Binging. It’s a vicious cycle, full of good intentions derailed.
It’s also something I understand firsthand.
As a child and teen, food was my comfort for many reasons. As an introvert in an extroverted world, it’s hard to be the odd one out. Eating for comfort and to numb feelings takes on a life of its own—as the scale goes up so does the ostracism from others. I was now a too-plump introvert—the studious last kid chosen for team sports in gym class. Enter my newest friend, anorexia.
And while the resulting weight loss certainly helped me to fit in, while in college, a new problem began: weight yo-yoing up and down.
My story is not that different from the men and women I see every day as an eating disorder therapist.
While their backgrounds may not mirror mine exactly, their struggles do. And through our shared stories, I’ve learned that the key to keeping the train from veering off the track is to tune in to how nurturing food can be, and reconnect to our body’s natural hunger cues.
To help myself as well as countless others, I’ve turned toward the East, embracing the ways that mindfulness practice can help increase somatic awareness and decrease judgment of right and wrong foods and emotions.
Binge eating does not need to continue, especially when you can put these strategies into place:
1. Eat when hungry.
Are you hungry? Mindful awareness of physical hunger is a first step. Hunger starts in your body and not your head. When you are hungry, eat.
Many people ignore their body’s hunger cues. It’s a vicious cycle: restricting then binging, then restricting because of binging. Physical hunger is our body’s communication of our most basic needs.
2. Choose mindfully.
Take the time to ask yourself what you really want. Well yes, your kids are eating chicken nuggets, but is that what you want for dinner? If the answer is “yes,” great! Have them. But don’t have them out of convenience.
Many times binging occurs as a result of deprivation. Prepare the food, sit, and savor the meal. Notice how it looks, tastes, smells—even the many textures of your foods. Make each meal as satisfying as possible. Your body will feel nourished and nurtured.
3. Slow down and eat with awareness.
Binging generally equates with rapid eating. Remember, dinner is not the Coney Island hotdog contest. Rapid eating is the opposite of mindfulness.
Slow down. Give yourself at least 30 full minutes to eat each meal. Put your fork down. This takes practice, but will allow time for your body to become aware of satiety cues.
4. Know there are no bad foods.
Don’t deprive yourself of foods you crave; the cravings will just increase, and eventually you will binge. Be aware of portion size and eat with moderation. Order appropriately, such as a personal pizza rather than a full-size pizza. Any food can be mindful.
5. Ride the wave.
Mindfulness can help us to cope and to manage the emotions that often cause us to want to binge. Emotions come in, and go out. Observe; don’t act.
I like to think of mindful awareness as “riding a wave.” Difficulties soon pass, much the same way as waves come in and out on our favorite beach.
6. Calm yourself.
Mindfulness can create a sense of calm. It helps us to connect with our bodies and souls, and reminds us to breathe.
When you are stressed, connect with breath. Remember, the most common cause of binge or emotional eating is stress. By spending some time mindfully breathing, you can create an atmosphere of calm that makes it hard to binge.
7. Take stock of your “whys.”
Many of us act on hunger before asking what we are hungry for. In other words, are you hungry for food or something else? Are you eating to feed an emotion? If so, there’s probably a better way to soothe yourself, like a warm bath or soft music.
If you are hungry for a hug or touch, those Doritos will never really satisfy. Turn to your significant other, a cuddly pet, or even a soft blanket instead.
8. Let go of your judgment of your feelings.
Know that feelings are okay. Binging is often a way to stuff our feelings. Just like we may consider foods good and bad, we sometimes think of emotions as good or bad. All emotions are all okay in a mindfulness approach.
If you experience a more difficult emotion, such as anger or sadness, allow yourself to feel and process your emotion instead of stuffing it down with food. Sit with the feelings, talk about them, or journal about them. Remember that even feelings such as anger are productive.
9. Be present in your environment.
It’s hard to binge when you are feeling nurtured. Eating is not just about food, but also about our settings and how they make us feel.
Light candles, get out your favorite table cloth, and set the scene. A beautiful setting makes for an enjoyable meal and nurtures your spirit.
10. Pair your mindfulness with gratitude.
Before eating, make it a practice to offer gratitude toward yourself, your food, and the many hands involved in bringing the food to the table. If you are feeling especially brave, offer special gratitude toward your body, which keeps you healthy and is that temple you get only one of.
Gratitude makes us more aware, and disrupts urges to binge and overeat.
While there is no one “right” way to be a mindful consumer (of food of course), these practices can put us on the right track, helping to halt the cycle of binge eating, restricting, and body hatred.