This week’s series is all about binge eating. I’m not just talking about eating a few slices of pizza. I’m talking about eating in a zombie-like state, well beyond physical hunger, to the point of physical discomfort accompanied by a complete sense of loss of control. This is a serious mental and physical health concern and is something I personally struggled with for over a decade, starting in my early twenties.
It turns out that I am not alone and if you currently struggle or have also struggled with binge eating disorder or episodes of binge eating, then you are not alone, either. This issue is likely way more common than fitness professionals like to admit. Binge eating disorder is actually considered the most common form of eating disorder, affecting both women and men, more than anorexia and bulimia combined.
The good news is that there are resources out there for treating and successfully moving away from binge eating. I’m excited that I can take my experience and the resources that helped me and in turn share them with you, if you or someone you love is struggling.
I’m going to be covering the wonderful work of Dr. Melissa McCreery this week. Her BEAST acronym is a great tool for breaking free from binge eating, compulsive overeating and emotional eating. This tool helps to identify, plan for and hopefully deal with overlooked triggers for overeating so that we can reduce or eliminate binge eating episodes. I’ve taken each letter of the acronym and filmed a one-minute video on Instagram (the videos are also on my page on Facebook).
We got this. Together, we’re going to break free from binge eating.
B – Being Too Busy
All of us, and especially professional working women and moms can be overwhelmed with “busy-ness” at times. I know I certainly am. And I lacked the self-awareness to see that I was reaching for food as a way to take a break or get relief from my overwhelming to-do list.
What to do instead? Take a deep breath (or ten). Go for a short walk, even if it’s just a lap of the office floor. Jot down the most important items on a sticky note in manageable tasks and take satisfaction in crossing them off. Repeat with me: “My busy-ness is not my worthines. Busy-ness is not a badge of honour.” Those mantras have been important to me.
E – Emotional Eating
I’m talking about eating to stuff down uncomfortable or just plain overwhelming emotions, whether they are positive (happiness, joy) or “negative” (sadness, anger, frustration, fear, insecurity, jealousy). Remember, we assign value and meaning to different feelings and emotions, but they are not inherently “good” or “bad” in and of themselves. They just are. We can experience them and release them.
In addition to uncomfortable emotions that arise outside of eating, I think we need to release some of the shame that can come from binge eating, compulsive overeating and other eating patterns that don’t fit our definition of “healthy” or “normal.” Our society and cultural traditions have created patterns of eating more or special foods in times of celebration, from birthdays to weddings to a simple ice cream after the winning game.
We also receive “programming” to have a special food when we are hurt, sick or scared. That can mean an ice cream after a losing game or a cookie to ease a “boo-boo.”
All fine, all normal. We just need mindfulness when this eating is to the point of physical discomfort or we fail to see the underlying emotion. We need new tools and strategies to recognize those emotions, sit with them. What’s your “instead” instead of eating? I’d love to hear. Lately, I’ve been turning to journalling.
Let’s open this important discussion. In the comments if you’re comfortable, or we can keep it private in an e-mail discussion. I’m here for you.
A – Avoidance Eating
Sometimes eating is a way to avoid or delay an uncomfortable conversation or to procrastinate from doing an unpleasant or undesirable task (“Sure, I’ll tackle that project – as soon as I have a snack. Or six.”). In fact, the task might even be pleasant, but seems overwhelming at the moment.
We might need to engage outside help to mediate difficult conversations or even hire someone else to handle our most pressing and/or vexing tasks. This isn’t abdication or failure; it’s smart time and sanity management.
S – Stress Eating
This is SUPER common – I see it nearly every day in the corporate environment and deadline time sometimes still sees me struggling to stay out of the office snack bowl as well. Remember, overeating stems from your body’s well-intentioned but misguided attempts at self-care. Stress eating “works” to reduce stress because certain foods contain chemicals like dopamine or endorphins that naturally make us feel good, in the same way that exercise does. But it can be way faster (and more appealing) to grab a cookie than to bust out some burpees.
Sometimes we don’t have the time or interest for a bubble bath or a long walk in nature. Our kids are screaming, the phone is ringing and it’s just easier and faster to eat than to do anything else.
What quick, realistic stress relievers can we put in place? Can we anticipate when these stressful times will be and put more supports around them? Maybe it’s a meal delivery service to ease supper time stress. Maybe it’s ten deep breaths in a closet or bathroom. Sometimes you just have to remove yourself from the room with food, even if that means marching out of the kitchen in the middle of meal time preparation. Some nights I will choose to forgo preparing school lunches just to get myself out of the kitchen.
T – Being Too Tired
When we’re tired and run down we are often not our best selves. Our bodies are desperate for a quick hit of energy and often it’s easier and faster and more realistic to grab whatever food is handy than it is to take a nap. I’ve already written on the link between sleep and hormones that govern hunger.
One way to combat this is to stock healthful snacks everywhere (your office, your car, your desk, your purse and your gym bag). But that’s only half an equation – unneeded excess calories are excess calories whether they come from an apple or a cookie.
You also need a strategy for getting more rest in the first place. Can you schedule more naps? Go to bed earlier? Get a partner, friend or babysitter to take over while you take a nap?
I’m here to help and I’m here to listen.