as they eat. This leads to a very out-of-control feeling around binging, as though you don’t have a choice, and are helpless to resist.
As you can imagine, this feeling often comes hand in hand with shame, guilt, and a whole bunch of self-criticism.
In my experience, the shame, guilt, self-criticism, and helplessness are far more destructive than the actual binge eating itself, and are often the reason a person can’t seem to stop or break the habit:
because the worse you feel about yourself, and the more shame you feel, the more you need a coping mechanism.
Which brings me to my point: binge eating and emotional eating are coping mechanisms.
It’s a symptom, not a cause. That’s why, when I work with clients who binge eat, we don’t talk about willpower or logic. Instead, we start by getting clear on what hurts– and if you’ve ever struggled with binging or emotional eating, that’s where I recommend you start, too.
The term “emotional eating” is a vague umbrella term. But what does it mean? Which emotions are you avoiding exactly, and why?
Stuffing your body full of food alters your state. It literally allows you to change the way you feel, and often provides a distracting and uncomfortable numbness that keeps you from noticing anything else going on in your body, from grief to loneliness to rage to the sensation of being you.
But what is it that you’re avoiding, suppressing, or hiding from? What is it exactly that you can’t tolerate feeling? Start there, and get clear on your answers.
A simple way to begin this process is to commit to sitting down before you binge, tuning into the sensations in your body, and allowing the feelings (whatever they may be) to wash over you. Set a timer for 5 minutes, or just sit as long as you possibly can, and just feel the feelings underneath the urge to eat.
By doing this exercise every time you feel the urge to binge, you will begin to notice patterns, understand what it is you’re running away from, and build a bigger capacity for feeling and processing those sensations.
If possible, after sitting and feeling whatever there is to feel inside your body (spoiler alert: this will likely be a very uncomfortable exercise), free-write about your experience for a few minutes, just to process what came up for you.
Then, if you still feel the urge, you may begin your binge.
This is important though: when you go to eat, don’t allow yourself to see that as a failure or a weakness. Instead, it’s simply a tool. Eventually you will need to gather more tools by learning new coping skills, but learning new skills takes time and practice.
So– and yes this is something I really advise my clients in the beginning, after they sit for a few minutes and notice what feelings they’re trying to escape– give yourself permission to binge.
Do it consciously, by setting out everything you want to eat before beginning to eat it, and then actually giving yourself permission to enjoy it.
There’s no need to lie to yourself here, since there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and there’s no need to feel guilty since the goal wasn’t “resist binging.” The goal was, in fact “to binge.” So, really, you’re succeeding! You’re simply using the only available tool you have to escape a feeling you can’t yet tolerate.
This is not a quick fix. It’s more like a way of beginning to open the door inward. With time you’ll also need to work toward directly addressing your relationship with the feelings you’ve been avoiding, and allowing them to flow freely instead of being shoved down with food.
You may need to go through a period of experiencing a seemingly endless grief, or rage. This is common. You may need to examine your sexuality, or your history of trauma, or your desire to control everything. Everyone is different, and the urge to binge comes from a different place each of us.
But one thing is for sure: as always, you’ll only discover the answers if you commit to tuning in to your heart and your body.
Because that’s where the answers are.
P.S. I have a few private coaching spaces opening up again, for fall! If you’re interested in doing some private coaching with me, just fill out the application here, and we’ll talk!
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