It’s easy to get down on yourself when you binge or overeat. As bingers and overeaters, we're way too familiar with the negative thought spiral after a binge - I’m a quitter, I just can’t control myself around food, it’s hopeless, this is just the way I am.
The worst part is thoughts like this lead to despair that fuels the urge. We feel hopeless to stop overeating, so we overeat.
A great thought-shift to use when you are stuck like this is to look at how binge and overeating are working for you.
Weirdly, acknowledging how binge eating is working for you can create enough self-acceptance and compassion to loosen the grip of negative thoughts in a binge eating spiral. You’re not crazy. Looked at the right way, binge and overeating make sense.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in coaching, self-acceptance and compassionate awareness are the first step to change. After acceptance it’s important to return to the basic premise of all of my motivational work:
The reason we do anything is because of how we think it will make us feel.
So, I’ll just list some of the benefits binge eating offers us:
There’s also a relief from the pain of isolation caused by the shame of overeating. The thing is, when we experience shame we tend to isolate ourselves, and when we isolate ourselves we are setting ourselves up for a binge.
There was a famous study conducted by behavioural psychologists called the ‘Rat Park’ study where rats put in isolation preferred opioid-laced water over plain water, while rats in a ‘park’ setting with other rats consistently preferred plain water. This study was done after it was observed that not all veterans of the Vietnam War became opioid addicts when they had opioids for pain relief at war. While the study had flaws, the finding was the difference was social connection. Social connection created less need for artificial stimulation.
You can create connection by simply listening to yourself. Try connecting with yourself by acknowledging and accepting your current thoughts and feelings just as they are without trying to immediately change them.
Building a good working relationship with yourself can be like parenting you need to have both a strong emotional connection but also have authority over yourself. Let me explain using four
types of parenting identified by researchers*. Of the four types, the Authoritative style is the most effective.
When we allow ourselves to binge, we are caring for ourselves in the way that a permissive parent might care for a child. Essentially, we are saying “I know you are in pain, have whatever you want.” While kind, it doesn’t stop bingeing.
When we are critical and punishing with ourselves and restrict food we are treating ourselves like an authoritarian parent by emotionally rejecting the part of us that wants to overeat. There’s no emotional connection with our feelings, and this just adds to the stress. Ultimately, we rebel and overeat anyway.
When we are present with our thoughts and feelings without allowing ourselves to act on them, are acting authoritatively. We begin to build a relationship with ourselves where we are in control of our actions, aware of our thoughts and accepting of our feelings. We care for ourselves without allowing ourselves to do what isn’t good for us. Instead, we take the time to connect with ourselves by writing down our thoughts, feelings and actions. We take time to work on changing thoughts that drive the feelings of the need to perform the action of overeating.
Treating ourselves with compassion while developing a strong relationship with ourselves in terms of honouring our commitments is part of exercising personal authority over our lives.
We are all capable of change, we just need the right tools. Let me know if you want more help finding them. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free no obligation consult session at www.lpattison.com. I’m currently taking new clients. Maybe that’s you!
*Baumrind D. 1966. Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.
“Everyday I say I am going to start and then by the end of the day I’ve quit.”
“I tell myself I’ll do something and then I don’t and I don’t know why.”
We’ve all been here. It's one of the biggest problems people bring to coaching. Either they want to stop doing something or start doing something, but they feel completely powerless to change.
I used to be the world’s biggest procrastinator. I just couldn't seem to follow through on diet and exercise. I was on the daily diet-binge cycle with Netflix binges interspersed.
The worst part about it was that the things that I wanted to do were important to me and my health, but I just couldn’t seem to get myself to follow through. I would be constantly waiting for the next wave of motivation asking myself “Why can’t I get this done?”
The obvious answers would be there. “I’m just not a motivated person.” “I’m lazy.” “There is something wrong with me.”
And like so many coaching clients, I’d give up.
But the truth is all of this is just a stream of thoughts in our heads. In fact you can argue that is all that is ever actually happening to us is a stream of thoughts. And as I learned as a qualitative researcher each of these thoughts cause feelings that drive actions.
This is the Think-Feel-Act cycle. It’s lighting fast and it controls absolutely everything that we do… or don’t do.
So, while we start off with a thought that’s very motivating, when faced with creating new habits we allow other more habitual thoughts to take over on the way.
“This is too hard.”
“I need a break, a snack, a treat.”
“I’ll start tomorrow.”
Following the Think Feel Act cycle we can see each of these thoughts lead us away from our initial motivating thoughts to thoughts that make us feel completely discouraged, which lead us to take the action of giving up.
But the great news - and the secret to the universe - is we are always just one thought away from a different feeling and action.
Find the thought and change it and you can create a better feeling and a better action.
It really is that simple. But it takes awareness and practice to wise up to what’s going on our minds when we see are used to accepting our thoughts and feelings uncritically and we just let them run without questioning them. Especially when the environment is saturated with distractions like food, drink and Instagram offering us alternatives to looking at what is going on within ourselves.
The first step of breaking the cycle is to look back at an instance like a binge eat and refuse to beat yourself up but instead look critically at the thoughts that were leading up to that moment. Be willing to investigate those thoughts and feelings by writing them down. Start with the thought then write down the feeling and the actions that result.
Once we learn to do the thought work and process the emotions that drive our actions we can use our minds to get what we want and to motivate ourselves instead of being at the mercy of thoughts without questioning them. We literally don’t have to change anything but our thoughts. Choosing more motivating and compassionate thoughts about ourselves is all we need to do to feel better and to motivate ourselves.
The good news is by doing this work we can fundamentally change our habits so that we don’t have to diet or binge ever again.
Hi, I'm Lydia Pattison.