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Binge eating – when food is friend and foe

3 March 2020

We all overeat occasionally. Maybe its finishing a delicious desert when we’re already full, eating just too much birthday cake, or somehow finding room for an extra slice of pizza. We usually enjoy the extra indulgence and end up feeling overfull.  We may make a mental note not to eat quite so much next time, and then we forget about it.  

For binge eaters it doesn’t work like that.

Binge eating is something different. It’s not just simply eating a bit too much now and then. And it’s not enjoyable. Binge eaters are driven to eat when they are not hungry and they can’t stop once they’re full.

Binge eating affects millions

According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, some 12 million women and men in the UK suffer from binge eating to some extent.

Bingeing to feel good

Binge eaters are pushed to eat to make themselves feel better. With that first bite, they may feel good, satisfied and soothed by the taste in their mouth. But it doesn’t last long.

They soon stop enjoying the food, but carry on eating. As they do so, feelings of enjoyment are almost always replaced by harsh self-criticism, self-blame and feelings of guilt and shame.

Binge eating creates feelings of distress

Binges are very distressing. Some people feel disconnected from what they are doing and may find it difficult to remember what they have eaten afterwards.

Binge eating feels out of control to the person doing it and can feel like an addiction to food (or certain foods).

Secret eating

Binge eating using takes place in secret. People who binge are afraid what others may think of them if they knew just how much they ate. It is common to eat everything in the fridge or cupboard during a binge, going out to replace the food, so no one will know how much they’ve had.

Eating to cope with life

People start to binge as a way of avoiding or managing uncomfortable emotions. Over time, it can become the default way of dealing with life’s problems. For the eater, binging is a way of seeking comfort not a response to feelings of hunger in the body.

Change is possible

If this is you, it possible to change. 

When I work with binge eaters I teach them strategies to manage stress and their emotions without needing to turn to food. I help them to find alternatives to binge eating; working at a pace that suits them.

We work together to change the thoughts, feelings and actions around food and eating. Often this involves learning to deal with feelings in a more positive way, becoming happier about yourself, being able to say no to food and people when you need to, and more besides.

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Here are some strategies to help stop binge eating

Try eating mindfully

When you feel the need to binge, it helps to become aware of what you’re eating. As you binge, slow down and try to notice what you are eating. If you are going to eat a lot, it’s worth trying to enjoy the experience.

Why not try?

Putting all your food onto a plate or bowl before you eat it. Rather than eating ice-cream straight from the tub, spoon out a few scoops into a bowl. With biscuits, instead of eating them straight from the packet, put 6 or 8 on a plate. With crisps, rather than eating them by the handful from the bag, empty half into a bowl and then eat.

Notice the binge foods. With every mouthful, take notice of what you’re eating, without judging. For instance, with biscuits you might notice their crunchiness, their sweetness with maybe a hint of salt.When you have eaten everything on the plate or in the bowl, ask yourself: “What do I want to do now? Have I had enough or do I want more?”

The important thing is to be conscious about what you’re doing – this helps to create choices.

For more on mindful eating, have a look at five ways mindful eating can stop you overeating.

Use delaying tactics

If you are going to binge anyway, then it is worth making an effort to postpone the binge. Start off by waiting just thirty seconds. After you’ve put your first portion of food onto your plate or in a bowl, count to 30 slowly, and hold off on eating anything until 30 seconds have passed. Once you realise that you can do this, you may want to try postponing the binge for I minute, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on.

Being able to wait, even just one minute, before embarking on a binge, means that you are less at the mercy of the binge and more active in choosing when to start.

Ditch the diet

Stop trying to lose weight. When you diet, it is easy to become impatient or easily discouraged. We then give up the diet which makes us feel bad about ourselves. Focusing on being healthy instead helps us stay connected to feeling good, and that keeps us motivated.

Try and stop thinking about “good” and “bad” foods, but listen to your body to tell you what’s right for you. This gets rid of feeling guilty about food, which leads to binge eating for many of us.

For more tools and techniques to help you, check out my blogs on eating mindsets  and disordered eating.

For more on how I work with people around food and eating click here.

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