April 16, 2014

How to Stop Binge Eating or Emotional Eating

I have blogged about this topic before but as we head into another holiday filled with food and temptation at what seems like all hours of the day (chocolate Easter eggs at 9am?!) a treat can quickly turn in to a binge.

What is a binge?

A binge is an episode out-of-control eating, where you start with something small to satisfy an urge and within minutes you are moving on to more and more food without stopping. The binge will come to an end but only when you are completely full, feel sick and are completely defeated.

The whole binging phenomena is incredibly frustrating, especially the feeling of not having control over your own body. What's more, the reasons behind over eating are complex and often subconscious. You may be driven to emotional eating for all kinds of feelings that overwhelm you, may it be fear, sadness or anger. Happy emotions can lead to binges too, like celebratory occasions, euphoria and when used as a reward.

I actually read a great post on Jessica Sepel's website, who is a fabulous nutritionist, on the topic of emotional eating. She observes that overeating is prolific among young women. As Jessica argues, "food has now taken more importance in our lives than it should. It has become our emotional savior. We need to uncover the pain behind these feelings in order to effectively stop these cycles of emotional eating and binge eating episodes."

So where do you start with trying to ward off these binge attacks? Well first you need to do a whole lot of self love. Take time for yourself to stay in check with your emotions. Meditate, take peaceful walks, lie on the couch listening to some music, give yourself a mani or pedi, get a massage or take a bath. Journalling is also a good exercise to practice, especially during times of stress because it will help you to understand what it is you are feeling, before you turn to food for comfort.

DON'T SKIP MEALS. Hunger is a big trigger for binge eating, so keep your meals regular and balanced, with adequate amounts of fat and protein. Also keep 'binge foods' out of the house until you feel more confident. Binge foods may not always be your typical chocolate and chips. For me, I don't buy peanut butter, honey, or sugary cereal.

Urges are incredibly difficult to fight. Sitting with an urge is almost impossible for your body and is a losing battle, particularly if you are already under stress. If you are sitting around food, or about to head to the fridge or reach into the pantry, remove yourself immediately. Go and stand outside or in a quiet room. Take three deep breaths and think to yourself why you don't want to do this. Why eating is not the answer and try to check in to what you are really feeling.

In these times of need, call a friend, jump in the shower, go for a walk or keep yourself busy by doing some ironing or washing the dishes. If you are forced to stay at a dinner table, or it would just be socially awkward to suddenly run out of the room, start sipping lots of water and put a napkin over your plate. Maybe excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

Another great tool is playing the focus game, where you locate five things you can see, hear, touch and smell. You may feel your feet on the ground, the chair of the table, the material of your dress, the strap of your bra pressing against your back and your hair resting on your shoulder. Think about each feeling, focusing on that for about 10 to 20 seconds before switching. Then repeat with another set of senses. This game acts as a physiological distraction from your anxiety and will instantly calm you and shift your focus.

Jessica Sepel notes the paradox between the food comforting you and then bringing you incredible guilt. She emphasizes, "the guilt from this emotional eating episode will be almost too much to handle. You feel like an absolute failure. This is a modern day epidemic, in my opinion."

If you do find yourself at the tail end of a binge, the most important thing to remind yourself is that YOU WILL BE OKAY. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU CAN GET HELP. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO START AGAIN. You deserve better; treat yourself with more self-love and don't beat yourself up over what you deem as a mistake. You used food to help you deal with an emotion you couldn't process, it was your coping mechanism. You now need to find a BETTER coping tool that will REWARD YOU in the LONG TERM. Eating in times of stress may have become a habit but you can form a new and healthier practice with some thoughtful planning.

Seek professional help to get a better idea of why you are overeating. Start at your local GP who will be able to find you a good local therapist to begin counseling. Jessica echoes my advice; "a professional will help you uncover the emotional baggage or pain behind your episodes. It will change your life. I can honestly tell you it changed mine. It became my outlet to release pain – rather than turn to food."

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