Binge eating is wild. If you struggle with the cycle of massive restriction, then binging, you know how painful this never ending loop can feel. Have you ever stepped back to actually look at the cycle through?
Neither had I. I thought I was just born the messed up one. The one with less motivation, or willpower. Turns out, binge eating has not one single thing to do with willpower or motivation. After almost 7 years of coaching women into food freedom, I want to share with you what the cycle looks like, and one way we use to navigate breaking up with binges.
Here’s what the cycle looks like:
Unsure of how to process emotional trigger
Shame about eating, so you start a diet.
Stay ‘on track’ with the diet for a few days or week.
Diet is so restrictive, that you binge.
Even more shame arises about binging again (another emotional trigger), that you binge more.
Start cycle over again.
What’s hard about binge eating specifically is that it’s not understood as well by people who don’t experience it.
The first time I reached out for help, I told the guy I liked at the time that I needed to tell him something. I had just binged so bad that it hurt to get up from my bed, and I was so ashamed of what I had done that I contemplated (for the first time in my life) to throw it up.
I texted him and explained what was happening and this was his response:
“So...you just can’t stop eating food? Can’t you just put the food down?”
Bro I fucking wish I could. I didn’t say that though. I said ‘lol, I mean I guess I could’.
What I wanted to say was this:
“Binge eating feels like my brain becomes host to a demon. LIke my normal brain is there, but frozen and unable to make a choice. Like I am held hostage to the demon that is frantic, telling me to eat what's in front of me and then some. And even when I want to stop, it says no. Like I’m being sent on a mission and can’t stop until it’s done. Despite tears, physical pain, and wanting to throw up, I can’t stop. Despite an urge so strong it forces me to manipulate situations and lie, I can’t stop. Only when I’m done do I realize what’s happened and then I get my reward for listening to the demon. Shame so big that it swallows me whole.”
I was young, wanted him to like me and wouldn’t have dreamed of saying that.
Here’s what we know:
When we aren’t equipped with tools to handle difficult emotions, we move to what we do know: numbing. With food, sex, drugs, alcohol, netflix, and scrolling social media etc.
Binging is deeply rooted in shame.
In order to stop binging a few things need to happen:
Diets gotta go. When you restrict, like a pendulum, you’ll binge. Binging is a normal reaction to extreme restriction. If you look at the facts, you can see that while yes—diets may feel like a safe space because they have rules, it’s not a place that breeds the results you want, happiness, or freedom.
Breaking down the shame spiral can help you get a grip on what’s happening when you’re in the moment. That’s what you’re going to learn how to do below.
When you can recognize where your shame is coming from, you can create the space you need to process what’s happening before you act out with overeating.
With my clients, I ask them to look at the unwanted identities they have tied to shame.
Ex: What makes you vulnerable to shame in your binges?
Some prompts I have them ask themselves here are:
I want to be perceived as:
I don’t want to be perceived as:
These initial prompts can help you uncover where and why your shame is arising.
Now you can dig into these prompts:
What do these perceptions mean?
Why are they so unwanted?
Where did I absorb the messages that these identities come from (childhood, school, a partner, coach etc).
I know you’re like ‘woahhh Rachel how can I do this all in the .2 seconds it takes for me to binge?’
This process we’re going over is more ideal to be used right now, in this moment. Or maybe later if you’re busy right now. Think back to your last binge, think about how binging makes you feel, what emotions/stories/beliefs you have about it—then disect it with these prompts.
Shame makes us do crazy things. A scary thing shame does is make us put up screens to protect ourselves. Like:
Gain power of others
Use shame to fight
How do you move away from shame and the screens it comes with? Glad you asked.
Critical awareness, and logic can be your BFF here. Understanding the way th shame comes up and knowing the difference between I am bad, and I did something.
I am bad
I did something bad
Knowing the difference and being able to shift your language can begin to normalize the messages you accept into that powerful brain of yours.
Yet the most powerful thing, and your biggest takeaway from this whole article should be this:
Shame thrives in secrecy. Speaking out to those you trust will receive your vulnerability weakens shame and separates you from the isolation that it brings.
You can change the tides of your shame, and move into freedom when you speak it.
I highly recommend sharing your shame stories with those you trust though. Even better? Get yourself a therapist, and/or (definitely and) a QUALIFIED coach. Listen carefully: a personal trainer is not qualified to help you overcome binge eating.
Now that that’s cleared up, also know that it’s okay to reach out to a family member, your journal (to start), a trusted friend, partner etc. Know these things:
Feeling nervous to open up about binge eating, and sharing the same that comes with it feels scary AF. It’s not easy, and it takes some courage. I know that you can do this, but I also want you to know how valid your feelings are.
Know that it’s okay to set boundaries with the person you’re sharing with. By this I mean that the people who love you will want to come at you with advice right off the bat, this advice may not be helpful or what you need. Tell them that you have something you want to share, and that you don’t need advice, you just want the space to talk. (unless you want advice then by all means take it!)
The more you speak your shame story (in safe spaces) the more power you take back from the story, and from food.
This turned out to be a pretty big article—save it and come back to it as much as you need to. Have questions? PLEASE don’t hesitate to reach out at all. I love questions, and as a food freedom coach, and someone with personal experience, I know what you’re experiencing and would be happy to talk to you in more detail about what’s going on with you.