Have you ever had one of those days when your “Give a Damn” button is broken and you truly just don’t give a damn? You’re just going to eat whatever the hell you want.
Don’t Call It Food Greed
Some people take a pretty hard line on overeating and I know in many healthy and intuitive eating groups, it’s considered food greed, and dismissed as nothing more than being piggish.
For the 35 years when I was a dieter, I actually bought into that. I believed I was a greedy pig and no amount of food could satisfy me.
But now 12 years later, I recognize that calling myself a greedy pig was really mean and it left its scars. It pains me to hear so much insensitivity and judgment aimed at people who struggle with emotional eating. Shame, guilt, greed. These toxic emotions are like rubbing salt in the wounds of someone who is a compulsive eater.
Here’s an email from a reader named Anita who had a difficult time with pretzels:
“I used to eat what I wanted then I fell off the don’t/diet wagon (though I know it’s not a wagon..or a diet). I’m tired of the struggle. Why would anyone eat a one pound bag of…PRETZELS? They are dry and tasteless. Shouldn’t I deserve better?”
As I told Anita, and I’ll tell you, I don’t believe that it is food greed or the appreciation for the taste of food that is really driving the overeating. It may definitely be a factor, but not the whole enchillada.
Our Cravings Are Really Unmet Emotional Needs Disguised As Food
Our cravings are really unmet needs disguised as food. To some people those pretzels may be dry and tasteless and they would have no desire to eat them, because that’s not the food that pushes their hunger buttons, but to you, they may represent very special memories from your past.
There are real legitimate reasons why you love the foods you do. They hold special memories for you. Each of us has our own unique tastes and that governs the choices we make. The point is you may really love pretzels and find them to be a very difficult food to recognize when your body has eaten enough of them to feel satisfied. Making the decision to stop eating whatever food you’re eating may trigger overwhelming emotions in you that you don’t understand, and it’s your fear of facing those emotions that makes it feel impossible to stop eating them once you start.
The truth is food tastes good. There’s no getting around it. The problem is feeling safe enough and comfortable enough to know when you can stop eating something that tastes good. That means that if you put it down, it won’t feel like someone is trying to pry it out of your cold, dead fingers.
You’ll be fine with ending the meal and eager to move onto the rest of your day. It won’t feel like a big emotional conflict. That’s when you’ll know internally that eating just one more bite will take you over the edge from feeling good into feeling bad, and that alone will make you choose not to eat that extra bite.
To answer your question, Yes. Of course you deserve better. Many times we confuse the whole issue of being deserving with food and that becomes our reason for feeling compelled to overeat.
You Are Deserving – There’s No Doubt About That
We’re so busy, and we handle and take care of so much for so many people. That’s really stressful. When you set food up as a reward, either at the end of a long day or as the finale of some other achievement, it becomes a push-me-pull-you tug of war that you’re sure to end up losing. Unless you’ve engaged your emotional brakes and created a consistent habit of nurturing yourself on a daily basis, you will end up overeating.
That one brownie, or handful of chips will become two, or three and then you’ll want something else, and something else and more. Because let’s face it–you are deserving. There’s no doubt about that.
You’ve Given Food More Power Than It Deserves
But if you’ve thought of a particular food as bad, fattening or off limits, you’ve given it more power than it deserves. Now it has an emotional hold on you. It makes perfect sense that once you acquire it, you would naturally tend to overeat it. This is known as ‘last supper’ eating and you can find more about that in the book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works book, by Evelyn Tribole, M.S.,R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S.R.D. F.A.D.A, C.E.D.R.D.
Consider a moment the food you’re planning to eat on your binge. Think about the amount you’re intending to consume. Is eating that food in the amount you’re considering the best way to acknowledge your triumphs, efforts and sacrifice?
No, no, no. This is not my sneaky way of trying to shame you into making a healthier choice. That’s so not me. I absolutely lovvvvvvvvvvve food, and it gives me enormous pride to be able to eat it and then leave it. If you’re struggling with those pretzels, there are real reasons that explain what’s behind that pain. That’s why I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned about non-diet weight control and how you can make peace with food and your body.
I want you to weigh the possibilities that there’s an aspect to your “I Dont’ Give a Damn” decision to eat that may not be immediately apparent.
Food tastes great, but it can also do a lot of harm
As we age, our bodies change, illness creeps in and we discover that we won’t live forever. We learn that in order to be healthy and have a long happy life, we can’t continue to abuse our bodies as we have in the past.
Maybe years of emotional eating has left you with excess weight and you’re struggling with prediabetes or diabetes, or some other chronic illness. By continuing to eat without abandon, the illness will become more severe and it will threaten to steal many of the freedoms that you currently enjoy.
As we get older, preventing illness and living longer, pain-free becomes a higher priority. So you’ve got to start thinking about how your food choices over the long term are affecting your body. And it’s very likely that will ultimately mean seeking out tasty substitutions for old favorite treats.
Let’s take ice cream as an example. Let’s say that you know from painful past experience that you have a massive case of lactose intolerance. Just eating a few bites of ice cream is enough to send you running doubled-over with painful cramps to the toilet for rest of the evening. Maybe consider that having a 3 scoop Sundae wouldn’t be the best idea. You’d have to ask yourself, “Is it worth the pain?”
What’s Really Behind Those ‘Don’t Give a Damn’ Day Binges?
When you are having one of those days where your “Give a Dam” button is broken, it’s because the stress in your life outweighs your ability to care for yourself and manage that intense stress in the moment.
Stress kills and it’s been proven that more than 80% of all illness is stress-related. There is no cure for stress. Your only hope is to manage it by dealing with your emotions, being assertive with your personal boundaries, taking care of your body and doing and saying things that keep you feeling good and true to yourself.
Self-care is more about taking preventative measures and accumulating the benefits over time. You can’t just shower once, and expect to be squeaky clean forever. Right?
So let’s go back to the question of tying the feelings of deserving a treat with your favorite binge food.
Is That Food What You Really Deserve?
If you know that your favorite food comes at a price to your health, and happiness, is it still really a treat? If you know that your body is going to pay dearly for your decision to eat what you want, is that something that you deserve?
Isn’t that painful and even a little bit like punishment?
As long as our need for the food is driven by overwhelming emotions like desperation and deprivation, we won’t be able to notice how it makes our bodies feel. Under stressful conditions, the blood leaves our brains so we can’t think clearly, rendering us completely at the mercy of our body’s stress response. Without having logic and reason in our corner, our survival instincts diminish our mental capacity making us act like children.
A Binge Is Your Body’s Way of Throwing a Tantrum
Imagine yourself as a child at your weakest, most vulnerable point. That’s the effect of stress. We’re all the same in this. That’s why handling your stress before it gets out of hand is the quickest path to relief so you can bounce back from anything more quickly. Here are my tips for getting past those “Don’t Give a Dam Day Binges”
Become Mindful of Your Thoughts and Create a No Judgment Zone – After overeating, and your brain gets that first hit of dopamine letting you relax and feel mellow for a second, what follows will be a torrential flood of shaming and judgmental thoughts coming from your ever vigilant inner critic.
Science has proven that we each think about 60,000 thoughts a day, and most of them are negative. Your inner critic, also known as your critical inner voice is actually just a part of your personality that keeps a running dialog in your head of all your past disappointments, mistakes and fails.
Despite how intimidating it may seem, it means you no harm, and only wants to protect you. And without your agreement it has no power over your decisions. But when you’re staring at your body in the mirror, the criticism and the intensity of the judgment coming from your thoughts is deafening.
If You Grew Up Being Criticized A Lot, Your Inner Critic Will Be Vicious
Especially, if like me, you grew up around a lot of criticism. You learned to doubt and criticize yourself. Then somewhere along the way you adopted those bullies’ voices as your own and picked up habits that supported being your own worst enemy.
Not to worry–It’s never too late to reclaim your power. Think about your inner critic as like a barking dog. The good news is you can tame that wayward puppy by retraining your thoughts to keep you focused in a new direction of being kinder and gentler with yourself.
Making a habit of talking to yourself in a softer and sweeter tone and being more respectful and mindful of your body’s needs will go a long way to taming your inner critic’s bite. That will reduce your stress and calm you down.
In the moments following your “Don’t Give a Damn Day binge, you can become aware of what you are thinking and how you feel. You already are hurting. It doesn’t make any sense to beat up on yourself anymore. Instead, imagine seeing yourself in a compassionate light, from the eyes of one who loves you. By doing that it elevates your awareness so you can think more clearly and act more thoughtfully, making self-care possible.
After overeating, you’ll want to remind yourself that you haven’t done anything wrong and you’re still a good person. Notice any shaming thoughts that come up and pay attention to how you feel about that. I know it’s hard to believe now, but no amount of shaming can make you feel better. I typically work with clients and teach them how to use stress-relief methods to help them tame their inner critic so they can reclaim their lives.
Have some compassion for yourself. Be kind. Rewind. Becoming aware of what you don’t want is the first step to getting what you do want. When you realize that you don’t like the consequences of your choices, you are then free to do something else.
Self-compassion and kindness will short circuit your inner critic’s tendency to beat you up after a binge. If like me, you were raised in an abusive or alcoholic family, you learned how to survive and manage the chaos around you by putting your head down and soldiering your way through situations and getting past them any way you could. That’s not the same as nurturing yourself. It’s important to realize that you are going to have to learn how to nurture yourself, what self-care is and find out what that means to you.
If you are struggling with emotional eating, you’ve probably been craving love, acknowledgment and kindness for a long time. Sometimes our families aren’t capable of giving us what we need, so we lean on what we can. Food may have become that safe haven for you.
That’s why when life goes topsy turvy and you’re facing the decision to not give a damn, it’s your body’s way of nurturing you saying, “It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay. We’ll get through this. Just eat this and you’ll feel better.” Thinking about overeating from that perspective makes it seem a lot less sinister. Doesn’t it?
There are real reasons why you love the foods you do. They hold special memories for you. Each of us has our own unique tastes and that governs the choices we make. The point is you may really love pretzels and find them to be a very difficult food to recognize when your body has eaten enough of them to feel satisfied. Making the decision to stop eating whatever food you’re eating may trigger overwhelming emotions in you that you don’t understand, and it’s your fear of facing those emotions that makes it feel impossible to stop eating them once you start.
I’ve learned the hard way that our cravings are really unmet needs disguised as food. To some people those pretzels may be dry and tasteless and they would have no desire to eat them, because that’s not the food that pushes their hunger buttons, but to you, they may represent very special memories from your past.
Be as gentle as you can and ask yourself what is it about these pretzels that captured your attention and made you want to eat them in the amount your did?
Please know that there is no cause or reason for judgment. That serves no valid purpose. Rather I’d like to encourage you to be curious and go on a fact finding mission. Be willing to be curious and say to yourself, “I’m so curious, and wonder why I wanted to eat those pretzels.” I wonder what they represented to me and what I was seeking to get out of them.”
Change your habits. Be patient and know that it’s going to take some time to reverse old habits. Pain is not a sustainable motivator so quitting old habits cold turkey doesn’t usually work.
You’re Worth It! – You’ve been through some really tough times and life has caused you to do and think the way you do. It’s really time that you start giving yourself a break. Give yourself a lot of credit, you did the best you could.
When you start believing that you’re deserving of more happiness than you’ve been getting, you’ll be motivated to do whatever you need to do to get healthier because you will want to squeeze more time and joy out of living.
Be curious – After your binge, you may need a nap, or some quiet time. Take whatever you need. Think about a binge in the same way as a toddler throwing a tantrum. They’re so little and the world is demanding so much of them and they haven’t yet figured it all out. They have so much energy and don’t know how to control themselves. When the level of stimulation and activity reaches a tipping point, that’s when they throw themselves on the floor and start crying and screaming. Children need love, consistency and boundaries. When you are bingeing, it’s your inner child that can’t handle the pressure of whatever stress you’re facing.
Instead of rushing to beat yourself up, commit to being your own best friend. Maybe nobody protected you when you were a kid and food was there to help you get over the rough spots. Now if you want to reduce the duration, intensity and frequency of your binges you will have to step into a bigger role in your life.
As a child, you may not have had a voice or a choice so there was nothing that you could have done to have changed anything. Children throw tantrums to get attention and vent their emotions. Your binges have been trying to get your attention. Those “Don’t Give a Damn Days” have been your body’s way of forcing you to explore and focus on the situations in your life that are intolerable and leave you feeling frustrated and upset.
Look out for yourself and notice patterns in your life that don’t work for you. Become a detective and pay attention to how food feels in your body. Take note of the feelings that you had prior to those binge thoughts. Then notice what feelings you have on days when everything is going well.
Create Habits to Sustain Wellness – In your quest to be curious, you will discover a lot of connections that as you think more about them, will make sense to you. As you consider the idea of nurturing yourself, and treating yourself in a kinder way, hold the image of taking care of a child.
In many ways children are just like us. Think about what they need. Some of the basics are food, shelter, sleep, love, food, activity, fresh air and sunshine. It’s surprising how easily we can get caught up in the daily grind of working and running around and days go by when we don’t eat right and we lose sleep. That’s a great recipe for a binge right there. When you’re overtired, worn down, cranky and feeling vulnerable, your body is sending a distress signal urging you to refresh and reboot yourself. Just like a roller coaster caught in the momentum of it’s descent, those moments are rarely times when you can reason yourself out of the binge. There’s a good chance you’re going to eat your way through this one. Your goal over time is to become more and more aware of what triggers activate your feelings of overwhelm. Do whatever you can to make changes in your life and focus on taking care of yourself. There is no easy fix. You need to be willing to be patient and kind with yourself, and day by day you will feel better.
Stock Up – Feeling safe knowing you can always eat those pretzels or whatever other food you are pursuing will make you not want to overeat that food. If pretzels are a challenge for you, keep those babies in the cabinet and around you all the time. That’s the way to break through the permission barrier so your brain can get the message that they’re okay and you can begin to relax around them.
Believe me! I know how hugely controversial this is, but in my experience it has worked every time. Having the foods around me that I love is like having a security blanket around, just in case. You may not always want it, but you feel so much easier knowing it’s there if you need it.
I’ve learned to set my goal to be more aware of those times when that happens. No judgment, just a willingness to be curious. I’ve decided to make it a little more challenging to get to my binge food to give myself time to reconsider and weigh my decision, “Do I really want to eat this now?”
Today beneath my kitchen table, I have a blue bucket where I store several bags of chips. It’s close enough where I will feel comfortable knowing it’s there, and distant enough to forget all about it.
On the occasion when I go into it and eat the chips in excess, I know that it’s a message to me that I’m overwhelmed with something that is going on in my life. That’s all. I’m not a pig, I don’t lack will power, and I have plenty of self-control.
My Blue Bucket Blog Challenge Chip Binge
The last time that I ate chips in excess was the first day of this blog challenge. As much as I love and adore blogging, I haven’t sat down to write in nearly 2 years since my precious cat, Owie passed away.
That morning as I sat down to write, it was bittersweet. The space where my precious boy used to sit and watch me write was empty. And that made me feel so sad. Immediately after I pressed Send and submitted the first post on Loving Yourself Past a Binge,” I ran upstairs and pulled out the blue bucket and served myself a bowl of potato chips, cheetos and fritos.
I was sitting at the table digging into the bowl with one hand after another. When I looked across the table, I noticed the deck and I realized that since Owie passed away I hadn’t spent any time in our backyard because the feelings of loss and grief were too intense.
I sat there double-fisting chips into my mouth and crying. That’s when I started asking myself, “What’s happening now?” Why am I doing this? I don’t even like these chips. Then it became clear to me that the blog challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to break out of my sadness and mourning for Owie, and fully embrace my life and passions again. I put away the chips and lay down for a nap.
When I woke up, I realize that the next day I would begin by walking out on my deck and letting myself feel the sweet memories of Owie’s most beloved space. There were some tears along the way, but having the gift of remembering how much I adore writing and now feeling his presence here with me while sitting at my desk writing has been worth every chip.
So you see whether you binge or not really doesn’t matter. What really counts is not what you do in the moment, but what behaviors you repeat over time.
Make Requests of Others – Pay more attention to what you need from yourself and others. Make sure that you advocate for yourself by making requests of others to get what you need. An example of this is to negotiate with your partner and say I’m really feeling frazzled today, and I’d love to just go sit in a hot tub and unwind for about an hour.
Could you do me a favor and do the dishes tonight and I’ll do them tomorrow? It’s these little things that add up to feeling better, improving your relationships, being healthier and having more confidence.
If I could leave you with one important idea. It would be this. Stop thinking of food as good or bad. Expand your awareness to how eating the food makes you feel. Thinking about why you can’t eat the food you want is what will drive you to binge on it in the first place.
I hope that my experience sheds a little light on your own challenges with food. I encourage you to test out giving yourself permission to eat the foods you love. Now if you’re a diabetic, I don’t recommend that you eat yourself into a coma. But take care and be willing to test the waters just a little bit. It goes without saying that you would want to get your doctor’s permission before taking any medical risks.
What you will notice is that as you give yourself permission to eat the foods you want, your yearning and need for them will disappear. It’s that emotional security blanket.
Just know that when you do find yourself overeating, it doesn’t mean that you’re being greedy. There’s something else behind those urges.
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