I have had the great pleasure of working with a wide variety of clients, including young athletic types, moms and dads just trying to stay fit, and often, people that struggle greatly with eating issues that plague so many of us. As I have said before, I have suffered with my share of problems regarding body image and compulsive behaviors around eating and exercise.
One of my lifelong struggles has been with binge eating. I was finally able to conquer my compulsion to binge, and I now teach my clients to do the same using a system that I devised that brings awareness to the problem and helps the client connect the undesirable behavior to its triggers—and offers an alternative means of dealing with the stressors of life.
Binge eating is a coping mechanism used by millions of people, and at its best, it serves as an ineffective way of assuaging unpleasant emotions and temporarily distracting us from our feelings. At its worst, it compounds every problem with which we suffer and gives us one more thing to worry about when the binge is over. Often, binge eating becomes a form of self-punishment. Binge eaters hate themselves for not being able to control their own behavior around food.
I know EXACTLY what it feels like to be obsessed with an irrational urge to eat to the point of being physically sick. I understand the shame involved and the need for secrecy. I have experienced the isolation, and it is a horrible way to live.
If you suffer with binge eating, it is of primary importance that you understand that it has NOTHING to do with food. You don’t want the FOOD, but rather the FEELING that the food gives you. In fact, as long as you continue to believe that your problem is food, you have little hope of overcoming the behavior. Food is never a PROBLEM, nor is it ever a SOLUTION.
When we binge, we reach for foods like muffins, pies, cakes, bread, uncooked cookie dough, frosting, chocolate, ice cream, chips, crackers, pizza, etc. These foods literally change your brain chemistry by way of increasing serotonin and other neurotransmitters and calming anxiety. I have never heard of someone bingeing on steamed broccoli and celery stalks.
We binge for the same reason that people smoke one cigarette after another, take drugs, or drink to excess—to cope with feelings that are uncomfortable or in some cases, we want to totally numb our pain. It’s not very different from giving a baby a pacifier, as it creates instant calm.
Anyone who has ever binged can attest to the fact that the good feelings are fleeting. Once the binge is over, guilt, shame, disgust, self-loathing, and feelings of worthlessness overwhelm an already-troubled person.
Conquering binge eating IS possible, if you are willing to do the hard work to learn another way of living and coping in an increasingly stressful world…and all you need is R.A.G.E.®.
R- When you feel the urge to binge, STOP and RECOGNIZE that you are turning to food because you are feeling uncomfortable emotions and you want to distract yourself, pronto. You may be feeling anger, loneliness, anxiety, boredom, hopelessness, frustration, sadness, lack of self-worth, or a combination of all of these. None of us wants to feel badly, and it is human nature to seek to ameliorate our pain. You’re not a bad person for bingeing, but you have chosen a bad coping mechanism, and change starts with recognizing that you are turning to food to avoid your feelings.
A- After you recognize WHAT you are doing, ACKNOWLEDGE what’s really going on emotionally. Perhaps you had a fight with a loved one or someone at work; maybe your kids are driving you crazy and you need to escape; you may be terribly lonely; perhaps you feel hopeless that your life will ever get better—whatever you are feeling, acknowledging it will help you connect the dots and realize that you don’t binge because you are an out-of-control freak, but rather because you are struggling with emotions that are not fun or easy to deal with directly.
G- After acknowledging what’s really going on, GIVE yourself what you really need, as food certainly is NOT going to fix your problems. If you are lonely, call a trusted friend and confide in her. If you’re loneliness stems from not having many friends, resolve to get involved in community groups and activities, your gym, your kids’ school, or a volunteer program. People are everywhere and you have to build connections and make your fun. If you are angry, express your emotions. If you feel like you can’t express your emotions directly to the person at whom you are angry, tell someone else or write in a journal to get your feelings off your chest.
One technique I use is to write an email or letter but not send it. If after 3 days I still think it’s a good idea to deliver the message, I do so and let the chips fall where they may. If your kids are making you nuts, organize a babysitting co-op with other parents and find a free way to give yourself some time off. TAKE CONTROL and know that you are NOT HELPLESS unless you CHOOSE to be. There is always a solution, but it is never, never, never, ever, food—NEVER.
E- Finally and most importantly, EXAMINE your life for triggers. Most people who binge eat do it on a regular basis, as it has become a learned way of coping with life. Anything that you can learn you can also UNLEARN, so fear not.
Examine what triggers a binge so you can come up with a strategy to nip problems in the bud. This is about finding your triggers and having a plan in place to deal with them BEFORE a binge begins.
If you binge every time you have a fight with your spouse, decide NOW that the next time you have an eruption in the relationship you will don your running shoes and go blow off steam sprinting around the neighborhood. If you find that you binge when you are pressed to make a tight deadline at work, keep contraband items AWAY from your desk and instead of eating, take frequent power walks to the water cooler to give yourself something to do (and something to put in your mouth besides food).
I’ve noticed that when I am angry, lifting heavy weights calms me down; when I have high levels of anxiety, a nice jog by the Hudson River helps me put life in perspective because the water calms me. I sincerely believe that exercise has kept me out of prison, as if I couldn’t lift heavy weights or run, I would have no way to rid myself of anger, frustration, and anxiety. I would have no physical release of pent-up emotions. I know a woman that punches a heavy-bag at the gym, and I can’t help but think that she imagines a face on that bag as she attacks it like a rabid pit bull.
For me, a binge also could be triggered by eating even the slightest amount of sugar. Once I get that taste in my mouth, I want MORE. If I were at a birthday party and had a small taste of frosting, I could not stop eating until I ate the whole cake. If I ate even a few M&Ms, I could not stop until the whole one pound bag was devoured. I have found that abstinence works best for me, as it eliminates my desire for processed sugar.
Again, if you examine your life for triggers and identify them, you can effectively plan a strategy to bypass a binge. These strategies will serve as your new coping mechanisms.
By battling binge eating with R.A.G.E®, you can address what is really bothering you and do something good for yourself that will meet your needs, rather than engaging in self-destructive, self-punishing behavior. You no longer have to live in a mental prison because R.A.G.E® will help you escape.
Most importantly, remind yourself that you are not helpless, you are not hopeless, and you are never alone.
~ Tara Marie