Binge-Eaters Are Hypocrites (But It's Not Their Fault)
If you binge-eat, you likely harbor a certain double standard in how you react to physical discomfort.
I’m going to give you a few examples of various sources of physical discomfort and what they feel like, and then I’ll compare how you react toward each.
Menstrual cramps. Menstrual cramps are uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. They might cause abdominal pain, headaches, back pain, and nausea or worse.
Toothache. Having a toothache is a pain, too: constant mouth pain, fever, headache…
Flu. The flu is not fun, obviously. Fever, chills, nausea, body aches? Not preferred. Definitely physically uncomfortable.
Binge-eating. After a binge, you might be seriously uncomfortable. When I binged, I’d often have acid reflux, nausea, indigestion, and abdominal pain.
How do you respond emotionally to these various physical discomforts?
Menstrual cramps, toothache, flu. With menstrual cramps, a toothache, and the flu, you might send emotional daggers toward your uterus, your tooth, and the flu virus, but your overall attitude becomes one of sympathy, compassion, and reassurance.
Binge-eating. Not so with binge-eating. Your attitude toward the physical discomfort of a binge is just the opposite: judgement, criticism, guilt, shame, self-blame, and self-loathing.
Here are the types of thought patterns you might observe in response to these physical discomforts:
Menstrual cramps. Aww, poor uterus. This is not my fault. This is normal. This will pass and I need to take care of myself until then.
Toothache. Damn, this hurts. Such a bummer this happened. This happens to a lot of people. I want to mitigate this pain so I can get through this.
Flu. This has been going around. This is not my fault. I’m going to take care of myself as best I can so I can heal fully and get back to normal.
Binge-eating. This is all my fault. I deserve this pain. I ruined everything. So-and-so is going to think I’m so fat. My mom/partner/sister/coworker is going to judge me. What is wrong with me?
In the end, how do you respond to these physical discomforts?
Menstrual cramps. On your period, you might take a heating pad to bed, take more baths than you do during the rest of your cycle, eat some chocolate, and maybe see your OB-GYN to help you manage symptoms.
Toothache. When you have a toothache, you probably apply a cold compress and take some Advil right away, then make a dentist appointment to take care of it ASAP.
Flu. With the flu, self-care is prime. You drink lots of water, get as much sleep as you possibly can and neutralize your diet by drinking tea and broth. You take some time off work, ask for help with your kids or your other responsibilities, and generally give yourself a break.
In these scenarios, you take loving action to help ease your physical discomfort. And in response to binge-eating…?
Binge-eating. Here are some responses that would make sense given the physical pain that binge-eating can cause: a heating pad on your abdomen, taking a nap, watching some TV, drinking some tea, and giving yourself a break.
Here’s what women often do instead: In response to binge-eating, you purposely do nothing to ease your physical pain because you think you deserve it. You subsequently prepare to starve yourself (you plan a diet). You might actually binge-eat some more. You over-exercise your pained body.
Why is it that you respond with compassion and equanimity when you’re menstruating or you have the flu, but you respond with condemnation and self-hatred when you binge-eat? Why is it that you practice self-care when you’re sick or in pain, but you punish yourself after you binge-eat?
It’s because you have a fundamental belief that you can control how you eat and what you weigh. That willpower should be enough to help you get your food “right.” That there is a “right” way to eat. That the way you eat and how you look is a reflection of who you are. That changing your weight is fully within your control.
In short, you’re compassionate and loving toward yourself when you’re in pain, as long as it’s not caused by binge-eating because you think binge-eating is your fault.
I’m going to tell you something that’s going to blow your mind: binge-eating is not your fault.
Binge-eating is not your fault. Really. Just like menstrual cramps are not your fault, just like a toothache is not your fault, just like getting the flu is not your fault, binge-eating is ultimately out of your control and so not your fault.
Binge-eating is a natural (and healthy!) response to physical deprivation. When you deprive yourself physically a. k. a. starve yourself a. k. a. diet (for more on this see Video 1 of my training series — sign up here), your body’s physical needs aren’t being met. As a result, your body drives you to consume large quantities of food in order to refuel your deprived body. It’s like a starving prisoner of war gorging on all the food he can get his hands on. It makes sense and it’s a good thing. Binge-eating is a natural and healthy response to food deprivation.
Binge-eating is also a rational response to emotional deprivation. Judgement, criticism, guilt, shame, self-blame, and self-loathing constitute emotional deprivation. And just like physical deprivation is a threat to your food supply that results in binge-eating, emotional deprivation is also a threat to your food supply that result in binge-eating.
When you deprive yourself emotionally by judging, criticizing, shaming, and blaming yourself for the way you eat, you’re saying to yourself: This is bad, this is wrong, and I’ve got to stop this as soon as possible. You’re saying to your body: The food is going away. Get it while you can.
Your body hears that and goes into “Last Supper mentality” — hoarding mode. And you binge-eat. Binge-eating is a natural response to emotional deprivation.
The solution to binge-eating is not more deprivation, physical or emotional. The solution to binge-eating is to stop judging yourself for it. (I teach how to do this in Video 3 of my training series — sign up here.)
When you stop judging yourself, when you stop criticizing yourself, when you stop guilting, shaming, and blaming yourself for binge-eating, you start to have a more equanimous attitude toward your food, your body, and yourself. You’re more likely to care for yourself in loving ways, just like you care for yourself when you’re menstruating, when you have a toothache, and when you have the flu.