You’re sitting in a quiet house, yet the noise in your head’s deafening. A bag of cookies screams at you from the kitchen. Maybe you’ve already tried filling up on celery, carrots, hummus, cucumbers… anything other than cookies. Or maybe you buried the cookies, hoping out of sight out of mind. Perhaps you went to the other side of the house, trying desperately to distract yourself from the cookies. Yet no matter what you do, the cookies call you. You break down vowing to eat only one. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. Before you know it, all that’s left of the cookies are the empty package. Some crumbs. And piles of guilt and shame. Once again you ask yourself, “Why can’t I stop binging?”
Do you relate?
If so, you’ve probably tried everything to stop. Maybe you’ve followed a strict meal plan. Made lists of coping skills to use instead of eating. Every plan you can get your hands on. No doubt you’ve tried beating yourself up time and time again after a binge.
There are as many “stop binge eating” programs out there as there are diets. And unfortunately in our thin obsessed culture, binge eating is often seen as a horrible problem that must be fixed.
But they’ve got it all wrong.
The problem is not binge eating. It never was and it never will be. The problem is actually restriction that happens long before any binge.
A binge is your body’s natural reaction to being deprived of what it needs: enough food.
Yes, you read that correctly. I don’t believe we binge because we have deeply rooted food issues. It’s not because we’re addicted to food. Have no self control. Or because we are bad, lazy, or weak.
If you can’t stop binging, it is NOT because there is something terribly wrong with you.
We binge because our bodies need nourishment. And our bodies are incredibly wise and resilient.
The moment we start to restrict food, our brains focus on getting more of it. Ever heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment? In 1944 researchers starved a group of men who’d been deemed psychologically healthy before the experiment. For six months they were only allowed to consume 1,600 calories a day.
As time went by, the men in the study became obsessed with food.
They collected recipes, daydreamed, and talked about food constantly. Irritability, mood swings, behavior changes, and even aggression was observed in them. These issues did resolve about three months after they began eating enough every day.
However, once they began eating as much as they wanted, many men experienced significant changes in their food behaviors. They described enormous urges to eat, obsessions with food, and binging past the point of sickness. Over and over again. None of these participants had a history of ever binging before the study began.
Even 8 months after the study was over and the participants had regained any weight they’d lost, they still reported binging. They said that despite feeling full, they often couldn’t stop eating.
The key to stop binge eating is simple.
So here’s the kicker. Binge eating happens in reaction to starving ourselves. To restricting calories, cutting out foods, and trying to control what we eat.
The exact goal- to control our food, results in the opposite of our intention.
The more we try to eat less, the more likely we are to eat more.
This concept has been explained by many professionals in the field. Isabel Foxen Duke uses a bow and arrow analogy to explain it. The further you pull a bow back, the farther the arrow is going to shoot. Meaning, the more you restrict food, the larger your binges are going to be.
Eating is a physiological experience. Getting nourishment is a need our body has to survive. When we are starved, our bodies experience this as a threat to survival. Our brains begin obsessing about eating and the cookies literally start calling to us.
There is an emotional component to this as well. When we label something as “bad” or “off limits’ immediately we have an urge to have more of it. To dieters, this phenomenon is often referred to as the last supper mentality. Basically, when we label a food as “bad” our subconscious realizes that pretty soon we’re not going to allow that food anymore. So our brains tell our bodies to eat it now before it’s taken away. This translates to a binge.
It’s also important to note the amount of calories the participants in the Minnesota Starvation Study were starved on was 1600. Many diets today touted as “healthy” are well below this number. And the amount of calories that a healthy adult needs is far beyond this number. And every body is different.
You can’t find out from a magazine, an article online, a formula, or your friend how many calories your own unique body needs every day.
The Key to Stop Binging
So, the one most important step you must take in order to stop binging is to stop restricting. You have to make sure you are eating enough. It is that simple.
But it really isn’t simple to do, is it? Why? Because we’ve all been brainwashed to believe it is our job to shrink our bodies by avoiding yummy foods. By turning down that cookie. And by stopping eating the moment we approach feeling some what full.
In order to stop binging we must begin allowing all foods. Eating until we’re full. And satisfied. Three times a day. Plus snacks. Every. Single. Day.
If you’re resistant to this idea, you’re not alone. We think it’s our job to control and limit our foods to make sure we stay small enough. Notice your resistance.
Sadly, in our weight and diet obsessed world, the idea of eating until we’re full and satisfied every single meal is often terrifying. Learning to care for our bodies while rejecting the myth that we’re supposed to be small is hard. This work is counter culture.
Recognizing that bodies are supposed to be diverse and come in all shapes and sizes goes against the current systems in place. Patriarchy, racism, healthism, sexism, along with other oppressive systems all reinforce this idea that we must be thin to be “good enough”. To be loved. To be accepted. And to be healthy. These are all lies we’re brainwashed into believing.
The unrealistic beauty standards we’re constantly blasted with only make this work harder to do.
It takes courage, strength, wisdom, and connection with our bodies to stand up to diet culture and take our lives back.
But it IS possible. And it’s the key to freedom with food.
Remember that in order to find freedom from food obsessions and binging, you must try something new. Start with nourishing your body. Giving her what she needs. Try caring for her with kindness and respect. Because really, we all deserve that.