How To Stop Binge Eating When LonelyNov 16, 2022
HOW TO STOP BINGE EATING WHEN LONELY
Do you find yourself going straight to food as soon as you feel an ounce of loneliness? Does it usually happen in your spare time - after work or on weekends? You likely no longer trust yourself to be alone so you avoid it at all costs.
But I’m sure you want to be able to have me-time and feel in control about it - relaxed, confident that you can enjoy your time spent alone without binge eating or over-eating.
If this sounds familiar and you want help - keep reading!
WHAT IS BINGE EATING?
Let’s first clarify what binge eating is: Eating large quantities of food in one sitting - usually in secret and quickly, and with feelings of guilt and distress afterwards. The quantity of food eaten in one sitting that defines a ‘binge’ is usually about 1,500 or above - though it varies from person to person. You may go out to eat at a restaurant with friends and indulge in some calorie-dense foods and easily eat 1,500 calories - but you may not define it as a binge because you felt emotionally ok. Something that really sets binges apart from just over-eating is the extreme emotional distress it causes.
In this article, we will address loneliness as the cause of binge eating - though there can be a handful of other causes. If you feel that you’re not quite bingeing, but still over-eating or using food to numb anytime you feel lonely - then this article is still very relevant for you.
WHY DO I BINGE EAT WHEN LONELY?
Food can be an incredible coping mechanism - it really does do the job. The job being: helping us distract, numb and deal with difficult situations. So if you are using food to cope when lonely - that’s ok, it’s understandable.
Many of us were never taught how to be resilient to uncomfortable emotions. Heck, many of us weren’t taught to feel emotions at all. “Don’t cry, stay strong!”, “Suck it up!”, “Stay positive” - any of these sound familiar?
What I’m getting at is - be compassionate to yourself in this process.
The good news: you can learn how to deal with uncomfortable emotions instead of silencing and drowning them out with food.
You are strong and are able to face feelings without immediately running to food. It will take some practice 🙂
Think about it: When you start to feel loneliness creep up on you - what are those accompanying thoughts?
“I’m such a loser”
“I hate this feeling”
“I might as well just eat”
“I have nothing else to do anyway”
“Fuck it! I’ll just eat the whole pack and sort it out tomorrow”
It’s uncomfortable to hear these thoughts - it’s not fun or easy! And the feelings aren’t fun either. Humans LOVE to take the easiest route - we’ve been programmed that way to save energy and make it easier to survive.
And then what? Once you start to eat to drown out the feelings…
The feeling is gone! Temporarily at least.
Food solved the problem! Again, temporarily.
So it works…kinda.
But we want a better solution - something that works in the moment AND doesn’t hurt you long-term.
That begs the question:
HOW DO I STOP EMOTIONALLY EATING WHEN LONELY?
One thing you can do is learn how to self-soothe.
Self-soothing means you internally resourcing to move through the ‘negative’ emotion. It means finding it within yourself instead of using external means to calm down. Instead of going to food to make you feel safe, comfortable, and relieved - we’ll use this healing strategy:
- When you feel lonely, take a few deep breaths and notice where you are at. We want to slowwww down instead of run away.
- Name the emotion: “I’m feeling sensations of loneliness right now”. We don’t want to identify with the emotion by saying, “I am lonely”. It’s just a sensation within our body.
- Tell yourself “I am safe - it’s ok to feel what I’m feeling”. We need to remind ourselves that it’s actually OK to feel a ‘negative’ emotion. We’re so conditioned to think it’s bad and look to escape immediately.
- Notice the sensations in your body and breathe into the tension. Notice any desire to “leave your body” and retreat into your mind. Push through this by spending a few moments actually feeling what the ‘negative’ emotion feels like in your body. Is it a tightness in your stomach? Or a contraction in your chest? We want to feel it in our body instead of going to our mind to create stories out of it, like “I’m sad because I’m a loser with no friends”.
- Visualise the roots of a tree, grounding you to where you are, through the soles of your feet. Feel energy moving through you into the ground. You are safe where you are!
- Stick with it even if it’s uncomfortable. Know that it will pass soon!
- Relax into it. Breathe. Notice if the feeling shifts. It may just be a matter of moments before it passes!
- Ask what is this feeling here to teach me? What does it need most from you? If the feeling persists, ask these two questions. All emotions are clues - they’re there to tell us something. If it’s an uncomfortable emotion, it’s telling us something is a bit off. So ask it what it needs!
- Take action on that. It might be you’re feeling lonely and need to call a friend. Sometimes you can even resource an opposite emotion within yourself. You can imagine calmness / peace / love and invite it in. Allow that energy to slowly engulf the ‘negative’ one. Feel it radiate around your body.
FUN FACT ABOUT FEELING EMOTIONS
Scientifically, it’s been found that we take about 90 seconds to move through feelings. Sometimes it’s a little longer, sometimes less - but, on average, we only really feel the sensation in our body for 90 seconds. That’s not that bad, is it?!
And it’s that bodily sensation that lasts 90 seconds that’s most uncomfortable. If we can learn to hang out with it for a minute and a half, then we can definitely tolerate the emotional aspect.
But I feel lonely for more than 90 seconds? Yes, you may! But this is often due to you letting a feeling or thought to linger. You keep calling up the same memory, the same thoughts, re-firing off the same feelings. It’s the story that sticks.
And THAT is in your power. You choose whether or not to keep bringing up a memory or situation in your mind that re-lives the unwanted feelings.
ASSESS WHETHER YOU NEED TO ENRICH YOUR SOCIAL LIFE
It’s one thing to self-soothe when you feel lonely so that you don’t use food as a crutch. That’s great! But if you’re constantly feeling lonely - this might feel like an endless task.
If an emotion keeps coming up - remember the self-soothing steps above - we want to learn what we NEED and take action on that. So maybe your lesson is that you can feel that your social life is not fun and enriching. And that you need to put in more effort to prioritise this.
I know it can also be a negative loop where you’re feeling lonely, so you binge, so you feel gross, so you don’t go out, so you feel lonely…
If this is the loop you’re in - we MUST break it. One way is changing the way you respond to a binge so that you don’t feel gross for too long after and don’t let that affect your actions.
You push through that discomfort and put more effort into going out. Make it a priority to schedule in meeting friends - or new ones if you need!
Humans are social creatures - even the most introverted of us! Socialising is a basic need that needs to be met. So it’s your job to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself by enjoying time spent with other people.
I know it can be hard work and time-consuming but it’s going to be worth it when you’re no longer binge-eating every time you feel lonely.
Prevention is better than cure, I always say!
HOW DO YOU WANT TO SPEND ALONE TIME?
Something we often do when struggling with a problem is focus on what we DON’T want. We rarely focus on what we do want. As in, have you actually spent some time imagining how you DO want to spend your evenings? What would an ideal evening spent alone look and feel like for you? I encourage you to journal out an ideal evening alone and visualise it. (I give you guided visualisations in the 30 Day Reboot by the way). Then take small actions to start to make that dream a reality - even if you still end up emotionally eating - that’s ok! It’s about closing the gap slowly.
DO YOU NEED MORE HELP TO STOP BINGE EATING?
I know learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions is a big task. It’s stripping away everything we’ve been taught so far - to run away from ‘bad’ emotions! But it’s worth it! It’ll help you let go of the need to binge and finally be free.
If you want more support in your food healing journey - join my 30 Day Reboot where I guide you step-by-step towards food freedom.
P.S. Within the course, we go through self-soothing in much more detail along with guided meditations to help you implement the tools like the steps in this article.
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