When does indulging in your favourite snack cross the line from a little comfort to a real cause for concern?
It is a thin line…and often crossed without even realising it.
The difference between emotional eating and binge eating lies mainly in how much food you consume. But, other key features may help you distinguish between the two and put an end to unhealthy snacking.
Emotional eating and binge eating shows up in different ways, but most of us can relate to the concept of emotional eating. Do you catch yourself wallowing in a full tub of ice cream after a particularly stressful day?
Emotional eating or stress eating is when you consume food not out of hunger, but out of anxiety, frustration, or sadness. For some, emotional eating is triggered by a particularly traumatic event but for others, it can just be a habitual reaction to financial or emotional turbulence- in other words, day to day life. For me, it is definitely triggered by traumatic events.
It first showed up after a very bad break up. I didn’t even know what emotional eating was until that day. A 6 year relationship with my then fiance was ended via a phone call while I was away on tour performing a play. There was nothing I could do. The show must go on as they say but boy did I eat for the rest of the tour. When I came back , I stopped eating.
From that day on, I was in and out of an emotional eating cycle. Most of the time I had a good handle on it but It was there simmering away. I felt that the only thing that I could control in my life was what I ate. Was I happy? No, but I was in control! ..or so I thought…
The next time it showed up big for me was when my mum passed away in 2017.
Out of the blue. No warning. She was gone.
I spent the next 6 months in bed eating and starving again.
So don’t worry- emotional eating can get the best of us, and in some cases, better for your mental health depending on how you handle it. During that time, I did write my best selling book “Diet Stops Monday” so there can be diamonds found in the dust and rubble.
Indulging in and savouring the flavours of food feels good and can lift our moods instantly which is why we do it.
But when emotional eating no longer relieves but rather contributes to stress, it can get out of hand….
It was during this time I also starting hiding what I was eating so that Josh didn’t see. I knew what I was doing was wrong because by this point I had become a nutritional therapist and health coach. I made a living helping other people beat their emotional eating yet here I was eating chocolate, crisps and biscuits in bed in the dark. I felt like a fraud and the guilt was overwhelming so hiding it from Josh was a good option for me.
Eating was a healing process for me and softened the pain of losing my mum a little bit. It was comforting. I ate the foods we enjoyed to eat together and watched Star Trek a lot as we enjoyed watching that together too.
But at a point, emotional eating gives way to self-loathing as we feel ashamed of our indulgence. We want to hide our “binging” episodes, but because of a lack of other emotional coping mechanisms, they spiral out of our control. I know because I did it! The denial, the hiding or the lying about the food we are eating is a huge sign we have crossed that line.
Binge eating, unlike stress eating, is considered by nutritionists as a potentially severe eating disorder. Characterized by constant overconsumption, BED (Binge Eating Disorder) involves consuming huge quantities of food in a relatively short span of time. It’s not just your average bloated belly after a heavy dinner, but a constant overeating that leaves the body uncomfortable and unhealthy.
The transition from emotional eating to binge eating occurs when you lose your sense of control: you move from being conscious of your reason for eating and how much you eat, to eating without any control over intake. It often leads to guilty eating, which is worse for your mental health and stress levels as well. This leads to a vicious cycle: your stress turns into binge eating, and your binge eating fuels your stress.
What’s worse is that the guilt of binge eating (which usually occurs when alone) traps us in a “shame cage”- we don’t want to reach out to friends or family for fear of revealing ourselves.
But BED is too serious of a condition to keep under wraps.
Instead, it is vital to talk to someone if you are experiencing any one of its symptoms. Your attitude towards your body image, your history with other mental health complications, and eating habits in general could be contributing to BED.
Total recovery from binge eating is absolutely possible. It doesn’t need to take over your life for ever. To start your healing process I encourage you to keep a food journal to track your habits to work out the emotional triggers that affect your binge eating and the thoughts and feelings you have while on a binge episode. This gives you amazing insights into the WHY of your situation so that you can easily manage the HOW of getting out of it.
To prevent emotional eating from advancing to the next stage like I did, we need to tackle the problem at its roots: stress, frustration, and other emotional ruts.
Take up meditation, tai chi or yoga to simultaneously tackle stress and improve your self-discipline. Engage in a stress-free activity like painting or fishing and take plenty of time to distance yourself from whatever may be causing your stress – whether that is work, a stressful home environment, or relationship woes
To make sure your stress eating never borders on binge eating, keep a food journal. Records of your day-to-day eating choices will help prevent you from putting on unwanted pounds and improve your overall mindfulness when it comes to consumption.
And finally, to manage your emotional eating in a far more healthier way, look for healthy alternatives to your favourite go-to snacks such as oven baked sweet potato fries instead of the regular deep fried kind or carrot sticks and hummus instead of crisps.
Remember to remain body-positive. I am always here to talk if you need to. I have been there. I am right here with you, walking the walk with you, holding your hand.
You can take advantage of the 25 minute Emotional Eating Freedom chat if you feel you need some 1:1 guidance. It’s my way of giving back – I’ve been on the emotional eating and the binge eating path and having someone to lean on is the only way forward. It so important that we nip it in the bud sooner rather than later. Before we lose control.
Click the link below to book a session with me and let’s talk this through
You can also check out the brand new online course I’ve put together to help you Unlock Your Emotional Eating. It is a 3-day series, for you to do in the comfort of your own home which will start to help you take back that control and break free. Click the link below to have a look.
Whatever you decide to do, just remember that you are not alone. Just take each step at a time, you got this!
Health and Happiness