Emotional eating and binging are two different things but have two characteristics in common: Both are NOT about lack of willpower and both happen if, and only if, stress is present. Some people stop eating whenever stress is present but most will look for food (or other stuff) either consciously or unconsciously when their level of stress rises.
Emotional eating is defined as “an increase in food intake in response to negative emotions”. Simply put, we use emotional eating as a strategy to deal with uncomfortable feelings. The truth is, nobody likes uncomfortable and most of us are ill equipped to deal with feelings anyway. We have been taught to suppress them. Society frowns upon those who express authenticity in their feelings even if they do so in an acceptable way. We are also taught from an early age that strong emotions go hand in hand with food. This is valid and understandable because, physiologically, food works as a numbing agent, hence helping with the uneasiness that comes with certain emotions.
As we grow up, we tend to forget that emotions are meant to be experienced and felt even when uncomfortable. We really try not to experience the sensations they bring with them and the vulnerability they confer, therefore losing emotions’ real purpose along the way. You see, feelings must be acknowledged and felt through in order for them to fade away and leave their teachings behind. If we bury them, it will not be without negative consequences. Practicing getting to know you, that is, how you would feel if no one was telling how you were supposed to feel is a wonderful tool against emotional eating. Thus, embracing your true self will allow feelings to flow more easily.
Binge-eating, on the other hand, is defined as “a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating”. There is a spectrum here as to severity, ranging from once every while to daily, with or without purging. Nevertheless, binging is a compulsion and we usually don’t know that it is useless to fight against it…sooner or later we will always be defeated and left only in confusion, shame, fear and powerlessness.
So, what to do? First, remember this has nothing to do with willpower. Binging (any kind) is an unstoppable survival mechanism from our nervous system. Second, remember binging is a compulsion and as such, it comes to us in waves. Anyone who has had the chance of swimming in the ocean knows it’s easier to let go and ride the wave than to fight it. Last but not least, binging always has a teaching to offer.
This gives us a new way of looking at the situation. Instead of declaring binging an enemy, let’s befriend it. Our body is always trying to find balance, so being in stress and eating too much is a correction course. So explore and see what you are truly hungry for: Maybe you are deficient in nutrition for being on a diet constantly. Maybe you are low on essential fat, carbs or calories. Maybe you usually skip breakfast and then are too busy for lunch so at night you are ravenous. Maybe you over exercise. Maybe you have been denying yourself pleasure for a long long time. Maybe you are trying to have too much control around food, relationships, work. Maybe you are unhappy about __________(fill in the blank).
Remember that in order to binge, you have to be under stress. Always try to break the stress response according to your circumstances: Take a walk, go outside (walking around your desk might help too). Take several deep breaths. Take a shower or a bath. Drink water. Lay down for some minutes (or more), breathe and play some music.
If nothing works then make it pleasurable: Take out a bowl and place some comfort food in it, then sit down, breathe, decide to enjoy it, breathe again and eat it very slowly savoring it. All these actions will relax you and will help to transform the binge into a pleasurable treat.
But if all is lost, the most important thing to do is be kind to yourself. Remember habits are hard to break and require practice, practice, practice. And everyone overeats from time to time even if no one admits it.
We are unique beings so we have to individually listen to our own body. Get curious, investigate and see what it needs. Find a proper binge, something you are passionate about and make time for it, let it be your new indulgence.
It is important to know that quick fixes are predictable long term failures. So step by step, small daily changes lead to less emotional eating and binging.
Choose to be kind and grateful.