Three common barriers to binge eating recovery

November 3, 2022
“The best wisdom comes from the hardest struggle.”
– Xavier Rudd.
Today, I’d love to share three common barriers to overcoming binge eating.

Something that’s pretty clear when I look at my clients’ progress and mine too, is this:

When we get clear on what’s stopping us along the path to make peace with food, it’s easier to put it place a plan of mini steps to overcome those barriers.

So, grab a cup of your favourite hot drink. Maybe play a nice & soothing tune — if you’re in need of inspiration, I suggest this.

Give yourself some time to dive into today’s article.

I’ll jump straight into them now!

Barrier #1

Being in a hurry to change

Something that often comes up in the sessions with clients is the difficulty to reconcile with the fact that recovery from binge eating takes time.

It can’t be rushed. It asks for you to take time. How much time?

All the time that’s needed — which could be different for each of you.

Shortcuts or impatience are often counterproductive.

For example, I often hear women say they tried using mindfulness to bring more awareness to what’s going on when they binge and that it didn’t work.

Or that they added their “prohibited” foods to their shopping list and brought them home but it didn’t go as they were hoping. They binged nonetheless, so it didn’t work at all.

However, when we dive deeper, they’ve come to that conclusion after only trying a couple of times for one or two weeks, which is a very limited timeframe, if you consider that binge eating might have been there for years, if not decades.

Or maybe in their definition of “didn’t work” there’s room for reviewing and expanding the meaning of success/failure during this important journey where they might be feeling tender and wobbly at times.

They are perfectly normal in feeling this way. Expectactions to get things faster and easier are so ingrained in our culture. How can I blame them?

But there are things that just can’t be rushed.

As with many other things in life, it does take practice.

Nobody expects you to take a violin and play.

There’s no difference when it comes to changing your relationship with food.

That’s why I always encourage them (and you now!) to see how much compassion and commitment to stay on the path they can draw from within them and from being in the safe container of our relationship.

One pitfall of trying something new or different a few times and conclude that “It just doesn’t work for me” is that, repeated over time, it leads you to “do nothing”, to stay in the status quo, because you believe there’s no point in trying: “There’s nothing that works for me.”

Commitment and persistance with small incremental steps are skills that can be cultivated to help overcome binge eating.

Especially when, like in this case, the deepest manifestation of progress cannot be seen externally, or at least not immediately.

Particularly when signs of recovery are measured based on how you feel more than with numbers like weight or food portions.

Keeping promises to yourself is the most effective way to build confidence in your ability to recover.

Consistently keep the promise that you are going to take the tiny step you’ve committed to take even those days where that’s the last thing you want to do.

Nothing erodes confidence faster that breaking promises to yourself.

This is why it’s important not to rush the process.

Relax in the knowing that prolongued, intentional actions will bear more fruits than an anxious, rushed response.

Barrier #2

The desire to lose weight

I touched on this topic in my last mindful article, where I shared about how it’s normal to be swaying between the desire to find food freedom and the desire to control food in the hope to lose weight.

If you missed it, you can find it here.

The point I’d like to make today is that consciously putting the desire to lose weight on the side hugely helps your recovery.

Even reminding yourself that, despite the desire still being there, you’re not giving it the power to stop prioritising what matters the most to you now, your recovery from binges, is very important.

I recognise how difficult this is. I’ve lived this on my skin. Believe me when I tell you I know how the thought of wanting to look different, slimmer can creep in at the most unexpected times. Even after years of working on it.

But I can also testify to the incredible benefits of learning and practicing being more neutral about food, dropping the good/bad opposites.

I can vouch for the freedom that comes from breaking the association we’ve all learned since we were very young that losing weight automatically equals improving your health and being a better person.

Particularely, other women who have been on this journey for a while shared with be about the newfound calm of believing they are already good enough as they are, of the freedom of eating without that heavy sense of duty to follow rules of the dieting years.

More surprisingly (well, not for me), some women realise that what they though was bingeing actually wasn’t bingeing.

It was the result of them seeing the food their body needed through the lens of their obsession with clean eating. For example, eating those biscuits after dinner for them was as a sign of binge eating, because they had learned that if you had your dinner, why would you need to eat anything else? You simply shouldn’t.

[I’ll probably come back on this last point on another letter, cause it’s worth more words and reflections.]

Are you willing to prioritise the recovery from binges over the chase of weight-loss? If so, what makes it worthwhile for you to do it?

Barrier #3

Not addressing the emotional part

I strongly believe that working on building food neutrality and dropping the diet mentality is only one part of the work when addressing binge eating problems.

If the work stops there, it’s often incomplete, especially when the binges are not primarely driven by food deprivation and strict rules, but by the desire to numb or avoid feelings.

The focus on what you feel (or try not to feel) is as important as the one on food itself, if not more important.

I love this quote from Tara Brach:

“When we bring our emotions into the light of our awareness they lose their intensity”.

When anxiety, loneliness, sadness, anger creep in:

~ Can you go to your notebook or to a quiet space and work out why it’s happening?

~ Can you get to the bottom of the stories you’re telling yourself that might be making you feel that way?

~ Can you stay with that feeling long enough to notice how it loses its intensity?

~ Can you listen to what comes to mind as you try to find ways to meet the needs that want to be met?

Emotions offer the oppotunity for you to identify the problem which is expressed externally through your binges (the symptom).

They indicate you the way, by pointing you to parts of your life or yourself that you could be giving more attention, even though they can’t force you to take it.

There are many benefits that come from dismantling years of diet rules and false myths about food and health.

But this part of recovery can’t replace the work on emotions, like:

Recognise & give a name to any discomfort you’re feeling inside.

  • Empathise with your discomfort.
  • Acknowledge that experincing these emotions is part of humanity. We can’t expect not to feel sad, angry, bored, etc.
  • Develop unconditional acceptance (or unconditional love, if you prefer to call it this way).
  • Be with yourself even when things don’t go as planned or like you wished they went. Even if you feel something that’s disturbing, confusing or uncomfortable.
  • Look at your symptoms (e.g. binges), which you believe are ruining your life, with acceptance and curiosity.
  • Pay attention to understand what are the unmet needs behind these emotions.
  • Be creative to identify different ways to meet those needs.

I know I skipped this part of the work for many years. I was scared by what would have possibly come out if I looked inside.

I also know many other women feel or felt the same way about the emotional work.

As with many other fears in life, for me it has ended up being a demanding work (which is always ongoing) but way less scary as I thought.

Why? Because it brought me to believe more in myself, to set better boundaries, to disconnect my worth from what I look like, to eat with no particular goal in mind apart from eating.

These are huge achievements. I don’t discount these positives. The thousands of pages written on my journals and the support I received in different formats and by different people have really paid out.

It wouldn’t be possible without my commitment and perseverance.

So, it definitely starts and ends with me, even when I get support from others.

The same way it starts and ends with you.

I wonder what thoughts come to mind as you read about these three barriers.

Have you ever thought about how these might be getting in the way of stopping your binges?

I’m also curious about what other obstacles (big or small) you are encountering in your journey to find freedom from bingeing.

If you feel like sharing them with me, I’m waiting for you on the other side article. Just add a comment to this article or share privately to info@themindfulbody.ie.

With kindness,

Dona 🌷

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Written by Donatella Porceddu

I am a registered psychologist and life coach specialised in binge and emotional eating, body kindness, and mindful eating. I empower women to become the best version of themselves through my comprehensive approach, which combines personal coaching and psychology, leveraging my client’s strengths and building around their opportunities.

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Donatella Porceddu Psychologist & Eating Coach specialised in Binge Eating, Overeating, Emotional Eating, Food freedom, anti-diet approach. 1:1 support through my Make Peace with Food program.

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