For many people in eating disorder recovery, whenever they first notice an urge to binge/overeat food, their reaction is usually fear, panic and a deep desire to get rid of the urge as fast as possible. They may fight and argue against the urge in an attempt to overcome it, but unfortunately this often only makes the urge worse. We can become frustrated that our attempts to control the urge are not working.
We can also panic because the urge is not going away or because it is becoming more intense and it makes us feel totally out of control. Written by a fully recovered eating disorder psychologist, this article will help you to understand what may be making your binge urges worse and walk you through 3 key steps to overcome the urge to binge eat.
If you could learn to be more accepting of your urges, they wouldn’t cause you as much bother and then you would be in a better position to ignore them rather than act on them. The psychology works like this:
Binge urge + panic and fear for having a binge urge = more uncomfortable emotions + stronger binge urges.
Binge urge + acceptance that it’s okay to feel this way for now = less uncomfortable emotions + less intense binge urges.
The Struggle Switch
So, imagine at the back of your mind is a switch called the struggle switch. When it is switched on, you are likely to struggle against any urge or uncomfortable emotion and want to get rid of it as fast as possible. When an urge to binge shows up, if your struggle switch is on, the urge will feel totally unacceptable and distressing, leading to a need to get rid of the urge and binge eat. However, if an urge to binge shows up and your struggle switch is turned off, no matter how unpleasant it feels you don’t struggle with it. Those urges are free to increase and decrease, but you do not waste your time and energy fighting it.
Although you have no control over our binge urges, you do have full control over how you react to them. The urge to binge is powerless unless you act on it. This is a skill which requires time, patience and practice during your eating disorder recovery. Let’s break this down into 3 key steps to overcome the urge to binge eat:
1. Delay binging for 10 minutes
When you tell yourself that you have to make it through the rest of the night without bingeing, that can feel overwhelming and almost impossible. Therefore, start small and challenge yourself to delay binging for just 10 minutes. Remember approaching the discomfort of the binge with your struggle switch off, just watching the urge rise or fall. Give yourself 10 minutes before making any decisions as to whether or not you will binge eat.
2. Distract yourself
A binge urge does a fantastic job of becoming all consuming. However, concentrating on 2 things at once is psychologically extremely difficult. This is where distraction can be helpful (rather than clock watching for 10 minutes). Continue to allow the urge to come and go as it pleases and shift your attention onto something else. This may include going for a walk, having a shower, calling a friend, watching tv, doing some chores (out of the kitchen) or immersing yourself in a project or hobby. The goal with distraction is to lessen the intensity of the binge urges, not stop them altogether. Continue focusing on what you are doing whilst allowing the urges to be. Remind yourself that; “It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now” and “I can handle these feelings.”
3. Delay for a further 5 or 10 minutes if possible
If you have reached 10 minutes, it is important to recognise this success even though it feels small. You may also find that the urge to binge is still strong. Can you continue to keep your struggle switched off and allow these urges to be without fighting them? Challenge yourself to delay the binge urges for further 5 or 10 minutes, reminding yourself that your urges cannot harm or control you and you are more than your urge to binge. The urge to binge will pass. However, if you are no longer able to tolerate the binge urge then allow yourself full permission to binge and make a committed choice to binge eat. You are in control of this choice, not your urges.
Repeat these 3 steps as many times as you need to. With time and practice you may start to notice that you are able to accept and resist the binge urge for longer and longer periods, which become less intense. However, you may continue to binge eat when starting to practice this skill, which is completely normal. You are not expected to just stop overnight or to ‘never binge ever again’ when you enter recovery. You are learning a new skill and rewiring your brain which takes time.
If this is something you feel you need support with and you feel ready to speak with an eating disorder psychologist in Sydney please get in contact with fully recovered eating disorder psychologist Hannah Myall, who has also fully recovered from an eating disorder and has since spent the last decade helping individuals and families work towards eating disorder recovery.
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