It’s not the amount of food, it’s how you eat it.

Binge eating is not defined by the amount of food you eat but by the way you eat it.

When I find myself eating something when I’m not hungry, I know it’s an indication that something else is going on. My primal, “animal” brain is triggered, or I’m responding to habitual behavior that I’ve ingrained into my brain over time.

When I’m feeling on my game, life is good, things are great – I can easily say, “no, thank you” if offered food when I’m not hungry. I am rational, I know that I do not need the extra 3 bowls of ice cream for survival (as my animal urges would try to convince me). I can stay present to my urges but allow them to pass.

But then there comes a moment when I find myself eating when I know I’m not hungry.

Last night was one of those times.

I’d worked a full 10-hour day and had wound down by preparing and eating dinner. As I washed my dishes and cleaned up, I settled down to read and suck on a few pieces of dark chocolate. This was my normal routine.

I finished the chocolate and could hear the little niggle in my brain, itching to go get another piece of chocolate. I knew I also had some sugar-free Reece cups in the freezer. It took about 30 seconds of me debating before I was up, in the kitchen, grabbing a few more pieces of chocolate and opening the small bag of Reece cups.

Back to the couch, book in my lap, chocolates melting in my mouth. I reached for another, and another…and then the chocolates and the bag of Reece cups were finished.

And…up again to the kitchen to the freezer to hunt for a second small bag of Reece cups I knew I’d stashed in the back (just in case).

After I had completed that second bag, I hardly felt more satisfied. I knew there was something else bothering me, and I was no irritated that I’d consumed so many empty calories of chocolate and Reece cups.

Compared to my chew-and-spit or binge/purge days, this amount of food hardly seemed like it would qualify as a binge. But I know now that it’s that it’s not the amount of food but the way food is eaten that constitutes a binge.

It’s how you eat it.

It might be one cookie, or a few Tootsie Rolls, or 3 pizzas. Regardless of the amount, if I eat them with urgency, desperation, and the pressing need for an altered state, I know it’s a binge. It’s a response to a triggered brain (from emotions, stress, hormones, whatever) or a brain that’s gotten really used to turning to food for pleasure and comfort.

One of the most counter-intuitive responses to binges I’ve learned is that compassion, kindness and curiosity are necessary to be able to recover. I have to be able to stay present with myself, to allow whatever emotions I’m having to come and pass. If I go into beating myself up, feeling anger or shame, I just get more triggered.

So I went to bed that night to get out of the state I was in, and woke the next morning offering curiosity to myself instead of judgement.

Having the urge to binge, or finding yourself in a binge, is your own way of getting your attention. It’s like a road sign saying, “Warning! I need attention! Notice me!”

Here’s How To Handle The Urges…

The next time you feel the urge to binge eat, give yourself a few moments to pause. It doesn’t have to be long: 2-3 minutes will do. You need to have a break in the compulsion to stop, breathe, and be gentle enough with yourself to watch your thoughts.

Notice the urges and whatever sensation the urges bring for you: anxiety? Panic? Loss or sadness? Excitement?

You can go ahead with the binge if you still want to, but now you’ve established awareness. When you have this awareness, take note of how the food tastes as you place it in your mouth. Watch your thoughts. Do you feel relief and pleasure? That’s usually my first response. As you finish, check in with yourself to see how you feel afterward. Do you feel the way you expected to? Do you feel the way you want to?

The first few times I binged (or after going for several months without binging), I felt pleasure and comfort as I ate the food I’d been avoiding for so long. It was great, and literally intoxicated my brain with feel-good chemicals. A few more times of this and I would be hooked.

Then the problem shifts from being a response to a trigger (like deprivation, stress, emotions or a situation) to being a habit. A craving of the brain for the feel-good chemicals.

Being able to watch yourself have cravings and respond to them is a massive leap of self-awareness. It’s the first move towards unraveling of the web of compulsion and habit wrapped up around food.

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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