Binge Eating and Habit Building: A Lightbulb Moment

I binge a lot less than I used to, but…

Last night, I ate a bag of chocolate Easter eggs, a pint of chocolate caramel ice cream, some dates, the remaining frozen chocolate in our freezer, my leftover poke bowl, a random hummus taco concoction and a protein ball.
In the span of about an hour. Maybe less.

You can imagine how eating all of that food at essentially one time might make someone feel. Not just stuffed. Ashamed. Humiliated. Disappointed in myself. Mentally, physically, emotionally, I was not in a good place.

My gut instinct in these situations is to hide myself under the covers, turn out the light, and try to avoid thinking about I what I just did and why I might have done it. But last night, 10pm on a Saturday, I had the awareness to do things a little differently. I opened up about it on Instagram.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who struggles with binge eating/emotional eating/over eating. A LOT of people do. And while it makes me sad to know that so many people have disordered relationships with food, there is also an element of comfort and camaraderie that comes from hearing of the struggles and triumphs of your peers on this subject.

A few takeaway points from the comments I received:

  • Sugar seems to be a BIG trigger for binge eating
  • Restriction is another common trigger
  • There is so much shame around this behaviour. So many people thanked me for being ‘brave enough’ to talk about it
  • Evenings are especially ripe for a binge (there are likely a number of reasons for this including that you may want to reward yourself for a ‘good day’; you may ‘treat’ yourself to dessert, you may be alone in the evenings and can hide your bingeing more easily, etc.)
  • Those who overcame the urge to restrict food groups/calories etc. and diet, built a healthier relationship with food that reduced or eliminated binges
  • Eating is an undeniably emotional experience for many of us and unpacking the particular emotions that are tied up in our relationship with food takes hard work (I added this one).

So now what? I’m always left feeling a bit like, yeah great I know all of this and I’m still living with a disordered relationship with food. So what can I do?

Habit building 101

Let me start this by saying I have zero qualifications in nutrition or psychiatry. I know very little about the human brain and why we do what we do the way we do it. BUT, I do have my personal experience and the stories and learnings from some of my closest friends and family, and I do believe that has to count for something. Anyway…

I was talking with one of my best friends yesterday about habits –more specifically habit building– as she had recently been to a talk on the subject. One of the tips she picked up is that when you’re trying to form a new habit, you need to be intentional about tracking it and holding yourself accountable. For example, if you fall short one day (as will inevitably happen at some point), that’s FINE. You pick yourself back up and you start again. It’s not an excuse to GIVE UP. You can have one bad day, but you can’t let yourself have two bad days in a row. Missed your workout today? Get it done tomorrow. Overate last night? Track your meals today.

No excuses. No bad days in a row.

The point is not to beat yourself about it, but to be intentional about not letting the ‘failure’ (and I use that word super loosely here) become a pattern. This idea was a mini lightbulb moment for me to be honest because it’s more often than not that my failings turn into a downward spiral of self-sabotage that can drag on for days, if not weeks if I’m not careful. One bite of cake and suddenly nothing in the world matters anymore and what even is health anyway, give me that chocolate for breakfast because the gratification of having what I want when I want it beats out how shitty it makes me feel (after the taste has disappeared and I’m left feeling like a failure so I eat more until the taste disappears again and… you can see why this is a problem).

Implementation: Overriding the lie we tell ourselves.

It’s a combination of feeling a lack of control and believing the lie that you’ll never achieve (enter goal) anyway, so what’s the use in trying in the first place? It applies to food, fitness, career, relationships, personal growth, hobbies— you name it. But it’s such a destructive and empty way to see life and I desperately want to change that thought pattern in myself. The habit tracking and intentionality around not allowing yourself to have two bad days in a row is, for me, an essential step to overcoming the easily repetitive nature of failing and giving up on yourself.

All of this is to say, that after struggling with my eating last night, I did not stay in bed bloated and upset this morning. I got up and got to the one place that would allow me to start my day in the best possible way. The gym. I lifted for an 1.5 hours, channeling all of my energy and excess calories into the strongest lifts I could muster. And I have to tell you that, mentally and emotionally, that made all of the difference for me today. I started my day with a person win, rather than dwelling on my perceived shortcomings. I didn’t have punish myself. I could get up and ensure today would be different.

What I love about this tactic is that it allows us to practice forgiving ourselves while also ensuring we break the cycle of excuse making. Slowly, we can replace old habits with new ones that serve us better and enable us to live more full and happy lives.