Hello, everyone. Today we’re going to be talking about binge-eating.When things get stressful, do you find yourself coping in unhealthy ways like overeating, venting, or just avoiding things altogether? These strategies may work in the short term, but eventually they’ll end up causing more problems than they solve. Imagine what it’d be like if you had the skills to work through tough emotions without losing it.
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Is there a difference between binge-eating and overeating? Sure, I think most people have had the experience of overeating, you know. You finished eating, and you thought, “That was too much food.” But binge-eating is a different beast. So binge-eating, they describe it as eating, in a discreet period of time – like a two-hour window, something like that – a quantity of food – and this is the DSM-5 criteria here I’m quoting – that is definitely larger than most people would eat in similar circumstances. So straight away, there’s a whole load of subjectivity in that. We don’t know what most people are doing, right? But the second part is key. The second part is that you feel completely out of control. It feels like you are acting against your own will, that you cannot stop, even if you really wanted to.
And that’s the scary part. So sometimes I work with people that other people might look at what they eat and go “Well, that’s not a binge; it’s not that much food,” but they’re really distressed by it because it just feels, it doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like something that takes over you, and that – like a compulsion. Yes. Yes. So I used to use the term compulsive eating all the time, but I found that people seem to relate more to the word binge, actually, more than compulsive eating. But I see the two as very similar, very much interchangeable. Yeah, that’s an interesting distinction, because that that feeling of loss of control and just being like compelled to eat must feel really like disempowering or scary for people. It is, and it’s confusing as well. So I’ve been quite open, you know, on my social media that I struggled with binge-eating for gosh over 10 years.
So I know that feeling, and if I hadn’t experienced it I never would have believed it because it doesn’t make sense. I say over and over again binge-eating is not a rational problem, yet we try and fix it with a rational solution. So the way that most people try and stop binge-eating is by trying to stop binge-eating. Sounds like it makes sense, right? Right. And they get so tangled up because they feel so awful afterwards. They’re saying “I’m never going to do that again,” and then they do, and it just chips and erodes away at your self-esteem, and it’s just, it’s horrible. It leaves you questioning who you are. Yeah. Oh, how fascinating. And so would you say that the way people talk about binge-eating or overeating, people would say, “Oh, you should go on a diet or you should just control yourself or have more willpower.That that I’m glad you mentioned that, Emma, because that is the problem most of the time.
Not everybody, but I would say up to 90% of the people that I meet who struggle with binge-eating, it all started with a diet. Diets trigger disordered eating to such a strong degree, right? 100%. And so some people who struggle with binge-eating, they can go through long periods of really tight control. So they might be really good at dieting and following the rules, and I sometimes use Newton’s law of physics: each and every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
So the tighter you manage to control your food, quite often you’re going to swing back the other way into feeling completely out of control. So what do we do when we feel out of control? We try and claw our way back into control again, and we’re swinging back and forth. Or sometimes we call it a circle; we’re going round and round in a circle doing the same thing. What you’re speaking to with binge-eating is basically that there is something deeper.
This is more than just a willpower issue. Or compulsive eating is is more than just a like, “Oh, I was being gluttonous or something.” It’s like there is something deeper underneath binge-eating. Yeah. And there’s so much shame around it because of that. Do people usually do it alone? Yeah. That’s one of the things. It doesn’t have to be the case, but in one of the criteria it does say there’s a secrecy about it. And I think that’s why sometimes people think, “I must be addicted to food.
It’s an addiction because the way I behave is not me.” When I look back to my binge-eating days, the way I behaved was not in line with my personal morality or my values. And that’s another way of just feeling even worse about yourself, because you feel completely out of control. So people hide it, and they feel more shame, and then they feel like they have to control it more, and then that just leads to that cycle of of more explosion or more compulsions.
Yeah. So I was confused. When I was looking into my recovery, I was confused because I was hearing this stuff about restriction leads to binge-eating, and I thought, “Okay, yeah, mine did start with a diet, but I haven’t been restricting for years, so why am I still binge-eating?” I couldn’t understand why. And eventually, and I can’t even remember at what point, but I heard something even the mental restriction around food that planning to diet we call it last-supper eating so if you know the diet starts on Monday, what happens on Saturday and Sunday, right?You gotta eat. You gotta eat your last meal, right?
You gotta eat your last meal and all your cheesecake and everything you can get in because you have to start restricting soon. Yeah. And I think I was doing that every single day. Because every day, tomorrow – I would go to bed at night, lay my head on the pillow, and imagine what I was going to eat the next day, and it was, it was never enough food. It was to try and make up for all the bingeing in the past. So you’re going to sleep with that restricted thought in your brain, and I think the brain reacts to that.
Just, if you had a, I don’t know, you’re going on holiday tomorrow, you could think about that today and your body could feel excited. Your your chemistry responds in anticipation. And I think it’s the same with restriction. We’re responding in anticipation. Like, “I need to control myself more. My diet starts tomorrow. I’m going to eat better tomorrow. I’m going to have more willpower tomorrow.” And so then your body is like, “Oh no, a famine is coming. You might die,” right? Your body’s deep survival instincts kick in, and like, “You better tank up!” Yeah. But then each day you start, and you start with the control, and then you move into messing up or bingeing, and then you give up on the day.
Exactly. And you say “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do it,” right? Exactly. You got it. How interesting. So in the in the present moment, what would you do instead? What’s the one thing you have responsibility for in the present moment if you’re struggling with compulsive eating? So, well, in the moment – it depends what’s going on in the moment as well. So let’s say you’ve just binged, you know, you’re going to be going to bed, so it’s like, “Well, there’s nothing for me to take responsibility for.” So it would seem. But actually maybe in that moment it’s about taking responsibility for how you want to frame this, how you need to think about this in order to take care of yourself in order to rebalance like all these things that you’re actually trying to do for yourself.
So it could be – a lot of the time in the moment it’s not about action; it’s about how are we, what are we believing? And and what are our choices right now? I think when it comes to in the middle of a compulsive urge, sometimes when you’re right in it you can’t even create the space. So I sometimes work with my clients this idea of creating a pause between the urge and the binge. Sounds simple, but when you’re in it, it’s really difficult to do. And one of the reasons why I think it’s so hard to do is because people think, “I have to create the pause in order to talk myself out of bingeing. So I think the pause has to happen to stop bingeing.