She has just finished dinner when the urges begin. It feels like the food in the pantry is calling to her. All she can think about is the package of Oreos, the peanut butter and bread, and the chips. She wants nothing more than to get lost in the cycle of eating. To numb out and to feel that initial pleasure as she washes down a package of Oreos with gallon of milk.
But part of her doesn’t want to do this again. She wants nothing more than to be able to stop this terrible cycle. Yet, she doesn’t know how to cope with these intense urges.
As a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, I specialize in helping people to recover from eating disorders.
The following are a few of my tips for what to do when you feel urges to binge eat.
The PAUSE Skill
I developed a skill that people can use, which is called The PAUSE Skill.
Take a moment to pause at the first sign of when you feel the urge coming on. and then take a deep breath. Tell yourself that if you still want to binge after using this skill, you can-but first you are going to try this practice.
2. Allow space.
Remove yourself from the kitchen (or whatever environment is triggering the urge, if you can) and go somewhere where you can sit down. Tell yourself that you are not trying to stop the binge, rather you are just practicing delaying action for right now.
Ask yourself if you are feeling physically hungry. If so, choose to sit down and to eat something mindfully (ask yourself what taste, temperature, and texture of food you are craving and try to find a good match). If you are not physically hungry, continue with the rest of the skill.
3. Use other coping strategies and coping statements.
Figure out what works best for you. Trying to process your emotions in the moment, might not be your best course of action (this would likely be better served at a time when you are not highly triggered to want to binge i.e maybe in therapy or in the morning). When urges are intense, I recommend choosing 5-10 distraction coping strategies that you can do for at least 10 minutes each.
You can also tell yourself some helping coping statements. Here are a few that I particularly like:
· I can eat again tomorrow morning, and the food will taste better because I’ll actually be hungry for it.
· If I still want to binge eat later or tomorrow I can, but for now I’m going to practice sitting with this urge for 10 minutes.
· Each time I practice using the PAUSE skill, it will get easier in the future.
· Binge eating will make me feel better for 3 minutes, and then I always feel worse after.
· I am more powerful than my eating disorder.
· No amount of pizza is going to solve this emotional problem.
· I deserve to be kind and compassionate with myself.
4. Separate your “eating disorder self,” thoughts, and urges.
Start to notice the things that your “eating disorder self” is telling you and then practice responding from “your healthy self.” Your “eating disorder self” will always come up with reasons for you to binge eat. Think about what you would tell a friend in a similar situation.
Remind yourself that just because you have an urge does not mean that you need to act on it. With practice, you can learn how to sit with and ride out the urges that you experience. Urges typically will naturally diminish on their own.
Remind yourself of how you usually feel after a binge episode. Bingeing gives a temporary high or feeling of “comfort” or respite from long-term distress and unhappiness. Typically, people feel physically and mentally terrible after a binge episode.
5. Enlist help from a supportive person.
Practice reaching out to supportive people instead of turning towards your eating disorder, even if it’s just to talk to someone as a means of distraction.
Reaching out for support can bring your “healthy self” to the forefront.
It’s also so important to practice being kind to yourself. Recognize that you are using bingeing either as a response to physical or emotional deprivation (i.e., you aren’t eating enough throughout the day, or you are eating things yet feeling guilty about them), and/or to cope with uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions.
You can also remind yourself that you are not saying that you must give up bingeing forever. You can always go back to it. However, try to take it one day (even one moment) at a time. What if you tried something different this time?
Recovery Is Possible
If you do end up bingeing after taking these steps, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself. You are not alone in struggling with this and you are not simply “lacking willpower.” You are struggling with something that no one would choose. It’s also important that you don’t do anything to try to “compensate” for the binge, as this will only keep the binge/restrict cycle going.
If you could ride out the urge even for a little bit, this shows that you were practicing an important skill and with time (and additional support) you can learn how to ride out the urge completely.
If you have outlasted the urge to binge completely, take a moment to recognize and acknowledge this.
Ultimately, you deserve a meaningful and joyful life. No matter what you may be telling yourself, finding freedom from bingeing is possible. I’ve worked with many people who were able to fully recover from their eating disorders. Full recovery is completely possible. Yes, for you too.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. Connect with Jennifer through her website: www.jenniferrollin.com