Does this sound familiar? You sit on the couch, watch telly, and crave some snacks. You’ve just had dinner but a bag of crisps is exactly what you need right now. It doesn’t end there. Soon a pile of plastic bags and wraps has accumulated next to you, crumbs are on your shirt and the couch; it is too late now to turn back time and stop eating. It’s easier to keep going, stretch out your hand, eat, chew, masticate, swallow, repeat. And when there’s nothing left to eat, all you feel is guilt and shame. How could you do it again? You thought you had overcome it. You thought you were better now. Each time this happens you tell yourself, ‘This is the last time!’ And because you want it to be the last time you go back to the kitchen and eat all the snacks and sweets — so tomorrow you can start again. And this goes on and on, with no end. It’s a loop of restricting yourself and binge eating, followed by self-loathing. You are not alone. About 12 million people in the UK suffer from compulsive eating (National Centre for Eating Disorder). Compulsive eating disorders affect people of all sizes, genders, and ethnicities. Some people keep it all inside, other people try to regurgitate it, and some try to run it off the next day. Others become bulimic, they regurgitate everything they have just eaten to not gain weight. This is the most dangerous variant and requires professional help. There are many ways how people react and try to deal with their binges, but what we all have in common is a feeling of guilt and shame for having no self-discipline after binging on food. How do we get out of this toxic cycle?
My journey is a long one, and I still struggle with overeating. It has taken me over 10 years to finally get out of the toxic cycle of consistent binges and have a healthier relationship with food and my body. It all started in middle school when we were allowed to visit the nearest supermarket on our lunch break. I would eat four cans of Pringles every week. Soon I got acne and realised that wasn’t healthy, but I couldn’t stop binging on sweets. It is not a myth that sweets and snacks are highly addictive, but it’s still often ignored and willingly forgotten. We are a nation of food addicts. In many supermarkets, the first two to three aisles are the sweets and snacks aisles. When I now see teenagers swarming into supermarkets, all going straight to the sweets aisles, I am reminded of my schooldays. It is important to educate children and teenagers on diet and nutrition so they have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies as they are growing up; or else, they’ll have to deal with it (most likely) for the rest of their lives.
It often starts in adolescence, and it usually doesn’t end there. My binge eating disorder took a massive turn when I moved out of my parents’ house into my own flat. It was a one-room apartment; instead of a hallway there was my little kitchen. It took me exactly five steps to reach the fridge and cupboard. Many nights I’d eat several grilled cheese sandwiches, followed by peanut butter-and-jam sandwiches, and then some biscuits, M&Ms, and perhaps another snack. I would eat until I felt sick.
Whenever I binge-ate I would think, ‘I’ve already failed so I might as well just keep going.’ My therapist didn’t need to tell me that this is exactly the kind of thinking that hinders you to get a better eating habit and get out of the binge eating loop. If you want to get better you have to stop being so hard on yourself. This is one of the first steps that helped me getting out of the binge eating cycle. Stop admonishing yourself. You are not a loser; you haven’t failed. You are only human. Always remember that these food products are designed to make you addicted to them. Yes, you are a food addict, like most people. ‘Food products’ that now make up most of the shelves and aisles in supermarkets are not real food but products. They all have chemicals, sugar, and other addictive ingredients.
Realising and accepting that you are addicted to certain foods is the first step to improvement. It is okay. People are always changing, no one stays the same. You can overcome your binge eating but first, you need to acknowledge and address it. This starts by being less hard on yourself. You can say ‘I have overeaten today, so tomorrow I will have a lighter dinner.’ I wouldn’t advise to going full turkey, it usually doesn’t work out. Trying to fast the next day usually results into yet another binge eating attack. It’s best to slow down and stop buying the food that you binge on. These are your trigger foods, foods that will immediately make you binge eat. I know that Pringles and Oreos are my trigger foods. So often I stare at the Pringles, especially when they’re on sale, and I think, ‘Just one can.’ But I know I will eat the whole can in one go, and the next days I will buy more snacks and it will take me weeks to get out of the cycle again. Identifying your trigger foods and not buying them, not having them in your house, is the best way to combat your binge eating.
Alas, there’s more to it. It isn’t just sweets and snacks. It’s all kinds of junk and fast food. This may differ from person to person, but in general, all kinds of food products have sugar and other ingredients that will make you crave your comfort food. For me, sticking to a healthy diet has helped the most. When I eat healthy, from morning to night, I am not craving any sweets. I feel fit and healthy. I am at my best. And this is what really matters. Instead of wanting to stop eating much food and lose weight to look better, focusing on health might be more helpful. Like most people I have a ‘dream body’ I want to work towards to, but when I am starting to binge eat, all of that is forgotten. But if I focus on health and how I feel when I eat certain foods, I find it much easier to choose the healthier options. It is no wonder that so many people are tired and exhausted. It isn’t just that we don’t move around as much as we used to. The food is also making us tired. Our brains are overstimulated by sugar and other chemicals we keep putting into our bodies. Sugar in natural foods is all the body needs — or some maple syrup on your pancakes or in your porridge. Remember, you only live once, and you want to live life to its fullest, right? What better way than to treat your body right so that it works as well as it can? Unhealthy eating habits make us sluggish, tired, and yes, lazy. After the sugar rush comes the crash, and our bodies shut down, and we’re tired and exhausted, just wanting to lie down.
Here are the two things that have helped me the most to overcome binge eating: First, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can always start again! Never give up, be persistent. If you feel like you can’t overcome binge eating on your own, speak to your family and friends, and perhaps seek professional help. Second, reflect after your binges. Which foods are your trigger foods? When are you binge eating? Most people binge eat while watching telly. A good solution is to eat dinner without any distractions and not consume any food while watching a movie or show. Last, focus on your health. Once you have healthy eating habits you will notice a change in your life. You will be less tired, more focused, and overall, feel better. Eat real food that nourishes your body and makes you feel good. Start your healthy life today! You can do it, but first, you have to start believing in it and take the necessary steps to make your dream become reality.
And last but not least, there is a reason why you are binge eating. It’s never just the food. There is an underlying issue you have to address. I think most people who binge eat are people who feel a certain emptiness in them. A void we need to fill. We feel lonely, sad, or angry. It’s not just the time of the day but also a certain mood that makes us want to eat all the food in the house. If you want to stop binge eating once and for all, it’s important to find out what your underlying issue is. Why do you feel drawn to so much food? Don’t be afraid. Things can only get better. And on your way to recovery, remember, failure is normal. I am also still struggling. After writing the first draft of this post, I bought pringles and oreos again, and had another binge eating session. But I am no longer so hard on myself. It is hard, but I know it won’t get better if I hate myself for it. I know I will get there, no matter how many times it will take. You will get there; We all can get there. To a better future where we aren’t victims of these cravings. But for that, we need to work on ourselves; with ourselves.