Overcoming Binge Eating: Harm Minimization

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

Back in training I remember being told that the average binge was about 2000 calories (approximately a day’s worth of calories).

Binge eating thoughts

When people have a sense of having overeaten, they typically think something along the lines of
“I’ve blown it, I may as well go for it and binge up large”

Other common thoughts

– “I need to finish this packet of food so there is nothing left for me to over eat”

– “I need to finish all of the “junk” food in the house so there is nothing left for me to over eat”

– “I’ll start my diet again tomorrow”

– “I’ll make up for it tomorrow”

– “I give up. I’m out of control. I’m a failure and I’m going to keep doing out of control binge eating forever”.

Harm Minimization: When you’re more hungry than usual, or have a psychological reason for wanting to eat more on a particular day than what you eat most days.

If you’re restricting your eating for the purposes of losing weight or, even when you’re not, there are likely to be times when you want to eat more on a particular day than what you eat most days.

You might be physiologically more hungry than usual for some reason, or you might have some psychological reason for wanting to eat (for example, for helping relax after finishing a project).

Rather than having a large binge you might want to plan a smaller episode of eating – something that has a sense of being contained.

For example if you like to eat lollies to help you relax after finishing a project then you might plan on buying a non-binge sized serving of some lollies you really like.

There is no reason for you to need to eat like a robot i.e. only for nutritional purposes. For example, eating for relaxation is one of the normal functions of eating for many normal eaters. As long as you also have other skills in your psychological toolbelt for soothing yourself, you’re likely to be able to find room for eating for relaxation in an overall healthy lifestyle.

Harm Minimization: When you’re in the process of overeating

Each time you experience thoughts like “I need to finish this packet of food so there is nothing left for me to over eat” is a new opportunity for you to react to that thought differently, and create a new habit of how you react to your typical binge thoughts.

Let’s get really practical here – if you are in the middle of binge eating your way through a packet of biscuits and the only way to stop yourself eating more of them is to get them out of the house, then drive down your street and put them in rubbish bin. Or whatever works for you.

You might try imagining forward in time and imagine how you will think you will feel in say 2 hours if you stop right now mid-binge vs. if you binge up large. How do you think your thoughts about yourself might be different?

If you struggle with anxiety if you don’t have a sense of completion with eating then practice alternative coping.

For example, on the next 10 occasions when the serving of food in front of you is more than you need/want to eat, practice only eating what’s right for you at the time and discarding the rest or packaging it up for eating later. For example, if you’re served a piece of cake that is too large for your needs.

How to Design Your Own Structured Hierarchy

You could even set up situations to practice “non-complete eating” and work your way through a hierarchy.

For example, let’s say you think eating only half rather than a whole mini-packet of raisins would create 20 out of 100 anxiety for you. So you pick that as your Day 1 behavioural experiment. For Day 2 pick something that you think would create 30/100 anxiety for you. And work your way up. You might not want to jump 10/100 anxiety points everyday so, for example, you might practice “non-completion eating behaviour” at 30/100 anxiety for a few days before moving up to 40/100 anxiety. And so on. You can design what works for you.

Working gradually up a hierarchy is a good way to get a new psychological skill under your belt. By the time you get to the harder tasks, they’ll be less anxiety provoking.

The thoughts and feelings you have during a binge will naturally pass regardless of what you do

Thoughts and feelings are by their nature temporary. They come and go – so its usually better to base your actions on your valued life directions rather than on your emotions/thoughts. You can go do something else and wait for your thoughts to change to something else.

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