The is something that all people, who have once been very large, have in common…. We all ate more than our bodies needed or could cope with. This is just fact. In order to gain body fat, you must be in a caloric metabolic surplus. For most, if not all of these people (and I openly include myself in this too), one route cause for over eating, is food binges on a regular occasion.
Now the cause of these binges can vary from one emotional issue to another, but they are usually all related to some emotional stress, at some point in their life, in which they turned to food as a coping mechanism. The stress that was present may have since past, but the behaviour characteristics that they have developed in this time, hang around for a period of time until they are broken, resolved or in some way managed if they aren’t able to be broken.
Putting my personal experience to one side for a moment, and purely looking at all clients whom I have worked with who are, or once were, significantly overweight – I can drill down and find the route emotional cause. Now I’m in no way qualified to professionally treat these clients from a psychological perspective, but I have certainly built up a number of coping mechanisms both personally and professionally that a lot of clients have found helpful between the time they work with me and seeking professional help from a psychologist or even a psychiatrist – depending on the extremity of the route cause.
THE URGE TO BINGE
The physical urge to binge is actually very insignificant compared to the emotional/mental urge to binge. What do I mean by this…?
Anyone who has had a high carbohydrate meal, or high sugar meal, will relate to the high blood sugar spike and proceeding blood sugar crash that follows…. This is the physical urge to binge. The body now craves sugar/carbs like crazy when you’re experiencing a blood sugar crash. The body isn’t stupid, the body is now experiencing a stressful state where it wants to regain homeostasis. Therefore you will physically crave sugar to bring the body back into neutral blood sugar levels. However, what usually happens is people then over consume sugar once again and the cycle continues.
This is actually very easy to “treat/fix”… You go to bed, wake up and you’re pretty much going to be back to a neutral state. To prevent this cycle once again, you simply cut right down on simple sugars and/carbs for a period of time.
However, the emotional reason as to why we crave/binge on carb dense foods is usually the trigger…. The physical urge is then the perpetual gun that keeps the high/crash cycle continuing for a length of time. This then contributes further to you feeling worse and worse and adding to the emotional triggers which then, once again, spirals out of control.
Now these vary massively from person to person. They can be as simple (and I use that term with no disrespect or to belittle someone’s trigger, but in comparison to more extreme triggers they are simpler in comparison):-
– Having a minor accident and becoming depressed in rehabilitation
– Mild childhood bullying at school
– Parents divorce
To name a few….
Or they can be as complex and serious as:-
– Childhood sexual abuse
– Losing a close family member/s, husband or wife
– Major physical trauma, just as losing a limb/s
– Rape or murder
…again to name a few.
However, regardless of how “simple” or “complex” the triggers may be, the resulting binges can be very similar and thus coping mechanisms for either trigger level can help and even fix the behaviour lifestyle patterns that seem so hard to break.
Now that we have learnt that a binge is usually caused from an emotional trigger and then perpetuated by the physical effects, we can analyse the start of a binge knowing that if we can stop the initial foot steps to a binge, then we can prevent the physical spiral and stop the binge – or at least significantly reduce the severity of the calorie surplus that can happen.
– FINDING THE TRIGGER AND FACING IT
The ultimate way to prevent an emotional binge is to deal with the route cause of the emotional stress, address it and really face it personally. This can usually be the hardest element for everyone. Sometimes the user isn’t aware of the trigger because they blocked it out and buried it, due it being so hurtful and stressful. Or the user is aware of the emotional trigger but finds it hard to discuss or face it. Or the user is in pure denial and refusing to even look for a trigger and place the blame elsewhere, e.g. A slow metabolism or healthy food is too expensive etc.
Professional help with a psychologist or a psychiatrist is the start of the cure here. A professional that can help you delve into your history and allow you to remember such emotional stresses, will really help you in the first steps to bring the emotions to the surface and allowing you to deal with them.
– ONCE YOU’VE FOUND THE TRIGGER, THEN WHAT?
You need to analyse what your current coping mechanisms are and then remove them from you life – to that severity too. Totally remove them from your life entirely because bluntly speaking, you’re not strong enough, YET, to deal with them – allow me to give you a personal example.
When I was overweight, unhappy and depressed, my coping mechanism to make me feel temporarily better was 2 large Dominos pizza, large bag of Doritos and 2 cans of full fat coke….. Before I continue, can you see how this then triggers the physical reaction 😉
I would regularly turn to this food. How often? At least twice a week…! Bad huh! The main reason for this was laziness of choosing this food initially as I lived right next to a Dominos. It started off with a medium pizza and the more and more fat and miserable I got, the bigger the binges.
In order for me to actually break this trigger, once I realised the route emotional cause of my binges, I had to physically move to another town that didn’t have a dominos. I actually searched online for towns that didn’t have a dominos… Drastic huh. I actually moved from Eastbourne, on the south coast of England, to Gravesend near central London, in England – a solid 70/80 miles away. Thankfully a close friend lived there too, whom I moved in with.
It took me 4 years before I then allowed myself to have another Dominos, and guess what happened when I did have one….? I actually started to get emotional while eating it as it instantly brought back all the emotions that had been buried at the time when I was using that food to cope with my emotions. The pizza was then followed by a binge relapse. I woke up the next day utterly miserable and it took me about 2 weeks to mentally put it behind me followed by mini binges in this 2 week period.
I am only now in a position to eat a slice of dominos pizza and not let it get to me… It’s taken me 5 years and even now it still plays on my mind and I have to be very conscious of the possible repercussions of said food.
That was my trigger, my coping mechanism and that’s how long it took me to fix it… Do I still binge? Yep! Is it less often than 5 years ago? Hell yes! Do I now know how to cope better with it and the following days after? Absolutely! Do I think I’ll ever be in a position to never emotionally binge again….? Probably not!
However, being able to FIND NEW COPING MECHANISMS is an incredible way to prevent a binge when you sense one coming.
For me, I turned to the gym. When I’m now unhappy or feeling blue about anything generally, or my route emotional trigger rears its ugly head once again, I get my arse into the gym as fast as possible – I physically force myself. In fact, I once walked out of a job I worked for because I knew what was about to happen and had to get to the gym….this could also be deemed as extreme, however, for me it’s a damn site better than the other possibility of a 12hour uncontrolled food binge. I soon learnt that the endorphin release after I’ve had a good workout totally removed the urge to binge. Not only does it remove the urge, but i actually forget about the reasons I got in the gym.
For me, that’s how I cope with it. Other people turn to arts and craft, other sports, creative hobbies and i even know someone who turned to being a chef, believe it or not. Somehow, cooking for other people in a Michelin restaurant, was her way of stopping her binges – even I find this surprising, but it works for that person.
To conclude, you need to be able to identify that you have an emotional trigger. You need to face these emotions and seek professional help. Once you have faced these demons, or on the road to facing them, you need to identify your coping mechanisms. Once you have identified ALL OF THESE, you then need to totally remove the coping mechanisms from your life and find something else you can turn too to take your mind off the urge to binge and move past it.
Will this totally stop the binges? Maybe, maybe not. But will it limit the damage, allow you to get better and on the road to a healthier lifestyle…. Absolutely!
Know it, Feel it, Live it