Binge eating and punishment

Ah, the eternal problem of binge eating! I don’t think any of us can honestly say they’ve never experienced a binge. Whether you’re trying to lose weight and get healthy or are fit and skinny, chances are, it has happened to you: one night (because let’s face it, the perfect time for bingeing is at night) you just threw all your rules and precautions away and munched on an entire bow of cookies, or ate a whole jar of ice cream, or an entire pizza. Whichever you like best, preferably something carby and sugary. Right afterwards, you felt ashamed of what you did, and your guilt took a few days to go away, as did those extra pounds (of water) you packed. Also, you probably felt really bad physically: your stomach ached, you felt bloated, maybe even your vision got blurry (especially if you are gluten sensitive and indulged in gluten treats).

The next day, chances are, you tried to purge yourself, going the extra mile during your workout and eating no carbs, all of this in effort to erase the horrible experience you put your body through the night before.

You swore it would never happen again.

And yet it did.

And thus the vicious cycle begins. That’s the problem with the very definition of binge eating: it’s emotional, it happens when you’re stressed out and it throws you off, making you “quit your diet” for one night, only to resume it the next day. But if you stop thinking about your lifestyle in terms of dieting, it can help you overcome overeating urges that may rise occasionally, and cease seeing food as a solution to problems in your life.

For that, a few simple steps can help you overcome those urges and, in the case you give into your imaginary cravings, help you start fresh the day after:

1. Identify the problem and write down how you feel.

This is easier said than done. Usually, when you binge, you don’t think, so it’s very difficult to pause and write stuff down. If you can though, on your way to the kitchen cabinet where you keep you “goodies”, try to stop for one minute and take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes. Ask yourself, are you really hungry? If you’re not, why is it that you want to continue eating? Is it to fill an emotional void? And it that case, wouldn’t it be more efficient to stimulate your senses with something else that food (think bath, scary movie or chickflick, talk with a friend, or even a short kickboxing workout – I like the 8 minutes Tae Bo drill – to really punch that anxiety in the face)? Is it because you are stressed out? And in that case, how eating (and the consequences of a binge) will help you? Is it something else, but that is following a pattern you are already aware of? Is it because you feel too much pressure, and you need to “unload”? Is it because you know that a load of carbohydrate rich food will make you sleepy and make you forget about what’s bothering you? Again, you can find other ways to distract yourself from the problem: go for a walk, or go take a nap, or run a bath.

The writing part is useful if you already had your binge eating episode. Now you can identify precisely what is that has triggered it and how do you think you can avoid it next time. Without shaming yourself (remember, you might feel bad for the next day or two, but it isn’t one night of cookies and ice cream that’s going to throw you off your weight-loss journey).

2. Look at your surroundings.

It is rare that we binge while surrounded by people, or when we have our meals in a calm environment, with beautiful place mats and nice music. Chances are you like to eat a lot (as I do), when you watch TV. That is, when your mind is entirely occupied but something else that eating, and when, at the same time, no intellectual effort is required from your part. This is why it is harder to overeat while reading, though it is also very much possible.

When the moment comes, that is when, after dinner, you feel like you need to munch on something, switch the TV off for just a sec (or cut the sound off), and take a deep breath. Focus on the food. If afterwards you still feel like you’re hungry, go and eat. But better watch your program while just relaxing on the couch, or doing a few light exercices.

3. Figure out why you want to punish yourself.

The thing I have discovered after my most recent binge, was that I actually was not only conscious I was eating too much, but that I somehow forced myself to eat to the point of having a horrible stomach ache. As if I wanted to hurt myself. I realized that I must have wanted to hurt myself subconsciously, to punish myself for not working enough, and, last night, for watching a few episodes of a TV-show in a row instead of just limiting myself to one. I had made a deal with myself, that I wouldn’t watch TV anymore before I finished my dissertation, so I guess when I “broke this vow”, I immediately decided this meant I was back to my old ways, which also included heavy binge eating followed by deep feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction with myself. So not only did I eat out of guilt, but I did so to punish myself for not being consistent with my new way of life.

When we binge eat, we don’t simply indulge in sweet stuff, we eat so much it hurts. So why do you want to punish yourself? Binge eating is nothing like a “treat” you’re having, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Identifying the problem will be the first step towards dealing with it. Maybe you just need to relax and see the big picture.

4. What to do next : getting rid of guilty feelings!

So you slipped. So you were hard on yourself. So your stomach aches and you hate yourself. But if you are the one who can harm yourself, you are also the one who can do nice things for yourself, forgive, and move on. Take some time to do a quick therapy session with yourself, and treat your body and mind as if they were your patients and best friends at the same time (which they are!). Go to sleep, be thankful for what you’ve learned and for the new experience, and promise yourself just one thing: that in the future, you will always try to treat yourself with love.

6. And finally, the next day.

Drink lots and lots of water. Chances are, you’ll be very thirsty anyway because of all the extra carbs you’ve ingested. So as soon as you wake up, drink up to several litres of clear water, with a squeeze of lemon if you like, and take it easy. If you feel like working out, work out. If you don’t, or if it’s your rest day, rest. Go for a walk, preferably in a park, where there is a lot of green going on. When you’re hungry again (maybe later in the morning, maybe only in the afternoon), eat something light: I go for eggs, because they give enough energy without making you lethargic. Have a good stretch too, because your extremities might be bloated from the extra water you’ve retained. If you drink enough liquids, you probably will be as good as new by the same evening.

So there you have it, a few guidelines to help you deal with binge episodes and, hopefully, make you feel at peace with your body.

Tell me what you think! What are your strategies?


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