Did you eat more chocolate last night than felt comfortable? Maybe it was ice cream? Or pizza? Actually, the type of food doesn't matter as much as you think.
Right now you likely feel one thing: guilt.
First up I want to clarify a few things.
The term 'binge-eating' is laden with negative connotations. And is often misused. I use it here in this post as a cultural reference to episodes of eating past comfortable fullness. I am not using this term in any association with binge eating disorder or any other mental health concern.
With that aside, there are countless women who identify with this cultural usage and visual of binge eating. Maybe it's Bridget Jones-esque in nature? It's in rom-com movies, music videos and in everyday real life.
And it’s completely understandable that we feel guilt for this behaviour.
Because we have literally been taught to associate this strong, negative emotion with our own actions. Surely we were “too weak” or “lost control?” Our willpower “is lacking” and we need to “try harder?”
No, no, no.
It’s important and hopefully empowering to let you know that absolutely everyone binge eats at some stage. It doesn’t equate to a fault in us. And rather, it is an opportunity to learn something about our decisions. It’s also in some cases an opportunity to do nothing and simply move on.
The other very important fact to know about binge eating is that it is largely biologically driven.
It can be a biological response to restriction where your body will do everything it can to make you eat food. And eating food in a scenario where you are over-hungry or feeling deprived means you have a reduced capacity to moderate your decisions and check in.
This is the scenario…
Say you’ve not responded to your hunger throughout the day and you’ve arrived home after work. This is where what begins as a few crackers with cheese can easily end up as more pizza, ice cream and chocolate than felt good.
Or it could be a case of a day where things haven’t gone to plan and the off-limits foods you don’t allow yourself, are bought and consumed past the point of comfortable fullness.
You feel physically unwell, swear you’ll never do this again and are riddled with guilt.
Except that guilt is actually the problem.
Guilt means we go into self-judgement about eating past the point of comfortable fullness. It ensures we see our actions as something we did wrong. A weakness. Something to worry about, maybe obsess over.
In many cases it can create a drive for compensatory behaviour which is “making up” for our perceived transgressions. So in this scenario, last night’s pizza fest is made better by skipping breakfast tomorrow.
And it’s because these feelings are culturally accepted that they possess even more power. Because our social circles, our families, our workplaces, all reinforce this guilt and self-judgement.
So what do you do after binge eating?
- Take a deep breath. You are OK.
- Acknowledge that you have a choice to adopt a neutral stance here.
- Use that neutral stance to assess what’s going on for you.
- Run through the present and what led to it:
- Did you go into this meal over-hungry?
- Were you eating “forbidden” or so-called “off-limits” foods?
- Have you been more stressed than usual?
- Were you self-soothing with food?
- All of the above?
- Use the opportunity to learn how to better listen to your needs in the future
- Consistently honour your hunger signals to avoid being over-hungry
- Work on your relationship to food enabling you to view food as neutral
- Engage in consistent self-care practices to reduce over-reliance on food
This isn’t about never binge eating. Remember we all do it. The frequency of which we do so, and our ability to move on is far more important to pay attention to.
And it’s a truly wonderful opportunity to reflect on what happened before you ate past comfortable fullness. To consider that rather than feel you can’t trust yourself around food, you in fact need to consistently honour your hunger. The lack of trust you may feel is in fact driven by restriction of food in the first place. And there’s no way around biological hunger, you need to eat food.
If you’re currently working on your relationship to food, binge-eating may be occurring for you more regularly than you’re used to. Consider what’s going on here. By discovering foods previously off-limits, you are experiencing them in a heightened sense of reward and excitement. This is normal. It’s part of the process of habituation which I teach in my online program and with 1:1 coaching clients.
You too can benefit from the above list and remember that you may need to revisit your making peace with food process. Self-compassion and an acceptance that this is a process is important too. And if you’re struggling, reach out for support. You don’t need to do this alone.
Should this post have triggered something for you, please know there is support. Reach out to the Butterfly Foundation for free here.