I hang out with a lot of people in various forums, who struggle with binge eating. One of the most common recommendations that other ‘sufferers’ suggest is to ‘get busy’ and distract themselves until the urge to binge passes. It’s not surprising that this tool is so highly recommended – it’s a suggestion in a fair few professional resources that I have come across.
And yet – even with that recommendation, people show up in these forums saying: ‘I’ve cleaned out the cupboards, done all the ironing, been for a walk, had a bath/shower, washed my hair, given myself a manicure, reorganised the bookshelves… and I still want to binge! Help!’
That is a slight exaggeration for effect – but honestly – I’ve seen lists of activities that make me feel tired just reading them.
Of course some also report that the distraction worked. That time, anyway.
The lure of distraction
Distraction is attractive because it means you can avoid feeling something. For a while.
If you’re so busy outwardly engaged in an activity then your attention is diverted from inside: from your thoughts and feelings – not to mention the urge to binge, which, let’s be honest, isn’t pleasant!
Binge eating itself is often a distraction from feeling something – particularly if you eat emotionally. So that’s a bit of a double whammy – the binge-urge is a distraction from feeling something – so then you distract yourself from the urge to binge with busy-ness. Distraction on top of distraction… and where are you, underneath all of that?
Why being busy isn’t a solution
What seems like an advantage – avoiding unpleasant feelings and thoughts – isn’t actually going to help you resolve your eating behaviour and you certainly won’t learn anything about yourself from doing this.
You can see your urge to binge as a message from yourself that something needs your attention. There’s a thought or a feeling that wants to be acknowledged. Heard.
Distracting from it with lots of activities will likely make you feel tired (and who knows, perhaps the need you’re not recognising is rest – and all you’re doing with the busy-ness is inadvertently making yourself more tired – which may well trigger a bigger binge later when you have no resources left!)
it still leaves you with:
- an unmet need,
- an unexpressed feeling,
- or thoughts that haven’t been brought to the light and examined.
What to do instead
This is probably going to sound bonkers, but here it is anyway.
- If you’re hungry, EAT! Binge eating is often a very normal response to restriction (aka dieting).
- If you have been mentally restricting (telling yourself you shouldn’t eat [name of food], or that you’ve eaten too much of it etc.) – then eat whatever it is you’re not giving yourself emotional permission to eat. See if you can eat it while staying connected with the experience of eating.
If 1 and 2 don’t apply:
Instead, sit. Be with yourself. The urge is simply an urge. It’s not a criminal. It’s not a monster. It’s not an imposter. It’s not the devil that has possessed you. It’s a feeling inside your body that will pass.
Use this opportunity to find out what need, thought or feeling wants your attention.
When you consistently do these 3 things:
- honour your physical hunger,
- give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want,
- and take care of your needs and feelings…
then, dear one, you will resolve your dysfunctional eating behaviour.