I have recently been studying the art of mindful eating and have healed any past ‘bingy’ habits I may have had. I used to be a binge eater back in year 12 when I would restrict myself like crazy and then come home and eat a whole tub of hummus and carrots (with canola oil (cringe)), but I don’t ever have a ‘pig out’ that much … besides maybe Christmas hehe .
Anyway, it doesn’t mean I have healed past hurdles with my relationship with food and I want to provide you with tips and tricks so that you can too. But don’t think that this is an overnight cure – it takes work but I know you can do it!! Now, this is a bit of a long post, but I want to get into things so that you can learn and take stuff away from it – and be sure to let me know if this has helped!
- When you set yourself up with black and white rules and abstain from certain foods your inner critic will abuse you as soon as you have the cookie to the point where you just give up eating healthy and turn back to the cookies – it’s a vicious circle. The vilification that your inner mean girl dishes out on you, leads you to feeling worse and you have less energy to change.
Try this exercise: One of the best lessons I’ve learned from mindfulness is noticing. Just notice the traps and the tricks of a diet mentality on your brain and how not allowing yourself something will have the opposite effect and likely result in you binge eating the exact thing you weren’t allowing yourself. Keep in mind the dance between deprivation and obsession.
Forbidding yourself from certain foods will only make you want them more, and thus a binge will occur. Instead, schedule time in your week to actually enjoy these foods in moderate amounts. (p.s. they won’t kill you)
- When something happens (usually bad) and you feel the need to binge, instead take 20 breaths. Once you are settled into your breath, use the words ‘breathing in one’ then ‘breathing out one’ then ‘breathing in two…” etc. Go up to 10 and then backwards, nine through to zero.This grounds you and helps you to tune into your body and your true desires. Are you actually hungry? Are you angry? Did someone annoy you? Are you stressed?
- The positive memories that you have associated food and comfort with have been stored in your brain in an area called the mammillary body within your hypothalamus. Research shows that childhood eating behaviour is a powerful
factor in adult eating behaviour. One of the factors that influence our mood is serotonin which has a direct link with appetite and food. When our brains are not using serotonin well, we feel sad, depressed and irritable. Guess what nutrient can flip the serotonin switch to increase its availability? Carbs – the primary part of most comfort foods. Dietary fat, another common component, triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates our capacity to experience pleasure. So, when we are depressed – we want food.Stress stimulates our appetite and makes us likely to choose foods that are high in sugar and or fat. So once again, when you are stressed you are likely to binge. A study actually showed that women who have high-stress levels actually engage in comforting eating more than regular women and have higher levels of abdominal fat.
The takeaway message is that in order to combat binging, you need to identify the TRIGGER. For many, the trigger can actually be a fear of there not being enough food so they binge on what is available before it runs out. This can come from a childhood experience where maybe there wasn’t much food and you always had to fight over it with your brother and sister. This manifests to later in life binging on the foods that taste good (even healthy food!!). A helpful way to respond to this is to constantly tell yourself ‘I can save some for tomorrow’.
Many people that deprive themselves of foods might also binge on certain foods once they FINALLY get their hands on it and they go for the ‘all or nothing’ approach. They think ‘well fuck I’ve fallen off the waggon so I might as well keep eating and then jump back on the waggon tomorrow’. That won’t help. You will just feel guilty tomorrow and guess what – I can almost guarantee that you will eat less the next day and starve as a way of trying to balance out last night’s binge. Not going to work ’cause you’ll binge eat again cause you’re so hungry!!!
Instead, have some of your tasty food tonight, and then save some for tomorrow! I guarantee it’s better for your body. You cannot digest a pile of food in one go. Especially if you’re body isn’t used to that food.
Knowing the link between mood and food can help you to loosen the grip of judgement and shame that will often accompany overeating and this will help you to understand why willpower isn’t enough! Learning the links between mood and food actually enabled me to recognise my triggers. When I would feel like I just wanted to grab a bag of coconut chips and hop on the sofa, the trigger that made me want this was maybe a bad day at uni or work, a fight with a loved one, or serious stress/being tired. THIS was my coping tool and since recognising my triggers I have been able to say to myself ‘I only want that food because I just had a fight with xyz…instead I am going to NOT have the food because I’m not actually hungry and don’t want to feel guilty tomorrow.’
Now when I want to treat myself I actually sit down with my treat and enjoy it mindfully. I’m NOT in a bad mood, tired, cranky etc and I am simply indulging! (You can read about why I indulge mindfully here)
Here is a list of triggers, see which of them you identify with:
- advertisements of food
- baked goods, candy and snacks in the workplace
- working lunches or dinners
- problem foods – e.g. chips or chocolate that are readily available
- certain times of day
- friends or family eating
- certain activities that have been paired with eating like watching TV
- certain people
- family gatherings
- childhood associations
- chronic stress
- hunger (esp when strong)- people that ‘forget’ to eat breakfast typically with binge later in the evening
- negative feelings and thoughts about your body
- harsh, self-critical thoughts
- all-or-nothing thinking
- catastrophic beliefs
Now that you have identified your triggers, it can help you to look back and search for patterns. When you last had a binge, was it after something happened? If so what? And how can you reduce this from happening again?
Having a grasp of your triggers will help you to delve more deeply and see how your triggers interact with your binge. Work backwards from the time that your binge happened through the events that led up to the incident. Start with the overheating incident itself, then explore what happened right before that, and right before that, and before that ….and so on. Look at the tiny events as well as the binge events until you get to the trigger. Write these events down on a piece of paper until you track the initial trigger.
I also do not recommend removing your ‘problem foods’ out of your house. Doing this will mean that you 1) want the food more and 2) will pig out on it when you get your hands on it. You need to learn to start to trust yourself to have those foods around. So let’s say that Oreos are your ‘problem food’ and all you want to do is come home and eat them each day. Do this exercise:
- Keep them in your cupboard
- Every day after work, allow yourself to come home and have ONE Oreo sitting down eating it. DO NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE. Just sit and eat it.
- Do this every afternoon/night when you get home at a designated time until you no longer want to binge eat the Oreo.
The idea behind this is that you begin to trust yourself that you can eat ONE Oreo, not one packet. Soon, you won’t actually want the Oreo and they will sit in your cupboard and you won’t want them at all. You will also realise that when you come home from work, it isn’t the Oreo that will fix the problem, it’s more likely a hug from your partner, a warm bath or a meditation. Plus, you are less likely to feel crap after eating one Oreo compared to eating one packet!
Reconstructing your events back and back and BACK until you figure out your trigger will help you to identify what you really need. That chocolate bar, a packet of chips or ice cream – whilst those may seem comforting at the time, they are not what you really need. For example, sitting down with a block of chocolate at night instead of a cup of herbal tea might respond to your short term need for comfort because you are stressed, but your true long standing need is stress relief – having a bath or meditation might help to cure this. Perhaps going to bed earlier or meeting with some friends might also help. Thinking in the LONG TERM is challenging yet essential in this fast paced environment we live in.
Next time, ask yourself – is what I’m doing addressing an immediate wish or need but undermining a bigger, longer-term need? For example, you are tired and stressed so you sit on the sofa with some of your favourite food to ‘relax’ but are you responding to your immediate need or long term need? Do you actually need more sleep? Maybe going to bed early is a better option than watching TV…..??
Remember that our mind is in constant chatter. Much of what it says in not the truth and we just need to learn to observe the truth and recognise a specific thought or judgement as ‘only a thought’. You can question your thoughts (“is this true?”) or just choose to let it pass without giving it much attention at all. Try to be present, scan your body for what you truly want. Sometimes you do just want a bag of chips, but MOST of the time, you need a hug, a bath or a better night sleep.