Binge eating is an increasingly common problem nowadays. It can often creep up on people unnoticed, and before they know it it’s taken over their lives.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating disorder is the act of compulsively eating excessive amounts of food on a regular basis. Sufferers often feel unable to stop, and lose control over the ability to regulate their food intake.
Binge eating can lead to weight gain, and other health issues, both physical and mental.
How can mindfulness be helpful for binge eating?
A central problem with binge eating is one of disconnection: disconnection of the mind from the body. The binge eater keeps eating, and all the while ignores (or remains completely unaware) of their body’s signals to stop.
The binge can continue long after the stomach is full, leaving the sufferer with physical pain (eg stomach ache, nausea) and emotional discomfort (eg guilt, shame) for a long time afterwards.
So a key ally in stopping binge eating is mindfulness, which brings us back to the present moment and reconnects the mind with the body.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. It sounds very simple, but actually it’s rare that we are mindful in these times of constant busyness and distraction.
How can mindfulness be used to stop binge eating?
The practice of mindfulness serves to bring our awareness into our felt experience; what is actually happening for us right now.
If we are binge eating we’re often paying no attention to our body and its true needs; the food may be being used to stifle a negative emotion that we don’t wish to experience.
Mindfulness brings our attention back to us and allows us to experience the present moment as it is, with no crutches.
It may be difficult at first, as it can be painful to bring our awareness to the pain and suffering we’re experiencing. But with practice, we can begin to accept ourselves, and become aware of the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.
Then we can start to slow everything down, change our eating habits, and allow our bodies to reconnect with our minds. In doing this we can start to gain awareness of our true needs.
If we’re not really hungry for food, what is it that we’re truly hungry for?
Over time, we can learn to slow down our eating so that the mind can catch up to what the body is asking for. If we stop numbing the emotional pain with more and more food, we can start to gain an awareness of what that pain is really about – and then we can start the process of releasing it.
A mindfulness practice for binge eating
Next time you feel the urge to binge, instead of grabbing food immediately, try to ‘sit’ with it for a while.
Take a few deep breaths, and imagine that you’re relaxing every muscle in your body.
Now try to get an idea of where that craving is in your body. If you can’t work out where this could be, just use your imagination.
Once you’ve got a sense of whereabouts it is in your body, imagine the cravings as a person. What would that person look like? What would it sound like, if it could speak?
Send your awareness into that part where the craving is, imagine that you’re having a conversation with it, and ask what it’s trying to tell you. You may find the answers very enlightening.
Here are some more tips on using mindfulness to combat overeating:
If all of this feels too huge to do alone, get in touch and book a consultation. I can support you in releasing those uncomfortable emotions, and guide you to more healthful eating practices.
Binge eating can often be a very secretive, shameful act, so it can be a tremendous relief to finally be able to talk to somebody about it in a safe, confidential environment.
If you’re in the Glasgow area we can work together face-to-face, or if you’re further afield we can work via online video (eg Skype/Zoom) or on the telephone.
Lisa Murphy is a counsellor and hypnotherapist based in Glasgow who specialises in anxiety, anger management, and weight loss.