How To Stop The Urge To BingeAug 17, 2021
One of the most common questions I get as a binge-eating recovery expert is…
How do I stop the urge to binge?
How do you manage that moment when you go into autopilot zombie mode? I know this feeling all too well after ten years struggling with binge-eating so I’m going to help you out in this post.
WE'RE GOING TO GO THROUGH
- What the urge to binge is
- What causes it
- How to stop/prevent it
So what is that urge to binge? Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about that. It’s that feeling when…
You’ve been doing your thing all day, keeping busy at work/class, and the evening starts to roll around. Suddenly those thoughts start to pop in. It’s almost like the devil on your shoulder saying, “Maybe I should just go binge. Maybe I should just order that pizza. Maybe I should just drop by the shops on the way home from work”.
At first it just seems like this innocent thought that pops in. But pretty damn soon it snowballs and it feels impossible to fight off. You might try to battle with it, to logic or reason your way out of it - to tell yourself, “Hey, come on, we've done this before, we know this doesn't end well. Don't do this!”
But nothing seems to work and the urge just gets stronger and stronger. Once those thoughts take hold, the accompanying feelings join them. It could be different each time, maybe anxiety because you feel so out of control, like you're possessed by this autopilot zombie. Maybe it's excitement because you're thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to buy some Nutella and maybe cookies too and some chips! It’s going to be delicious”. Your body starts looking forward to that dopamine hit from the high-fat, high-sugar foods, your mouth might even start watering thinking about it.
Maybe you’re feeling scared; scared of what’s going to happen, how much you’re going to eat, of the subsequent weight gain.
Maybe you’re angry that this urge is even something you have to deal with. So a lot of feelings come with it. Eventually this urge is so strong that we give in. We rush to the supermarket, grab everything we need, rush home. The excitement builds, you take those first few bites and it’s glorious. It’s delicious!
But then not long later you realise you're still eating it and it's not even delicious anymore, but you just can't stop. You’re stuffed but keep eating. You’re possessed!
You may notice the food supply running out and feel slight dread that this strangely enjoyable yet distressing moment is almost over.
Next thing you know you’re sitting there with empty food wrappers around thinking, “What the hell just happened? Why did I do this again?”
If you can relate to that urge, that seemingly unstoppable urge, then keep reading to find out what causes it and how to stop or prevent it.
WHAT CAUSES THE URGE TO BINGE
To put it simply, it’s caused by restriction. Let me elaborate:
When I refer to ‘restriction’, I really mean three types: physical, mental and emotional restriction. Any of these individually or a combination (as it is commonly so) can lead to that urge to binge.
Our body’s main purpose is to keep us alive. Without that, every other task is pointless. So when you restrict yourself physically for a prolonged amount of time, meaning not getting in enough calories for your body, your body is going to go into survival mode. This protective part of your body kicks in, so much so that no amount of reasoning or logic will stop you. Your body’s primary purpose becomes: GET THIS WOMAN TO EAT!
I used to tell myself, “Just hold off until tomorrow, you’ll regret it if you binge tonight”. But knowing what I know now, I see that those phrases never would have convinced my survival instinct to stop.
That’s why the urge feels so unstoppable. You’re literally fighting your body’s instincts. It’s like trying to convince yourself not to breathe after holding your breath underwater for a minute.
When we understand this we can see that the binge is a protective mechanism when it comes to physical restriction. The urgency behind it, the unstoppable nature of it, is a success!
"Thank you body for trying to keep me energised and alive!"
So next time you find yourself shaming yourself for giving in and letting the binge take over you, remember it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your body is doing its job.
So far we’ve covered under-eating but there’s also ‘perceived’ physical restriction, otherwise known as mental restriction. This is where you feel like you can’t have what you want. You have food rules that feel claustrophobic. You have a list of ‘bad’ foods that you don’t allow yourself. This is less likely to turn on that survival instinct of ‘we need to get in lots of calories...NOW!’ but it’s still likely to cause intense cravings which can feel quite similar.
Remember - we want what we can’t have. So the more you prohibit foods from a controlling, fearful place, the more you may want them.
Bingeing isn’t always even about the food though. Oftentimes, it’s down to emotional restriction - meaning suppressing your emotions, numbing and distracting through food. Or even using food to add pleasure (that dopamine hit is strong!) into the mix where otherwise you’re feeling lots of emotional pain.
Maybe you're dealing with something massive emotionally, some big trauma perhaps. Those huge events that are really difficult to deal with, that have a huge impact on your mental and physical health.
Or it could be smaller day to day stresses, anxiety, loneliness, sadness. You might be experiencing that urge to binge as your mind's way to protect you, to help you deal, distract, numb from, comfort yourself from those difficult emotions that feel really real. And they are real. They are truly felt in the body.
They feel scary, overwhelming and difficult for you to deal with. Most of us aren't taught how to deal with huge emotions or even the smaller emotions, the “negative” ones that we experience on a daily basis. So essentially, that urge to binge may be your brain’s coping mechanism when it comes to challenging emotions.
THE URGE MIGHT ALSO HAPPEN BECAUSE OF HABIT
You may be thinking, “But I’ve already lifted all of the restrictions, I’m dealing with my emotions in a healthy way. Why am I still getting that urge?”
Your brain has gone to bingeing so many times that even with the causes alleviated, you still have that wiring in your brain telling you that on a Friday night we binge.
HOW DO WE STOP THE URGE TO BINGE
How do we stop this urge that ruins our night, leaves us up all night with insomnia from the high of all the sugar consumed. That leaves us feeling so worthless, regretful and panicked the next day.
Ultimately, prevention is better than cure. I always recommend to clients - instead of trying to fight off the urge by the time it’s setting in, let’s rewind and work to prevent it. I certainly think it is possible to handle the urge to binge further into recovery when the binges are less intense (almost like overeating experiences). But to begin with, let’s work on prevention. If we can prevent, then we don’t even need to worry about fighting off any urges.
What does that look like? It’s about tending to restriction and rewiring the brain to release the habit as well.
It’s about focusing on truly lifting physical restriction - getting in plenty of food for YOUR body. That even means that if you’re exercising a lot, to refuel your body for the calories used.
For me, it meant really getting in a satiating, substantial breakfast and lunch so that by dinner time I was no longer desperate to binge. Something that amazed me in my healing journey was realising just how much food I actually could eat. I’d convinced myself over years of dieting that anything over 1,200 would make me pile on the pounds.
It turns out that it’s better to eat way more than that and not binge, than to force myself to eat less than 1,200 only to binge at night.
Lifting mental restriction really helps too. Add more diversity into your diet. Allow the foods without guilt, without labelling them morally as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Finally, work on allowing the full spectrum of human emotions in - to feel the feeling until it no longer requires to be felt. Instead of using food to run from the emotions, allow it to be felt in your body, face the feeling, learn from it.
It’s amazing what can happen when we sit with an emotion without distractions for 90 seconds. If we stay with it physiologically (i.e. feeling it in your belly / chest / throat/ wherever it is) instead of going into that loop in our mind, the feeling will dissipate quickly.
Once you’ve put in the effort to truly deal with restrictions, if the urge is still popping up, we know it’s habitual now. Because you’re no longer physically restricting, the binges should be getting less intense and less frequent. This allows for bringing more consciousness into the ‘urge to binge’ moment. Now it’s actually possible to step in and choose another path.
WHAT CAN THIS LOOK LIKE?
Notice the ‘voice’ that urges you to binge.
Avoid identifying with that voice - it is not you, it’s a part of you.
Let it play out like a tape recorder - observe it as an outsider.
Don’t interrupt the voice, fight it, resist it, just let it play out. Let it say it’s thing.
Once it’s finished its spiel, ask why do we want this? What do we really need? Maybe you do need some cake because you haven’t eaten in a while, but maybe you need some self-soothing or a walk outside. Maybe it's a bit of both. There's nothing terrible about going for food, but we want to try to consciously break the habit of going straight for it without really diving into what you need at that moment.
I like the analogy of a child having a tantrum and wanting a whole cake. We don’t tell it to shut up or try to push it away and ignore it. If we did, the child would get louder and angrier. Instead we’d find out what it needs, we soothe it, we help it make a different choice.
To fully break the habit we need consciousness (becoming aware of when the habit is kicking in), choice (choosing another path) and consistency (repeating the act of breaking the habit so build new neural pathways in the brain).
Something I would also look at is adding more enrichment into your life at the time of the day, most likely night, when you binge.
Not necessarily distracting, but adding the pleasure or joy whereby it might be missing. Oftentimes, people even fall into the bingeing from boredom or lack of pleasure and excitement. And yes, it's exciting to have those first few moments of a binge. So play the long game here as well. Look for how we can enrich your life in a very much deeper way.
ASSESS YOUR BELIEFS
The last tip is to assess any beliefs or stories you're telling yourself about what kind of person you are identifying with?
“I'm just the person who binges over the weekend”
“I just always binge in the evenings. I just can't control myself.”
All those stories that might be perpetuating this cycle. If you haven't dealt with the physical /mental restriction side of things, I wouldn't look too deeply into this assessment. Always, always, always deal with the fundamental human need of food first. But if you're still struggling with that, you're not quite sure why. Why do I have this urge? When I'm eating enough, I'm allowing myself all the foods. You might still just be trapped in this identity of I'm a binge-eater or I'm just the person who can't control herself. I just binge all the time.
To recap - prevention is better than cure. We want to prevent the urge to binge by addressing the causes; physical, mental, emotional restriction, and habit.
If you want help with this in more detail, my 30 Day Reboot course guides you through all of it in structured detail.
Or get started for FREE with my masterclass "Why You're Still Binge-Eating & How To Stop"
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