How many times have you found yourself hitting the bottom of a bag of chips or a newly opened ice cream carton? Too many times to count would be my answer.
What comes next? Is it feelings of guilt, shame or a voice in your head giving you grief? Maybe, you have Binge Eating Disorder or maybe, you just overeat when stressed.
Whatever the case, we can help!
At Green Mountain’s Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, we specialize in helping women heal from binge and emotional eating. We do this out of our passion, both professional and personal, because we know there are few safe spaces for women to go to receive help for this misunderstood and often mistreated struggle.
We often hear women question if they can benefit from our program because they may not be “binge eaters”.
The reality is that emotional and binge eating are ‘close cousins’ on the same continuum of eating behavior.
What happens is when we lose more control of eating, we move up the spectrum from emotional eating, to emotional overeating, to binge eating…and perhaps eventually to binge eating disorder. There is an increase in physical and psychological distress, the further up we go.
The good news is there is hope. We “get it” and there is science based treatment available.
Learn more about our insurance-eligible Pathway™ program, backed by over 40 years of compassion and experience.
5 Steps to Begin the Process of Changing Unwanted Eating Behaviors
The following five steps are crucial, when addressing emotional and binge eating.
1. Slow the Deprivation Diet Pendulum
If you restrict your eating, you’ll inevitably overeat or binge to make up for the loss. Our bodies have requirements for certain amounts and types of nutrients. If we deprive ourselves from getting enough of them, our bodies will scream in protest until we cannot ignore them anymore and have to listen.
Deprivation dieting is dangerous. It sends off a four-alarm siren in our bodies that we’re in a state of famine and to deploy all possible physiological processes to ensure survival.
So instead of swinging the pendulum all the way back into a restrictive/deprived zone, consider getting to know your hunger cues and honoring them.
In other words…eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied (which is different than full). This keeps the pendulum swinging ever so slightly in the middle.
Don’t diet? Even perceived deprivation can evoke a stress response in the body.
2. Fill Your Emotional Tank – Without Food
Remember, what we’re talking about here is EMOTIONAL eating, or in other words, eating as a coping tool. Emotional eating is okay and it works. That is, it works…until it doesn’t.
When we’re mindful and recognize that the food has stopped working, we then can add other coping strategies to fill the ‘emotional tank’ we have within us. This is the call to a friend to vent; a long, hot bath; your favorite playlist; down-time on your own; basking in the sun; a nature stroll; etc.
No, I’m not saying a bath cures binge eating disorder, but I am saying that each of these things really do provide some stress relief and if we don’t put other things into our ‘emotional tank’, then for those who turn to food to cope…well…it’ll be all on food to do the job.
3. Tap Into Your True Feelings About Food
With binging or overeating, food is filling a different purpose than hunger. Remember that the primary purpose of eating is to fuel our bodies. So when not eating for fuel, we’re eating for another reason.
So ask yourself: “what’s it doing for me?” Or more pointedly: “what if I couldn’t have food during those moments?”
The answer to these questions uncovers the hidden need. Perhaps it’s the main source of pleasure in your life; maybe it masks loneliness; conceivably it ‘medicates’ anxiety.
The problem is that it doesn’t really do these things and we end up feeling more unfulfilled.
Once you understand what the underlying need is, you can then begin to work on how to directly address this need. How can you really find pleasure? Address loneliness? Quell anxiety?
4. Stop Eating on Auto-Pilot
If you’ve ever turned to food to cope with a difficult emotion and it actually made you feel better, you’re bound to do it again. Why? Well, simply because it worked. So…you do it again…and again…and maybe again. Stress = Eat.
Repeating a behavior in this way helps neural pathways in the brain become more and more deeply ingrained. This is how a habit forms.
After developing the habit, we just go into auto-pilot. Sometimes we don’t necessarily even realize it until the bag or pint is empty.
In order to change our habits, we have to ‘dig’ new neural pathways in the brain, so that we don’t go down those old pathways. This takes ‘waking up’. In other words – mindfulness.
To put it simply (not that it’s an easy process), we need to realize we’re doing it, and then we need to behave differently.
Once you realize you’re feeling stress and that you want to turn to food, you can instead turn to other stress relieving strategies in addition to food. Yes, in addition.
Eating really can work in soothing emotions. But it works…until it doesn’t.
The trick is to add other things that also soothe emotion so that the brunt of the work doesn’t end up all on food.
5. Need Support? Turn to the Emotional Eating Experts for Help
Most likely, you’ve been “practicing” your eating behavior for some time, the process of change will take time. You will need support in doing this. Support can come from friends, family, self-help books and programs, support groups, coaches or therapists. It is vital to know, that if your behavior has progressed into moderate to severe Binge Eating you will need professional help from those specializing in eating disorders.
Take the Quiz: If you want to know where you fall on the emotional/binge eating continuum, try taking this self-scoring quiz.
Here at Green Mountain at Fox Run and our Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, we have supported hundreds of women in working through the steps of understanding their own eating behavior. We help women learn WHY they may be emotionally or binge eating, explore how it came into their lives, and most importantly, develop a personalized plan for how to make positive, healthful, sustainable changes, from the inside out.