“Between the stimulus and the response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom.”

– Victor Frankl

One of the most common reasons for binge eating is an attempt to manage unpleasant emotions such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. When you have a bad day it can seem like food is our only pleasure and sometimes our only friend. Binge eating can temporarily make those bad feelings go but only for a few moments.

Emotional eating has a few common traits that you may notice:

  • Comes on quickly
  • Specific comfort foods
  • Mindlessness
  • Not satisfied once full
  • A response to the suffering of some sort
  • Leads to further negative emotions – shame, guilt, regret

There are lots of ways to help these emotions and reduce them without needing to emotionally eat.  You don’t have to do all of them as maybe just being aware of it is enough for you.  But if you struggle with this try one or more of these exercises:

  1. Start a food and mood diary – when you feel the desire to eat for comfort – take a moment to backtrack and see what triggered that desire.  If you write it down you will start to see a pattern emerge.  Once you know the triggers, you can often change them and also the way you manage the emotions
  2. Be curious about the emotions and take a moment to stop and investigate what’s going on inside. Do your best to name what you’re feeling. Is it anxiety? Shame? Hopelessness? Anger? Loneliness? Fear? Emptiness?
  3. Distance yourself – remember you are NOT your feelings.  When we reviewed the brain earlier remember that the desire and emotions you feel are only just a small part of your brain firing.  You are more than that.  Your emotions will pass and they don’t define you and you don’t have to act on them or give in.  Yes, that sounds easy in theory, and can be hard when you begin but it becomes easier with time
  4. Accept the emotions and tolerate them, even the bad ones.  There are our emotions and then our reaction to those emotions which often amplify our suffering.  The more we accept it and don’t judge it, the less severe the emotions and desires become.  This is essential to the practice of mindfulness which some people, not everyone, find extremely helpful. There are some recommendations for apps and websites you can try in future videos for more info.

Following these principles is more like a way of life rather than something you do just 10 minutes a day.  You do them in small ways constantly and they become new internal mind habits.  At first, it can be hard to distance yourself from your emotions and observe them rather than giving into them.  But practices like mindfulness and the others I have mentioned are like doing weights for your brain.  If I asked you to lift 50kg you probably couldn’t but that doesn’t mean you are incapable, it just means you have not trained and practiced.  Practice regularly and you will easily lift 50kg and more.  All these ways of being are the same – do them regularly and they become easier and more automatic.