You may be a binge eater and not even know it

You may be a binge eater and not even know it
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Have you ever decided to go on a diet and then proceeded to consume everything in your pantry because you’re anticipating how horrible your diet is going to be? Well, guess what? This behavior is called the “last supper effect” and it’s a form of binge eating.

Psychotherapist Melissa Elder and dietician Annie Goldsmith are passionate about food. More specifically, improving people’s relationship with food and helping to stop the binge eating cycle.

Melissa and Annie run The Art of Intentional Eating, a program that changes binging behaviors through mindful eating. They taught me that restricting certain foods can lead to shame (when we inevitably eat it) and that shame can leave to binging. So even though we think that we’re doing the right thing by dieting, we’re actually hurting our relationship with food.

Here’s how to identify binge eating (it’s more common than you think) and how programs like The Art of Intentional Eating can help stop this behavior:

Me: Let’s start with the basics, what exactly is binge eating? Is it when I eat an entire Sabor Supreme Nacho by myself?

Melissa: Binge eating is eating a quantity that is larger than normal for the person with some kind of distress. So if you didn’t have distress while eating the nachos, then it wasn’t binge eating.

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Me: Doesn’t everyone emotionally eat at some point in their lives?

Melissa: Yes. There’s nothing wrong with emotional eating but it becomes a problem when it interferes with your life.

Me: I know binge eating can be hard to recognize, so how do you know if you’re doing it?

Annie: If you answer yes to a lot of these questions it might be good to talk to someone:

  1. Do you have a long history of dieting?
  2. Do you have a lot of weight cycling? (You lose ten pounds, then gain fifteen pounds.)
  3. Is food always in the back of your mind when you’re at work or out with friends?
  4. Do you feel out of control around food?
  5. Do you eat to a place where you feel uncomfortable afterwards?
  6. Do you label foods? Ex: Carbs are bad.

Me: Wait—why is it so bad to label food? I thought carbs were bad.

Annie: A great example I give my clients is: If you put a little kid in a room full of toys and tell him he can play with anything but the red firetruck, what do you think he’s going to want to play with? We have to come at food from a very neutral place in order to begin to heal our relationship with it.

Melissa: People struggle with “the willpower to diet” but willpower is not the answer. We want you to embrace the relationship with food as opposed to trying to fit into diet rules. Science shows us that this doesn’t work.

Me: Are binge eaters normally overweight?

Melissa: No. We see people of all shapes and sizes.

Me: What causes people to start binge eating?

Melissa: Depression and anxiety are two major vulnerabilities. Stress and trauma can also be triggers. Growing up in a home with restrictive eating or having a history of dieting can also lead to binging.

Me: At what age do people start binging?

Melissa: It might show up when kids are young (eight or nine) with them hiding food and the mom finds wrappers under the bed.

Most of my clients come to me in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s but they have a long history of binging.

art of intentional eating

Me: When did you start The Art of Intentional Eating?

Melissa: I started my practice in the summer of 2015. Annie and I met right away at an eating disorder networking event. We realized we had the same philosophy and approach when working with clients.

Annie: We spent six months developing the curriculum and we launched in January.

Me: How does mindful eating (aka intentional eating) help stop binge eating?

Melissa: Mindful eating is the opposite of dieting. It’s a shift in mindset that gets away from rigid rules so you can really start enjoying what you’re eating.

Me: What does the mindful eating group program look like?

Melissa: Our program is 90 minutes per week and runs for ten sessions. It’s an educational group where we teach mindful eating and then people can use the tools they learned at home.

We do a lot of practical skills where we bring in real food and talk about the decisions we have to make. We also do meditation and there’s homework every week.

Me: I saw you have a mother-daughter group, where did this idea come from?

Melissa: There’s a lot of moms with young teenagers who don’t know how to empower their daughters when they start to say negative things about their bodies.

Annie: Part of this group is teaching the moms about family feeding practices that reduce eating disorders.

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Me: So are your clients mostly female?

Melissa: Yes, but there are a lot of men who suffer from this as well. In fact, a lot of veteran’s deal with binge eating because of trauma or stress.

Me: I’ve read that standing while eating can lead to binge eating, do you agree?

Melissa: Totally. We realize we live in the modern day America where we sometimes have to eat standing or in the car, but it’s all about your approach. You can still be conscious about what you’re putting in your body instead of being “hand-to-mouth.”

Me: What are some things that people can do at home to practice mindful eating?

Melissa: One simple thing anyone can do is just take a few deep breaths before eating. This creates space to be more present during your meal.

You can also practice five senses eating. Pause before you start eating to check-in with what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling. Use your senses as an easy way to tune into your meal.

Side note: And no, pausing to take an Instagram photo of your meal doesn’t count.

If you want to talk to Melissa and Annie about binge eating or other eating issues, you can call them (980-288-8595) or contact them here.

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