6 Top Binge Eating Myths

Ever worry that if you keep your favorite foods in the house that you’ll “lose control” and consume way more than you want to–especially if you’re alone?

Does a long day at work end with a pint of ice cream, to relax and bring joy to the end of your day?

After skipping breakfast and lunch, do you find yourself unable to stop eating once you start, at least until you feel stuffed and miserable?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be a binge eater. Or not. When I refer to “binge eating”, I’m talking about the serious habit that can get out of control, both physically and emotionally. I’m not talking about the occasional episode of overeating.

Find out the truth about some of the most common misconceptions about binge eating, and how to get help if you’re struggling with the issue.

True or False? Binge eating means that you eat a massive amount of food at one time.

False. It’s not necessarily the amount of food you eat, but the way you eat it. Normally, though, binge eating is defined as eating an amount of food that would be considered more than most people would eat, in a short period of time, accompanied by feeling out of control or anxious about the eating. There’s also such a thing as a subjective binge. People who follow very restrictive diets can experience a subjective binge when they eat something that’s not on their “allowed” food list, even if it’s only a small amount.

True or False? All binge eaters are overweight.

False. “Not all people who binge eat are overweight or feel they struggle with their weight,” says Chevese Turner, founder and CEO of the Binge Eating Disorder Association and recovered binge eater herself. “Many people binge eat at different times throughout their lives: some in response to emotional cues and some who are perhaps enjoying a meal at a gathering and not mindful of the amount of food they are eating or how quickly.” Bottom line: It’s not about what the scales say, it’s about the behavior.

True or False? Binge eating is always emotional.

Both True and False.  Getting too hungry is one of the most common triggers for a binge. It’s definitely been one of my common triggers. This isn’t emotional, this is  biological. This is a primal urge from your brain, making sure you stay alive and healthy.

It can be emotional, however, when guilt, anxiety, loneliness or depression move in. Turning to food can be an easy way to find pleasure in the moment. From time to time, it’s normal to eat food for pleasure or comfort. As this happens, the brain releases “feel-good” chemicals in response to the pleasure. However, these brain chemicals can become addictive for some people. Then a habit forms.

True or False? If you don’t let yourself ever have sugary foods, you’ll be fine.

False. Deprivation often triggers binge eating. We avoid a food as long as we can, then give in at vulnerable moments either because we’re hungry or using food to cope with an emotion or an unmet need. Because we believe, however, that we shouldn’t eat the food we give in to, or shouldn’t use food to cope, we feel guilty or defeated. We often rationalize, “tomorrow I’ll go back on my diet” and then go hog wild.

The key to recovering from binge eating is learning how to not have to strictly avoid a food. Restriction will naturally trigger your primal brain.

Recovering from a compulsive overeating or binge eating habit involves developing a new set of behaviors around food. You have to un-train your brain from one habit and re-train it into another.

This requires becoming conscious of your urges and habits. When you’re conscious, your “higher brain” is in control (rather than your “animal” brain that just wants to hoard all the sugar it can in case there’s none available tomorrow). Your higher brain can make rational choices where you allow yourself to enjoy exactly what you want and eat in a healthy portion. Understanding your brain and noticing your thoughts gives you the power to choose your behaviors and create new habits.

True or False? Binge Eating isn’t an eating disorder like anorexia and bulimia.

False. As someone who has gone through all three, I can assure you that each one is a disorder. While the physical consequences of binge eating disorder may be less “severe” than bulimia or anorexia, the psychological and emotional effects are still as vital. Most people don’t realize, however, that binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. It’s estimated to afflict over 15 million Americans, more women than men. However, I caution you to not get stuck in the labels. Here’s why.

True or False? Giving yourself permission to binge may help you stop binge eating.

True. It seems contradictory, but giving yourself permission to binge can actually help stop you from doing it. This was a method that worked in my recovery. Here’s how it works: When you feel a binge coming on and don’t think any other option will work to calm you, tell yourself it’s OK to binge–with the requirement to stay present to your thoughts. (It’s easy to “check out” and go into autopilot when binging.)

Then, pick out what you want to eat and find a comfortable spot to enjoy your food. Finally, eat–but the key is to stay present the entire time. Focus on the food, savor every bite, really make it worth it. Eat until you reach “enough”. If you’re truly indulging without distraction, you will reach this point. It may be subtle (especially at first). Like anything, it takes practice to learn to respond to it and form a new habit.

After you have finished, the next critical component is to be kind to yourself. Like over-the-top: give yourself a bath, go for a massage, take a trip, go buy yourself a new dress…whatever it is that makes you feel doted upon. Loving yourself is a ninja move because it’s the direct opposite of what you will want to do. It takes strength and audacity to do it anyway.

The more you love and nourish yourself in this way, the more you’re teaching yourself that you are not “bad” or “wrong” or “weak”. You’re re-programming your subconscious, which has endured years of self flagellating. When you feed your mind thoughts that you are bad, weak and wrong, you will continue to pour fuel into the fire. There’s no way you can re-wire and get a different result if you continue to do the same thing.

If you want to learn how to break through your habit of overeating or binge eating, my Binge Eating Breakthrough ebook is for you. You'll learn powerful tools and distinctions to be able to understand and overcome your urges to eat more than you want. You'll also learn step-by-step strategies for managing your cravings and feeling control with food.

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