FIVE STEPS TO MANAGE BINGE-EATING
This program to manage binge-eating was published in 1978 by Dr. Richard B. Stuart, Psychological Director, Weight Watchers InternationalⓇ, Inc. I think it has good advice and merits that can still help us today.
Carol absolutely hates ironing, but as the mother of four little girls, she feels she must iron at least several times a week. So three mornings every week she takes the iron out, feels her tension rise, and snacks to beat the band.
Each evening, Dan eases into a chair to watch TV. Night after night, as he watches the same dull programs, he feels more and more let down. The worse he feels, the more he eats – first nuts, then cheese, then anything he can find.
Carol and Dan share a common problem: binge-eating. At certain times of the day, both snack without regard to what they eat or how much. Both are very worried about their weight, and both chalk off each lapse as “loss of self-management.”
Can you look closely at these two situations and find a better explanation? You’re right if you see that one is tense, the other bored and that both eat in response to their unhappiness.
Binge-eating is a very common problem. Fortunately, it is one that can be managed. An understanding of some of the dynamics of binge-eating can help you manage not only these crises but much of your other eating as well.
WHAT IS BINGE-EATING?
The definition of a binge is very personal. Pat may feel that she binged after one scoop of ice cream with a drop of chocolate fudge; while Mary Lou may consider an extra portion of meat loaf a binge; and Sam defines a binge as eating every slice of bread, ounce of cheese and cookie, to be found. Whether you consider a binge to be an extra, rather modest snack or a lost weekend, binge-eating is both unplanned and uncontrolled; and it usually involves a craving for a special food, although many different foods may eventually be consumed. When the urge to binge-eat strikes, it is the strong craving for food and not your better judgment that dictates what — and how much you eat.
WHEN DO BINGES OCCUR?
Most binge-eating occurs in “bankrupt” environments, when little of interest is taking place, or when you have no stimulation for mobilizing your creative energies, and when you tend to feel forgotten by those who ought to “care.” Quiet hours in the afternoon may leave you feeling lonely, with your loneliness helped along by depressing household chores. A let-down feeling in the evening, after a full day’s activity, is another time when good moods ebb and binges are likely to take place. Most people faced with binge-eating problems report that they tend to begin during bankrupt periods and to last for hours, or even days.
While most binges occur at “down” times, some do take place when things are fine. Sometimes you may decide to take just one small bite of a favorite food, and, before you know it, you’ve polished off an entire package of some forbidden item. Other times, you may have a “bite to eat” to celebrate a great event and find yourself eating more and more and more. Whatever the source — boredom, a negative event, an innocent slip, or a happy time — binge-eating is a frightening and humiliating experience for many people, and it is very important to have a binge-eating control procedure ready and waiting.
A GOOD OFFENSE
Since negative moods are the most common triggers of the urge to overeat, the best way to control binge-eating is to do all you can to make these moods less frequent. You can do this by trying to keep yourself interested, challenged and happy. As a start, identify the times you begin to snack and then to binge. Try to think about what you normally do at these particular times. Then turn your thoughts to things you can do to bolster your falling mood. Start a list: Write down the times when you tend to binge, what you usually do, and possible new activities. You are the expert on when your moods arise what you normally do at those times. Ask your coach for suggestions about alternative actions. The new activity should be quite different from the one that normally cues your urge to binge. For example, if you tend to overeat between 9:00 and 10:00 at night, when watching TV is your normal pastime, plan a new activity for that hour such as going for a walk, working on a new craft like macrame or leather work, enrolling in a night-school class, or joining a social group. The new activity should be one that holds strong interest for you, that you can count on for a lift, and that’s available without too much extra effort.
A GOOD DEFENSE: PLANNING YOUR ESCAPE
When you work out your assertive avoidance strategy, you will, at the same time, be taking an important step toward improving the quality of your life. But your efforts may not always succeed since, like most of us, you will sometimes face the urge to binge. It is very important for you to have a plan of action ready to use when the urge grows strong. The following five steps to help manage binge-eating can serve you well.
STEP ONE: DISTRACT YOURSELF
To avoid binge-eating urges, plan new activities to stimulate your “down” times. You can also use distraction as a means of breaking the grip of those urges. Note what you are doing when your fancy turns to food, and make an immediate change. For example, if the TV is on, turn it off, switch on the radio, and pick up a deck of cards for a game of solitaire. If you are doing some chore, stop and phone a friend. Take a shower, set your hair, shine your shoes, reread a letter from a long-lost friend. If you are inside, go out; if you are in the living room, go into another room … Do anything to distract yourself from food!
STEP TWO: WAIT TEN MINUTES
Prove to yourself that the urge is under your control. If distraction fails, set a kitchen timer for ten minutes and wait for the bell before you eat. This may be enough time for the craving to pass, or for a new distraction to come along. Even if you do decide to eat, the ten-minute wait will give you some proof that you’re in control of yourself.
STEP THREE: PREPARE AN ACCEPTABLE SNACK IN ADVANCE
Keep on hand a supply of some legal [food from your plan] food you don’t particularly crave, that has some bulk, requires chewing … and won’t do much harm around the waist. Can you suggest a few such foods? The bulkier and chewier they are, the more effective they will be!
STEP FOUR: MAKE STOPPING THE EASIEST PART OF SNACKING
Your behavior at one moment determines what you can do next. For example, sitting down in your easy chair makes it unlikely that you’ll be playing ball a moment later. When they binge-eat, most people act in a manner that makes it more than likely that one mouthful will follow another. Instead, plan to take one small portion of a snack at a time, replacing the container where it is normally kept. Take the portion to your place at the table, and sit down to eat. Then get up, and go to another room, where you can begin a new activity. If you must return to the kitchen for more food, repeat the cycle again. Eventually, eating will be more trouble than it’s worth, and every link you add to this chain will give you one more opportunity to manage your behavior.
STEP FIVE: KEEP YOUR EATING IN PERSPECTIVE
Whether they eat a little or a lot, many people who binge lose their perspective entirely. They call themselves every bad name under the sun, which only serves to make matters worse. Instead of turning a missed step into a catastrophe, treat your binge as a small error in a large effort of self-management. and go on as though it hadn’t happened, eating all you normally should at your next meal, so you won’t get overly hungry and then overeat.
Each of the above steps is important, but none more so than the last. How often in the past have you, or someone you know, used a binge as a reason to give up entirely? Realize that you’re human, and that humans make mistakes. One mistake is a disaster only if you invite the worst to happen. Don’t let this happen to you. Stop such thoughts as soon as they arise so you won’t be lured into more and more distress.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR SUCCESS
Use this chart to keep track of your success in dealing with strong urges for unplanned snacks or binges. In the first column of each chart, write the days and times when the urges arise. In the second column, note what you tried as a distraction. In the third, fourth and fifth columns, check “Yes” if you managed a ten-minute wait, had a planned snack available, and worked at making it easier to stop than to continue waiting. Finally, in the sixth column, jot down what you told yourself to keep the binge in check, rather than allowing it to gain control of you. Please bring your completed chart to your coaching sessions, to discuss your experiences with your coach. Share your experiences with others who will be interested in learning what you have done and can help you move further toward your goal.
Copyright © 2015–2018, Myra Nissen.
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This article was brought to you by Myra Nissen, CCH, RSHom(NA), Board Certified Classical Homeopath. Myra teaches women how to recognize their body’s unique needs and cues and uses Homeopathy to help empower women to take control of their bodies, health and well-being. Find out more, visit her blog www.myranissen.com/blog.