When I was in law school, it was pretty common for me to have binges in the evenings. Home alone watching TV on the couch, I’d hear the jar of peanut butter calling my name. I’d walk into the kitchen, open up the cabinet and decide to take just one spoonful. After finding my place back on the couch, I could feel a hard-to-describe pull drawing me back into the kitchen; this time with the promise of some graham cracker sticks and peanut butter. I tried to resist, but before I knew it, I would find myself hunched over the kitchen counter dipping those graham cracker sticks into the jar.
At first I would count the sticks and try to mentally measure the peanut butter. But, when the portion got too large I would let it all go, eating more and more. My brain got foggy and my experience could almost be described as “out of body”. I would eat as quickly as possible, trying to get as much into my stomach before I could talk myself out of it. I’d tell myself that since I had already ruined the day that I should probably consume anything else “bad” or “off limits” right then and there, from ice cream to cookies to potato chips and more.
When each episode ended, I was left with a tummy ache rivaled only by the heartache that I had let myself down again. I felt like a gross and disgusting failure and vowed to make it up with perfectly clean eats and extra long workouts the very next day. Here’s the thing – I know I’m not alone here. So many women struggle with binge eating, yet it is a topic that is rarely discussed openly. I personally felt very embarrassed about my struggle and know that many women feel the same.
Now that I am on the other side of this struggle and no longer have the urge to binge, I love supporting women to experience the same freedom in their lives.
If you’re struggling with binges, here are 5 ways that I healed my relationship with food and broke up with binges for good (spoiler alert; You won’t find willpower, squeaky clean eats, or two-a-day workouts anywhere on this list):
1. See binges at a symptom rather than the problem.
We hear it all the time: she has a “binge eating problem.” The problem with this statement is that the binge eating actually isn’t the problem; it is just the symptom of a deeper issue. We don’t binge eat just to binge eat. We binge eat as a way to escape from uncomfortable emotions, cope with distress, experience more pleasure, combat restriction, and more. When you allow yourself to see binge eating as a symptom rather than the issue itself, not only does it eliminate so much of its stigma but it also helps you begin to heal the real hurt.
2. Give your feeling a name.
Often times we binge as a way to escape, numb, or avoid a difficult or uncomfortable feeling like sadness, boredom, loneliness, or rejection (to name a few!). Rather than bolting, try being present with whatever emotion is coming up for you. A great first step in this process it to name your feeling (i.e. “I am feeling rejected by that comment my boss just made”). This can be incredibly helpful in reducing the perceived power of the tough feeling because it gives you permission to just be present in the discomfort.
Next time you have the urge to binge as an emotional reaction, take a quick moment to acknowledge what it is that you’re actually feeling.
3. Ask, “What might actually help?”
Once you know how you’re truly feeling, you can take it a step farther and ask yourself, “what might actually help?” If you are feeling lonely, perhaps reaching out to a friend for a phone chat would feel supportive. If you’re feeling stressed, try taking a quick walk or jumping into the shower to unwind. Experiment with this dialogue in reaction to your emotions and remember that it is all a process – don’t beat yourself up if you end up turning to food or having a binge.
4. Reduce or eliminate deprivation.
Binge eating is almost always a reaction to a deprivation of some kind. This could be physical deprivation, which can come from not eating enough, restrictive diets, or eliminating entire food groups. But, it can also come from emotional or mental deprivation (i.e. not allowing yourself to experience pleasure or fun). Identify the areas in your life, physical and beyond, where you are experiencing restriction and begin to slowly lift those rules.
A great indicator of these areas is use of the words “should” and “shouldn’t” (i.e. “I shouldn’t eat lunch before noon,” “I should only eat X calories per day,” or “I should say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes my way regardless of how stressed I am”).
5. Increase pleasure!
If the only moments of enjoyment, relaxation, or rule breaking you have all week are the moments where you’re shoveling brownies into your face, can you really blame yourself for wanting to eat the entire pan? Heck no! That’s why it is so important to start having more fun. As human beings, we are hard-wired to crave rest, relaxation, and pleasure.
So, start to incorporate more moments of fun proactively into your life: Plan dates with your girlfriends, light your favorite candle, let yourself sleep in, and try out that cardio dance class. Experiment with what lights you up on a regular basis!