By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)
Binge eating has always been one of my biggest obstacles to overcome in losing weight. For me, once a binge is triggered and I take that first bite, I’m farther from stopping a binge than before I took the first bite. That first bite puts me into a frenzy and I forget all of my good intentions, aiming instead for a blissful food coma. That feeling of everything being better, calm, okay, safe and warm washes over me and I forget the guilt that will ensue for a few minutes. Tomorrow is another day, I reason. I can do better then. Deep down though, I know tomorrow will be full of regret, feelings of failure and doubt that I can ever pull off this weight loss/ fitness goal of mine.
With the help of SparkPeople and therapy, I have learned to have more control over my binge eating. I have lost 144 pounds to date and it hasn’t been binge free. I’ve had my setbacks and struggles too. I’ve controlled my binges by using various techniques in this article and by using Spark Streaks. Streaks are consecutive days of doing something. I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned and gathered from SparkPeople and various forms of therapy with you.
How do you prevent a binge? How do you stop one once it starts? Those answers are very individualized, as not one answer will work for everyone. If you have tried different things in the past and given up, don’t throw in the towel yet. There are many more things to try.
I went to Over Eaters Anonymous, which offered the advice to “Avoid that first compulsive bite.” When I asked how I would know what bite was compulsive, I was told that it was the one I knew would send me into that frenzy that I was telling you about. Prevent the first compulsive bite and you prevent the binge.
Another technique I learned was called HALT. It reminds you to ask yourself if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired before reaching for food as a comforting tool. These emotions are strong binge triggers, so eating for the sake of eating while feeling them is not a good idea. Figure out what you are really feeling and distract yourself for a little while to address the problem mentally. Once you know why you want to eat and what the root cause is, do something about it or decide to not. Make it your choice, your decision; put things in your hands again. You are now in control.
With emotions and eating as well as anxiety, there is a pattern I learned from my therapist. First you start with an event that causes an emotion. That emotion can be dealt with, stuffed down or raised to panic or anxiety. As binge eaters, we tend to stuff it down with food. Then the binge upsets us and we feel guilt and shame. Those new emotions become a new event. That causes new eating behavior to cover the emotional overload and then we eat more. Once again the shame kicks in and we begin a spiral downward into a binge that leaves us feeling full of shame and remorse by the end. Compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder are finally being recognized as official eating disorders that can be treated just like anorexia and bulimia. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for help if you need it. These eating disorders are just as serious and as unhealthy as their thinner counterparts. The difference is that there is a stigma attached to them because society as a whole is still unwilling to see people of size as being little more than out of control of their eating or lazy. This stigma keeps people in the dark about the gravity of their compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder. If your doctor is not familiar with these terms, and you know you need help, ask to be referred to a therapist who deals specifically with eating disorders besides anorexia and bulimia. Mention the terms “compulsive overeating” and “binge eating disorder.”
How do you fight it?
I use my mantras to keep me strong. They really help me. My binge busters are:
"One slice of pizza is always going to have less calories than two."
"If you're going to think 'I may as well', then you should think 'I may as well not'."
"If you got a traffic ticket, would you break every traffic law the rest of the day? Then why toss the whole day over a slice of pizza?"
Keep a list of binge busters so that you can try them the minute you feel a binge coming. My favorite binge buster is a warm bubble bath, a magazine to read, and an aromatherapy candle combination. Other times I’ve been worried over finances, so I go plan out my monthly budget on SparkSavings.com. It may not yield good news always, but it helps me do something about the actual problem at hand, rather than eat.
Using distractions to figure out the root of your feelings or to give yourself time to get into a better mood can help. Sometimes I’ll go play a game on the computer and drink a huge glass of ice water. Other times I may go work out to loud music on my arm bike and drink a huge glass of ice water. The water helps in that sometimes we think we are hungry when we are actually thirsty. Both hunger and thirst are controlled by the same part of the brain and the signals can get confused at times. It really doesn’t matter how you distract yourself, just keep yourself from eating and your mind on something besides food.
Be more self aware and live in the moment. I’ve discovered that in my perfectionism, I can undo things ahead of time. If it’s Monday and I have an event Friday that I’m not sure how to handle, a typical thought that would cross my mind, is to binge because I’m just going to blow it Friday. So then I blow a whole week, banking that I will screw up my eating plan on Friday. Instead I should live in the moment and concentrate on what I am doing today. Living in the day and being more self aware can also prevent mindless eating, which can turn into a binge.
Staying full of healthy foods helps me to avoid being so hungry that I lose control of myself as often. My binges are now maybe once or twice a month compared to a few times a week or even daily prior to SparkPeople. I stay full of good foods that promote fullness and serotonin release such as milk, whole grain pasta, reduced fat cheddar cheese, fruit, nuts and eggs. I find that mixing protein and fiber rich foods are both filling and energizing. Keeping my mini mealtimes regular, around every 3-4 hours keeps me satisfied and in control.
I also use other physical soothers. I personally believe that eating is physically soothing, so it takes something physically soothing to replace it. Nice long bubble baths work for me, as does curling up in bed under the blankets with a good movie. What ever you choose needs to elicit the same emotion you are looking to get from overeating, or at least come close. Try different things and see what you come up with for yourself. Not everyone will find the same things soothing or appealing. It may seem that nothing is soothing in the same way, but keep looking and trying new things, no matter how out of the ordinary they may seem. The key is to find several things to turn to when your binge mood hits so that if one thing doesn’t work, another will.
My house is a “clean zone.” In other words, binge food isn’t allowed in anymore. I have to leave the house to go get it. I purposely make it difficult for myself to get binge food. That way it can’t be a mild decision on my part at night, when my binges usually hit. I would have to leave the house and go on an actual binge food run, and usually that is more trouble than the binge is worth to me. I end up eating healthier fare from around the house, and yes, sometimes too much of it. It still beats the damage I could do if given over to my chosen favorites of fast foods and grocery items. Shopping every few days or once a week instead of stocking up also helps keep the damage to a minimum.
Stock your house with foods that are healthy so that when you do binge, you reach for pre cut vegetables, lean protein, fiber rich items, fruits, salads. Some Sparkers suggested that olive oil on salad and pepperonis with veggies were their go to snacks.
How do I stop if I start binge eating?
It definitely gets tougher once you start to stop. At this point, you have to take more desperate measures. If I can gather any reserve at all, I throw the food in the garbage. I don’t throw it on the top either, I make sure it is crushed and inedible. If I can’t throw the food away, I have asked my husband to either eat something or throw it away for me. I am lucky he is supportive enough to help me with such things. Don’t let that voice tell you that you are wasting food. It’s a trick. You either waste it in the trash or on your body, where you have to work it off in health problems and exercise and dieting later. So either way, it is a waste. When in doubt, toss it out!
Change what you are doing after you remove the food from your immediate area. Go see a friend, call someone, log on to SparkPeople and talk it out, go to the gym, put on music and dance it out, just don’t do whatever it was that you were doing when the binge was triggered. In fact, if you couldn’t muster the strength the remove the food from your vicinity, removing yourself from its vicinity is a good option.
Changing what you are eating mid binge may help. For instance, if you started by eating cookies, maybe you can muster the strength to add an apple and nut butter in between cookies. That leaves less room for more cookies. It also changes the taste in your mouth, so it switches things up and takes you out of the frenzy mode a bit. The combination of fiber and protein will also help satisfy true hunger, so that will be one less thing to combat.
Keep thinking while you are eating. Even though you caved in, that doesn’t mean the fight is over. You can still stop. One slice of pizza is always going to have less calories than two. Keep trying to figure out why you are eating and what might resolve the problem or provide the same emotional comfort. If you do manage to figure it out, write it down and keep it with your list of binge busters. Don’t forget to immediately act on it.
The moral of the story is PLAN. Binge eating is a sudden urge and it’s a strong one. You need a strong plan to fight it. Don’t wait until you’re about to dive into a plate of goodies before you have your plan in place. Once a binge is started, it is ten times harder to stop, so avoid the triggers, avoid the first compulsive bite, and avoid the binge.
Here are some groups here on SparkPeople that may help.
Living Binge Free
Sugar & Food Addiction
Eating Disorder Support
What helps you stop a binge?