A: That’s an excellent question. What you are saying here is that the “emotions to eat” are very strong. However, there is actually not an emotion to eat. There is an urge to eat, but usually the emotion UNDER the urge has nothing to do with food. So, what I’m saying here is that there is often a totally different emotion, such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, stress, happiness, or disappointment that is first triggered. What then immediately happens is that the urge to eat comes on.
For example. You have had a hard day at work. Your clothes feel tight. You went shopping after work and nothing looked right. You feel tired, you feel depressed, you feel hopeless. You come home from work and all of a sudden, all you want to do is eat. It FEELS like the need to eat is actually an emotion. But it’s not. It’s an urge that covers up the emotion. Eating makes the bad feelings go away (at least temporarily). So, knowing that, your brain tricks you into believing that you want, that you need food so that you don’t have deal with or feel the other feelings that are there.
Of course, as you state in your question, that drive to eat (and to just feel better) can be so strong that you can’t seem to do anything else when the urge comes on. How do you deal with that?
It’s hard at the beginning, but here are some things that you can do.
1.)Put notes on your refrigerator, your desk at work, the cabinets, the pantry, etc, anywhere you usually go that say something like “STOP…. For just 5 minutes, think about what you’re feeling…” then when you go to eat, the notes can break the unconscious compulsion and you might be able to take a few moments to choose a different behavior.
2.)During this time, set a timer for 20 minutes and tell yourself that you can eat if you want to in a bit, but you’re going to wait a bit and do something different. Print out some of the various do something different lists on this blog (here or here or here)or create your own and post it in a conspicuous place so that when you are in a bingeing mode, you don’t have to stop and think about what you want to do next, there is a list right there for you.
3.)See what would happen if you let yourself sit with the feeling of want. Just because you want it, doesn’t mean you have to have it. Remind yourself that you won’t die from an urge, and that you are stronger and more powerful than the urge to binge. As you continue to do this, you will actually become stronger and eventually, the urges to binge will decrease and eventually die.
4.)Write down all the negative consequences. Start with “If I eat this cookie, then…” and go through what might happen.
ie: If I eat this cookie, then I will eat another, and another, I will not be satisfied and I will want chips, which I will eat, and then I will go for the ice cream and the bread… I will pass out feeling exhausted and angry at myself. I will wake up in the morning feeling nauseous and uncomfortable.
5.)Write down what might happen if you don’t eat. “If I don’t eat this cookie, then…”
If I don’t eat this cookie, then I will be angry grumpy, upset and I will be craving it all night long. I might not be able to fall asleep at night and I will be up all night dealing with my anxiety.
Then, weigh the pros and the cons. Would I rather be up all night dealing with my anxiety or would I rather binge all night and pass out? Neither of these options seems ideal, but which would be more beneficial in the long term? Can I learn to increase my tolerance for uncomfortable feelings without food? Am I willing to try?
I hope that this is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to ask more questions!
Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.