Is binging really about emotions?

The answer to this question is partly yes. Binge eating disorder is a complex disorder with lots of different causes that vary from person to person. Emotions are just one of the contributing causes, but they are a really, really big one. But I hear many BED sufferers saying that their binging has nothing to do with emotions. To this, I have two things for you to think about.

First, consider the possibility that you may not even recognize the emotions triggering the binging and ED thoughts. Compulsive behaviors and addictions are so good at numbing our feelings, and many of us have been doing it nearly our entire lives. If you have struggled with food or other compulsive or addictive behaviors for much of your life, there is a good chance you may be rather out of touch with your emotions. I know I was. Simply identifying and naming emotions was incredibly difficult for me at first, and initially I refused to believe that I was an emotional eater! But not being able to recognize emotions is actually a sign that you probably ARE an emotional eater. This is particularly true of many of us who developed disordered eating or other mental health issues during childhood or teenage years, before we could develop into emotionally mature adults. And it’s OK that it happened that way. It really is. However … it IS up to us to take action to change. It’s not easy, but it can be done. For now, I’ll leave it at that; stay tuned for many more posts about emotional eating in the future. J

Second, for those who still don’t think your binging is emotional at all, consider this. Perhaps there is no particular emotion is triggering your binges. I think that is possible! But at some point during the process, emotions do enter the picture. Whether you’re just starting to pass from normal eating into binge mode or whether you’ve already been binging for quite some time, you’re likely feeling some altered state of emotion – you might think of it as a “high” if you’re feeling intoxicated by the pleasure of eating, or you might think of it as an extreme “low” if you’re feeling guilty and self-punishing while you eat. Or maybe you feel kind of numb, not really feeling anything, especially if you’re watching TV or doing something else to distract you. Fair enough. But EVEN THEN, I argue that emotions come into play. Notice what happens if you try to stop eating, if you tell yourself it’s time to stop, or if you (or someone else) forces yourself to stop before you’re ready … the odds are, you’re going to feel something at that point! It could be intense rage or sadness, or it could be as simple as a feeling of slight anxiety, unease, or disappointment. You’re feeling something difficult because it’s hard to stop eating. And that’s usually why you keep eating, keep binging, even when you know you’re going to eat yourself sick – it’s because you’d rather face the familiar after-binge bloated, guilty and miserable feelings than facing the unfamiliar feelings of discomfort that arise when you try to stop eating. If you were truly feeling no emotion at that point, you would simply stop eating because there is no logical reason to keep eating to the point of sickness.

Of course, I’m not saying that emotions are entirely to blame for binging. They are not; other psychological, biological and social factors are likely involved as well. But I believe the emotions are perhaps the most powerful cause, and the reason they have so much power is because we have been avoiding them all our lives. Still, this is not a hopeless situation … we need not be ruled by negative emotions and compulsive behaviors. By confronting our feelings – ALL of them, even the difficult ones – they lose that all-consuming power over us. This is by no means an easy thing to do, and it takes a lot of work and practice and patience with ourselves. But it sure beats binging! As they say, the worst day in recovery is still better than the BEST day in the life of an eating disorder!! Choose recovery – choose YOU and your life! 🙂

What are your thoughts about the role of feelings in your eating disorder experiences?

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2 thoughts on “Is binging really about emotions?

  1. Hmm, something to think about definitely… I still haven’t figured out why i binge but I know stress is probably it. Sometimes its so hard to try to figure things out tho when I’m so mad at myself and all I can think is how crappy and fat I feel. I like your blog, makes me feel like maybe i’m not at lost cause. Thank you for this.

    • Hi Amanda, thanks for reading! I definitely understand how binging and the mentality that goes with it can make it hard to think about anything else except the misery sometimes. I’m going to write a blog post on the topic of binge guilt in the very near future, so I hope you’ll check it out. 🙂 Also, you mention stress eating – stress eating is actually a form of emotional eating. It is probably the kind that most people identify the easiest. Stress is more of a secondary emotion like anxiety, both of which point to underlying emotions such as fears. In any case, though, it’s great that you’re beginning to identify triggers. 🙂

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