Do you ever try to distract yourself from binge eating or emotional overeating?

I’ve read a lot of blogs and articles on the internet about emotional eating and how to overcome it. I’m so pleased to see that there are many helpful resources available to people – I wish that had been the case when I was in the thick of my eating disorder. There is one strategy though that I see repeatedly, and I do want to say something about it: it’s about distracting yourself so you won’t overeat or binge.

The recommendations I see are things like:

  • keep yourself busy so you won’t think about food

  • go for a walk

  • take a bath

  • call a friend

  • get involved in a hobby

  • exercise

  • drink water

  • go shopping for smaller clothes (that don’t fit you yet, as motivation)

  • play with your child

  • read a book

  • groom your pet

And there are many others…

There is nothing wrong with any of these activities. They have a valuable place in a normal, healthy life. It’s highly recommended that we do them. Well, all except for the one about shopping for smaller clothes that don’t fit as a way to ‘motivate’ yourself. Ugh. But that’s a topic for another conversation.

So why not distract yourself?

When you distract yourself from your urge to binge or overeat, you miss an opportunity for discovery; you miss the chance to learn something about yourself and how you operate in your life. When you’ve given yourself the gift of your own insight, that’s when the urge to overeat becomes valuable in your life, rather than an annoying, inconvenient aspect of yourself that you hate.

Somehow over the years, you’ve likely created a habit of meeting a whole host of your needs with food. If you distract yourself from the desire to eat past satisfaction how likely is it that you’ll recognise the need, never mind attempt to meet it appropriately?

Not very likely, I would say, speaking from experience.

The urge to binge or to eat past satisfaction, is a way of getting your own attention

If you’ve been meeting many of your needs with food for a long time, it’s probable you’ve lost sight of what you actually need in any given moment: a hug; recognition; to feel safe; rest; stillness – to name but a few. So you eat.

Going for a walk may stop you from overeating, but it won’t stop you needing rest, if that’s what you need; so when you come back from the walk, the need will not have been met, and it will resurface – in the guise of another urge to binge, or snapping at your loved ones, for example.

Keeping yourself busy by doing errands, cleaning out your wardrobe or scrubbing the bathroom, floor to ceiling with a toothbrush, may distract you from a tub of ice-cream, but if what you need is physical affection, the toothbrush won’t give it to you, just as the ice-cream wouldn’t have.

Am I making sense?

To be healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, we must pay attention to and meet our different types of needs

This is a powerful strategy, and it works. We are living beings and we have needs.

Learning to meet your needs means you don’t have to exhaust yourself with distractions.

It means you don’t have to be afraid of the urge to eat beyond satisfaction.

It means you no longer need to be on guard.

I never thought I’d say this, but it’s true: almost every day, I feel grateful that this is my path. I have learned so much about myself, how I show up in the world, and how I relate to other people – and I continue to do so!

And it’s only because I’m willing to pay attention to what my urge to continue to eat is alerting me to.

This means I’m a healthier, more resilient and peaceful person, who is no longer scared of the urge to eat, but rather becomes curious about it: I tell you, it’s the most interesting dinner guest ever.