Lessons From Bingeing and Emotional Eating

Emotional eating, overeating, and binging are all villainized in diet culture. So when we find ourselves eating in these ways, we often experience feelings of guilt and shame. However, binging and emotional eating can also be thought of as a warning sign that something is amiss is our lives and needs to be addressed. In other words: life stress has overwhelmed our current coping mechanisms.

Here are some things that we can learn about ourselves from these ways of eating:

  1. Bingeing is often a result of deprivation due to dieting and restrictive eating.  If we find ourselves engaging in bingeing and emotional eating, the first thing that we can begin to explore is the ways in which we may be restricting our eating. Eating restriction may not be part of an official diet but often takes the form of elimination (cutting out sugar or carbohydrates), of rules around food, of counting calories, of engaging in over-exercise or of using exercise as penance for eating. If we are finding that we are engaging in any of these behaviors, the first step is to address the restriction. Some things we may want to check in with: Do we eat at least three meals and two snacks a day without going too long in between eating? Are our meals actually meals or are they more of a snack? Do our meals have a balance of protein, carbs, and fat?

  2. We may also be engaging in overeating because our lifestyle is unbalanced and we don’t have adequate time for self care. If we lack pleasure or relaxation in life, we may be turning towards food to indulge, escape or relax. It may be necessary to examine our self care and see how we can enhance it. We may also be attempting to let loose from an overly regulated or perfectionistic lifestyle or to rebel against someone who has been overly critical or controlling.

  3. By recognizing when we are engaging in bingeing and emotional eating, we are able to identify emotions that trigger eating. Some emotional triggers might include anxiety, boredom, emptiness, feeling lonely or unloved; frustration, anger, or rage; mild depression, procrastination, urge to reward, or stress. 

Bingeing and emotional eating provide us with information about needs in our lives that may need to be addressed. We all have needs for rest, pleasure, connection, nourishment, enjoyment, etc.

How are you getting your needs met in your life? Are you prioritizing your own needs or only serving others' needs?  

By listening to the warning signals from emotional eating and bingeing, we are addressing what we would like to change in our life. Reframing these ways of eating is a step toward removing feelings of shame and guilt from eating. Shaming or criticizing ourselves does not lead to change and often keeps us stuck in the cycle of disordered eating. By choosing to examine our behaviours in a curious and compassionate way we are taking a step towards creating a new relationship with ourself and our body.

I’m a registered clinical counsellor and eating disorder therapist in Vancouver, BC and I offer eating disorder counselling and intuitive eating coaching to help people reclaim their relationship with food and their body.

Lorilee Keller