Binge eating is an extremely common way to fill an empty space, literally and figuratively. Feelings of stress or anxiety, boredom, loneliness, lack of self-confidence, and signs of depression can lead us to fill that space—that feeling of lacking—with food. The problem is that it’s not a healthy way to fuel ourselves and often leaves us feeling ashamed or disappointed with ourselves afterward. Ah, the cruel cycle continues.
Going out to eat with friends at an amazing new restaurant, celebrating, or accidentally eating more than usual once in a while is not considered binge eating, so for all of us who have had to unbutton a top button post-jubilance, don’t freak out. Binge eating is usually characterized by:
- Eating (or inability to stop eating) even though you feel totally full. It’s a feeling of not being emotionally satisfied, and mechanically trying to fulfill that notion physically.
- Feeling a lack of sensation or mental numbness when binge eating or dissociating while eating and not realizing how much you’ve put away.
- Feeling shame, depression, or wanting to punish yourself after eating.
- Eating normal meals in public, and stockpiling to binge-eat at home alone.
- Trouble feeling satisfied with meals.
- Restricting the diet most of the time, and then becoming ravenous and making poor, extreme food choices.
If that sounds familiar to anyone reading, it’s quite like an addiction, and can be almost as intense as drug addiction. While there are varying degrees for everyone, it can become a habit that snowballs into a larger problem. In some cases, finding a professional who can help you through it may be the best step. For occasional binge eaters aware of the issue and wanting to stop before it gets out of hand, try these modes to shift your mindset.
If you find yourself thinking of food in an unhealthy way and maybe even planning your next binge, grab your journal. Think about what it is that is actually bothering you; it’s likely not hunger. Journal out your stresses, get to the root of the issue, and write down practical ways to address the issue.
Next time that next craving hits, think, “do I really need food right now, or just something to do with my mouth?” Sometimes, the act of swallowing provides a moment of satisfaction, and sipping something hot, slowly, will remind us that we aren’t actually lacking.
Pausing to recognize what is triggering us into these hollow feelings before acting on them might allow us to consider other options that would actually be more fulfilling. Calling a friend or family member could provide much of the comfort, if not more, of a big bowl of pasta, ice cream, or jumbo-sized bag of chips.
Keep healthy snacks around
Every time we eat, our blood sugar spikes. That’s important—our blood sugar levels inform many of our hormones and bodily cues so that our bodies can know and plan for what we need and when. But if we wait too long to eat, our blood sugar can become extremely low, leading to impulsive choices when it comes to food.
It’s hard to find time in our schedules for even more extracurricular activities, but the time we spend coping with our stress, i.e. dissociative eating, doom scrolling, TV binging, etc., could be put to some use. Because so much of binge eating is triggered from boredom or looking for a quick dopamine hit, keep those fingers busy with something else rewarding.
Somatic therapies that connect our minds to our bodies are super effective at grounding ourselves, as well as separating our external triggers from our actual needs. Dancing, for example, can help move that anxious energy out of the body so we can be more aware of our bodies’ priorities and demands.
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