How to cope with binging and emotional eating
One of the first steps towards healing from binging and emotional eating is beginning to notice when you are engaging in these behaviors. Cultivating awareness helps you to identify your emotional triggers for eating and helps you to recognize the feelings and needs that you may be trying to address through eating. The next time you find yourself triggered and turning towards food, see if you can pause and take three deep breaths. Then set a timer for 5 minutes and do a mindfulness check in: sit in a comfortable position and notice any feelings that come up. Try to sit with those feelings and allow yourself to feel them, even just for 30 seconds, without pushing them away. Allow yourself to cry, punch a pillow or punching bag to release anger, or alternatively, try to sit with your feelings and notice how the intensity passes when you allow yourself to feel them.
When the timer goes off, explore whether the desire to eat is still there. Ask yourself: what do I need right now to deal with my current feelings? You may need rest, pleasure or enjoyment. You may need to express your feelings, to be heard, understood, and accepted. You may require intellectual or creative stimulation, comfort, connection, or nurturance. Ask yourself, how might I be able to fulfill this need without turning to food? It might be a good time to explore the ways in which you usually have your needs met. Do you often take care of other’s needs while ignoring your own? Does doing so bring up feelings of frustration, resentment, or exhaustion? Self care is an important way to get our needs met. Perhaps scheduling time with family or friends, getting more sleep or taking a nap, engaging in activities that nurture you (painting, hiking, yoga, alone time, going for a walk etc.). Continue to explore these two questions on a regular basis: What am I feeling? and What do I need?
One of the most fundamental needs is the need for nourishment. Check in to see if you have been restricting your eating in an way. If yes, then acknowledge that binging may be a normal reaction to deprivation. The first step is to address the restriction and learn how to make peace with food. This is will reduce binging and emotional eating.
If you still find that you have a strong desire to eat than allow yourself to choose to eat but see if you can do without judgment and criticism. New behaviors take time and practice. By identifying your feelings and needs and allowing yourself to be with them (even if it was only for a few seconds), you already made a change.
Try to have compassion for yourself rather than berating or judging yourself. Self-compassion is an essential element of healing. Be gentle with yourself if you ate to the point of physical discomfort. Just as your emotions come and go, this feeling of discomfort will also pass. Notice any tendencies to make a plan to engage in restrictive behavior or to exercise as punishment. Instead, choose to engage in a nourishing self care activity and honour your hunger when it returns. With time, you will become more adept at recognizing your emotions and needs and will be able to implement self care so that your tendency to use food in an unhelpful way decreases. This can be a difficult process to do alone and I encourage you to reach out for counselling if you need help.
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program That Works. New York: St. Martin’s Press.