What’s the difference? IS there a difference?
There absolutely is a difference and most of you reading this will most likely be experiencing both binge and emotional eating. If that’s you, don’t panic! I’m here to clarify what each of them means and to give you solutions to both. So let’s get to it!
Binge eating is a reaction to restriction of any kind. Physical and mental/emotional restriction.
Let’s use a bow and arrow as a metaphor. Imagine that you’re pulling back the string of a bow. You feel a slight tension. You pull the string back even more and you feel been more tension. The more you pull back on the bow, the faster and further the arrow will shoot when you let go of it… are you with me?
The extremity and length of time that you restrict and control your food intake for – whether it’s calories, sugar, carbs etc – is how “out of control” you’ll be when you inevitably react to that restriction.
Because you are going to react at some point. You can’t pull back the bow of the arrow forever…
That’s the best definition of describing binge eating that I can give you. And it makes total sense to me and hopefully to you too…!
Your first diet
If you think back to your early dieting days, you most likely managed to stick to a diet for a reasonable amount of time… maybe you even considered yourself “successful”… maybe you nailed the diet got shit loads of compliments, felt great about yourself…
…and then binge ate. and restricted again. And then binge ate. And then restricted. We all know how that one ends… oh wait, it doesn’t end…!
Or maybe you didn’t binge right away. Maybe the weight slowly crept back on – because, der, we all have a set point weight so obviously that’s what your body is going to do! And then you dieted again, lost the weight, then it crept back on again, and so you dieted again, it crept back on…. and so onnnnnn!
You then start restricting even harder because you “must use more willpower” and you promise yourself that when this diet is over you will keep the weight off this time. Yet your body has other plans… it’s had enough by this point and so it fights back even more.
You find yourself binging in secret, hiding food wrappers and lying about what you’ve eaten to your loved ones.
You find every excuse under the sun to go to the shop to get “milk” after having poured the milk from the fridge down the sink so you can buy your binge food… (just me?)
You find yourself being utterly consumed with what you look like, how your clothes fit and what others are thinking about your body.
You’re constantly thinking about food and what you can’t have that you want. ETCCCCCC
Binging is a natural healthy response to any form of restriction. Let’s dive into the 2 different forms of restriction, well actually they’re 3…
Physical restriction – part 1
This one is self-explanatory. You’re not physically eating enough food for your caloric needs. You’re a grown-ass woman, you need way more food than the diet industry leads us to believe. Most of the time we binge simply because our bodies are not getting enough food and your “cavewoman” gene kicks in and she thinks you’re literally slowly starving to death! Here’s what happens;
Do yourself a favour and just imagine that you were in a real-life famine. Everything in your life would become about food. Your body would be sending you extreme signals to find food, hoard food, eat a lot of food and whenever possible, eat as much fat and sugar as you can! (Sound familiar…) If your body didn’t do this, you would DIE!
Your leptin levels will decrease – this means that your body tells your brain that you’re losing fat stores and so your brain then signals you to eat more.
Your ghrelin levels increase – this means your hunger signals increase and drive you to eat more…!
This is what happens when you either go on a diet or even think about going on a diet! (the thinking part is the mental restriction, I’ll come to that in a moment)
It happens even quicker and even more intensely if you’ve already been dieting for a long time. THAT’S why you totally rocked that first diet all those years ago and now you can’t stick to a diet for even a day!
When your body thinks it’s being restricted of food in any way, when you do find food and start eating, everything inside you overrides whatever rationalizing willpower you’ve had so far.
If you tried to stop halfway through you probably wouldn’t be able to.
This is what your body is wired to do for survival!
Maybe your thinking, yes but I’m not in a real-life famine and there’s plenty of food in the shop down the road…
Your body doesn’t know that!
When the body gets signals from the brain that there is either a famine happening or a famine on its way (you guys are completely underestimating the mind here), it automatically gets to work organizing all of your hormones and biochemical reactions (cravings etc) to be set for a famine. And you know what happens when your body thinks it’s in a famine or about to be in one… HINT: Read the passage above!
That’s why people who have never really dieted or restricted their food, don’t have a problem with binge eating!
They don’t think like a dieter (and dieting is not an action, it’s a state of mind!). Their bodies have no reason to demand that they eat a whole jar of Nutella in one sitting. These are called ‘normal eaters.’
Physical restriction – part 2
Only eating foods with very little nourishment is a form of restriction. This form of restriction is often overlooked. But malnourishment is what happens if your body isn’t getting enough macro and micronutrients. I know this may sound a bit dramatic but it’s true. If you’re not nourishing yourself with fats, carbs, proteins and fibre – including vitamins and minerals – your body will keep driving you to eat as an attempt to get what it really needs.
Mental restriction aka; those cookies are NOT going in my mouth no matter how much I’m drooling right now because I’m not eating sugar/haven’t got enough calories left for the day/ fill in the blank…”
You’re probably extremely familiar with this kind. This is why I hear women say to me over and over again: “I gave up dieting and now I can’t stop eating Nutella out of a jar…” (Basically was me!)
And I can’t help but say back, But did you REALLY give up “dieting?” Or did you just start eating chocolate again, and thought that would “fix” it?
Let me explain… One thing I find over and over again is that 9 times out of 10, women who “give up” dieting, are still thinking like dieters — their emotional response to food is the same as it would be if they still were actively restricting their food.
They’re still conscious of everything they eat (and usually extremely judgmental of what they eat). They feel ashamed whenever they think they’ve “eaten too much.”
They’re often still trying to control themselves around food even if not “technically” following a specific plan of eating.
And generally speaking, they maintain a moralistic and fear-based perspective on food, rather than feeling gratitude, joy, and pleasure from the life-sustaining force that food actually is.
You see, “dieting” (and the compulsive behaviours associated with it), has little to do with what you are or are not putting in your mouth — and everything to do with how you feel and think about what you put in your mouth.
So if you’ve given up dieting, yet you’re judging the shit out of yourself when your eating pizza, wondering why you don’t feel all happy and liberated yet, it’s because you are not mentally allowing the pizza. You’re allowing the physical act (eating the thing) but you’re not mentally allowing it (constantly thinking “this can’t be ok”).
And when we see food as bad or wrong, it’s almost impossible to sustain from doing it! Because food is pleasurable. Food is delicious. We need to eat food to survive, it’s a survival instinct.
In a nutshell, unless your thinking changes, neither will your behaviours.
What to do about binge eating…
Ok so don’t worry too much because you can learn how to stop binge eating by learning how to think like a normal eater.
I’m not even going to pretend that it’s easy but I will tell you that it is 10000000% worth it!
You’ve heard me talk a lot about mindset… but the answer to this really is a mindset change and shifting your perception around food and your body image.
I would love to tell you right now exactly how to do this process but it’s not something that can just be written down.
It involves you listening to audio lectures, completing worksheets, practising using tools and strategies that work to shift your perception. It means you taking guided bold action steps towards ditching the diets and learning how to make friends with your body whilst being supported and coached through the tough times… and a whole lot more!
Oh wait, I just described what happens when you work with me!
But seriously loves. Honestly… it’s quite a simple process but it’s not easy. It does all make sense though when you start to understand why and how you got in the position you’re in now and what to do next.
You can get yourself out of this diet-binge cycle for good. and it is AMAZING when you do!
Remember, I’m not sitting here preaching like Nancy from Instagram..(I’m sorry to any Nancy’s out there – this is a purely random name) I’ve been exactly where you are now and come out the other side.
If I can do it, so can YOU!
Emotional eating is simply eating when you’re physically not hungry. We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves. And when we do, we tend to reach for processed food, sweets, and other comforting but less nutritious foods. You might reach for a tub of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach.
There is a spectrum when it comes to emotional eating (like most things) and everyone will be somewhere on that spectrum. If you are considered a ‘normal eater’ you will most likely be at the bottom end of the spectrum. If you always turn to food and eat in large amounts, you will most likely be on the high end of the spectrum.
Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, if you’ve dieted in the past or have a complicated relationship with food, it will usually make you feel worse and spiral into a binge. And so afterwards, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for eating a lot of food because you view emotional eating as bad which is what turned harmless emotional eating into binge eating… cue the “I’ll start my diet tomorrow mental restriction cycle”!
The emotional eating cycle
Using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—and you eat a lot of food during that time, you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the guilt you feel.
What to do about emotional eating…
In order to reduce emotional eating, you need to explore other ways to fulfil yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step.
It is helpful to have alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfilment. It’s so important that you look within yourself and choose things that you will actually want to do!
I encourage my clients to find other activities that they might like to do to help them with their emotional discomfort, BUT I do not encourage them to look at these things as an alternative to or instead of eating emotionally.
This is because of the guilt, shame and yucky feelings that come along if you don’t manage to not eat emotionally. (Chances are pretty high!)
Reverse psychology is one of the most powerful things on this planet. If we are constantly desperate to stop doing something (eating emotionally) it often leads us to actually doing that thing even more than if we took it with a pinch of salt (aka, accepted it and had no judgment towards it.)
Can you see how working with me is so different from anything you have most likely experienced before…?
But trust me on this, I have tried everything to stop emotional eating and my method is the only one that worked for me and continues to work for my clients.
It would an honour to support and guide you through this process. When you become a client, you will be cocooned in my love, support and wisdom. I come with you on your journey, you’re not alone.
Hope to speak to you soon,