The Unspoken Side of Anorexia Recovery: Strategies to Stop Binge-Eating – Part 2

by | Jan 16, 2017 | Self Help

The Unspoken Side of Anorexia Recovery: Strategies to Stop Binge-Eating – Part 2

by | Jan 16, 2017 | Self Help

This is Part 2 in a series discussing the unspoken side of anorexia recovery: binge eating. Part 3 will focus on developing a mindset that reduces the negative impact that dieting and body weight/shape obsession has on our lives from the perspective of an anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating survivor. Please apply appropriate self-care strategies and/or seek professional support while reading the following if you are experiencing an eating disorder or supporting someone who lives with an eating disorder.

In my last post I talked about my experiences with bulimia and binge-eating that arose after receiving treatment for anorexia. When I binged, I ate large amounts of food within a short amount of time and then attempted to cover-up or compensate for the food eaten. While eating I felt completely out of control and after eating I felt intense shame.

I was binge-eating on a daily basis for years while my health rapidly declined and my relationships fell apart. It’s only in the past year that I’ve consistently reduced my binge-eating to once every month or so with huge benefits. Now, I can honestly say that I eat whatever I like, when I like, enjoyed with people I love.

The following are some of the strategies that worked for me as well as some research-based books. I’m sharing them with you to cut through all the crap that is out there and show you that, even when you make the same mistake over and over again like I did, things can work out. They do get better. You are not a lost cause.

First, understanding the causes of binge-eating can help. There are three major causes:

  1. Physical deprivation. You are not eating enough food or enough food in regular amounts, thereby causing a physiological response in the body that drives you to eat.
  2. Not knowing how to self-soothe appropriately in response to emotional discomfort. When you feel sadness, anger, boredom, anxiety or any strong emotion, you respond by eating.
  3. Stress and accompanying tiredness. You are facing difficult life problems – death, illness, relationship breakdown, high work demands, etc. – and, through no fault of your own, will encounter overwhelming stress.

There are a few practical strategies to reduce binge-eating that are recommended by the vast majority of health professionals and researchers.

1. Eat regular meals of an adequate size

Regular meals will help to regulate your feelings of hunger and fullness and reduce binges that are in response to feeling too hungry.

To discover a complete program that has helped many people reduce their binge-eating, I recommend Overcoming Binge-Eating (Second Edition) by Christopher Fairburn, PhD.

2. Learn to accept and sit with difficult emotions

Decades of research tells us that trying to push away thoughts (suppression) is not helpful to removing unwanted thoughts and emotions. As hard as it may be, sitting with difficult emotions is far better. You can sit with difficult emotions by practicing techniques like difusion (non-judgmentally noticing the thought and letting it pass you).

To read more about these techniques I can personally vouch for The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. This book really helped me understand emotions and how to cope with emotions I didn’t like.

3. Prioritise your rest and relaxation

You can introduce more rest in your life by reducing stress. This can be achieved by tackling problems head-on through active problem-solving rather than allowing them to grow. Active problem-solving asks you to write down all the possible solutions to a problem, assess their pros and cons, decide which strategy you will use to address the problem, and then reflect on how the strategy went (for a worksheet, click here). I still use active problem-solving for everything from work conflicts to major life decisions.

Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richardson is a book I recommend for introducing self-care into your life and increasing your ability to cope with challenges that come your way.

4. Replace binge-eating with activities you enjoy

A good starting point with this strategy is to identify specific times and circumstances where you are likely to binge-eat, and to write these down. Then, schedule in activities that you enjoy and will keep you occupied (e.g., going for a walk, calling a friend, putting on a face-mask).

In my situation, I eventually worked out that the combination of not having eaten enough during the day and not having anything to do after dinner would almost guarantee I would binge. I put a plan in place each night of what I would do after dinner, which helped to break the habit of binge-eating and made me feel better about myself.

5. Stop criticising yourself

This is an absolutely essential strategy and it means no name-calling, no bullying, no punishment. Speak to yourself like you would a best friend. I used to believe the following about myself, that I was: defective, a monster, repulsive, gross, unworthy of love, and unlovable. These thoughts directly led to me pushing away people and continuing to hurt myself through binge-eating. Over the years, I committed to stop criticising myself once and for all. I know that I’m not any of the things I thought I once was – and I know that neither are you.

To learn more about how to practice more self-acceptance with respect to your body shape and weight, read If Not Dieting, Then What? by Dr Rick Kausman.

Summary

Remember, what sounds simple on the page may not come easily to you. It took me years to continue to eat regular meals even after a binge the previous night. It also took me years to stop trying to lose weight and focus on reducing the binge-eating. I eventually worked out that my weight wasn’t the problem, the problem were my endless attempts to change my weight and body shape.

Now, I understand that my weight matters so very little to who I am as a person. It’s feels far more purposeful to give my attention to hobbies and passions outside of weight-loss, and to focus on creating memorable experiences with people who make me happy, rather than unhappily trying to contort my body into a package it doesn’t want to be in. My body is perfect just the way it is.

Books mentioned in this post:

  • Overcoming Binge-Eating (Second Edition) by Christopher Fairburn. This book has an evidence-based program shown to work with many people for reducing binge-eating.
  • The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. This book really helped me understand emotions and how to cope with emotions I didn’t like.
  • If Not Dieting, Then What? by Dr Rick Kausman. This book really opened up my eyes to the uselessness of dieting and gave me a new, non-judgmental language for how to relate to my body and food.
  • Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richardson. This book really helped me improve my assertiveness, improve my feelings of self-worth, and identify what I really wanted from my life. I still use the exercises today.

If you require support after reading this post, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or eating disorder support organisation, the Butterfly Foundation, on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).

Please note that the strategies described in this post may not be relevant to you or your circumstances. Consult with your health professional to determine the best way to make positive changes in your life.