Someone recently reached out to me about their number one struggle with binge eating. Since this is such a common problem, I thought I’d share my response here.
Here’s the message I was sent:
My #1 binge eating challenge is mental/emotional restriction. Though I am slowly letting go of food rules, I sometimes still have an idea in my head of what my day’s food “should” look like or how much of a previously forbidden food I “should” allow myself. When I cross those imaginary lines in my head between “good” and “bad” eating, I end up in last supper mode. So while I don’t physically restrict my food as much as I used to, I am still struggling to legalize and allow all foods mentally.
Here’s my response:
I’m really glad to hear that you aren’t physically restricting yourself anymore (here’s why). What you’re experiencing is known as the “diet mentality”, and it’s extremely common! It’s difficult to let go of old thoughts and beliefs around food, when we’re so used to telling ourselves these stories.
Here’s what I’d do.
Firstly, I would always advise self-compassion. No matter what happens, or what thoughts come into your head, forgive yourself. Forgive your actions. Know that you are doing the best you can. It might not be the ideal behaviour you want right now, but you’re doing what you can, given your life experience.
Second, I’m wondering if it’s possible to really start to notice those thoughts that come up. So, say you ate a brownie. What thoughts would come up after you ate it? Is it possible to write those thoughts down on a piece of paper and really look at them?
Once you get them down on paper, you can question if these thoughts are something that you actually believe, or are just leftover thoughts from being on diets for so long.
You can also ask yourself “is this thought is helpful?”
Finally, you can label these thoughts, and observe them, non-judgmentally.
Let’s go through an example
Say I just ate a brownie. Previously brownies would have been completely off-limits in my diet. Although I’m no longer restricting them, I’m still in the diet-mentality, so maybe I’m thinking:
“I didn’t need to eat that brownie. It’s like 400kcal. I’m out of control again, and I’m going to start putting on weight if I keep doing this.”
If thoughts are just swirling around in your head, and you aren’t sure what you’re thinking, try just getting a piece of paper and writing down whatever comes up. (If you don’t get concrete about what you’re thinking, you’ll often just find yourself standing over a jar of peanut butter, with no idea how you got there.)
From there, we have three approaches:
#1 Do I really believe these thoughts? Let’s see…
“So, OK, maybe I didn’t NEED to eat the brownie, but eating is about emotional satisfaction as well as physical satisfaction. I enjoyed the brownie. It was delicious. Also, it doesn’t matter how many calories it is, because if I pay attention to my hunger and satisfaction, I’m only going to eat as much as I need (most of the time. We’re all human, and eating past full is totally OK sometimes).”
#2 If you can’t logically talk yourself out of the thoughts, don’t be afraid to just say “OK, I hear you, but is that thought helpful right now?”
If it’s not helpful, then just let it go. No matter how many times it pops into your head, just say “OK, this isn’t a helpful thought, so I’m going to think about something else.”
#3 Labelling thoughts.
In this case, you can just say to yourself “I’m having the thought that I broke my (non-existent) diet.” or “I’m having a thought about food“, or “I’m judging myself about eating that brownie”.
By labelling the thoughts you’re having, you can actually create space away from those thoughts. Creating that space means you won’t be drawn into the stories you’re telling yourself, which means you’ll be less emotionally attached to those stories, which means you’ll be less likely to binge!
Let me know in the comments if you found this useful.
If you’re struggling with something in particular, or want a question answered, feel free to email me. I guarantee you’re not alone in your struggle, and these kinds of questions can help everyone.