One of the most challenging eating behaviors to address is binge eating. Often, we attach a great deal of guilt and shame to it, which only makes it more challenging to overcome. An approach that is often helpful is to bring mindfulness to our work with binge eating. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the first scientists to research the healing power of mindfulness, lays out seven key attitudes that can help us benefit from this practice. They are non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go. By applying each of these ideas to our challenges with binge eating, we just might experience some dramatic shifts.
Often, we allow our judgments of ourselves or our circumstances to prevent us from accepting our reality. We criticize ourselves, or we linger on aspects of our circumstances that we don’t like – we spend too much of our time and energy wishing things were different. And this is detrimental because, in order to make positive change, we must first accept the reality of our current situation, and stop fighting it.
Binge eating is often something we turn to as a coping mechanism, to help us handle the larger issues in our lives that we may not feel fully ready to address. We may wish we didn’t need this coping mechanism, and we may criticize ourselves for binging, but all that is just a distraction that holds us back. Instead, we should acknowledge that we are doing our best, and treat ourselves with compassion.
It is all too easy to compare ourselves to others whom we perceive as being “further along” in life. But with any kind of personal growth, it is essential to remember that positive change will happen for us when we’re ready, and not before. And that’s okay!
Of course, when we’re experiencing something as difficult as binge eating, it is natural to want to put an end to it as soon as possible. But pressuring ourselves to change right now only adds another layer of stress, which actually makes it harder to change. Instead, it’s important to allow ourselves to take the time we need. It can’t happen any other way!
Often, we think we “know” the reality of the way things are, but our beliefs are filtered through our experiences. So we must approach our lives and our personal growth as novices, from the perspective that we are constantly learning about ourselves—and about life—as we go.
When we binge eat, we often tell ourselves that we do so because we are “weak-willed” or because we “lack the discipline to stop.” We may say this to ourselves so many times that we come to accept it as fact. But those are rarely the real motivations behind binge eating. So we would do well to remember that what we think we know for certain about ourselves may not actually be the case. The more we remind ourselves to approach our journey with a spirit of inquiry and curiosity, the more open we will be to new insights that can change our whole perspective on our challenges.
As a culture, we are not often taught the importance of listening to our intuition. In fact, intuition is sometimes even painted as the province of those who are not critical thinkers, and who choose to make decisions based on “hunches” rather than facts. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. We all have a deep, inner wisdom which can help us make the most beneficial decisions for our lives, and free us from the indecision and self-doubt that arise when we put the opinions of others ahead of what we know to be true.
If a diet or a nutrition professional’s recommendations call for us to count calories, for example, and that feels “forced” or self-punishing, we should listen to our intuition, and choose a different path. Any approach to ending unwanted eating habits that makes us feel deprived or causes us to feel guilty if we “slip up” is probably not the right choice. If your intuition tells you something is wrong, it probably is.
Most things we do in life, we do with a particular outcome in mind. But in terms of personal growth, holding on to the idea of that outcome can actually hold us back. As life unfolds and circumstances change, we may realize that what we thought was the best possible result actually wasn’t—and we need to be open to other possibilities.
We may want to stop binge eating because we believe it will help us lose weight. But that may or may not be the case. Maybe shedding the pounds isn’t the point at all. If we’re too attached to the idea of losing weight, we may miss out on the opportunity to explore the real issues underlying our binging, and to truly heal.
This is closely linked to non-judging. Rather than wishing things were different, or being critical of things the way they are, we need to simply accept what is. We may still hope to change our circumstances, but accepting reality—rather than being in denial about it—will bring us to the point where we can start to move forward.
In terms of binge eating, this means not criticizing ourselves for doing it, not comparing ourselves to others who seem more “put together,” and not avoiding the fact that there might be deeper emotional issues causing our binge eating. It means being honest with ourselves about the reality of our eating habits, so that we can take the first step toward positive change. Indeed, bringing compassionate and loving acceptance to ourselves, exactly as we are, can help us feel safer and more relaxed – which can then reduce our urges to binge.
Letting go goes hand-in-hand with non-striving. Whether it’s something toxic in our lives that we’re afraid to leave behind, or an idea of how we think things should be in the future, letting go is not easy. But it is necessary to allow ourselves to be open to where life takes us.
Because it is a coping mechanism for many of us, it can be frightening to think of letting go of binge eating – even though we want to. We must first ask ourselves what deeper issues may have led to the binging, then do our best to heal them. Once that happens, we will no longer need the coping mechanism.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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