For a very long time, I had a problem with food. I used to feel like the sweets in the fridge would call my name. Back and forth I’d go, until the sweets were all gone. Then the feeling of dread would come over me. What have I done?
I know I’m not the only one that has had this feeling, in fact every day I talk patients through this very scenario. For a lot of people this “out of control” eating pattern also results in binge-eating, were eating doesn’t stop still you feel physically ill.
There is one thing I must tell you though; this compulsion to revisit the fridge over and over again or to eat large qualities of food during a binge, has nothing to do with your willpower, personality, strength of character or food. This is totally about what’s going on in your mind.
Feeling out of control with your eating can stem from a range of factors, and this includes the inability to regulate and soothe emotions you are feeling, the dieting mind-set and the process of food restriction.
No doubt you have come across the concept of emotional eating. Ultimately, you know you’re an emotional eater when you reach for food when you feel down, lonely or depressed. Food acts as your personal comforter. Unfortunately, this behaviour of eating your emotions away can be self-destructive and often leads to a discontent with yourself and with your body.
How to do it better: Ask yourself what else can help you deal with how you are feeling without resorting to food? This may include phoning a friend, becoming distracted with craft or drawing, or taking the dog for a walk. Try to do something to uplift your sprits or distract your thoughts in the moment. When you begin to practice this, eventually after repeating the process over and over again it will become habit leaving you with a new and improved emotional regulation strategy.
The Dieting Mindset
The dieting mindset includes the process of severe food restriction when you feel like you are “on” a diet, and complete apathy when you are “off” a diet. This all or nothing thinking can leave you feeling deprived of food in the short term, and then go through a process of rewarding yourself with food thereafter. The dieting mindset tends to leave you feeling like you’re on a roller coaster ride of success and failure. It’s not a healthy or productive mindset at all.
How to do it better: Give up dieting. Dieting is a recipe for disaster, especially when it’s an unsupervised diet with no progression plan in place. This isn’t permission to eat junk food all day, but it is a wakeup call to stop playing games with your body and start to take a sensible approach to your eating.
Dieting creates many rules about what you should and should not eat, at the same time it creates feelings of deprivation and a sense of loss. Why can’t you eat healthily and eat cake on the odd occasion too? Give yourself permission to eat the foods you normally do, and just remove some of the obvious daily dietary culprits like fast food and soft drink and then reduce your portion size. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever have soft drink again, but it may mean that you need to the sensible decision to reduce it to a few times a week.
Leave the piece of cake or glass of wine for special occasions on the weekend, and stop beating yourself up if you fall off track. Self-berating is demotivating. Start to think of food as an agent to nourish your body, rather than food to fill an emotional void. It also helps your mental and physical wellbeing if you do some regular exercise. Exercise makes you feel good, and keeps you healthy.
Food doesn’t have the same allure when you are well fed, content and happy with yourself. If you starve yourself or skip meals you will set yourself up for uncontrolled eating later on that day. Binge-eating often starts with a period of restriction, typically in the effort to lose weight or be “good”. Food restriction can form part of an eating disorder, but you don’t necessarily have to have an eating disorder to binge-eat either. When you are bingeing it feels like you are in a zone, like the food is calling your name and you just can’t stop.
How to do it better: Give yourself permission to eat when you are hungry. It sounds simple, but so many times we override the feelings of hunger in an effort to drop a few kilos and, unfortunately it backfires. You end up feeling like you will never stop eating!
To stop bingeing start by keeping a food an emotion diary, figure out why you are bingeing, what is going on around you, how are you feeling and what thoughts are going through your mind. You may find that binges are triggered by stress, anxiety or disappointment.
Once you have pin pointed your reason for bingeing think about what you can do to change this? Do you need to change your mind set about different things happening in your life, do you need psychological support from a therapist or do you need start saying no to things to reduce the stress in your life.
Ultimately if you feel out of control with your eating it’s a good idea to have a chat with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Psychologist that can help you figure things out. Feeling out of control with your eating is something that can be fixed with the right help. So don’t be afraid to reach out to get on top of things. Take care out there!
PS* Less commonly changes in hormones, medications or brain injury can also leave individuals feeling out of control with your eating. If this is you, see a medical professional such as a local doctor or specialist endocrinologist. They may be able to assist you with prescribing pharmaceuticals that may be able to help you.