How to recognise and reverse the habit of Overeating & Binge-eating
As a female and someone who always tended to eat my
emotions with foods that never nourished me, I have always had a
pattern of over-eating when feeling stressed or unhappy. I think a
lot of people have this same pattern of behaviour but they feel
embarrassed or ashamed to admit it, but it's surprising how common
Through my own health & fitness journey, I have discovered that you can actually change this habit. It takes time, persistence and practising self-control when it comes to replacing the old habit but it can be done. I am now free of that destructive behaviour and have learnt from my own personal weight loss and body shape transformation that embedding new positive and maintainable habits as well as learning about and changing your relationship with food that these are the basic key elements of achieving you mind and body in balance.
What is Overeating?
Overeating is not the same as binge-eating and typically occurs in more public and social situations.
It could either be stuffing your face when you've missed a meal when you are feeling absolutely ravenous or letting your "cheat meal" turn into a complete cheat day of complete over indulgence… the days where you almost eat everything in the house so that "naughty food "is gone! It's that feeling of eating for the sake of eating, excessive overeating.
How do we recognise it?
It's where we have a lack of discipline when it comes to our normal portion control meaning we continually overconsume more food than what out body actually requires, exceeding our macros excessively with mindless eating. It can leave us feeling guilty or regretful after. Your scale weight will likely be going upwards and your clothes will probably feel tighter.
Why is it a problem?
Overeating is certainly the less troublesome of the two behaviours but it is still alarming as it is so common and can quickly become an everyday habit if we are not careful and aware of our actions and triggers. Our body adapts to the large portions, so once you start piling on your plate or sneaking in those extra treats, it can take a little while to get back to the portions you should be having and it will mean you need to lose that little bit of weight you have now put on.
How can you avoid it?
- Use exercise instead of eating! You always come home feeling more energised and a little less "heavy" in the mind after any sort of exercise, so use that "high "to tune into how much better your mind and body feels after that workout and follow that feeling up by filling your body with good fuel. You are less likely to want to eat poorer choices as well after you exercise and studies have shown that your hunger actually decreases for a short period post-exercise so this is where you can capitalise on re-training your habits two-fold.
- Don't let yourself get to the point of starving and needing anything you can grab to eat, that's where our judgement lapses. Once you reach that point it means we want to overcompensate for that feeling of hunger like we have lost ground to cover. Always try to plan ahead & get good quality meals in whenever you can. And if it's not possible, reach for something you know is not only a better option but something that will keep you going, not something refined with empty calories that won't sustain you.
- Eat mindfully. Don't sit on your phone distracted while you eat or on the couch watching TV, tune into the flavour and texture of your food as you eat it. Eating is a process which most of us enjoy so focus on doing just that and eat and enjoy it.
- Enjoy the food you prepare, cook and eat. There is no point eating boring salads or veggie sticks for snacks e.t c that doesn't appeal to your appetite which only then causes you to race to the fridge for a late night sugary snack. Cook things that you genuinely enjoy eating so it reduces the risk of you choosing the poorer choices as you are constantly feeling deprived which then cause you to overeat.
- Reflect on the feeling you've experienced previously after overeating - does it ever make you feel good? Most of the time the answer is no. You feel sluggish, bloated and somewhat guilty for eating all of that extra food, draw on those feelings and use that for self-control to steer away from making the same repetitive decision where you know the outcome is only going to be unfavourable towards your goals and mental well-being as well.
What is Binge eating?
Binge eating while technically the same process as overeating is usually non-hungry behaviour that is fuelled by restrictive food rules and tends to be secretive or in private. This can be fuelled by feelings of disgrace and self-loathing and will often occur when we are not actually hungry. Sometimes it can be driven by negative and depressive emotions or even just by enduring stress or uncertainty in your life.
Why is it a problem?
When we turn to binge eating it conveys a message about our relationship with food and the type of nutrients we are filling our bodies with. A restrictive diet that demonises certain food groups or that cuts out everything you enjoy eating has the potential to lead you down this destructive and dangerous path. It's a classic case of wanting what you "can't have" or '" aren't allowed "to have. Inevitably that quickly becomes exactly what your body wants and craves. All of a sudden demolishing an entire pizza + a packet of chips & 6 chocolate bars is all you can think about and this urge can be overwhelming and hard to resist.
How do we recognise it?
Binge eating is a little more dangerous as it can result in guilt, shame and feelings of being completely out of control and often stems from a more emotional place rather than mindlessly overindulging and piling up your plate. People who binge eat may have problems with impulse control, managing and expressing their feelings, low self-esteem, loneliness, isolation and body dissatisfaction.
When you are in a cycle of eating poorly, your body very quickly
can become addicted to eating highly processed foods packed with
refined sugars and preservatives. This is when the bad craving
cycle begins. The good news is though, once you start to re-set and
take a healthier approach eating real food with fresh ingredients,
you start to lose that desire to binge eat because your body will
be taking in so many nutrients it was previously missing.
The cycle of binge eating looks like this:
1. Feeling deprived
2. Overwhelming urge to eat
4. Feel out of control and ashamed
5. Diet to regain control
How can you avoid it?
Many people are able to recover from binge eating disorder and reverse the unhealthy effects. The first step is to re-evaluate your relationship with food.
Shift your paradigm: Set yourself a goal each week NOT to "diet "but to use the 80/20 rule.
80% of your food should be healthy and packed with real and wholesome foods. Then for the other 20% use this for 'mindful indulgences'' - Something you absolutely love to eat (it can be chocolate, hot chips, ice cream, a meat pie.. whatever you like! Just make sure its your true food love).
This is where you have that balance and enjoy that chosen food because life is meant to be enjoyed.
Then get back to your normal, healthy eating routine straight after. Don't let the indulgence snowball into a binge by letting it overflow into the next meal. Once you have enjoyed it, let it go! Try to stick to your good eating regime for another week before enjoying your next mindful indulgence again and soon enough this will become habit.
This way we are still having the things we enjoy but in moderation. If you stick to this rule this eliminates the feelings of guilt and being out on control.
We also need to recognise that one of the most common reasons
for binge eating is an attempt to manage unpleasant emotions such
as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. When you have
a bad day, food can seem like it can fill a void. Binge eating can
temporarily make feelings such as stress, sadness, anxiety,
depression, and boredom dissipate but the relief is very
The next time you feel the urge to binge, instead of giving in to that feeling, take a moment to stop and investigate what's going on internally. Identify the emotion you're feeling, accept the experience you're having, avoidance and resistance only make negative emotions stronger. Instead, try to accept what you're feeling without judging yourself. Question things further and explore what's going on. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kinds of thoughts are going through your head? Next is to try and distance yourself. Realize that you are NOT your feelings. Emotions are passing events, they will pass. They don't define who you are.
As you practice to allow yourself to ride the wave of your feelings without resisting them you resist the urge to binge, you will then start to realize that you don't have to give in. There are other ways to cope. Even emotions that feel intolerable are only temporary and they will quickly pass if you stop fighting them. You are still in control and you can choose how to respond.
Other tips include to help with embedding good habits are:
- Avoid temptation. You're more likely to overeat if you have junk food and unhealthy snacks in the house. Remove the temptation by clearing your fridge and cupboards of your favourite binge foods.
- Listen to your body. Learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. If you ate recently and don't have a rumbling stomach, you're probably not hungry. Give the craving time to pass.
- Focusing on what you're eating. Have you binged in an almost trance-like state, not even enjoying what you're consuming? Slow down and savour the textures and flavours. Not only will you eat less, you'll enjoy it more.
- Eating regularly. Don't wait until you're starving. Stick to scheduled mealtimes, as skipping meals often leads to binge eating later in the day.
- Don't avoid eating fat. Good fats can actually help keep you from overeating and gaining weight. Try to incorporate healthy fat at each meal to keep you feeling satisfied and full.
- Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you're bored, distract yourself. Take a walk, call a friend, read, or do some exercise.
We all need a balanced (and healthy) approach to our diet otherwise we will forever be battling an unhealthy relationship with food. Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits, when we exercise, are physically strong, energetic, well rested, connected with like-minded people and managing stress without relying on food we are on a good path for optimum well-being.
It can become exceptionally difficult to overcome binge eating or a food addiction. Unlike other addictions, food is necessary for survival so we cannot avoid or replace it but instead we need to develop a healthier relationship with it. This relationship need to be based on meeting your nutritional needs while encompassing moderation, balance and most importantly enjoyment.
The most important thing to remember is you can learn to break the binge eating cycle, develop a healthier relationship with food, and feel good about yourself again. Both overeating and binge eating can happen, and that's ok. It makes you human. Having slip ups like these don't make you a terrible person, they may slightly set you back temporarily, but if you make these conscious decisions and ask for help you can quickly turn things around.