the uncontrollable urge to eat. photo photo

Have you made a list of foods you can’t eat because you feel you won’t be able to stop?
Have you removed whole food groups from your diet in an attempt to find some sense of control?
Do you ever feel anxiety about social situations involving food because you worry you won’t be able to control how you react?

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.

Many binge eaters will try minimize these episodes of feeling out of control by skipping meals or cutting out entire food groups altogether. Unfortunately, this can lead to feeling deprived, and increases the likelihood for a binge. 

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:

Remove yourself from the situation. If that means getting up from the TV, leaving a restaurant, or relocating away from the food table at a party, we can reset the brain when it gets caught in a rut of overeating. Find a distraction, another person, an activity you find fulfilling, and wait for the body to settle down.
Identify your triggers. These can be situational (at the movie theatre, a particular restaurant, a family member’s home, in front of the TV at the end of the day) or emotional (in reaction to someone else’s words or actions, a feeling or sensation, or as a method of coping with stress). Look at the reasons you eat during the day – apart from hunger – and write down any patterns you notice. 

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.

It can be advisable to seek professional counseling or nutrition advice if binge eating is doing harm to your social life, emotional well-being, or physical health. Know that you are not alone and that by mindfully acknowledging your triggers, being in touch with what your body might be missing and how different foods affect you, and deconstructing your relationship with food, binge eating disorder can be reigned in. When you open up a dialogue with your body and honor what it needs, you can regain control over food and the situations you might – right now – find daunting.
If these sound like things you're dealing with, and you'd like some support, I would love to speak with you. This is a very real condition that affects so many people - and breaking free from it can have a tremendously positive impact on your life. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you'd like to begin a journey of discovery! 
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