Binge eating disorder is very common today and prevents many people from getting healthier. It may get confused with overeating which is not the same. This article highlights the differences between overeating and binge eating and helps you understand why you overeat, the signs of binge eating and how you can stop it.
Am I overeating or binge eating?
First of all, let’s clarify the difference between overeating and binge eating.
Overeating happens once in a while either at home or when you eat out. Maybe you are celebrating your friend’s birthday or it’s your birthday. Maybe you are celebrating something else. Maybe you are not even celebrating anything and you just have a wide range of foods on offer and you cannot resist trying everything and eating too much.
You do not have a binge eating disorder if you overeat once in a while but if you regularly eat large quantities of food over a short period of time you certainly have a binge eating problem.
What is binge eating disorder?
In general, binge-eating disorder is characterized by frequent and repeated overeating to alleviate stress or other negative feelings. This disorder may be present when your primary means of coping is to eat, and it is not just something you do now and then. You may feel that eating takes up most of your time and energy. You may also feel that your life revolves around eating to the point that it has become difficult to carry out your daily routine.Albers. S, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food
What makes binge eating different from eating a lot of food from time to time is that feeling of powerless a binge eater experiences. They just cannot control themselves and they feel trapped in a cycle of constant eating and feeling bad about it.
Signs of binge eating disorder
If you are still trying to determine whether you are binge eater or not, here are the signs to look for:
- You eat much faster than normal
- You eat until you feel uncomfortably full
- You eat a large amount of food when you are not hungry
- You eat alone or in secret as you are embarrassed about the amount of food you are consuming
- You feel guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating
If you have most of the signs above, then you are very likely to have a binge eating disorder. Luckily, this is something treatable (although it may not be easy!), you just need to break the binge eating cycle and develop a healthier relationship with food. But first of all, you need to identify the reasons why you binge eat.
Once you know the cause of your cravings, you can take steps to get rid of them to become a healthier and happier person.
What are you really hungry for?
If you want to address your binge eating habit, you need to identify what you are really hungry for.
Binge eating can be caused by several different things and usually, it’s based on the way we feel in response to our environment. These are the negative feelings we experience, for example, when we are stressed, sad, lonely, depressed or bored.
When we constantly overeat we try to make ourselves feel better and get relief from our feelings that are occupying our mind. We may not even be aware of these feelings and most of the time we don’t know why we eat when we are not hungry. We just know we have to eat and eat and cannot stop.
To discover what you are really hungry for, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I bored? Is my life boring right now? Do I have to do something different to make it more exciting? Maybe it’s time to start a new hobby or visit a friend?
- Am I lonely? When was the last time I met with a friend? Do I need to go out and meet people more often?
- Am I depressed? Maybe I should speak to the psychiatrist and get some help?
- Am I stressed? Is my job giving me stress? Am I going through a difficult time with my spouse?
There are many other emotions you may be experiencing that may be the cause of your binge eating and to identify them you just need to take a few moments for yourself and reflect on your life and your feelings.
It may be a good idea to keep a journal for at least one week and record what prompts you to seek food for comfort. Pay attention to your eating patterns and habits and write down the signals that prompt you to eat. What circumstances make you the most vulnerable? Are there specific feelings? Do you do it at the same time every day? Observe yourself and start to understand your patterns. Being aware of your circumstances and your feelings is one of the first steps to take to break the binge eating cycle.
You have to realise that physical and emotional problems will always be a part of your life although not necessarily all the time but they will crop up. That’s life. Life is full of stress and responsibility, it’s inevitable. To stop binge eating, you shouldn’t only be more aware of your feelings, but you also have to learn how to make yourself feel better without food.
Nonfood alternatives to soothe yourself
There are many different ways you can soothe yourself without food and these are just some of the activities you can try:
This is a helpful technique for clearing your mind and it’s a great way of calming yourself down by helping you to regulate your body’s natural fight-or-flight response which occurs when you are stressed. During the meditation, your whole body will relax, your heart rate and breathing will slow down and your blood pressure will decrease.
Write in a journal
Writing down what bothers you is an easy and clinically proven way to help you soothe yourself. What you are essentially doing is taking any feelings trapped inside you and describing them on paper. This helps you understand yourself better and what drives you to eat for comfort.
By journaling, you examine the issue in-depth and although you may still want to eat for emotional reasons afterwards, you will at least have a better understanding of why you feel that need at that moment.
Humour is therapeutic and can be incredibly healing. Laughter boosts the immune system and decreases stress hormones. It also lowers blood pressure.
Laughing will take your mind off your problem so do make an effort to laugh every day – for example, find something funny to watch online or read jokes.
These are positive statements about yourself which you can use to retrain your brain to think confidently and optimistically about your ability to choose nonfood methods to calm yourself down.
Affirmations help you think more positively and help you believe in yourself – yes, you can change unhealthy food habits, it is possible! Here are some examples you can try:
- I can do this. It just takes time.
- I can wait. My hunger will pass with a little patience.
- I can soothe myself. I don’t need food to do that.
- I enjoy being healthy.
You can write these statements on a piece of paper and place them in visible locations around your home. Say each one out loud at least once a day. You can, of course, create your own statements that will be relevant to your personal circumstances.
Aromatherapy comes with many health benefits and it’s known to positively impact your psychological well-being.
Pleasant scents act quickly to soothe you with immediate effect.
One of the most soothing scents you can try is lavender. Other soothing scents include chamomile, rose, peppermint and lemon. Try different ones and see which one you prefer. If you are new to essential oils check this guide to help you get started.
Several studies have shown that yoga is very effective at reducing emotional eating and binge eating.
Yoga helps you strengthen relationship between your body and mind and allows you to listen to your body better. It helps you understand more accurately what your body really wants and needs since it makes you slow down and turn your attention to your stomach.
With yoga you pay more attention to your body’s sensations and as a result you can then more accurately distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger.
When you feel you just want to eat lots of food despite not being hungry, commit to doing ten minutes of yoga. At the end, you will feel much calmer and in more control of your cravings. Remember, you don’t have to be super flexible to do some simple yoga poses. Just do your best, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
To get started try with the following poses:
- Cross-legged pose
- The warrior pose
- Child pose
- Bridge pose
There are many other ways to tackle your binge eating disorder and this article serves just as a starting point. To learn more about soothing yourself without food I highly recommend you check this book.
Remember, everybody is different and what works for somebody may not work for you. But do keep your mind open and try the techniques covered in this article. If you continue struggling, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a medical professional.
Albers, S. (2009) 50 ways to soothe yourself without food. Canada: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Laugh, A. (2018) Lifestyle Change with April. Leicester: Matador.