This post is inspired by a question I have been asked many times, and one which I ask myself at times. ‘Why can’t I stop binge eating?’
You might think that as a nutrition coach I have my nutrition and lifestyle habits dialed in all the time. The truth is I’ve had my moments. I have had periods in my life – times of stress, extreme tiredness or worry – when the first thing I turn to is food. Highly palatable and addictive foods. Toast.
I know what to do, and I know what will happen if I binge on these foods as I let my sleep get sidelined and stop regular exercise because it gets replaced with worry. I know I feel bad, my confidence plummets and virtually every element of my life is negatively affected. But in the moment, when the toast hits the taste buds, all the worry is forgotten.
So I get it. I can empathise with you if you binge eat, and like so many of us I can keep working towards eating consistently well and feeling awesome.
It’s worth noting that you’re not alone if you eat for emotional – or non hunger related reasons – as so many people who seem to be doing just fine on the surface also experience emotional eating.
The Primal Urge To Eat
I was listening to an interview with Krista Scott Dixon about her new book entitled ‘Why Me Want Eat?’.
It may seem like a strange title considering her intellect, and the very important subject matter concerning binge and emotional eating and what many readers may see as self sabotage to their weight loss goals.
When you think about it though emotional eating isn’t about being clever. Many bright, intelligent and successful people suffer from binge eating disorder and struggle not to eat beyond satisfaction.
I think the title describes a powerful primal urge to eat that may not be logical. Certainly not linked with intelligence, and I’d recommend reading the book if you are struggling with binge eating.
So, why can’t you stop binge eating?
In her interview, KSD talks about it being an internal cry for help and a regression.
You’re super-successful in so many aspects of your life, so why then can’t you stop binge eating to lose weight? After all you know how confident you’ll feel when you’re able to get into those clothes that are just too tight right now. Happy at last!
It isn’t that your weight loss goal lacks importance either. You might have a lofty goal that’s very important to you right now, and you know that being in great shape will help you in many ways, but you just can’t seem to quit binge eating – the powerful primal urge to eat is too strong!
Why Can’t I Stop Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is an ability to separate hunger and emotion.
If hunger isn’t the problem, then you can be confident that food isn’t the answer. So if you’re eating for any reason other than hunger, and you can’t seem to stop even though you want to, then the likelihood is that you’ll gain weight.
I don’t want to oversimplify emotional eating, but below is a visual interpretation of perhaps why you’re eating for reasons other than hunger.
So is it a cry for help or just plain will power – or lack of it?
Let’s consider your thought process right now: It’s midnight, you’ve just scoffed a pizza and you’re full of regret. What just happened?
Coping methods not working any more? Even 99% works and 1% doesn’t?
In her interview KSD described this in terms of the film Hurt Locker, where one bomb is reveals many others.
Can you ask yourself questions to crack the universe?
I help clients by asking questions, but I’m not a psychotherapist. As a nutrition coach I can help you take action though. In the scenario above, you could ask yourself ”what can I do next?”
How can you open the loop?
Could you go from binge eating every day to every 3 days for example?
Re-frame your mindset from seeing this as ‘self sabotage’ and blaming yourself, to competing commitments. Consider these and teach yourself the skills to break free of this binge eating cycle,
Let’s consider skills for a minute. If you said to yourself that you will never binge eat again, this may be too big a jump, and you may not have the skills in place to do this successfully – or at least until the next time.
Break Your Goal Down Into Skills And Daily Practice
If I told you to go and do a snatch without ever even having lifted a barbell before the likelihood is that you would mess up the exercise.
By breaking this complex exercise into skills step by step, over time you can put all these into practice and eventually perform a perfect snatch. Easy!
Consider changing your binge eating habit (behaviour) in terms of a very complex exercise – the snatch:
The same is true when it comes to quitting emotional or binge eating.
Break your goal into skills, and work on developing your skills by daily practice of something easy.
What do you need to do right now in order to break this binge eating habit?
What can you practice right now – one small easy thing you can implement right away?
When it comes to changing your eating habits, like the snatch demonstrated above, it is important not go attempt to change everything at once. Take things step by step and take time to teach yourself the skills required for long term success.
Notice and Name
I’m privileged to help clients improve their nutrition and lifestyle skills.
Sometimes it is hard not to become a counsellor, particularly when a client comes to me with a history in disordered eating. I help clients to take action in order to get from a point of feeling stuck or overwhelmed to a point of feeling confident and liberated from – in this case – binge eating.
Here’s some actionable advice you can take too:
Unlike counselling you don’t have to ask intrusive questions and get right to the back of the attic for a thorough clean out. Instead lead yourself to helpful action by asking useful questions:
What are you noticing / seeing?
What is happening?
What is going on?
What is the story you’re telling yourself about this?
Are there other explanations or perspectives?
What is good for you about this behaviour?
Remember the clean slate policy – in the end it doesn’t matter what happened. What can we do right now?
Will Losing Weight Make You Happy?
Will putting a stop to your emotional eating make you happy? Will it allow you to lose weight and live happily ever after? Or are you emotional eating because of something inside that is bothering you?
Does your inside match your outside?
Will losing fat make you happy once you’ve reached your goal?
Then you need to work on your inner game first because unless you do so you will struggle to maintain the habits you’re trying to lay down.