I have so many beautiful emails and messages from you guys about binge eating that I thought I would dedicate a blog to it! It’s a personal topic for me as when I was a teenager – I suffered from mild binge eating too. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone or seek help so I’m hoping my experiences + my professional expertise can help even just one of you! xxx
I find the thing that has helped me the MOST was to learn to give myself permission to eat ANY food I wanted. As a teenager, I got caught up in restricting what I was eating (salads and healthy food only) and never allowing myself ‘treats’. I was good Monday-Friday and then come the weekend I would just blow out. Some days I didn’t even make it til Friday – I’d find myself eating chocolate after potato chip after biscuit. Most of the times I’d try and figure out exactly what I had eaten and then go exercise it off at the gym (note: terrible idea and not helpful!). You can’t out exercise a bad diet (it’s also a dangerous habit!!). You should exercise because you love your body enough to move it – not because you’re punishing it. I did some reading on binge eating and realised that most of the time, it’s eating due to emotional reasons, boredom or stress. Most of the time we binge eat, we’re not even hungry! This realisation was my turning point!
Lets talk about about non hungry eating. This is a very important concept – true physical hunger (lets call it stomach hunger) vs psychological hunger (lets call it heart hunger). Most of the times that people over eat are due to heart hunger. We lose control of our eating as we we’re never really hungry to begin with so no amount of food will ever truly satisfy us. We’re eating due to an emotional, boredom or stress response – food can’t cure that! Therefore, we move from one food to another always looking for something else to satisfy us. Have you even noticed in a binge that you go from sweet to salty to crunchy back to sweet. It’s very common for binge eaters to do this as it comes back to the fact we’re not truly hungry – we’re just trying to satisfy an emotion therefore we move from food to food to food trying to do this. Please note: NO FOOD will ever fix your emotions as you were never truly physically hungry to begin with.
Lets try and break down stomach hunger and heart hunger. I found it really helped for me to be able to identify the difference between both.
The Psychological Hunger Feels (heart hunger):
- Comes out of nowhere! Sudden hunger.
- Feeling a specific type of food. The cravings are real! E.g. it’s chocolate or nothing.
- The desire is strong, there’s urgency…I WANT FOOD NOW!
- If you connect with your feelings, the desire is emotional. E.g. you’re tired, bored, or sad e.c.t.
- It was a bit impulsive, you eat so quick you forgot to really taste or enjoy it.
- That craving leads to another, you now feel like something else. E.g. you eat chocolate (sweet), now you need some salted peanuts (salty).
- You don’t move on quickly. Might feel guilty, ashamed or dwell on what you ate/did for a while
The Physical Hunger Feels (stomach hunger):
- Increases bit by bit.
- A reasonable amount of time has passed since you last ate.
- Feeling low in energy.
- A little bit of food would do
- Don’t have to eat right now, eg. waiting for your dinner while you cook it
- Your body is having a response as well, e.g. rumbling tummy.
- What you decide to eat is a conscious choice, you have thought about it and their is no guilt attached to it.
- You feel satisfied and satiated after eating.
- A healthy food WILL do. Ie. a apple or a salad sandwich is enough.
When you learn to differentiate between these types of hunger – you’re literally 50% of the way there! If you are truly stomach hungry – please go and eat something substantial. If you find that you’re heart hungry – use my strategies below.
Strategies to combat heart hunger:
- Go for a walk, or find a way of moving your body that you enjoy. (Might be that lounge room dancing you do when no one’s watching!)
- Have a warm bath/hot shower to relax yourself. This is my favourite stratgey to do when I’m stressed. There’s something about a hot shower that instantly de-stresses me
- Do a guided meditation. (Youtube and spotify have many wonderful ones)
- Call a friend/family to have a chat and debrief about your emotions or just to distract yourself
- Have a go to time-waster/hobby that you find relaxing e.g. a colouring book, drawing, painting, sewing, reading a book. Note: cooking/baking is probably not helpful here…
- Life admin: it’s not for everyone, but can be very satisfying and help you to feel organised. E.g. write your To Do List, fill in your calendar for next week, plan your next holiday.
- Got a pool? Enjoy a refreshing swim. Got a park near you – pop down and watch the dogs/kids play (it can be very destressing watching children laugh and dogs chase their tails)
- Sip a cup of hot tea – it’s soothing and fills your tummy up (break the habit of having a biscuit with your tea and just enjoy the tea solo)
- Brush your teeth – having a nice fresh minty mouth helps to prevent eating at a time when you might be emotional
- The last stratgey isn’t for everyone but I found it helped me so much. I used to beat myself up for not being ‘strong’ enough to survive a binge or to not do it again. What I used to do was lay on my tummy on my bed and put a stop watch on. I’d time how long it took me to give in before I ran to the kitchen. The first few times were less than 10 minutes. After a week or so, I found that lying there on the bed trying to beat my previous time became a game. While I was playing this game I was also trying to figure out what emotion I was feeling and why I wanted to eat ‘x’ food so badly. After a few weeks, I got bored of lying on my bed, realised I wasn’t hungry and went to find something better to do. I had literally fixed my binge eating from a competitive game with my stop watch
Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days where I might mindlessly overeat but I can’t remember the last time I had a true ‘binge’ as I’m much more mindful and don’t let myself get to the stage when I’m eating uncontrollably in a ‘f*ck it’ mentality. The is the most dangerous place to be – when you’ve given up, thrown in the towel and gone into ‘f*ck it’ mentality you could literally eat the entire fridge as you’ve fallen off the wagon anyway – AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS!
This bring me back to my first tip for you guys. My most important tip is to never restrict anything! Allow yourself to eat ANYTHING. When you restrict things, it makes binge eating much more possible. By ALLOWING yourself to eat anything – you are giving your body permission to enjoy it. When you have permission you are much less likely to overeat. The only rule I had for myself here was that I could eat anything I wanted as long as I was stomach hungry and ate it in a mindful way. So I did – I enjoyed chocolate, ice cream, cake, biscuits etc etc but I only did it occasionally. I only ate a small amount and I never ate it on an empty stomach (note: this took me months to do properly – i didn’t learn to do it overnight). I would always have a proper meal first then an hour or two later I might have a small amount of something I desired. I had to learn to do this however. For the first few weeks I practiced allowing myself to eat anything – nothing was off limits. I literally nearly made myself sick off chocolate and then something amazing happened. After a week or so, I realised that I didn’t even want chocolate anymore or I realised that the first 2 pieces tasted JUST AS GOOD as the 10-15th piece. By eating mindfully and not eating when I was starving, I didn’t need to eat a whole block or bar, just 1-2 small pieces was enough to satisfy a craving. At times I even had the chocolate block in my hand but I’d always ask myself that important question – “Am I really hungry?!” If the answer was no, I’d put the chocolate back in the fridge and remind myself I could have it tomorrow or whenever I wanted but I didn’t need it now as I wasn’t hungry. I could do this as nothing was off limits. Everything was always available at a later stage if I wanted/needed it. And that was my magical turning point.
Let’s re-cap. Recovering from binge eating IS possible. Relapses are also possible – just remember you’re only human. If you relapse it’s ok! Nobody is perfect, just remember to assess WHY it happened after and put steps in place to prevent it from happening next time.
My top 5 tips to survive and prevent a binge:
- My most important tip is to never restrict anything! Allow yourself to eat ANYTHING (as long as you do it mindfully). So if you choose to not eat it today it will always be there tomorrow and the next day and the next.
- Take a minute to just BREATHE and put the food down. Binge eating happens so fast and is over before you even stop to think about it. If you can remember to just breathe mid binge or even before a binge episode happens than you’re winning. Breathe, put the food down and think!
- Figure out if you are heart hungry or stomach hungry (if stomach hunger, go eat something substantial). If you’re heart hungry – practice the tips above.
- If you must go eat something or you can’t get rid of your craving. Set a stop watch and aim for 10 minutes before you go and eat. Chances are in the next 10 minutes you’ll realise that you’re heart hungry only and go and reoccupy yourself with something else.
- Remember you’re only human – if you slip up and find yourself in the middle of a binge then stop right there. Give up the ‘f*ck it” mentality and stop right there. Even if there is only 1 piece left – mentally it’s a huge win to stop mid binge or leave a small amount in the box/packet . I don’t care if you ate 9/10 tim tams, if you leave 1 in the packet then it’s a win – you’re one step closer to recovery. Take the win and roll with it.
If you find you need more support than this, I recommend you see a local dietitian or psychologist to assist you with more personalised strategies.
Please comment below or DM me on Instagram if you found this helpful @the_fitness_dietitian