I am fascinated with binge eating. Not only have I experienced it myself, but have also spent many hours coaching women who struggle with this painful eating pattern.
Among the stories I hear, the details can differ. Some women struggle with any deviation from self-prescribed dietary restrictions/expectations and experience this as a binge. Others describe eating something “bad,” which catapults them into consuming nutrient-deficient foods throughout the remainder of the day. And of course, some eat and eat until they are in so much physical discomfort they literally can’t take another bite.
Regardless of the specifics, there seems to be a few common threads:
1.) Intensity – there is POWER behind the behavior 2.) Urgency – the eating MUST be done right now 3.) Feeling out of Alignment – Insight that this is not alignment with what they say they want 4.) The feeling of “knowing better” – Despite nutritional knowledge, the behavior ensues, which feels even more frustrating 5.) Desire for a fix – Continued search outside of oneself for the solution
So if it’s so frustrating and out of integrity, why would anyone binge eat? Is it a lack of discipline? An inherent weakness?
In the end, binge eating is always done for a brilliant reason, although hard to see in the throes of eating.
Here are some perfectly good examples (both obvious and overlooked) of what could lead a person to binge:
1.)Chronically Restricting Calories If you chronically diet, watch calories, or suppress hunger, you are basically a ticking time bomb. Eventually the body gets so hungry or malnourished, that the slightest little inconvenience, stress, or temptation in your day sends you deep into the rabbit hole of frenzied eating.
2.) Omitting Macronutrients Wouldn’t it make sense that if a person were to cut out carbohydrates entirely, they might binge on carbohydrates? It amazes me how often this happens. I get it, because this was me five years ago! Many people cut fat out of their diet and are perplexed about their cravings for spoonfuls of peanut butter. In the end, the body wins.
3.) A Need for Grounding Consuming larger amounts of food in general is grounding. It gets us back into our bodies. Spiritual practitioners practice fasting to move up the chakras toward the spiritual domain. Food keeps our feet on the ground. And for anyone who gets caught up in the stories of their mind frequently, food (lots of it) could be just the thing to bring you back down to planet earth.
4.) Making the perceived issue the distraction Having a “food issue” can be a distraction from real life. No matter how perplexing or frustrating it may be, binge eating can still serve as a diversion from anything that is challenging that needs our attention. I remember having fallen into patterns of binges when a difficult conversation needed to happen between my mother and I regarding the dynamic of our relationship. I ended up spending all my energy attempting to get my eating habits back in order, rather than realizing I needed to hang in the discomfort of a challenging yet healing series of conversations with my mother. “Getting a handle” on binge eating can act as a safe hideout from living a real life, warts and all.
5.) Not taking time for transitions Transitions can be challenging for people. Think about it. Take the example of the transition from work to home. Instead of creating a cushion of time to really get home and relax, we walk right into the kitchen and start picking food out of the pantry. Food can unwittingly act as the buffer, grounding us, “chilling us out,” and getting us back into our bodies after a high-energy or stressful day.
6.) Creating Food Rules Whether you love rules or hate them, food rules can create a fertile ground for rebellion and entitlement. What if you dropped the food rules? How could you break a diet that does not exist?
7.) Living out of Alignment Living out of integrity only lasts so long. Life gives us symptoms, habits, behaviors, and pain to remind us we are neglecting something fundamental about ourselves. By committing to the journey of fully integrating the most pleasurable and painful parts of ourselves, we can become more whole.
Be gentle with yourself as your navigate your eating challenges. Ask for support when needed.