How Do I Stop Binge Eating?

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“I was out of control”

“I couldn’t stop”

“I had to finish the whole package”

“It was like a wild hungry wolf took over my eating”

These phrases are familiar to those of us who struggle with binge eating.  We know all too well the feeling of being in a wave of eating that we can’t stop, even though we know we “should” stop. It might be very clear that we’ll feel physically uncomfortable if we keep eating, yet we still can’t put the fork down.

It can feel like a tidal wave that just sweeps us away, and then at the end, pummels us down to the beach with another strong wave of shame. Most binge eaters are all too familiar with the post-binge “I can’t believe I ate all that – what’s wrong with me?” feeling.

How do I stop binge eating?

The shame, guilt and feelings of self hatred that can accompany binge eating means that many binge eaters are not talking about their behavior. We want to keep it quiet because it’s embarrassing. It doesn’t fit with the picture of the rest of our life.

Many binge eaters feel alone in their experience of uncontrolled eating. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s believed that as many as 6 million American women are struggling with binge eating. And the numbers could be way higher.

The challenge is, our diet-culture is still giving us the message that if we just had enough willpower, we could stop binge eating. But really, if the tough-it-out and just-resist-the-urge diet mentality was the path to stop binge eating, would so many people still be in the painful loop of eating more than they need or want to be eating?

If fad diets and the popular just-do-it approaches are not the way to stop binge eating, then what are we supposed to do? How do we stop binge eating? How do we calm the wild uncontrollable feeling that takes over and eats and eats?

As paradoxical as it sounds, the key to taming that hungry wolf within is to listen to it deeply.

At the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, we teach that our out-of-control behavior is the body’s way of sending up a flare – it wants to be noticed. The symptoms that we experience in our body – from a simple ache to binge eating – are all ways that our body is speaking to us.  When the symptoms are loud, like pain or “I can’t stop eating,” our body is doing more than speaking – it’s yelling. Our body is screaming – “red alert, red alert, notice me now.” We believe there are important lessons to be learned here.

Most of us are trained to ignore our body’s needs, and tune-out its messages. But when we want to find a way that really works to stop binge eating, it’s imperative that we learn to listen to our body, and the binge. Listening to the body is an art that all of us can learn. It’s a process of slowing down, breathing, and getting curious about what our internal world has to say to us.

Quite remarkably, the simple process of listening to the body – slowing down, breathing and bringing awareness to the body – can actually help stop a binge. By the way, these are just some of the key principles that we dive into in our premiere online program for the public – Transform Your Relationship with Food™.

This may sound too simple to be true, but here’s the science behind it.

When we slow down and breathe, when we bring our attention to our body in a curious and non-judgmental way, we are activating our parasympathetic nervous system. When our parasympathetic nervous system (also know as our “rest and digest” mode) is activated, we have that “it’s-all-OK” relaxation feeling.

That “it’s-all-OK” relaxation response is very powerful. It’s our best strategy when it comes to stopping binge eating. When we are relaxed, tuned-in, and paying attention to our body and feelings, it’s hard for the hungry-binge-eating-wolf to take over – because we are actually feeding the hungry wolf. That wild, out of control part of us needs attention. When we give it our attention, it doesn’t have to act out and take over by eating anything and everything.

However, shifting ourselves into rest and digest mode sometimes doesn’t happen in time. Sometimes, we know we’re headed towards a binge, and we don’t feel able to slow down. In those circumstances, it’s time to pull up a chair and pull out the fine china! Truly, sitting down and setting out your food beautifully will go a long way when it comes to slowing down and stopping a binge. Most of us binge standing up, or eating in hiding, or in the car. We eat in ways and places that do not signal our system: “hey, we’re eating, this could be delicious food, let’s enjoy it!”

If we can ritual-ize our binge, if we can really tune into the pleasure of our food, it’s much harder to ignore our body and override the “I’m full” and “that’s enough for now” messages. When we allow ourselves to deeply experience the sensual pleasure of food, once again, we are triggering our parasympathetic nervous system. It’s just not possible to be possessed by the hungry wild animal within, or overtaken by a tidal wave of eating, when we are in a relaxation response.

At the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, we teach practitioners in our Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training the practical, real world, and results-driven techniques to stop binge eating. We highlight how one of the keys to stop binge eating is to activate our parasympathetic nervous system and shift our body into a relaxation response. When we practice breathing and bringing pleasure to our meals, our relationship with that deep and intense hunger will change and your battle to stop binge eating will come to an end. We will hear what we really need to nourish ourselves, and that will truly improve our relationship with our food and body.

Have you had success with binge eating either personally or professionally? We’d love to hear.

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