One Reason Why We Binge Eat

Years ago, I would stand in my kitchen late at night and binge on cookies. I’d then take my stuffed, sugarcoated belly to bed along with intense feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing, frustration and anger. When morning came, I’d promise never to do it again only to find my resolve weakening as the sun went down.

There are many reasons why we binge eat. It’s not because we’re weak, bad or flawed. It’s not a lack of willpower. It’s a lack of understanding.

A Gift to Open
Everything changed for me when I began to understand that my binge eating was not a problem to solve; it was a gift to open.

By looking at my behavior with curiosity instead of criticism, with love instead of loathing, with compassion instead of contempt, I was able to finally see what was driving my compulsion, the life lessons this unwanted behavior was trying to teach me. This was far more effective than locking my cupboards or swearing off cookies for life.

Counterbalance to Control
Slowly peeling back the layers, I discovered there were a few different things fueling my cookie raids. A big one for me was control.

The body is always seeking balance. Binge eating is a brilliant balancing act by the body. It’s an out-of-control behavior reacting to an area of tight control.

During that phase of my life, I was obsessed with controlling my appetite, diet and weight. My eating was very restrictive and my exercise was excessive. I religiously and rigidly tracked every morsel and mile. Binge eating was the release my body needed to restore balance. It was my body striving to cut loose, to expand my very contracted life.

For others, areas of tight control might be work, relationships, home life, money, emotions or intimacy.

Our relationship with food can be very complex and multi-faceted, and there are always exquisitely good reasons why we do what we do. When I finally understood the positive intentions behind my binge eating, how it was an attempt to take care of myself, to fulfill unmet needs, it began to fade away. By addressing the imbalances in my life, including my areas of tight control, I no longer needed food as a counterbalance.

If you struggle with binge eating, ask yourself, “Where in my life am I in tight control? Where is life asking me to surrender, open or relax?”

Curiosity Killed the Craving (and the Bingeing)

I used to binge on cookies.

Giant peanut-butter chocolate-chunk cookies. 

Each binge was followed by relentless self-attack and self-loathing...feelings of guilt, shame and weakness....and, of course, promises to never ever do it again.

Yet, somehow, despite my best intentions, I’d find myself right back in the same place days later. Standing in my kitchen in the dark shoving cookies in my mouth. Crumbs scattered on my shirt. Chocolate smeared across my face. Belly beyond stuffed.

I haven’t binged like that in years. 

I no longer experience such intense cravings.

It’s not because I have tremendous willpower.

It’s because instead of beating myself up, I became curious.

Instead of shouting at myself, “You have no self-control, you suck!,” I started gently asking myself, “Hey, what’s this all about? What’s going on here?”

By pausing and becoming compassionately curious, I was able to cultivate greater awareness for why I was doing what I was doing. 

Stillness coupled with expanded awareness is far more powerful than willpower. 

Often, before we can say "no," we have to understand why we say "yes." Every action has a positive intention and every action is to fulfill a need. 

When I finally understood what was driving my compulsion—a rigid diet, false persona, pleasure deficiency—and the deeper needs I was trying to meet, my binge eating ended. 

I stopped focusing on keeping sweets out of reach and started focusing on fulfilling my unmet needs and desires. When I quit depriving myself of the life I longed for, I no longer relied on cookies to give me something they were never meant to.

How can you bring more compassionate curiosity to your relationship with food?

How I Crumbled My Mad Cookie Craving

After receiving some confounding news the other day, my head filled with a very insistent voice that kept repeating, "Eat a cookie, eat a cookie, eat a cookie." 

That voice was doing a darn good job convincing me that everything would be better once I ate a giant cookie.

I was struck by the intensity of my desire as it's been years since I've had such a strong emotion-fueled food craving.

I was also fascinated by how single-minded I immediately became. Strategizing my cookie-eating mission as I drove, I determined where the closest bakery was to my office, what kind of cookie I wanted, whether I had a few bucks in my wallet, and on and on.

I parked my car up the street from the bakery and then...

I didn't move.

I sat in my seat and got very still.
Crumbling My Craving
With compassion and curiosity, I deconstructed my craving by investigating its source: discomfort.

I was uncomfortable with the feelings--confusion, anger, sadness--I was experiencing about the news I received. A cookie seemed like the perfect distraction, an easy escape, the ideal way to numb my feelings.

After pausing, I concluded what I knew all along--that the cookie would make me feel good for about three minutes. After that, I would feel like total crap not only from the sugar overload but also from the guilt, disappointment and anger I would feel for turning to a cookie to solve my problems.

I realized what I really needed to alleviate my discomfort was a willingness to be with the emotions I was feeling and a friend to talk to about them.

Although yummy occasional treats, cookies don't make good problem solvers or friends.

My cookie craving started to crumble.

The Power of Pausing
This experience reminded me a of quote by Holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl:

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom."

The key is to pause between whatever triggers you (an annoying coworker, a forgetful partner, an unexpected bill), and your response. And then feel and honor what wants to be felt.

There is tremendous power in this sacred pause.

Of course, the pause works wonders in all areas of your life, not just emotional eating.

Remembering to pause takes practice. But when you allow yourself to dwell in that quiet space, you empower yourself to live a lighter, brighter life.