Have you made a list of foods you can’t eat because you feel you won’t be able to stop?
Do you ever gorge yourself and by the time you’ve woken the next morning, you’ve forgotten what happened the night before?
You may be dealing with Binge Eating Disorder. It affects over 8 million people in the US, and likely many more: its signs can be hard to interpret and the stigma this disorder carries means many don’t seek treatment. It can be socially debilitating, physically dangerous, and emotionally taxing. As someone who has struggled with this most of my life – and has overcome thanks to some focused energy and practices of mindfulness – I can attest to how trying it can be to wrestle this powerful force at each and every meal, and how truly incredible it is to be on the other side.
The difference between someone who occasionally overdoes it (don’t we all, sometimes?) and a chronic binge eater is that every eating situation presents a feeling of being out of control for someone struggling with BED. Imagine: every plate of food set before you feels like an invitation to stuff yourself, and until it’s gone – or perhaps not even then – will you feel satisfied. As they say in Overeaters Anonymous, this type of food addiction can be likened to a tiger in a cage: one that, three times a day, you have to take out of its cage for a walk. The cycle feels inescapable because it can very much be that way: once those floodgates open and the body begins the process of consuming and digesting, it can be difficult to stop.
Food addiction is not a matter of will power. It is a neurological and physiological reaction to a situation or a substance, impacted greatly by genes and by our experiences with food throughout a lifetime. As with an alcoholic, a series of chemical reactions take place to create a craving, our response to it, and the resulting lack of control. The disorder can begin with a misplaced relationship with food (eating for comfort, to de-stress, for celebration) and can be made worse by a nutrient deficiency. Even in non-bingers, cravings can come on as a result of something missing in the diet as a whole: protein-deficiency and dehydration are common ones.
If these feelings sound familiar to you, take a look at your eating habits and see if any of the following might help the next time you feel out of control:
- Switch foods. If you are truly eating due to hunger, as opposed to habit or an addiction, changing to another food may help. If your trigger food is ice cream (creamy, sweet), switch to a food that is the opposite in taste and texture, like a pickle (crunchy, salty, sour). By asking the brain to switch gears, we can undo the spell of the trigger food.