The #1 Reason You’re Stuck in the Binge Cycle
This might sound depressing, but I’m not one for sugarcoating, and I think this is arguably the most important realization anyone suffering from binge-eating needs to have. The next time you feel an urge to binge-eat, know this: you have lost the battle. Wait a second, what did I just say? How could I make such a preposterous claim?
Read this closely. Once that urge to binge-eat has emerged, the battle has been lost. However, the war has not. To be sure, I don’t like the violent, antagonistic language we use towards our eating disorders (“battling” your eating disorder or “killing” it off, etc.), which you can read more about in my book, 100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Journey to Self-Discovery, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery from Your Eating Disorder.
Want to learn more about this “binge cycle” I’m talking about? Watch Understanding the Binge Cycle
But here’s why I’m stressing this point so much. I belong to a few online recovery groups, some of which are specific to BED recovery and some of which are just general eating disorder recovery communities. A constant pattern I’ve seen in the binge-eating oriented groups is a hyper-fixation on the binge [urge] itself. Questions often look like: “Guys, I just got home and the only thing I want to do right now is binge until I’m sick. What do I do?!” or “I have a party tonight and there’s going to be loads of sweets and snacks. How do I stop myself from binge-eating everything in sight?”
While the fear and urgency in these inquiries is obviously understandable (I recovered from years of binge-eating myself and know firsthand just how unnerving these urges can be), it is also a gigantic waste of mental energy. It misses the bigger picture and effectively reinforces the behaviors by locking you into that acute struggle (feeling the urge, resisting the urge, giving into the urge, and ultimately resigning to the urge). What does this mean and how do you actually begin to overcome your binge-eating?
Love your dog, don’t discipline your dog
Let me use the crude analogy of criminally mistreating your dog. If this kind of talk disturbs you, don’t read any further; I won’t be saying anything graphic, but the warning applies anyway. If you were to lock your dog in a room all day and never let him out, he would eventually become a pretty poorly behaved dog. He would bark incessantly, not know where to do his business, and if anyone were to come into the room, he might even be violent.
If you were to then freak out and desperately seek ways to discipline and quiet your dog, you might find some answers. And they might work acutely. But they won’t change the behavior, because the same root issue still exists. The lack of love and care, along with never having learned proper behaviors, will consistently manifest in the same problems.
That might sound extreme, but our relationship with our body and our eating is often similar, especially with those going through BED. We neglect our body and the nourishment it craves, we fail to take care of our mind and spirit, and we never prioritize building those healthy habits that could otherwise serve as vital coping skills (which healthy habits? Well, here’s a list of 51 of the healthiest, non-restrictive habits you can build!). And then when the body lashes out and cries for us to engage in maladaptive eating behaviors, all we can think to ask is “How do I end this?”
What to do
So, if “I’m going to binge unless I act fast; what do I do?” isn’t the right question, what is? What does one “appropriately” do in the situation where an intense urge to binge emerges? Surely I can’t be saying we should just let it happen, right?
The reality is that, in a time as greatly emotional and volatile as the pre-binge urge, the last thing you want to do is fight against yourself. Binge urges are much like a Chinese finger trap, in that the harder you pull against them and resist, the stronger of a hold they have on you. This is the all-important concept I teach all of my clients, called cognitive dietary restraint (CDR).
So, instead, fight violence with peace. Fight fear with calm. And fight self-loathing with an abundance of self-compassion.
What I did when urges to binge came up throughout my own recovery was simple. I would notice and name the urge, without judgment or any other intensifiers. Rather than “Oh no, this is going to be awful” or “I’m so disgusting,” I actively removed judgment and used self-narration such as “It’s looking like I might binge” or “My brain is crying out for food right now.” This removal of judgment allows room for objective observations. Now, instead of rushing down the subjective rabbit hole of negative self-talk, I can arrive at thoughts such as “What foods am I craving?” and “What part of me wants to binge?”
Neither of those phrases serves the secret role of getting me to stop the binge in its tracks. Rather, they exist only to increase mindful awareness and keep me in the moment and out of my head. Then, I might bring to mind the different sensations present. How physically hungry do I feel? What smells stand out to me right now? Where is my body making contact with the floor or chair? What other sights are there in my visual field?
I actually wrote a neat little piece for Sasha Fardell’s site called A Deep Dive Into 5 Minutes of Delayed Bingeing, which I highly recommend checking out!
I might also begin deeply breathing, treating this almost as its own meditation session. And why not? What better time to practice mindful awareness than in what might otherwise be a purely mindless and unaware process?
After this, if I still want to binge, I can bring out the foods I want to eat, decide which ones to start off with, place them on a plate or bowl, bring them to the table, and eat. Or, maybe the urges still feel incredibly strong and I end up just bringing the bag of chips straight to the couch. That’s okay. Remember, the goal is not to not binge. It’s to notice that my body is crying out and to then respond with love and compassion.
In times where this binge urge was paired with marked depression and intrusive thoughts, I could use the self-compassion model to center myself and put this into perspective. I could grant myself the love and care my body (and mind) so badly needs.
But where I actually go to work is outside of this. It’s in the day-to-day decisions to nourish my body by feeding it enough food, to put myself first when I feel I’m not being respected, to exercise out of empowerment and not punishment, and to do the things in life I enjoy because I want to… it’s in those decisions that I teach my proverbial dog that he does not need to feel scared or alone. I teach him he is loved and can expect to always be loved and nourished like this. Then, the next time someone comes to visit, the question is not “How do I get my dog to stop yapping?” but instead “What is my dog trying to communicate to me right now?”
How to nourish your body and end binge-eating in 100 days
100 Days of Food Freedom is a day-by-day journey that takes you from your current state of disordered eating, body insecurity, and diet obsession to a place of Food Freedom. Imagine waking up happy with the body you’re in, going through days without ever considering the inevitable binge. Imagine letting yourself love to eat without ever binge-eating again. It’s all possible. I made this exact recovery years ago, and I’ve written this detailed (yet insanely simple) 100-day guide for you to accomplish the exact same.