In a recent Instagram story “Ask Me Anything”, I received the following questions based around binging, overeating, stress and sugar:
Allowing stress to be an excuse to binge eat and letting one binge become several
Time when I’m not mentally active in between meals. I binge like no one is watching.
Stress eating and eating when I’m bored
I want to first explore binge and stress eating?
Dictionary.com defines binge as “a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess, especially drinking alcohol or eating."
Personally, my binges were a result of an imbalance within my body, both physically and emotionally. I was overstressed from working out too much, and emotionally taxed by the consistent feelings of guilt and shame.
Before we begin, I want to first address the comment “allowing stress to be an excuse”. Stress for many is an obvious trigger that can lead to a host of changed behaviors. Even with the best of intentions, on occasion stress gets the best of us, and that IS OKAY. That is what makes you human. We’ll fail, stumble and fall in and out of our routines.
So, I want to first reassure you that stress eating is actually a survival behavior. We are hardwired neurologically to do anything at all costs to keep ourselves safe and alive.
There are two pictures explaining two different ways to look at stress via the “Stress Bucket” analogy.
We each have our own stress bucket. That of which gets filled with stressors throughout the day. Here you can see: exercise, relationships, work, training lack of sleep as examples of stress.
When our stress is not managed (aka we do not have strategies instilled to allow for the level of stress to reduce) , our output will often be pain. Pain is an action signal via the brain. When we have pain, our normal routine is interrupted, meaning we slow down, maybe we skip the gym because our back hurts or decide to go home early from work because of a headache.
The Stress Bucket below shows potential solutions that allow for our bucket to not “overflow”. Remember that the brain can not differentiate between different stressors in life. Everything will be thrown into the same pile causing a potential “overflow”.
My first thought is to ask “what strategies do you currently have that helps you manage stress?” If eating is your only strategy at the moment, do not worry you are not alone. That was my only coping mechanism for much of 2012-2014. You just need other strategies. This is an opportune time to explore hobbies. You can refer to my blog “Why Hobbies Can Help Kickstart Your Metabolism” for a deeper look at how they can positively contribute to a changed brain, body and life. Implementing hobbies, journaling, reading, engaging with friends can often interrupt your learned behavior of binging when you’re stressed.
Binging once can often lead to binging over and over again. I’ve been there too: you’re eating fast, thinking about the next thing you’ll stuff into your mouth midway through a mouthful of something delectable, while racing through each delectable treat alone, trying your hardest to ignore the guilt and shame aftermath.
If you’re anything like me, I binged on foods that were tasty and sweet. I never cared for “real” foods (fruits, vegetables, meats) on my binge episodes. My attempts to enjoy a bowl of fruit to curb my cravings usually started out that way, but nearly ALWAYS ended with I some form of baked good with ice cream.
You see, when our bodies are stressed (and it seems like the questions above stress seems to be a consistent contributor) our brain will signal for us to do something in order to protect ourselves from getting too far out of balance.
We crave sugar because sugar is the quickest source of energy. Quick energy that can quickly make us feel loads “better”. We get addicted to the sugar rush, we release endorphins, we feel “good”. Until we don’t.
What I found important to highlight was the correlation between boredom and the compulsion to eat: “when I am bored or not mentally active or I binge”.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re stimulated by conversations, great people, a positive environment (examples include: trees, the beach, a natural lit room, etc), during an intentional movement session, or reading a great book how the last thing on your mind is “what am I going to eat next?”
Our brain needs fuel and activation to continue functioning optimally. “Fuel” from oxygen and food. Activation from proprioceptive, sensory, vision and vestibular work.
When we get out of balance from one or the other or even both, our brain will send a signal to address “something”. The trick is, is identitying what that something is…
This is where not only a tool box of strategies can come in handy, but the element of self reflection. Getting more and more familiar with yourself during times of stress is critical in hearing what your body needs of you.
I also wanted to share some of my top strategies. These drills and reflections will help reduce the chances of your Stress Bucket spilling over:
Bag breathing (tutorial video) often times with high stress jobs/life and less movement our breathing mechanics become compromised. Too little O2 exhaled and keeping a higher level of O2 in the body can create a compound of stressors on the body. Bag breathing is a great tool to help balance out O2 and CO2 in the body. You’re basically trapping the CO2 you breathe out and re-inhaling it.
Visual Reset (tutorial video)- long hours in front of the computer can contribute eye fatigue, which will have you reaching for that candy jar reflexively. Try this visual reset drill to help you relax the eyes from focusing so hard.
Walking outdoors: Often times getting outside and moving your body by taking a quick stroll around the block can be immensely beneficial to help improve blood flow, get your joints moving and expose yourself to some Vitamin D.
Toe curls (tutorial video): This is a great drill to also help you improve your awareness of where you are. Often times inputting movement drills can help you spark your nervous system to feel more engaged.
Engage in a conversation: I often suggest clients to take a stroll to a colleagues desk near the hours they typically feel they struggle with “binge behaviors”. The hours tend to fall into time slots when they’re more exhausted at work and/or less stimulated. When we stir up a fulfilling conversation we may notice our need for food was misinterpreted. Rather it was a need for connection . Note, it is very important to reflect on what type of conversations you enjoy. Chatting it up with someone you don’t necessarily enjoy talking to, can often have the opposite effect.
Fueling: Sometimes we just need to eat! In many scenarios, I’ve noticed clients not sufficiently feeding their bodies prior to the “binges”. Operating in a deficit can contribute to the compulsory reaction to binge. I’d suggest looking outside of the binge window and begin jotting down notes of the things that are “stressful”: work, project deadline, a move, a big presentation, lack of sleep, too much exercise, too little exercise. These are areas that will throw you out of balance. Being out of balance can impact your stress and as a result push you to resort to your recovery strategies, like eating. So make sure you’re eating enough, if you’re not sure what enough is not to worry, I’ll be diving in deeper in another blog regarding the question “Finding what foods or portions satiates me”.
I’ve attached below @whollyhealed infographic, depicting a binge cycle. You see that bingeing is not because you have no control, rather the fear of feeling out of control that spirals us into an unconscious behavior. @whollyhealed:
“Binging is the body’s natural, expected result of restriction”
“In order to heal, we have to stop seeing binge eating as a problem and start seeing it as a product.”
Secondly, I’d like to share an article with you from Precision Nutrition, “Why You Can’t Stop Overeating”: a take on why overeating is so easy, that of which include:
Chemical addiction: Emulsifiers, Additives, Colors, Hydrogenated Oils create addiction. They make foods look better and create a strong addition to that food.
Marketing: Catchy words like “healthy”, “nutritious”, “vegan”, “gluten free” make it difficult for us to filter through this information. We believe that if it says “healthy” well it must be “healthy”.
Large portion sizes: Nowadays, most portion sizes are more than the typical amount of food we need. Surely, we could stop when we’re full, however many of us grew up in a culture where we were raised to “finish our plates”. So, if food is there, well we might just finish it all.
Food Variability: The more tastes we introduce to our palate the more we begin to search for the perfect “combo”- just enough sweet with salt, the textures, the craving for novel combinations in our mouth.
It is common to turn to food to soothe stress. It helps provide energy and a sense of “safety” within our bodies.
Binging is a by-product of over-restriction or some other aspect of stress “over-flowing”
Lack of mental stimulation, oxygen, emotional connection can have us turn towards food
Food is delicious and an easy way to feel better
You need to practice interrupting your normal behaviors and get in more “reps” to disrupt this cycle.
I want to also just mention that my suggestions are from my viewpoints, experience and research that I’ve done. I aim to educate you on some alternative ways to look and view health and wellness, in hopes that many of you will find more answers. However, if you are struggling with a disordered eating behavior please don’t be afraid to seek out help from a licensed professional.
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