You unlock the front door and drop your purse to the floor. You lean your back against the door and look around at your empty place. All your friends are at a happy hour right now, and while you wish you could be there with them, you made up an excuse about some errand you had to run or some place you had to be instead. The truth is… you can’t tell them the truth. That you just know that going out with them would inevitably lead to a binge. That no matter how hard you tried, a few bites would lead to a loss of control, and before you knew it you would be stopping by a drive-thru on the way home, or rummaging through your cupboards, until you felt sick, overstuffed, and frustrated with yourself. As much as you hate this cycle, you say to yourself, “I just can’t help it. I’m a binge eater.”
If these are words that have ever crossed your mind or lips, today I want to offer a simple but powerful reframe. I help busy professional women build better relationships to food and healthy lifestyles that finally feel sustainable for the long-term, and I see how much further women get when they find a new way to think about things. Here are three reasons why.
1. It’s way harder to change an identity than a behavior.
When you call yourself an overeater, binge eater, or emotional eater, you are claiming an IDENTITY for yourself. An identity is what and who someone is at their CORE. A behavior is simply something someone does from time to time. It has no sweeping implications for what kind of a person they are; it keeps the focus on the action instead of the person.
Consider the difference in these scenarios: saying a child told a lie (behavior) versus calling them a liar (identity). Saying that man made a mistake, versus saying that man is a mistake. Telling yourself you feel gross, versus telling yourself you ARE gross. All so harsh, right? The thing about identities is that they are WAY harder to change than behaviors, because they reflect not only someone’s way of being, but what someone believes about himself or herself.
Contrast that with a behavior, which is something that someone sometimes does, and sometimes not. Sure, it may feel like you overeat every time, but objectively, there are probably some meals, somewhere in your day, that you eat a regular amount. Many of my clients struggle less with breakfast, for example, but find it harder to resist a binge in the afternoon or evening.
Behaviors are completely changeable, while identities are more steadfast. It’s far easier to add, remove, or change a behavior — things like brushing one’s teeth, going to the gym, or waking up five minutes earlier — than it is to change who someone is at their core. If you assign the identity of overeating, binge eating, or emotional eating to yourself, you’re making the path to recovery much longer and more difficult than it has to be.
2. You become what you believe.
Secondly, the queen (Oprah) says it best: “You become what you believe.” The thoughts that you repeat in your head over and over again eventually become your accepted reality. The words you speak, actions you take, and habits you build all reinforce the tapes that play most often in your head. What you believe impacts the goals you believe you are able to achieve, which influencers the actions you take, which directly impacts the kind of results you get.
A 1964 study showed the impact of belief on success. Teachers were led to believe that some children were special, treated them as such, and after 10 years of tracking the performance of the students, it turns out that the students who were made to believe the were gifted really did end up living up to — you guessed it — their beliefs.
There is a fascinating book called Psycho-Cybernetics which explores the impact of self-image on personal development. It found that someone’s self-image strongly correlated to whether someone was able to sustain results for the long-term — that is, build a new identity. People never escaped how high or low they thought of themselves. As such, it’s so important that if you struggle with overeating or binge eating, instead of dooming yourself to a life with it, you believe that with the right help, you are truly capable of change. And as I like to say, “If what you tried hasn’t worked yet, it just means you haven’t tried what works.”
3. Every human overeats.
Third, I hate to break it to you, but… you’re human! Even after recovering from binge eating to the point where you no longer struggle with it, you will likely still overeat once in a while. It happens. Even otherwise very healthy eaters overdo it from time to time — they get home hungry and inhale dinner before realizing how fast they were eating, have a glass of wine too many with their girlfriends and end up at a pizza joint once in a while, taste their favorite bowl of pasta and have a hard time putting down the fork because it’s just too delicious, and fill their plate to the brim on Thanksgiving when they probably could’ve survived on half the amount of stuffing.
It’s human nature! The difference between overeating becoming an infrequent occurrence, versus a daily or weekly thing, is partly in how someone views overeating. Whether they accept that it’s bound to happen from time to time, not a big deal, part of a balanced life, view it with no moral implications nor influence on going right back to their usual eating patterns… or whether they view it as a character flaw, part of who they are and what they do, feel the need to punish themselves, or turn one overeating session into weeks of brownie benders.
Beating binge eating
Ultimately, I’ve found that people simply cannot hate themselves into change — at least for the change to be long-lasting and sustainable. I believe that, however disorienting and maddening to be a part of, the power of binge eating in someone’s life is equal to the power available for their healing, growth, and transformation. It begins with believing you are worthy of more, that behaviors are completely changeable, and that the same things keeping you stuck in this cycle are not going to be the things that get you out of it — so it might take investing in yourself and your future to have someone show you the way. If you want help, I’m here to support you.
Tell me in the comments: Have you ever called yourself a binge eater, emotional eater, or overeater? How does it feel to view it as a changeable behavior, instead of an identity, going forward?