19 Oct 2021

Coping strategies for Binge Eating during lockdowns and beyond

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Whatever your age, gender or cultural environment, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) can happen to anyone. Research indicates that people may turn to binge eating as a coping mechanism to help manage  difficult emotions or a feeling of a lack of control. Stress caused by lockdowns, changing restrictions and returning to usual routines post lockdown can impact our ability to cope with emotions and may lead to the use of a way of coping such as binge eating.

Whether you have a diagnosis for binge eating, or feel you might be experiencing some form of disordered eating, understanding yourself and your relationship with food can be empowering. In this self-help blog we’ll discuss binge eating, some common triggers and share ways that can support you in your recovery journey.

What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)? 

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a characterised by regular episodes of binge eating. Binge eating means eating a very large amount of food, in a short period of time, with a sense of being out of control, or unable to stop. You may feel numb, or feel disconnected from your body while eating, not fully tasting or experiencing the food.

You may have Binge Eating Disorder (BED) if you:

  • Frequently consume large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Often eat very quickly, without being hungry and continue to eat when already full, to the point of discomfort
  • Experience feelings of guilt and shame after a binging episode
  • Are secretive about your behaviour around food, such as eating alone

It’s important to be kind to yourself. The most important thing to understand about binge eating is that it’s often an unhelpful coping tool used to help with challenging emotions like stress, anger, boredom or distress.

You can learn more about Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and binge eating here.

What can I do the next time I want to binge?
Set Helpful/Realistic Goals and Delay the Urge

In some ways setting goals to stop a binge can be quite unhelpful. Binge eating may be a coping mechanism that you have used for some time, and setting the expectation to stop and not engage in this behaviour at all could be unreaslistic, particularly when you are still needing to manage difficult emotions. It is not uncommon for people to say to themselves “I won’t binge at all today” or “I’m not going to binge”. If stress or emotions become high and binge eating is then used as a way to cope, the individual can feel more hopeless in changing this behaviour.

Setting goals such as “the next time I feel I need to binge, I will call a friend, do a puzzle, go for a gentle walk or any other activity you may enjoy.” can be more helpful as it provides some direction in an alternative way to cope or manage at the time the urge to binge presents. The aim is not to stop the binge, although that may happen, but rather to delay the binge, give yourself and opportunity to engage in a helpful way to cope and reassess if the urge to binge is still as strong. It is okay if you still engage in the binge after a period of time delaying, congratulate yourself on being able to have delayed for whatever time that has been (2 mins, 5mins 1 hour). The important thing is that you were able to introduce a new way of coping in that moment.

To assist with introducing a new activity when the urge to binge is strong, some people find it helpful to write a list of activities they could do when they are feeling calm and keep the list in an easy to access place. This way you can always consult the list you created and try engage in one of the listed activities when you feel the urges.

 

Exercise to Understand your Mental State when Experiencing Urges to Binge.

The following is  one  exercise you may also find useful in helping to bring you greater awareness around yourself and why you might be binging.

Again, the purpose isn’t to stop the binge, although that may happen but rather to delay the binge. This exercise is about accessing your mental state before you might binge and to see if you can get any clues as to why binge eating is in your life.

Step 1. Firstly, congratulate yourself for having the awareness to recognise you want to binge. That is a big step forward.

Step 2. Grab yourself a pen and paper.

Step 3. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. (You can use the one on your smart phone.)

Step 4. Take a few deep breathes. Focusing on both your inhale and exhale.

Step 5. Ask yourself: “What am I feeling?” listen to your inner sense of wisdom and write down what it says.

Step 6. Then ask yourself: “What happened right before I wanted to binge?” and write down the answer.

Step 7. Ask yourself: “What do I really want and need right now?”

Step 8. “Can I give myself that in a way which doesn’t cause me harm?”

Step 9. Thank yourself for taking the time to check in.

You might find the exercise difficult or scary. You might even forget to give it a go and that’s ok. Don’t give up and remember you can always try again next time. It’s about practice and persistence.

And you can always contact our Helpline and get support as you work through the questions. Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline can give you free information, referrals and brief counselling. We’re open from 8am – midnight AEST, seven days a week, and you can chat via phone, webchat or email.

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A final thought

If you think you might have an eating disorder, it’s important to talk to your doctor, as there are many physical complications that can occur from having an eating disorder. See our  Butterfly Referral Database for a professional near you or Get in touch with our Helpline team and we can chat through your concerns and assist with working the next steps with you.