Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: I definitely have a binge eating disorder. This has been going on since I’m 13; I’m now 50! My husband, also 50 is very overweight and my daughter, 20 and in college is very overweight. I’m very interested in getting my family on track. What can you tell me about binge eating?
Answer: Two things are usually at work when it comes to eating disorders. One is emotional and one is physical/chemical. Of course, you can’t entirely separate the two. But let me talk about one for a minute and then the other.
First of all, we often “reward” ourselves with food because we feel low, or we are bored, we feel insecure or unloved, or maybe life just feels empty and food is the only thing we have to look forward to. It’s helpful to know when we begin to eat something damaging to our health what it is, exactly, we’re hoping the junk food can do for us. Is it going to ease the boredom? If so, it may help to talk to yourself about that: “For five minutes while I eat these Cinnabon cinnamon rolls, I’ll enjoy them, but then I’ll have a blood sugar crash and be unable to do my work. And I’ll hate myself because I was going to eat healthy today and then ate a box of donuts after lunch, instead. Then my self-esteem will be lower, not higher.”
I find self-talk isn’t usually enough, though. I also have to find something else to do to make myself NOT BORED. (That’s my emotional trigger–boredom.) Some people eat when they’re feeling criticized or ignored by someone they care about. Some eat to cover up their sexuality because of intimacy issues. There are so many reasons to overeat or indulge in processed foods that cause weight gain and health problems.
Second, when processed foods are in our daily menu, they screw up our tastes for other foods. They change our ability to detect where the “off” switch should be in eating, because MSG, NutraSweet, sugar or corn syrup, and salt cause a chemical chain reaction of symptoms that lead us to not understand or tune into being satisfied by a small to moderate amount of food.
Those who eat to assuage their emotions AND have chemical addictions to processed food are doomed to overweight if they don’t tap into both sides of that equation. I wrote 12 Steps to Whole Foods to address the chemical issues. And Ch. 11 on healthy treats helps in the transition away from eating junk treats all the time. Starting there–with nutrition–also helps on the emotion side, because even if unaddressed, you have much better options when you DO soothe yourself with food.