When you’re bingeing (or bingeing and purging), you’re caught in a highly stressful state. At this point, reason is not in charge. You’re not thinking about how terrible you’ll feel after bingeing. Your only thought is how to give yourself relief, which is what you believe the binge will give you.
I liken a binge to a panic attack because it feels similar in its intensity and the drive to eat now! It’s a very tight, intense place of “I have to, I must, I can’t handle this for one more minute…” It’s a build up of emotional energy that drives you forward. This built up emotional energy drains once you binge, which is why you feel better after a binge – even as you may feel frustrated or discouraged by it, too.
What to do when the urge to binge is very strong
How can you soothe yourself when you’re in this state? When you feel a strong urge to binge, many tools don’t work because the panic is so intense. You may feel caught or in a freeze state, as if you’re paralyzed.
One of my favorite tools to prevent a binge is the “Damage Control Tool” from Emotional Brain Training. It’s excellent to use when it feels like nothing else will help.
You use this tool when your mind is spiraling out of control, when you feel that tight space of “I have to…”, when you’re overwhelmed, caught in obsessive thoughts, when you feel like you’re drowning underwater, when a loved one says or does something that triggers a desire to binge, or when you try on your pants, find that they’re tight, and a torrent of judgment (I’m a fat cow, I’ll never change, I’ll never heal…) throws you under, and sends you to the fridge.
Here’s how to use this tool:
1. Step 1 – Tell yourself, No judgment. Use your name with this step. For example, I would say, “No judgment, Karly.” Using your name is very calming. As Laurel Mellin, the founder of EBT explains, it creates a feeling in the brain of a loving parent caring for us. Much of our healing is giving ourselves this unconditional love and care, the nurturing that we need to heal the emotional brain.
Why do we say “no judgment?” When we’re caught in a panic we’re often subtly (or not so subtly) judging ourselves. We feel guilty or responsible – this sense of “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” To soothe this blame, we offer ourselves the mercy of “no judgment” towards ourselves for being human – for feeling panicky, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, triggered, or wanting to binge. We also offer “no judgment” towards others if we’re blaming others.
2. Remove yourself from harm. This means to get out of the house, the kitchen, to separate from the food or sugar, to call a friend, to go for a walk – to do whatever you can to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
3. Tell yourself, This too shall pass. Again, use your name. This powerful reminder reassures us that while we’re feeling out of control in the moment, everything passes. This will pass.
Repeat the cycle until you feel calmer. When it’s very intense, it may take 5-7 cycles, depending on your stress level, to move out of panic. When you’re in a calmer state, that’s when you’re able to access other tools.
How to lose your fear of binges
At heart, binges are not the scary, frightening things we may take them to be.
If binges had a voice, they’d simply say, “I’m scared, or I’m overwhelmed, or I don’t feel safe.” A binge is simply a cry for help, a sign that you need support. Often what precedes a binge are intense feelings. You may feel helpless, panicked, uncertain, overwhelmed, or unsure. You may be trying something new. You may feel stressed or worried.
A binge is not a sign of poor will power, but simply a grasp for safety: you’re looking for a “holding container,” something to help you feel safe, calmer and less stressed in the face of this overwhelm.
Imagine the cry to binge as a small child saying, “Um, folks, I need some help here!”
Your response is simple:
- Recognize that you feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or scared and need support. It happens to everyone. Can you offer yourself compassion for feeling scared or stuck?
- And step in and give yourself help and support. You are where you are. And if in this moment, you’re having a strong urge to binge, make room for it. This doesn’t mean letting the binge take over. You simply accept that you feel scared or uncertain and are needing support. Then, you step in to give yourself this self care. This can include leaning on others for help – you don’t have to tough it out on your own. The urge to binge usually lasts about 15 minutes. Often having someone at your side during this time can make all the difference in moving through it.
Other tools that can help you move out of a binge:
What soothes a binge are practices of compassion, containment (feeling safe and held), and connection. They foster feelings of safety and soothe the emotional brain, allowing the intense emotions to ease and flow. Here are a few more tools to try, that nurture all three of these needs:
Try the Binge Rescue Worksheet – Bingeing is an energy releasing behavior – it’s an attempt to drain the intensity of overwhelming emotions and stress. I created a tool, the Binge Rescue worksheet, to help you drain these emotions without binge eating. It walks you step by step through the process so you can feel calm, less stressed, and more at ease without using food to do so. You can get a copy of the worksheet here.
Call on love. I’ve used this tool for years and find it very soothing. I will literally “call on love,” calling love to me – people both past and present in my life, spiritual figures, pets, Nature, etc. – and blanketing myself with it. I imagine their faces, one by one, and place them in a circle around me, showering me with love and support – holding me in my time of need until the anxiety and panic fades. Try it and see what you feel.
“Rock your cravings to sleep.” I first heard this phrase of “rocking something to sleep” from a friend – I found it to be an excellent description of this practice. When you rock a baby, you’re soothing and holding the infant when it’s in a distressed state. When you rock your cravings to sleep, you’re doing the same thing – you’re “holding” or containing your emotions so that they can soften, drain, move and flow. Learn how to do this practice here.
Meditate. Meditation and any mindful activity can greatly help in creating a greater capacity to sit with intense feelings (like wanting to binge!) without acting on them. Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach is my favorite teacher on this topic, although there are many, many more and from a variety of spiritual traditions, including Christian meditation, Sufi meditation (my favorite teacher is business coach Mark Silver), and more. Dr. Rick Hanson offers a variety of mindfulness and meditative practices that aren’t tied to any one spiritual tradition.
Use a listening partner and schedule a listening session. Listening partnerships are an idea from Hand in Hand Parenting. Designed for parents, where parents take turn listening to each other in order to receive emotional support for parenting, I’ve found they’re also an excellent tool for binge eating, overeating, and other food compulsions. Learn more about listening partnerships here.
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