If you’re struggling with binge eating during this tough time, I want to connect with you today and offer some support.
This is a really hard, challenging, scary, and unknown time for most everyone right now. And, there are some specifics about this time that can make it especially triggering if you’re struggling with binge eating.
Many people see binge eating as the ‘problem’ but it is simply a reaction to the deeper rooted issue of restriction. Binge eating is actually a coping mechanism! One that is developed in response to restriction.
So let’s talk about restriction for a second.
Restriction can show up in a number of different ways:
Physical restriction: not eating enough food in general or not eating enough of certain macro nutrient (i.e. carbs or fat). This can also look like over exercise. This is prevalent and encouraged in diet culture.
Mental restriction: food rules and moral judgments around food (i.e. ‘good’ or ‘bad’ + ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ + ‘off limits’). Also, the ‘norm’ because of diet culture.
Emotional restriction: consistent deprivation of your cravings. I hve something I call the ‘craving trifecta’: rest, connection, pleasure. I definitely encourage you to look there! Note: emotional restriction is different than emotional eating, where you might eat to soothe, celebrate, or to comfort (emotional eating is normal and even healthy).
A global crisis like the one we are currently facing… without our typical daily life and routines, with changing access to food, and forced into quarantine… can bring up a unique set of challenges if you’re in the restrict-binge cycle.
First, it may trigger feelings and fear of restriction. Thoughts like ‘will there be enough food?’ and ‘will I be able to get the ‘right’ foods?’ may be coming up.
These fears can be enough to trigger binges.
Second, you may feel trapped in a home with foods that you view as ‘off limits’ and you may even need to eat some of those foods because the things you typically allow yourself to eat are not immediately available. If you are eating foods that you don’t typically eat it may be bringing up guilt and shame.
Guilt and shame can make us want to ‘make up’ for what we’ve ‘done wrong’ –> which often looks like MORE restriction –> which then lead back to more binges.
You can see how the cycle continues over and over again until you start to heal what’s at the root of it all.
I want to pause here and take a deep breath with you. This stuff is HARD! Healing restrictive behaviors is hard in normal times, let alone when there are fears of food scarcity and realities of quarantine layers on top. But there is also a really powerful opportunity to be WITH yourself here and to start to work to heal restrictive patterns.
Take a moment to journal: which types of restriction are you experiencing right now? How are they showing up for you?
If you’re willing, take hands to your heart, breathe a few deep breaths, and support yourself with validation and compassion:
‘I see you. I see how hard this is for you. You’re not alone. This would be hard for anyone. This IS hard for everyone. You’re not struggling because you’re broken, you’re struggling because you’re human. I’m here with you and for you. I want to help care for you through this.’
With you and your body on the same team, let’s walk through a few practical steps to get to the root of it all. For each type of restriction, I’m going to share an action step AND ideas for affirmations to support you during this time.
First, if you identified physical restriction:
It’s so important to keep your body fed. This means eating consistently – meals and snacks every day.
When I was first working through physical restriction, it really helped me to think about ‘protein, carb, fat, fresh, and fun.’ This helped remind me to include different food groups and it also reminded me to include elements for satisfaction (not only physical fullness).
By eating consistently you’ll keep your body from going into fight or flight mode and it will keep you from becoming famished. It will help keep your body calm and will build up trust that you’ll take care of her needs.
By making your snacks and meals as satisfying as possible, you’ll also experience a calmness of the mind that comes from being satisfied.
Eating enough consistently also helps to decrease anxiety, calm your nervous system, and improve sleep – all things that are EXTRA necessary in times of increased stress.
Affirmations like ‘I have enough, I am enough’ + ‘I’m safe to eat as much as my body needs’ + ‘I have everything I need right now’ can help with the scarcity mindset.
If you find yourself thinking ‘I shouldn’t eat this now I might need it later,’ come back to those affirmations.
Second, if you identified mental restriction:
Start to jot down the food fears and rules that you notice coming up for you.
It can be common to not even realize the food rules you’re carrying around with you! I often have clients tell me that they don’t understand why they are binge eating because they aren’t physically restricting. When we dig in, there are often handfuls of rules and judgments about food – aka restrictive thoughts.
Often these rules can be hidden in your daily routines and ritual but this moment in time can help to bring a deeper sense of awareness to restrictive patterns.
From this list, you can pick a rule or two to play around with softening. The more positive you can make the experience, the better! Turn on music, really taste the food, maybe even share in the experience with loved ones in your home or via FaceTime with a friend!
Once you’ve eaten the food, it becomes valuable proof that you’re ok, you survived, and that your body can handle it!
Affirmations like, ‘food is just food!’ + ‘my body knows what to do with this!’ + ‘I’m thankful for this nourishment’ can be helpful.
If you find yourself labeling foods or judging yourself for certain choices, come back to those affirmations.
Third, if you’re experiencing emotional restriction:
Try a simple morning check in: What’s 1 thing you need more of today? What’s 1 thing you need less of?
These two questions are a regular part of how I care for myself and questions I constantly encourage my clients to ask.
Not only does this build communication with yourself but it gives you guidance on how to best care for your needs.
Once you hear that inner voice you can identify which ‘craving’ the needs are connected to: rest, pleasure, or connection.
These cravings are layered! Rest can be physical, mental, emotional. Pleasure can be physical, creativity, play, silliness, enjoyment. Connection can be with yourself (dreams, emotions), your body, others, sense of purpose.
If you can honor the specific need for more or less of something in the upcoming day or days, amazing!
And, if the reality of your current situation means you aren’t able to get that specific, try to find something you can do (or not do) related to the broader craving of rest, pleasure, or connection.
Example: if I noticed that I needed ‘more time with friends’ but am not able to gather because of quarantine, I would (1) notice my need for connection with others and (2) text a friend to set up a video chat in the next 48 hours.
Affirmations like ‘my needs matter’ + ‘pleasure is important’ + ‘rest is essential’ + ‘I choose connection over control’ are all very powerful here!
If you find yourself pushing your needs to the bottom of the list all day every day, come back to these affirmations.
By offering nourishment to ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, we begin to heal the restrictive patterns that created the need for binges in the first place.
Lastly, if you experience a binge, take hands to heart, take a few deep breaths, and meet yourself where you are with validation and compassion rather than judgment:
‘I see you. I see how hard this is for you. You’re not alone. This would be hard for anyone. I’m here with you and for you. I want to help care for you through this.’
When you feel the urge to restrict and come back to the steps + affirmations above. And, here’s an IGTV where I share how to practice compassion after a binge.
Sending you virtual hugs and so much compassion.