Self-compassion and binge eating

binge eating

Hi, my name is Gen and I binge eat.

Note I didn’t follow the usual AA format and say “I am a binge eater” –  not out of denial but because it’s a label that ignores that I am so much more than how I eat. I am more than the sum of my behaviour.

Read about stopping night time binge eating here.

Writing this, I’m reminded of the self-compassion literature I’ve been reading lately, particularly Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, and Christopher Germer’s The mindful path to Self-Compassion, both of which provide timely reminders about the difference between “I did something bad” and “I am bad”.

Daring Greatly - Brene Brown

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This is a distinction I’ve struggled with my entire life.

So, although on any given day it might be true, I’m choosing not to call myself a binge eater. I will though, in the interests of full disclosure, admit I do (sometimes rarely and sometimes too-frequently) binge eat. Usually when I’m in the throes of it, the thought running through my mind is “I don’t know why I’m doing this!”.

Which is bullshit, because if I dig deep enough, I know exactly why I’m doing it – because I’m lonely, or sad, or hating myself. Because I’m craving intimacy, or feeling rebellious. Or because I’m just wanting to wrap a big invisibility cloak around myself and hide from the world for a while.
binge eat
Self-compassion raises interesting questions. Does it mean simply accepting everything we do as being ‘ok’, thereby removing the need to try and improve or change our behaviours? If I’m being self-compassionate, and no longer hating myself for binge eating, does that mean I’ll just keep right on doing it and no longer care?

No, but it does mean feeling compassion for myself because I’m stuck in that loop of feeling like crap. Bad enough to want to drown myself in chocolate biscuits – and consequences be damned.

Instead of just letting myself feel that way, I usually jump straight into self-loathing for eating in response to those feelings, which of course takes all the pleasure away and makes the eating doubly pointless.

The Dalai Lama, in The Art of Happiness (also on my current reading list), talks about the difference between pleasure and happiness, and implies (or this is what I took out of it) that at least in the West we frequently confuse the two, opting for short term pleasure as though it’s the means to longer term happiness.

I have come soooo far in my own life, in terms of my personal development, overall wellbeing, joie de vivre, and obviously, my weight. Some of this, the weight loss most obviously, came about through being willing  to deny, or at least substitute, instant gratification through food for the sake of healthier goals and a deeper happiness.

And while it’s clearly paid off, it’s bloody hard to maintain. The sugar siren call is a clear reach for pleasure in response to pain.

I talk about quitting sugar here.

Reminding myself that success is a journey, not a destination, helps. I will likely always be one of those people who struggles with the temptation to binge eat when I feel down. Accepting that is freeing, as is having faith that it’ll never get so bad as to undo all the progress I’ve made.
binge eating

My current experience of traveling has proven to me that even with being out of routine for over 4 months now, eating a lot more than I usually would, including some fairly epic food binges, and not able to exercise the same way I do at home, I’ve only put on a couple of kilos.

It doesn’t feel good – in fact I hate it, but it is reassuring to know I have to actually work hard to put weight back on – as hard as I worked to lose it.

And when I’m home again, back in routine and have access to all my usual support systems, not only will the ‘mechanics’ of eating well and working out be easier, the emotional drivers to eat badly – principally loneliness and boredom – hopefully won’t be an issue either.

In The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, Christopher Germer teaches us to FACE these pressures. Feel the pain. Accept it. Compassionately respond and Expect skillful action. Somewhere beyond feeling, accepting and compassionately responding to shitty feelings as they arise, is an alternative path to binge eating.

Skillful action means finding a more wholesome way to self-comfort, other than with food. I don’t know that I’m there yet – as I said above, I suspect that binge eating is always going to be a part of my life, but I have faith that as I continue to grow in my experiences of self-compassion and self-love, other solutions will come more readily to hand.

binge eating
This is me cooking up something a little healthier in southern Thailand!

Postscript: And they have 🙂 I wrote the above post about 2 months ago – I think I was in Thailand – and now I’m home in Australia on ‘sabbatical’ from traveling. And sure enough, as I predicted, many of the triggers for emotional eating aren’t much of a factor in my life at the moment.

I’m busy, stimulated, surrounded by people I love, and who love me back, and excited for the next phase of my life. AND I’m back into the swing of eating ‘relatively’ well, and reacquainting my poor ‘post-holiday body’ with hard exercise. But I’m no fool – I know myself.

My weakness for sweet food is never far from mind. So too many biscuits make their way into my stomach most weekends, but when the driver is social rather than emotional, I fret a whole lot less about it. It’s that 80:20 rule – 80% of the time I treat my body pretty well, and when I’m in the middle of the 20% self-compassion is my friend. And it should be yours! 🙂

Gen x

PS. Christopher Germer’s book is really amazing – it’s been so enlightening for me.
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion - Self-compassion and binge eating

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5 thoughts on “Self-compassion and binge eating

  1. I have been diabetic type1 since 1976 in kindergarten. I started binging in 1987 aftet my thryroid gland stopped working. My endocrinologist told me that I would resume normal weight after taking medication, but I gained weight because I ate when I was not hungry. I started to overeat, and snack all day. It got worse in college. I would have 2 dinners and ice cream and hoagies as snacks. I would eat a large pizza by myself. I would eat a pint of Haagen Das walking back to my dorm from Store 24. I would eat a jar of peanut butter in 3 days. It got to be so bad, that I had to use a credit card to purchase groceries. It only stopped when I realized it was psychological and not physical. I thought that I was hungry, but I was simply lonely and had low self-esteem. I stopped over-eating when I was 25. I had to exercise more regularly and to eat what my doctor said – less meat, more whole grain and veggies and beans. It worked. My blood sugars stabililized. I had more energy and muscle mass. I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be healthy. That means just moving your body and thinking about what you consume.

    1. · Edit

      Hey Jennifer, Obviously I can totally relate to the emotional eating and it is SO awesome that you’ve overcome it! How did you manage to overcome the emotional drivers to eat? Was it because you just felt so great physically once you changed your habits that this kept you motivated and on track?

      1. Thank you SO SO much for this. I often feel like BED goes under the radar and it can make people who sufefr (like myself) feel so isolated, ashamed, and hopeless. I appreciate your focus on this real, painful, but often unspoken of, eating disorder.

  2. I have struggled with this from, what I see now at age 35, childhood. I remember pouring sugar into cheerios and then just more and more sugar…it was everywhere and I was not restrained at all. In my 20’s it was really bad for a while and I remember the desperation, wondering, “How am I going to break out of this cycle??!” I don’t even remember how I did it, really. Started exercising daily whether I felt like it or not and that started to turn things around. Although it’s plagued me since, it had never gotten that bad again and I’ve been fairly healthy since then…until this year. I put on 24 pounds in 3 months. That’s a lot. I’m still trying to break out of the cycle…getting there. This is only day 2 since a binge but I feel like I reached that breaking point where I just have to deal with it all. And I don’t mean the eating. I mean LIFE. I know it’s all been just TOO DAMN MUCH. Therefore, I will love myself and hug myself and know that I’m doing the very best I can with that I have. Who doesn’t do their best, who wants to do less than that? Of course not. Hopefully I fit back into my clothes again lol…but at least I can laugh about it today. A week ago I was in a very dark spot. If anyone needs a friend to talk to through issues like these I’m certainly willing….

    1. · Edit

      Hi Melissa, thanks so much for commenting. I think it’s definitely something we need to destigmatise, because people who haven’t experienced bingeing or understand it can look on it with disgust, when we know we’re just people and this happens to be OUR way with dealing with emotional issues where other people might drink or go shopping or some other kind of compulsive behaviour. Have you tried EFT (tapping)?


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