Binge eating is usually something that people do alone; they hide and indulge, only to feel disgusted with themselves moments later. Whether you feel you’re an overeater or an emotional eater – this information will help you understand what keeps you eating when you’re not hungry and learn how to end that vicious cycle.

How I got into trouble…

It all started years ago when I began counting calories. I was brainwashed into the whole “clean” eating phenomenon. I read every bodybuilding and fitness related magazine I could get my meat hooks on and took my eating regimen very seriously. I was so obsessed with the clean eating mentality that I threw all other sanity to the wind. I somehow adopted the assumption that pizza, burgers, pasta, white bread and any other fast or “dirty” food would only be stored as fat and would be suboptimal in terms of my goals.

Clean eating wasn’t so bad when I was in a muscle building phase because I was eating plenty of food and kept full most of the time. However, during this time I developed a really sour relationship with food. I found myself constantly craving the food I was restricting. I always had food on the brain – it had become an obsession.

Bingeing wasn’t too much of a problem when in a muscle building or ‘bulking phase’. On a fat loss diet though, it was my worst nightmare. I severely restricted my caloric intake 6 days of the week. Sunday to Friday I followed a very strict meal plan and because of this restriction I decided to allow one cheat meal per week (as per magazine advice)… This was an absolute disaster. Cue train wreck…

Again, as per magazine suggestion I was permitted to have 1 cheat day per week. Cheat day always started off with a big plate of greasy breakfast foods soaked in grease covered in syrup and peanut butter. Bacon, waffles, pancakes, eggs — you name it I ate it. For lunch I would pig out on whatever was around. Sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly on toast, cookies… Basically whatever I could find that was “dirty” and not allowed into my clean eating safe haven. And for dinner it was usually a race to see how sick I could make myself. I would eat an entire pizza, then I would top it off with ice cream, brownies, cookies and anything else sugary I could get my paws on. I literally ate myself sick on many occasions.

The next few days post cheat day were always filled with overexercising, calorie restriction and feelings of guilt and anxiety. The mirror wasn’t flattering for approximately half the week as I usually was holding a ton of water and the scale always revealed an 8-10lb weight swing. I began to combat this with overusing laxatives and other supplemental means to rid my body of the extra calories. I went on detox after detox, diet after diet in desperate attempt to stop my binging.

So what did I do? I sought help through self-study and personal research. Binge eating disorder was not my first rodeo in the realm of eating disorders. As a highly competitive dancer in my teen years I dabbled in bulimia and anorexia. That was the frustrating thing about this whole binge ordeal – I knew that what I was doing was unhealthy and could not be maintained long term. Yet week after week I was victim to my own hand. I began seeking out those in the field who were smarter and more experienced than I. I had to make a decision, I could believe all the clean eating dogma that was leading to my bingeing or I could adopt a new mindset and belief system around food and change my life for the better.

It is very common to hear that the reason for your binge eating is that you don’t eat the right food. This is an easy excuse. You eat too much food. Food is the culprit! The fact that certain foods contain addictive substances doesn’t make them the root cause of food addiction. This is a classic marketing ploy trying to make you believe that “it’s not your fault – it’s because you’re the victim of something else,” such as information overload or misinformation about food.

I’m not a savvy marketer so I’m going to give you my straight, honest opinion on binge-eating disorder. It’s not your fault, but it IS your responsibility. As long as you believe you’re a powerless victim of foods, you are at the mercy of your binge-eating monster.

So the first step to get out of the binge-eating loop is to stop seeing yourself as a powerless victim of external addictive substances. I may not know you personally, but I can tell you this without a doubt: You are much more powerful than you think. And “with great power comes great responsibility”. You have a responsibility towards yourself to find a way to get better and to stop leading the unhealthy, stressful lifestyle that comes with any form of addiction.

I do agree that some foods cause withdrawal symptoms similar to drug-withdrawal symptoms, and that this may worsen an already unhealthy eating regimen. It’s certainly a good idea to avoid consuming sugar-filled foods and sodas, too many cookies, too much pizza … because they tend to cause withdrawal symptoms or mood swings. However, I do not believe these foods are the root cause of binge eating, I have binged on yams, fruit and other ‘clean foods’.

So why can’t you stop binge eating?

If the root of the addiction is not just the foods, then what is it? I believe that the number one reason you can’t stop binge eating lies in the pleasure you associate with a binge and the belief that you won’t be able to cope without it – or, more accurately, the temporary suppression of pain it produces. This pain is not a physical pain. It’s an emotional wound that keeps bleeding stress, anger, sadness, or any other uncomfortable feeling. You have unconsciously learned to alleviate this pain when there is too much to handle at one time; this is when you’re used to resorting to food to generate temporary release.

Binge eaters hide because often one of the main underlying emotions of binge eating is shame or a feeling of unworthiness. They are usually described as “overgivers” or overly nice people. You are unique, and this may be slightly different for you, but there is a fair chance that some form of underlying shame or unworthiness may be driving your need to overeat. What most people feel is some form of anxiety and an obsession with trying to find relief.

How to avoid binge eating?

Your obsession blocks you from focusing on what’s happening inside of you. Instead of giving yourself the love and care you deserve, you give your attention to food (or to whatever is the object of your addiction) and the promise of the relief it brings you. To end compulsive eating permanently, you must identify what you are trying to get from food that you could give yourself instead . Which feelings are you trying so hard to suppress that you’d rather destroy your self-esteem than face it?

Binge eating is merely a destructive strategy to keep you away from the core of yourself and away from facing your pain. The problem with avoiding your pain is that it will never really go away; you’ll keep on binge eating until you start really looking at your feelings with care.

If you suffer from BED or compulsive overeating I suggest working through the following 3 steps. This is what worked for me. I am not saying it will ‘cure’ you or free you from the control of the binge monster but it may help you strategize.

1. Make a choice.

2. Experiment

3. Seek accountability.

Before step 1 can even be attempted you must deal with the messy emotional issue deep down in your core. You are powerful… you are worthy… and you can learn to develop a healthy relationship with food. I am still a work in progress — change takes time; but I assure you day by day it becomes easier.

With love from the Trench kitchen,