What it takes to understand, manage and change comfort and binge eating
Keep a higher purpose in the forefront of your mind
You’ve got to have a really good, personally meaningful reason, to give up what comforts you.
For me it’s connecting to what I really want in life. Whether this be empowering people through really talking about things that don’t get talked about; feeling strong, fit and healthy; or valuing deep, loving connections with others and myself. These things connect me to a greater meaning, interest and purpose, which often cut through the reasons I have for gaining comfort from food.
What’s really worth putting your comfort binge aside for?
Mindful self observation
Having a binge is often preceded by an impulsive thought. An abandonment of care for yourself. An “I don’t care” moment.
Over time it’s important to observe all of your aggressive thoughts and consequent actions.
You might be surprised how often you put yourself down.
It’s important because you do care really, or you wouldn’t be here.
Understand what you need comforting or reassurance for
It’s useful to understand how difficult feelings get triggered in the present moment. It’s possible to slow down and study what emotions and reactions you’re having before you feel the urge to eat something. It can be a really complex and subtle personal interpretation, or it can be really obvious.
For example, you tell someone you respect and admire, that you’re worried about money. They give you some suggestions for how to deal with that problem, including downsizing your assets. All you hear is that they think you should sell your house. You don’t want to sell your house, so you go into panic about not knowing what to do, and thinking you should do what they think, because they are wise, and maybe you are wrong.
It’s a dilemma that’s grounded in self questioning. This is ‘feeding ground’ for the comfort binge eater.
What was happening before your last binge?
Understand patterns and beliefs
Underlying the cause of binge eating is often some kind of deep rooted belief that you don’t matter. This belief will usually have been formed in childhood. It develops for most of us from the amount of attention our parents were able to give us. The less attention, the less we think we matter, unconciously. For some, abuse will have further cemented this belief that personal needs are not important.
In later life, a person who doesn’t feel they matter, often develops into someone who puts other people’s needs first, and who doesn’t know how to address their own needs and feelings. Hence the comforting binge.
Bringing these unconscious patterns and beliefs into conscious awareness is the first step to changing them.
Learn to tolerate emotion
This is a big one, but essential, and not as awful as people assume!
It’s really part of the human conundrum that most of us are scared to feel scared, don’t want to feel sad, and are frightened of anger! Our defense systems were built to protect us, so it’s hard to switch them off.
It’s so easy for us to squash or turn away from feelings. We have a huge amount of distraction in our culture. But we also have the internal capacity to dissociate. When we feel under threat this happens naturally, unconsciously, physiologically. (Steven Porges explains this really well, if you’re interested in the science of this).
This entwined with a belief that our needs are unimportant, means we have very little training in how to utilise emotion.
But we need to know how we feel so that we can address and resolve our situations. Our emotions bring really important information. They can tell us what we do and don’t like, and they can connect us with each other.
But the biggest reveal is that often if we stay with emotion, just paying attention to it and observing the energy of it inside us, it often changes or dissipates altogether. Most people have the fear that if they pay attention to feeling it will somehow get worse or last forever. But the opposite can often be true. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it really can hurt, but it usually passes.
Work with your unconscious
This takes listening to your feelings and instincts to another level. The most effective way I know of shifting out of a chronic pattern of behaviour, is by staying and working with unconscious material.
Most therapeutic approaches and self help are about trying to manage a problem from the top down (ie, through rational thought; attempting to change patterns through reasoning). But the underlying belief or cause is usually in the unconscious mind. The rational part of our brain doesn’t necessarily communicate well with he unconscious, which is easy to deny and ignore (as above).
Our unconscious may speak to us in images, with memories, through sensations or feelings, as well as background thoughts.
By exploring the organisation of our unconscious beliefs and experiences in our systems, we can be liberated from chronic patterns, just through realising them.
Putting this together with rational thought and understanding is a powerful tool.
A book I often recommend to clients for questions which get you deeper into your unconscious, with kindness, is ‘Self Parenting’ by John K Pollard. If you do read this book, take it slowly. Perhaps only do the first few exercises repeatedly before going deeper into the final questions.
You may find expert support helpful for this process.
Self care isn’t just about having bubble baths and spa dates. It’s probably the hardest thing for a comfort eater to master.
It’s about being kind to yourself, no matter what. From the shame you might feel socially, to the aftermath of a full on binge.
Self care is about lovingly, compassionately accepting every little human feeling, thought, or action you have. It’s about listening to your real desires and meeting them for yourself.
For most binge eaters this isn’t anythng particularly wild or outrageous, though it may completely overhaul a person’s life! It’s about spending time doing nice things rather than working. Or learning to say no when exhausted by fulfilling other people’s needs.
Having discovered what makes you need comfort from food it’s important to learn how to calm your activated system down, yourself. This is easier to do when you know what you need soothing for.
Many self soothing techniques are physiologiccal. Just breathing more deeply can calm you down.
But also combining compassionate self talk with mindful observation can really help.
Want to go further?
The ‘Understanding your Eating’ group programme now runs 3 times a year (January, April, September) in Bristol, and also online.
I will send you more information on how I can help you