It’s a struggle that’s so common for so many people. But it’s not openly talked about because it’s steeped in guilt and shame.
Binge eating at night.
Today I want to help you understand what could be driving binging at night and give you a few tools to help you move through it.
Let’s start with how you spend your days. Most likely you’re running around, getting stuff done at work, slapping on a smile, working hard to please and level up to expectations of your boss, your coworkers and yes, even your family.
It’s like you put on an “I’ve got this… everything’s ok” mask and a set of roller blades and despite feeling overwhelmed and stressed you just keep pushing through.
And when you get home and FINALLY have the opportunity to let your guard down, to take off the I’ve got this, everything’s ok mask, and you have the time and space to get comfortable, you find yourself elbow deep in a gallon of ice cream. Or whatever your jam is.
The thought is typically along the lines of, “this was such a hard day! I deserve this!”
And when you realize what you’re doing, so often the follow up thought is, “well I blew it, might-as-well keep going.”
Enter shame and guilt that carries right over into the next day.
Which typically results in some sort of restriction of food, or plan to “do better today,” leading straight back to the same pattern as the previous night.
And so the cycle goes.
Here’s the thing. In those moments of “I deserve this, that was such a hard day,” what you’re looking for is some sort of emotional state change. You’re tired. Stressed. Overwhelmed. Maybe sad and worried.
And in that moment, food is serving you to change your state- from stressed and anxious (or whatever it is) to content, distracted maybe even numb. For a little bit at least.
I want you to really focus on a part of what I just said- YES, the food is ACTUALLY serving you.
Binge eating, or emotional eating isn’t actually the enemy, it’s really your mind and body waving the white flag to get you soothe yourself. To try move some of those tough emotions you’ve been stuffing down all day, week or month.
And here’s the thing- distracting and numbing yourself from emotions isn’t actually moving them. And if you’re numb and distracted you’re not feeling them. Which means you’re really not soothing them. Which means they’re sticking around!
And the longer you numb and distract, the longer the emotions pile on top of each other, which leads to more numbing and distracting, which leads to more emotions piling on top of each other… ya, i know, you see where I’m going!!
So, here are a few tips to consider if you want stop binge eating at night.
Stop restricting your food during the day. Yes, even if you binged last night. That might rock your world a bit, but the more you restrict your intake, the more power you’re actually giving food. The more you deny your physical hunger, the more likely it’ll be that you’re so hungry and exhausted by the time nighttime rolls around that you don’t feel fullness. Until you’re stuffed and overly full.
Throughout the day plan ways to destress and soothe your mind and your body. Take off your rollerblades and slow down, even if it’s just for 5 minutes a couple times per day. Set an alarm on your phone or in your outlook calendar. Check in with yourself. Are you in overdrive? Are you tense? Is your mind racing? Are you sad? What are some proactive and effective ways for you to de-escalate and start to move some of these emotions? (Not sure? Next week let’s talk some actionable strategies!)
Plan a transition time from work to home. Change your clothes, take 10 long deep breaths and consider what your specific needs are. How are you feeling right now? Label the emotion and acknowledge its presence. Denying it and numbing from it hasn’t served you in the past, so how could things shift if you labeled it and accepted it for what it is?
If you find yourself in the kitchen saying, “eff it, YOLO!” pause for a moment and consider what else is going on. What state change are you looking for in this moment? Will eating the food help you achieve that, not only right now, but in 20 or 30 minutes? Remember, this is your mind and body waving the white flag to tend to something. So, go ahead and eat the food if you want it. But, when you’re done, consider what else you can do to sustain the state change. What else can you do to acknowledge your emotionality and create the feeling you’re looking for? Instead of taking away your only coping tool, start to add some in.
Next week we’ll dive into some tools to help you self soothe and really start to build your coping tool box.
I'm a body image and eating disorder therapist in Horsham, PA.
I help people recover from eating disorders and make peace with their mind, body and food.
I specialize in treating binge eating and helping women learn how to stop dieting and really start living.
Questions? Get in touch here!