We tend to judge and blame ourselves when we do something “wrong” or “messy” like bingeing. But I see it differently – if you’re bingeing, overeating or fixating on sugar, there’s a valid, honest to good reason.
Binges don’t occur in a vaccuum. Underlying the binge is some need, hurt, pain or sorrow.
But we tend to be so frightened and frustrated by these messy coping strategies – like gobbling up four bowls of ice cream – that we shame ourselves for them. We may feel embarrassment or anger, a desire to silence this part of ourselves.
There’s an alternative that offers ease, mercy and healing, and I’d like to share it with you. Instead of fighting the urge to binge, turn towards it, and offer this need or longing empathy.
Empathy is a warm embrace that makes room for your feelings and experience. After all, what we’re really longing for when we crave food is relief! Paradoxically, giving yourself empathy and understanding drains the urge to binge and gives our hearts the connection we’re craving.
This is a story from my own life, an example of what this process can look like. It’s a story of a very weary, worn out momma, and her desire to devour the refrigerator to soothe her pain. Enjoy!
This evening I had one of those nights where all my intentions went out the window. I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed – always a stressful combination for me – and was impatient, crabby and short with my children. The night ended with my daughter tearfully telling me, “I feel like you don’t even want us around!”
I walked downstairs to the laundry room, sat on the piles of unwashed clothes (it’s a small mountain right now) and cried in frustration. I noticed how angry I felt, and how much I wanted to eat in a “Screw it!” gesture of hopelessness (It doesn’t matter what I do…I’m never enough….does anyone see how hard I try?)
I also realized that while a part of me wanted to apologize and set things straight with my children, another part of me was resistant to saying I was sorry. What was that about? As I sat with my feelings, I realized that I couldn’t meet my children’s needs until my own needs were attended to. And what I needed was empathy.
In my experience, the need for empathy is foundational. We need it like we need air to breathe and water to drink. Without empathy, we feel neglected, alienated, like no one cares about our pain or understands that we’re doing the best we can. Like wounded animals, we may even lash out, resenting other people’s happiness.
The need for empathy runs so strong that we may persist in painful patterns until this need is met. We may do to others the very thing that hurt us, becoming the perpetrator.
The way out is to pause and offer ourselves empathy when we’re hurting. We can easily do this for children, as we see their innocence. It’s much harder to see this innocence in ourselves. How we judge ourselves so harshly! As I sat in my laundry room in my tears and frustration, I felt like witch Mommy. My belly and throat were tight and tense, a sure sign that I was pushing a part of me away.
I knew that if I wanted to heal, I needed to turn towards my pain – not resist it, run from it or eat it. So I turned towards my hurt and poured out my heart.
I asked myself, “Oh sweetheart, what’s the matter? What’s really going on?” and it came whooshing out, in a torrent: “I’m so tired and overwhelmed (we’re moving across the country in a few weeks), and I haven’t had a good night sleep in nearly 2 weeks, and it’s so hard to work with children home on summer vacation, and it’s hard for me to parent by myself (my husband’s been gone for much of the past 8 days), and I’m trying to meet my business goals for the month…”
On and on it went I felt a release of pent up emotion as I poured out my frustration.
Then I asked that part of me who felt so angry and wanted to eat the entire refrigerator, “What do you need?”
It replied, “Rest. I need rest and a break and I don’t feel like I can get it with my husband out of town. I feel like food is the only way I can meet my needs.”
As I listened to myself, I felt my heart open a squeak and felt the first inklings of compassion for my exhaustion. How human of me to feel stressed and snap. How human of me to want to soothe myself with something quick and easy – food. How human of me to feel regret about how I treated my children. As I listened, and validated – letting this exhaustion and frustration feel seen, heard and understood – I felt my body softening. I felt my soul relax as the grip of “Bad Mommy” softened around my heart.
I put my hand on my heart and whispered, “Forgiven. It’s okay. I understand.” With my needs for empathy met, I could walk upstairs and willingly, tenderly tell my children, “I’m sorry. This isn’t what I want. I’d like to try again.”
With this softening, I was able to watch the impulse to eat arise without acting on it – something that felt like a small miracle.
I invite you to try this out for yourself. The next time you have a strong urge to eat, or when you find yourself losing it with a loved one, see if you can offer yourself a kind attention. Tell those hurting parts of you, “Sweetheart, tell me all about it,” just as a loving friend would, and let their hurt pour out. Offer yourself mercy. Give yourself all the care you can muster, your kind attention, your loving presence, your compassion.
Put your hand on your heart and whisper, “Forgiven.”
I’m guessing you’ll find it much easier to offer the apology, to walk away from the fridge, and to feel your belonging.
To learn how to use these tools to stop a bingeing habit, I offer guided visualizations, exercises and more in Heal Overeating: Untangled, a 12 session audio program to heal the emotional roots of overeating.
Oh Karly ((((hugs)))). You know what I love about this post? Everything. From the snapping mommy (been there, done that), to the mountain of laundry (hey I have one too!!) to the realization that you NEED something, I'm so glad you could write this post with such honesty. And for what it's worth – you have a lot on your plate right now, it's no wonder you had such a hard night! I hate it when my husband is gone – suddenly it feels like everything is out of whack, and I'm prone to cranky episodes like yours when that happens. How wonderful that you could give yourself a few minutes to get in touch with yourself and offer yourself empathy in a loving way. I hope today is better for you and I hope your kids understand how hard being a parent can be sometimes. 🙂
Karly – so so sorry, I mis-typed your name as Kathy. Have had a long and trying day! Feel embarrassed about this, but will try to forgive myself! 🙂
I feel happy that this post resonated with you! I love that my writing about my need for empathy helped you recognize this need in your own heart and led to greater understanding.
I resonated 100% with what you shared here: “I think if people really did empathise, rather than issing a brisk lecture, this may help to open up the way forward and release the energy needed to change. Until this happens, that energy can be tied up in stubbornness, hurt, and fear, among other things.”
I have found that I will consciously (“You can’t make me!”) and unconsciously resist changing – doing the very things that will help me – unless my need for empathy is met. I’ve also seen this in pretty much every other human being I know, too!
My friend Maureen calls the lecture “smart talk” and empathy “heart talk.” I find that most of us have been well trained in smart talk but can use some help with heart talk. I understand that smart talk is easier as it seems to get rid of the problem.
We may be uncomfortable with pain or strong feelings and so we rush in to fix rather than feel.
I created the Binge Rescue worksheet to help with this process – to give you a map for heart talk – talk that leads to healing, talk that leads to understanding, and talk that enables you to walk away from a binge. You can download it for free here:
I've been called Kathy many times – no worries 🙂 And I've mistyped or misspelled people's names when making comments, too. It is a sheepish feeling, isn't it? As you so beautifully said, may we view it – and all our mistakes – as an opportunity to practice self forgiveness.
Thank you for writing, for reaching out, and for empathizing with my experience. I see how this helps us feel closer, held, and creates belonging in this mutual acknowledgement of our tender humanity. I feel happy and grateful that we were able to share this.
I also feel less alone in my less than stellar moments!
Thank you, my friend.
I have been thinking about you and all you are facing right now — asking for empathy is great and so is asking for other things you need — like help packing, tending to your kids so you can have a break, time off from your other duties while making this transition, etc. I also think it is good that our children see that we are not always perfect either and need our own time out! Good luck and I hope that you get some help packing!
Karly, are you moving to Massachusetts? We need a Karly Randolph Pitman here!!
About your post (that I couldn’t stop reading, it was so good), I had just gone onto your website and read your article after snapping at my 8 year old daughter who came out of her room and did something inappropriate after she had asked me to read with her, and I had said ‘not tonight’ (we made a ‘together’ and ‘on own’ reading schedule for the week and tonight was an ‘on own’ night). And for the record, there are more ‘together’ than ‘on own’ nights! I raised my voice in anger because today, unlike you, I had ‘eaten’ away my pain instead of dealing with it.
So I was quick to snap at her, not only ‘witchy mom’ but ‘witchy mom on sugar!’ My daughter stomped down the hallway, teary-eyed, hurt and said ‘I don’t want to read with you anymore!’ Ouch. Karly, I am going to use your exact technique next time, as the article states, and report back to you. The only difference is I will not be sitting on top of my pile of laundry because my head will hit the ceiling and cause my chin to press into my chest, restricting my flow of oxygen!
Thank you, Sherrie, for your kindness. I agree – thank goodness I don't have to be perfect to feel okay!
I remember the a ha I had a few years ago when I realized that I couldn't improve myself to the point where I would be so together that I would never hurt my children. That was a tough nut to swallow, because I wanted to hope that I could perfect myself to some enlightened state where I would never hurt another human being.
Instead, I've learned to trust the grace of saying I'm sorry when I make mistakes. I still can't say I enjoy making them 🙂
Thank you for encouraging my tired heart and body today.
In gratitude, Karly
Being a mommy is not easy, is it? I wish we could give each other a big hug!
I would love to hear how this technique works for you. I was amazed at how intense my feelings were – how as soon as I said, "Oh, sweetheart, what's wrong?" it all came pouring out. They were really wanting to be heard, like insistent toddlers saying, "Listen to me!!!" I felt much better after I let them pour out their hurt and offered compassion to my feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion.
Your comment make me laugh out loud. It feels good for me to know that I'm not the only one with a tower of unwashed laundry in my laundry room 🙂 Thank you for the levity and humor – I love that about you!
In love, Karly
I stumbled onto your website while searching for answers on causes for binging. It was as if my guardian angel put your site right at the top. I’m so taken with just how much I relate to what you write. It’s as if you are in my mind.
At this very moment (8:30a NY time) I’m feeling my food hangover and am disgusted with myself and ANGRY, VERY ANGRY at so many people around me but mostly at myself for not being strong enough to deal with it better. I had intended to start fresh this morning. I was going to have water wtih lemon before I ate anything. But in the frenzy to get one of my kids out the door to a tournament and he wasn’t feeling well, and my husband, who was just diagnosed with Lyme Disease and working around the clock and whose parents live in another state and just left after visiting us for a few days. His father has Alzheimer’s and my husband has been so affected by it that I’m left trying to soothe he and his father and help his mother! He’s angry at his siblings for not being more helpful…blah, blah, blah. I could go on and on and on…
Like you, I sit and cry in an overwhelming pile of laundry and I look at my dirty dishes in the sink and hear my kids call me to drive them here and there and get them to this game or practice. Add to that we must looking at colleges for my oldest son and the middle tells me he’s embarrassed by the way I look and that the other moms dress so much nicer. I WANT TO CRAWL UNDER A ROCK!!!!!
I’m going to try today…I’m going to try to keep it all together and not eat my feelings..of course this could lead me to a jail sentence because if I don’t eat my feeling and express them, someone could get hurt! LOL!
Nonetheless, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SITE. I feel better knowing it’s here.
I can certainly relate, a mom to 4 boys, husband works a lot and trying to start my own business. It gets very overwhelming. You need to know how much your words help all of us! Best of luck with your move.
What a beautiful article, Karly. How incredible that you were able to listen to yourself and hear your feelings and frustrations in the intensity of the moment. That is an ENORMOUS achievement. Celebrate that moment completely and utterly! It's one of those successes along that way that we often are ready to just brush off. So give yourself some extra love and know that you handled it much better than you know! What an inspiration. 🙂
Thank you Kelley, for your touching comment here. You're right – I did brush it off (probably because I was still feeling the regret of lashing out at my kids.) Your comment made me feel proud of myself – thank you for that gift.
In love, Karly
I'm sending you a big, big hug. Oh, dear one, you have so much on your plate. I hope you cry every one of your tears and know that you are doing the best you can.
I'm so glad you found us here and welcome you.
Thank you Noreen. I don't always know how or if my words help – so thank you for sharing this with me.
We're a busy group of women here, whew!
Sending you much love,
Thanks for this!