As I opened up about last week, I remember my experience with binge eating like it was yesterday. I would wait until my college roommate went home for the weekend, then I would pick up large white-sauce pizza, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a few jumbo cookies. Without her watchful eye, the binge was on. I could finally eat and eat, then curl up into a ball and fall asleep in an uncomfortable but pleasantly drowsy food coma.
I hated that I did it, but I couldn’t stop. Couldn’t break the habit of an on/off mentality when it came to food. Restriction followed by overeating, followed by restriction. Even once I finally managed to break the binge eating cycle, it was something I kept to myself for years. No one knew about it, not even my closest friends.
But today, as a certified eating psychology coach and certified nutritional therapy practitioner, I know I’m not alone; my clients talk of so much shame associated with this habit that they never wanted, nor intentionally created. But I’d like to offer a new perspective today: that there is a powerful lesson, meaning, and transformation hidden in the binge eating. And here’s how to find it.
Recognize that there is nothing wrong with YOU.
So many of the women I work with assume that binge eating is something they’re doing wrong — that they wouldn’t have this challenge if they had more willpower, or self-control, or if they could just stick to their diet this time around. On the contrary, most binge eaters exert a tremendous amount of willpower. They know more about nutrition than most people I meet. They are desperate to find the one thing that will help them break this cycle, and so they try everything, over and over again, every day, hour and moment of their lives.
What I wish I had known a decade ago is that binge eating is not something someone is doing wrong, not a deficiency in willpower. It is a natural, understandable, biological response to restriction. Many binge eaters try to eat so healthfully to counteract or prevent a binge later on. But it’s that very restrictive mentality that sends the brain haywire, fearing starvation. As such, it pumps out powerful cravings and chemicals beckoning someone to eat… and eat, and eat. It’s not that someone who binges loves food more than another person, it’s just that their body is biologically responding to what it perceives as famine: storing food more readily, intensifying cravings, requiring SO MUCH willpower that eventually it’s virtually impossible to resist. The first step of breaking free from binge eating is recognizing the biological processes at play, and nourishing yourself in a way that doesn’t trigger those famine—translation: EAT THE PIZZA NOW— instincts.
Look for where the binge eating is trying to get your attention.
It’s no secret that stress wreaks havoc on a body: it increases inflammation, inhibits digestion, skyrockets cortisol, and swings blood sugar like a yo-yo. Binge eating, on some level, helps modulate that response because in order to digest a large quantity of food, the body has to switch out of fight-or-flight mode into a more relaxed, parasympathetic state in which digestion can occur. So if you think about it, binge eating is actually a very understandable response to overwhelming life stressors; if someone can’t reduce them in other ways, the body comes up with its own (albeit, imperfect) gameplan to mitigate the impact of stress on the body by binge eating to induce the relaxation response.
Sometimes, binge eating can be solved primarily with nutrition—adjusting things like nutrient balance, meal timing, and food quality. But often, there is something going on under the surface asking for attention. For example, when I was binge eating, I was also going through a the loss of my first love, transitioning into college life, navigating a 3,000-mile move away from home, and juggling full-time school, work and a dozen extracurricular activities. In other words: there was a LOT going on, and binge eating was a way to soothe stressors that I wasn’t yet sure how to bring down in other ways.
So if you’re struggling with binge eating, take a second look at what else is going on in your life. Is anything stressing you? Are you going through a period of transition? When are you most likely to binge? When do you struggle less with it? In those answers you will find some keys to reducing some of your most overwhelming stressors, and along with it possibly the urge to binge in the first place.
The power of the binge is the power available for your growth, healing and transformation.
Picture a binge: it’s an explosion of energy, power and release. It takes a tremendous amount of brain power to constantly think about what to eat or not eat, when to eat it or not eat it, to try and resist and resist and resist until… it’s just not possible anymore and a binge occurs.
But what if all that energy and power and effort could be redirected? I personally believe that the power of a binge is also the power available for someone’s healing, growth and transformation. It’s why I try to help my clients approach binge eating from a place of self-love instead of condemnation and blame. Food and body challenges are the WORST because they’re so interruptive to everyday life, but they’re also the BEST at getting someone’s attention. At saying hey, there might be something worth looking into here. There is a quote I love by Pema Chödrön that says, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” Instead of shaming and guilting yourself through the process, consider what binge eating might be here to teach you, and where your healing might be trying to lead you.
My journey with binge eating, for example, made such an impression on me that it gave me a passion for nutrition, which led me to get a certification in nutritional therapy, and then to go even deeper and pursue another certification in eating psychology. And then to an incredible, fulfilling career helping other women build better relationships to food and healthy lifestyles they truly love and feel like they can finally sustain. My days are filled with heart-to-hearts and transformative work that I truly love.
But I never, ever would’ve gotten there had I not had my own bout with binge eating. I had no idea at the time why I was going through it. I was buried in frustration about my soaring weight, uncontrollable eating, and the internal and external discomfort it brought on. I couldn’t see that it was calling me into a better, more joyful and consistent relationship with food. To a journey of healing. Of balance. To my purpose and passion. To a business that would only thrive as much as I could understand my clients’ pain, having experienced it in my own way personally. Who knows where it could be calling you, too.
I’m holding out hope that it’s beyond your wildest dreams.
If you’re looking for help building a more sustainable approach to healthy eating, book a free discovery call.