Breaking Up With Binge Eating

Distress Tolerance (and Prevention!)

July 20, 2020 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Distress Tolerance (and Prevention!)
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Distress Tolerance (and Prevention!)
Jul 20, 2020
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

If I were your fairy godmother, I'd wave my magic wand and get you out of every crappy situation: marathon Zoom meetings, the splitting headache days, I'd even get you out of hangovers and bad dates. But... (sigh) I can't stop life from being distressing at times. What I can do, is help you avoid the situations you can save yourself from, and give you some tools to get through the aggravations in your life without emotionally eating or binge eating. 

Show Notes Transcript

If I were your fairy godmother, I'd wave my magic wand and get you out of every crappy situation: marathon Zoom meetings, the splitting headache days, I'd even get you out of hangovers and bad dates. But... (sigh) I can't stop life from being distressing at times. What I can do, is help you avoid the situations you can save yourself from, and give you some tools to get through the aggravations in your life without emotionally eating or binge eating. 

“I just had an epiphany”, Sam wrote. “I have mild ADHD - not medicated - mostly manageable EXCEPT during church meetings. Honest to God, these are painful for me. Sitting for 2-3 hours is so challenging. And I'm the minister so I need to at least appear to be paying attention. So I'm sitting in the meeting on Zoom (as in right now in the meeting) and I want to eat so bad. I'm realizing that I think I use food as a way of focusing. I'm currently not hungry but I'm fantasizing about the hand to mouth movement - it settles my anxious spirit. I always eat my way through church meetings - often I have a bag of skittles in my pocket. So I'm looking for other strategies. Anyone else here some coping strategies?”

Maryclaire responded to Sam’s post, saying that it reminded her of the other posts where people were feeling like they had to do something we really do not want to do. She continued, 
“As minister, do you think people may be open to a change in format for the meetings? Perhaps shorten it, or take some breaks? I suspect you're not the only one that feels that way. It sounds like cruel and unusual torture!”

I was thinking the same thing, both that a 2-3 hour zoom sounds like the stuff of nightmares, and that this post reminded me of another recent one posted by another client.  Just a day earlier Rochelle had brought up that if she’s tired but her family wants to play a game, she’ll eat continuously though the whole thing, because she doesn’t want to be playing! 

In the last episode, we discussed how food can be the crutch we lean on to get through situations that feel distressful. But in some cases, we turn to food to get through discomfort we could avoid or prevent. 


I agree there are definitely situations we cannot possibly get out of, but it’s not uncommon to include extra things in that category by telling ourselves we HAVE TO do some things which are actually optional. Take the example of playing a game with the family. If you really truly don’t want to play a game after dinner, you can say you don’t feel like it. You are allowed. Maybe the weekend would be better for you. Your family will not stop loving you because you wanted to lay down instead of play chutes and ladders. Maybe sometimes you’ll feel like it and other times you won’t. You don’t have to say yes every time. 

Maryclaire and I hear this type of dilemma often. I had to go to a baby shower but I didn’t want to be there, so I ate way too much. I had to sit through three softball games and a soccer tournament this weekend, and ended up bingeing just to have some time to myself. My neighbors wanted us to come over for drinks on the patio, and the wife always insults me and makes racist comments, so I dread going. I had a whole bottle of wine just trying to block her out. 

You’re allowed to decline an invitation, and saying no thanks some of the time might be worth it. If every week you drag yourself to one event you really and truly don’t want to be at, and overeat to try and get through it - saying no just half the time will mean avoiding more than two dozen binges over the next year. Besides, people- even kids - can generally tell when someone doesn’t want to spend time with them and that feels pretty rotten. 

In Sam’s case, she decided to contact the volunteers who run the 2-3 hour long Zoom meetings and discuss if it was possible to alternate who attends the meetings, so she didn’t have to be present for every single one. We also realized it would be worth asking if they could narrow the agenda, or increase the frequency of the meetings so that they didn’t have to be quite as long. Lastly, it’s also possible to discuss whether a walking meeting would suffice, or at least a walking PORTION of the meeting. Could some people listen while on a stroll instead of having to sit in front of the camera for 2 or 3 hours straight? Sam was worried she might be the only one who was so exceedingly uncomfortable with the current set up, and we assured her, even if it WAS just her having anxiety and feeling so distressed that she had to self medicate with candy, her feelings mattered enough to bring them up. 

We know this is tough. Speaking up about how we feel is hard. But you know what else is tough? Sitting, feeling trapped and not saying anything. Feeling like we have to sneak candy into our mouths for 3 hours straight and fight to not look anxious, angry or bored. That’s tough. And when the frustrations we aren’t talking about lead us to eat and drink to try and comfort ourselves, and our clothing gets tighter and joints hurt more, that’s tough too. Speaking your mind gets easier with every time you try it, and often, it’s not nearly as rough as you thought it would be. People are not shocked to find out you have feelings, wants and ideas. They may even appreciate them. 

If you are in a situation that is feeling super difficult, it can also help to reflect on why you chose to be there. I know, sometimes we think ug, I HAVE to be here, but in the literal sense, you don’t have to be anywhere. You don’t HAVE to come to work, complete with the annoying hum of a radiator behind your desk in an office that is always freezing. You don't HAVE to put up with your screeching 3 year old banging pots and pans, and you don’t even HAVE to pay the staggeringly large bill you just received from the orthodontist. 

You could have decided to stay home today and just not show up for work. You could have decided you didn’t want to take care of your children tonight and paid a sitter. Or you could have decided you permanently wanted someone else to care for them - many children are parented by adoptive parents. You could shred the bill from the orthodontist. 

But then what?  You might lose your job. You might miss your children every day for the rest of your life. You might have your credit slashed by a collection agency that hunts you down over the unpaid bill. 

When you consider each of these alternates, they have some real downsides, so you chose to come to work. You chose to be present with your kids instead of getting a sitter or leaving them to fend for themselves. And you chose to pull out the credit card and pay the orthodontist. So yup, the downsides of the current situation are very real and they can bother us. But reminding ourselves that we do have options, and even running through those in our minds) can help us feel empowered, and see that we have chosen a path which includes some challenges, which we are now working our way through. 

Which brings me to my last point for today. 

 We can accept and even appreciate difficult moments.  Thoughts are what create urges. Changing our thought habits is a key to recovering from binge eating or emotional eating. And the number one spot most of our clients have unhelpful thought patterns lodged is when life is hard or uncomfortable.

These thoughts often arise from the idea that difficulty or discomfort is a sign of something being wrong. Our thoughts may even imply that discomfort is bad for us, harmful or injurious. “I can’t take this”. “I’m going to lose my mind”. Or “This isn’t fair”. These thoughts increase despair, and lead to urges. But we can replace them.

Difficulty isn’t a sign of anything being wrong. It’s a sign you’re alive and trying to do meaningful things with your life. We aren’t breaking or crumbling or dying when we are unhappy, we’re just not comfortable. You can instead see yourself as a strong person who is gaining endurance from moving through resistance without quitting. That's a big switch from grumbling inside about how hard this is and unfair and how we're too tired and need more help.

I also find that if we view the difficult parts of jobs (and parenting) as part of the package which also includes a lot of meaning and joy, it's less despair-inducing. No one tells new parents, “oh you’ll love having kids, it’s a breeze! You’ll never have to put in any effort at all!” More often, when people discuss parenting, they acknowledge the difficulty, alongside the many ways it opened their eyes and taught them so much. Because the difficulty and the reward are inextricably linked. The challenges are what makes us grow.

I also feel like pointing out somewhere (and might as well do it here) that it's a beautiful thing you are CHOOSING to do to read to your kids, give them baths every night, etc. Lots of parents don't. I see it as special and lovely that your values steer you that way. So yes, it’s hard to be on your own in the evenings with several young kids, but it’s also showing so powerfully how much you love them. Because you really don’t have to do all those steps in the routine, you could just tell the kids to go to their rooms and shut out the lights. But you’re choosing not to. Doesn’t that make you appreciate yourself in a lovely way?

Some of my friends do obstacle course racing, and part of the allure is that it’s hard. So why do people sign up and pay money to scramble over walls, haul themselves up ropes and run for mile after mile through difficult terrain? Because pushing our limits reminds us of our durability, our toughness, and how capable we are. It feels good to see ourselves in action, rising to the occasion. And when we repeatedly practice using our strength and endurance, both increase.

When it comes to appreciating the difficult moments in your life, rather than resisting them, consider the strongest, most capable people you know? I bet that invariably, you’ll agree that these individuals were really tested and challenged in life.

Joyce replied to my suggestions on facebook, “This is an awesome remedy! Thanks for the recognition that my life can be challenging but it comes with the gift of parenthood and a demanding job (which I'm also grateful for). I'm energized to try this out.”

I hope you are energized too, to try these ideas out and rise above your urges to compulsively eat or binge. Rise above them like scaling walls, because life is an obstacle course! Pride yourself on toughness, and don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable at times. Moments of discomfort are part of achieving all great things.