Binge Eating Self Help: How to Overcome Emotional Eating

25 signs that you may be struggling with emotional eating and body image shame, and 6 steps to overcome it.

It’s tough to find a binge eating self help article online that doesn’t make you feel a little shameful after you read it. Most articles focus on the extreme end of the spectrum and use the label “emotional eating disorder.”

Hopefully my perspective on binge eating and emotional eating will help you be a little easier on yourself.

I personally think the majority of people emotionally eat sometimes. Some of us not to the farthest extreme, but I definitely think it’s common to use food to comfort or numb out sometimes. And that, in and of itself, is not the problem. Yep you heard me. Emotional eating, and even overeating is just the indicator or a symptom (NOT the root problem).

Eating more than you need to eat on occasion is one thing, but when you notice that you are doing it fairly often, this is a nudge to look closer to find out what other deeper need you’re ignoring.

Emotional Eating, Comfort and Pleasure

Food is innately a very emotional thing. This stems all the way back to when we were babies and our mother, father, or someone would nourish us with breast milk or a bottle while holding us, soothing us, giving us comfort and love.

In many cultures, food is used as an integral part of celebration and this normal. In fact, many of those cultures have a healthier relationship with food than we Americans do.

Attaching celebratory emotions to food isn’t wrong. Receiving pleasure from food is not shameful. It’s the unhealthy sort of emotional eating that we need to pay attention to because usually that means that we are lacking pleasure and happiness and control, in some other area of life.

I know for myself, the times when I would binge eat the most were the times where I felt the most out of control in life and I turned to obsessing over my body as the one thing I thought I could ultimately control.

Usually this is the case for most people and even beyond binge eating or emotional eating, other unhealthy behaviors can show up as indicators well.

25 Unconventional Signs You May Be Struggling with Binge Eating and Unhealthy Body Image

To help you clarify if you may be doing some of these things without even realizing it, here are 25 signs that you may be struggling with emotional eating and unhealthy behaviors related to your body.

Many of these are things I myself have done. Others are signs that I’ve seen over and over again with my 1-on-1 clients.

Use this list to check in with yourself. Be honest. It’s not about shame or doing something wrong, it’s about bringing awareness to unhealthy habits so that you have the power to change them. We’ll get into how to do that in a minute.

  1. Calling yourself fat (either in your thoughts or in your conversations with others).
  2. Pinching your skin at the location of your problem areas to see how much fat is there.
  3. Frequently checking in the mirror to see if your thighs, waist, face, arms, etc look fatter or skinnier.
  4. Skipping meals and making excuses for it (no time, options…).
  5. Eating only a short list of “safe” foods and rigidly following food rules/rituals.
  6. Collecting recipes but never making them because you are afraid of eating something other than your list of “safe” foods.
  7. Feeling shame/guilt if you eat something “bad”.
  8. Continuing to follow the same plan/program again and again, even if you can’t ever seem to stick with it.
  9. Not allowing yourself to go out with the girls, have dinner dates, or be social because you’re too scared you’ll give into temptation and fall off the wagon.
  10. Cooking elaborate meals for others, but refusing to eat them yourself.
  11. Binging on comfort foods, sweets, salty food, or even healthy foods.
  12. Continuing to eat even when you are full or even overly full.
  13. Craving certain foods and obsessively thinking about them until you finally eat them.
  14. Alienating yourself from loved ones or friends because they “don’t understand you” and your relationship with food.
  15. Feeling true hunger pains but ignoring them in an effort to strong arm your body into losing weight.
  16. Hoarding food, binging when you are alone, freaking out due to overwhelming shame and guilt, and then in an effort to control yourself, throwing away all of the “bad” or trigger foods in your fridge and pantry.
  17. Desiring to nourish your body with healthy food, but then when it comes down to it, choosing foods that you feel guilty about eating.
  18. Feeling a loss of control over food, never feeling satisfied with the amount or food choices you make.
  19. Getting off of a stressful phone call and immediately turning to food for comfort.
  20. Being on or off a diet for as long as you can remember and the thought of eating without counting calories or tracking your food in some way seems impossible.
  21. Feeling resentment, anger, or jealousy over other people’s ability to eat the way you would like to eat.
  22. Depriving yourself of your favorite foods completely.
  23. Believing that if you could just eat “right” all of the time, then all of your body issues would go away and you’d live happily ever after.
  24. Waking up in the middle of the night worrying about your weight and eating habits.
  25. Spending hours in the gym to “make up for bad eating.”

If any of these sound like you, be easy on yourself. You are not alone.

Also realize that sometimes it takes getting to a breaking point (even multiple times) or rock bottom, before we’re finally ready to make the changes necessary to improve our life.

In order to create sustainable change, you have to be ready. And if you are reading this right now, I have a feeling you are.

Now that we’re clear on where you may be at right now, let’s talk about the steps to create positive, sustainable change.

6 Steps to Overcome Binge Eating and Unhealthy Body Image

1. Deprivation is Not the Answer

It’s time to let go of deprivation and restriction.

I used to be “all or nothing” with my mindset about food and fitness.

I would decide I needed to lose weight, then proceed to throw out every tempting food in my pantry, plan out my calorie and protein, carb, fat breakdown for ALL of my meals for the week, say no to ALL after-work get togethers and events, and use every excuse in the book to skip office birthday cake parties.

Then I would hit the gym for an hour at 5AM before work, AND take a fitness class at lunch three times a week, AND then go for an hour walk after work to get in some “extra” calorie burn.

On one hand, I was strict, focused, and driven to achieve my weight loss goals. But on the other hand, I was exhausted, both emotionally and physically. I was so hungry all of the time that I found myself chewing a pack a day of sugar-free gum (sometimes more) to try to curb my appetite, which was causing my stomach to bloat so much that by the time I got home from work I looked like I was four months pregnant!

And on weekends I would binge like a crazy woman. I remember walking the aisles of Whole Foods, when they used to have all kinds of food samples out, and I would eat every one, even things I didn’t even like simply because they were there in front of me!

I’d eat so much on Saturday night (because it was my “cheat day” and I was trying to get everything in!) that I’d feel overly full, uncomfortable, and ready for bed right after dinner.

I’d wake up Sunday morning, feeling guilty for what I ate Saturday and think, “What the heck, I already overdid it so I might as well indulge today too.” I’d snack most of the day on anything munchy, crunchy, snacky, sweet, or whatever else I could get my hands on.

And on Monday morning I’d wake up ashamed and once again determined to making my workout twice as sweaty to make up for all of my weekend binge eating. It was a vicious cycle.

Deprivation and extremes are what cause us to fly off the wagon. They are not sustainable or realistic.

The first step in overcoming binge eating is to create a lifestyle that is customized to your own personal preferences, goals, and schedule rather than blindly following a restrictive strict plan.

One of my favorite ways to create healthy habits with food (based on your unique preferences) that infuses both structure and freedom is to choose 3 food non-negotiables.

These are the 3 foods that you would feel super deprived without.

For me, my 3 healthy non-negotiable are.

  1. Coffee every day. I used to LOVE caramel macchiatos. Over time, I’ve transitioned that to skinny vanilla lattes with sugar-free vanilla syrup. Then eventually I transitioned it to skim milk lattes with stevia. Now I love Americano’s with unsweetened almond milk and vanilla stevia. Baby steps…
  2. Dessert every night. I allow myself things like Halo Top ice cream, protein bars that to me taste like dessert, dark chocolate, or even a few bites of dessert out at a restaurant. I am all about my sweets!
  3. Cocktails and dinner out with friends 1-2x a week, enjoying a treat meal in moderation.

I had a client once tell me what a huge shift it was for her when I gave her permission to have something sweet each day. Just allowing herself that one square of dark chocolate for dessert (for example) without the guilt of feeling like she was doing something wrong was so impactful on her journey.

That's the secret. Giving yourself permission to have these non-negotiables moves mountains in terms of removing the mental games that we play with ourselves. When you stop telling yourself you can't have it, it doesn't have any power over you anymore. You stop thinking about it all the time, worrying about when you'll get to have it again, struggling to keep yourself from it. Think about all the mental space and energy this one step clears up!

2. Take the Easiest Next Step

Don’t try to go from 0 to 100 overnight. When has that ever stuck for the long-term, right? We tend to want immediate results and then we push too hard, too fast, can’t keep it up, feel like a failure, and then think we suck.

One pound lost in a sustainable way in one week is better than five pounds lost in a super restrictive way that will make you binge.

If cleaning out the pantry of temptation makes you feel good, do it. But if this idea makes you feel deprived and pissed off, then don’t.

I know for myself, the minute I tell myself I can’t have something, I want it ten times more.

Ask yourself, what is the first, baby step you can take today in a positive direction? Do that. Then once you have that down, plug in one more. Build a solid foundation slowly that you actually enjoy and don’t feel overwhelmed by, and it will naturally become a part of who you are and how you think.

Baby steps practiced consistently over time add up to long term sustainable change.

3. Act Analyze Adjust

This phrase, “act, analyze, adjust,” is something a friend told me a while back that really stuck with me.

The first time he said it, I thought:

Oh that’s such a masculine way of thinking. I don’t need any more of that, thank you very much! As a type-A, go getter, driven woman, I had the task-driven, analytical style down pat. But you know what, sometimes masculine strategies can give us the structure that allows us to relax into our feminine (aka more ease and flow).

Here’s what I mean. We think “failure” means we suck, but really it is only feedback. We learn the most through experience. I had tons of business classes in college, but I learned SO much more about how to run a business… by starting and running a business!

We need to give ourselves the space and permission to begin, experiment, and test things out. This “container” of taking action, analyzing, and adjusting is what allows us to get clear on exactly what we want, and fine tune as we go.

So what does this look like in practice? Let’s say this weekend you have plans to go to your favorite Mexican restaurant with friends. In the past, you get there starving, order a margarita, eat a bunch of chips and guacamole, then order an entree and maybe another margarita or two, maybe a churro too because, what the heck it’s Saturday and you’ve already blown it! Then you get home stuffed and wake up the next day full of regret.

Here’s what to do instead:

Act (Step 1): Make a Plan

Have a snack an hour or so before dinner so you don’t show up starving.

Have a glass of water when you get there, before you order a drink.

Order a side of sliced cucumbers with your guacamole, so you can use those to dip instead of chips.

Share a meal with a friend or box up half to take home.

Stick to 1-2 margaritas, with a full glass of water in between each.

Act (Step 2): Act it Out

Get to it! Go to dinner and see how closely you can stick to the plan.

Analyze: How’d It Work Out?

Afterward, check in with yourself.

How do you feel?

What did you learn?

Next time, would you do anything differently?

Adjust: Make Changes for the Next Time

Make any necessary adjustments and continue to practice again and again, each time getting better and better, refining as you go.

4. Release Negative Emotion

How much shame, guilt, “not good-enough-ness” are you carting around with you every day? Do you know how much energy that zaps out of you?! It’s time to let go.

Here’s an exercise for putting this into practice:

Make a list of the things you feel shame around. What old stories of “not good enoughness” do you keep telling yourself? What negative mantras and fears run through your mind?

Once you have your list, use the ho'oponopono forgiveness practice to release and let go. I first heard about this practice from Elizabeth DiAlto, and she does a great job of explaining how to go through this process in this video.

This exercise is far more powerful than you might think. It’s retraining your brain. Most people say they feel ten pounds lighter after going through it because energetically you release SO much baggage.

I have a similar forgiveness exercise in one of the first modules of my ROCK Your Dream Body Immersion program, because in order to make room for all the good we want to receive, we have to clear space. Makes sense right? Releasing that which does not serve us, is a big part of this process.

5. Make Peace with What Is

We create so much anxiety around not being “there yet”.

  • Not being the right size.
  • Not losing weight fast enough.
  • Not seeing the specific results we’re looking for fast enough.
  • Not sticking to the plan as perfectly as we think we should.
  • Not loving our body the way we want to yet.
  • Not feeling confident, sexy, and alive like we think we should.

I am going to give it to you straight because I think you’re open and ready to hear this:

The longer you focus on what is not there yet, the longer you hold yourself apart from your goals.

Your long-term success does not revolve around:

  • Avoiding ALL the sugar.
  • Being perfect.
  • Having ZERO cellulite.
  • Losing 3 pounds this week.
  • Preparing every meal at home.
  • Getting to the gym 7 times this week.

Yes, of course I want you to get the results that you want. I will be the first to tell you that it is okay for you to set any goal for yourself that feels inspiring to you, however the key is to nourish yourself there, not force yourself there.

We want to set up your life with habits and thoughts that are supportive, loving, nurturing. This is what ultimately creates long-term sustainable success. Shame, guilt, fear keep us stuck cycling in these negative emotions.

The more peace we can cultivate along the way, the more naturally our behavior will follow suit and align with what is best for our health.

Your body is an amazing machine and the more you can keep it feeling relaxed and supported, the more it will support you by working like the well-oiled machine that it truly is.

Stress clogs up our system. Relaxation keeps our system flowing. The more our system flows, the more digestion and our metabolism can work optimally.

An unhappy journey does not lead to a happy ending.

You MUST do the emotional work to find peace along the way to your weight loss goals. Otherwise, you may end up getting to that goal, but you’ll still be unhappy.

When are at peace with where you are right now, you don’t need food to fill an emptiness. You stop eating out of boredom without even thinking about it.

And guess what. That dream body that you have been chasing after for so long… comes as a result. It’s a side-affect because you've lifted up off of your resistance. Meaning, you've distracted yourself from thinking about food all the time, decreased the stress within your body and given it the chance to do what it's made to do.

6. Tune into Your Unique Body for Clues

We are constantly receiving messages in the media, across social media, from many influential trainers and coaches in the fitness and personal development space that we have to force, will, or trick our body and mind into giving us what we want.

This is so far from the truth.

Your body is way smarter than they are giving it credit for. It’s giving you signals all day long that, if you would listen and follow the guidance you receive, would show you exactly how to achieve the healthy, lean physique that you want so badly.

But many of us have been ignoring that guidance for so long in favor of what everyone else is telling us to do, that we don’t even know what it sounds like anymore.

Our body’s wisdom is our intuition.

Nourish your body. Love it. Take care of it. Give it the rest, nutrients, movement, fresh air, and the joy that it is asking for and it will support you in reaching your goals.

The human body is an amazing machine, and it is capable of things far beyond what most people believe.

With awareness, and a willingness to practice the steps I’ve outlined above, you can reconnect with the wisdom of your body and guide yourself toward the results you want to achieve, not through struggle and force, but through love.

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