Bridget Jones iconically eats a whole tub of ice cream after a break-up.. Is this normal and ok? If this is normal and ok then what differentiates this from a binge? It’s a complicated topic and I can only answer in reference to my own personal experiences of using food as a coping mechanism. So, here we go.
Emotional eating is usually triggered by an underlying emotional cause, sometimes it can be something simple like being bored work or something a lot more challenging concerning mental health. It would be easy for me to sit here and say that if you deal with this underlying emotional trigger then binge eating and emotional eating will magically stop but this wouldn’t be true. From my own experience with binge eating, addressing my “red flags” for episodes such as being tired, or stressed or as a way to numb myself from bigger things such as dealing with anxiety, or coping with trauma most definitely lessened the urges to emotionally eat. But it’s unrealistic to think that you will only ever eat for fuel and nothing else. Food is biologically designed for pleasure, and as such, it will probably be eaten for enjoyment or self-soothing sometimes no matter how well you’re managing underlying emotions.
Also, it is even more likely that we will turn for food for comfort instead of other coping mechanisms if we suffer from restrictive thoughts and behaviours around eating. Therefore, emotions are not the only trigger for over eating. Emotions lead to emotional eating e.g. After a break up eating some ice cream as a way to self soothe. It’s a combination of emotions and restrictive behaviours that lead to binge eating e.g. After a break up and following a period of restrictive eating you eat a tub of ice cream, three boxes of cereal, a share bag of crisps and the entire contents of your fridge. Therefore to see a change in the binge behaviours aswell as working on the emotional triggers you’ll also need to work on shifting the diet mentality and your relationship with your body. Again, this is how I have found emotional eating and binging to be triggered and I completely appreciate that for other people this could be different. (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments).
The most common way people try to stop themselves emotionally eating is to use other mechanisms which feature heavily on Buzzfeed articles as to how to unwind and be a better millennial.. Things like taking a bath or calling a friend. These replacement activities are another means of distraction which stops you from getting real with what is going on and this can seriously backfire. Also, trying to stop yourself eating from a place of fear of over eating can also lead to binging further down the line. Therefore we have to look into coping mechanisms that allow us to explore our feelings and also (and this is really important), fully allowing ourselves to eat ice cream if we want to in that moment. When we start taking care of ourselves in other ways, the need to use food lessens.
Focusing on adding different coping mechanisms rather than using them as a replacement for emotional eating is much less likely going to cause rebellious behaviours in the long run, such as binging. If there is one positive thing that dieting has taught me, it’s that trying to remove something from my life only leads to it coming back in abundance so instead of trying to remove turning to food in emotional moments, find other tools to add to how you cope through this discomfort.