How To Handle Binge Urges
Today’s topic is something that’s quite personal to me. And that is how to handle binge urges.
I’ll start to unpack the various body image and disordered eating issues I have had, how that started to develop into binge eating disorder, and how I am managing my binge cravings now.
A History Of Body Image And Eating Disorders
I’ve got a history of various body image and eating issues.
Growing up, I had no real concept of nutrition or portion control or anything like that and was severely overweight. Then I lost weight. It took me a few years, but I lost my excess weight through fitness and exercise.
I never got to the point where my food or exercise habits would be diagnosed as bulimia, but the symptoms were overlapping and I was definitely headed in that direction.
One thing that helped me overcome that was actually just eating food with better nutritional value and focusing a bit more on overall health. That took a huge mental shift.
So I ended up on the paleo diet. I got slightly obsessed with that.
And that led me to orthorexia, which is, to put it briefly, a fixation with tracking and eating healthy food.
The whole time my fitness and my weight were stable and fine, but my eating habits were not. They weren’t sustainable and they were definitely obsessive.
I got past the orthorexia gradually. It’s taken a few years though.
And more recently, I have started showing signs of binge eating disorder.
What’s weird is that I can pinpoint almost the exact time it started.
How Did My Binge Eating Disorder Start?
With the pandemic, lockdowns, and gyms closing, I think we were all stressed, anxious, and not in the best frame of mind to focus on our physical health.
I definitely wasn’t. And I ended up gaining some weight. Nothing dramatic, but just a few pounds.
I somehow turned to intermittent fasting, and for about it 8 weeks it just went really, really well.
My nutrition was balanced. I felt good. I was getting my weight back down to where I wanted it to be. I felt healthy. I felt active. I felt fit. I felt strong.
At some point in the middle of that, I started a new job.
I had been at this job for about 4 weeks. And then it got to a Friday night of a really, really stressful week. And we had dinner at home and then there was just a protein bar sitting in the cupboard.
And I was like, “You know what, I had a stressful week. I’m going to treat myself and I’m going to have this.”
And then that night inexplicably I just felt constantly hungry. I was craving things and I couldn’t stop myself from eating.
I was fine over the weekend, but then it happened a couple of days the next week, and then a couple of days the next week. And again and again.
I thought “Maybe it’s just the way my habits have changed with intermittent fasting. So I’ll go back to eating normally.”
That seemed to work for a couple of weeks and then my binge urges returned. I actually found that because I was eating earlier. I was feeling a little bit hungrier later on. So I was actually still in that binge cycle.
My Progress With Binge Eating Disorder
I’m better now.
I feel like I’m more in control and I’m more mindful of what I’m doing, but it does still happen and I’m still prone to it a little bit.
I think I’m in a relatively fortunate position where I know what triggers it. If I’m feeling stressed, anxious, or like I haven’t had a productive day that weighs on my mind.
And so then I end up using food after dinner to try and sedate that feeling.
Understanding that has helped me a lot.
But I know that a lot of people won’t really be able to pinpoint what triggers a binge. It could be anything, and it could be any time.
But hopefully, if you’re self-aware enough that you can feel it coming on, some of these tips will help you.
So first up is just drink a lot of water.
People say to hydrate or drink a ton of water so that you can suppress your appetite. Honestly, if you’re genuinely physically hungry, then of course eat.
I’m talking about if you’ve eaten and you feel like you’re full but you feel a binge coming on.
Try drinking a lot of water. I have found it can help blunt those urges.
Not cold water because you can’t neck it. Go for room temperature, or maybe even slightly warm. A couple of glasses of water and then see how you feel.
Chewing Gum Or Brush Teeth
The second option is chewing gum or brushing your teeth.
I realise a lot of the suggestions I’m making are common things you see on Instagram for how to stop yourself from feeling hungry.
But just remember that when I’m saying these it’s in the context of you have already eaten and feeling full. So we’re not trying to hide or suppress important signals from our bodies.
It’s trying to manage the signs of an impending potential overindulgence or binge.
Change Your Surroundings
Change your setting or environment. With me, for example, I can almost pinpoint this exactly.
I’ll be sitting with the family. We’ll have just had dinner and we’ll all be sitting down together in the living room.
We all end up with the TV on, in the background, on our phones or on our iPads and that kind of mentally vacuous or mentally vacant task is not taking any energy.
So my mind starts to wander and I end up thinking about what I have or haven’t done during the day, and what I need to do.
And that stress and anxiety are what cause me to go and start picking and start snacking.
That eventually leads to a heavier binge.
If instead I get up and go to a different room and do something else that actually requires brainpower, then that keeps my thoughts more focused and more controlled.
Concentrate On Something Else
And that conveniently brings me to number four. And that is to do something that takes deep focus or requires your concentration.
It doesn’t have to be work-related. It might be reading something. It might be studying something, could even be just like a puzzle.
Anything like that. Just something that’s going to take your brain power, take your mental bandwidth and distract you from the idea of wanting to go pick at something.
Breathing And Meditation
Number five is breathing and meditation, which ties in with the whole idea of mindfulness or more specifically mindful eating.
But I got into the habit of when I felt myself going towards a cupboard to get something to snack on or opening the fridge, I would close it again before I took anything out.
I would close my eyes and take five deep breaths in, with a long exhale. So it takes me about 20 seconds. I would use that to channel my thoughts, narrow down my focus, and if I was still hungry after that, I might allow myself it.
If not, then that sort of breathing break stops that thought process.
Don’t Over Restrict
This one is more of a long-term lifestyle thing rather than something specific that you can or should do when you feel a binge coming on, but it’s to allow yourself the foods that you enjoy throughout the day.
Usually, we end up bingeing on the foods that we’re craving. And we ended up craving the foods that we ban or restrict.
So if you can factor those foods into your day-to-day lifestyle, and your day-to-day eating habits, you’re less likely to crave them, which means that they’re less likely to be part of that binge.
And then what you might find is that if you have plenty of fruit and fresh vegetables available, if you do feel a binge coming on you might end up going for those instead.
I’ve done that a few times before.
In terms of overall consequences to health, having a few extra grapes or blueberries is not going to be is not going to take as long to recover from as if it was a whole packet of biscuits or a whole tub of peanut butter (which I think I have also done a couple of times before.)
One More Word On How To Handle Binge Urges
That’s what I’ve got for you on how to handle when you feel a binge coming on.
Please bear in mind that I’m not a registered dietician. I’m not a qualified medical professional.
And also remember eating disorders are serious issues that can have a huge impact on someone’s mental and physical well-being.
These are just habits, which I’ve implemented to try to manage my own issues with binge eating. If you have any specific needs, or any specific questions, please speak to a registered or qualified professional rather than me.