Binge Eating is Not Emotional Management (and How to Properly Manage Your Emotions)

Binge eating can be one of the most difficult behaviors to stop when you are a disordered eater. You’re afraid to gain weight, so you restrict your food intake. You have beliefs around what foods are good and bad. You white-knuckle through a few days or weeks of “eating clean” because you want to hit your ideal weight or, at least, not gain any more. 

Eventually, though, something happens to open the flood gates. Maybe a coworker has a birthday and someone brings in a delicious-looking cake. Maybe you got into an argument with a family member, boss, or partner; you’re still stewing; and you remember that you have Thin Mint cookies in the freezer. Maybe you’re just exhausted from chasing around your children all day and want five minutes to yourself and a way to replenish your energy–with lots of chocolate. 

When you’ve come to from your binge, you frantically assess the damage done. How much did you eat? What should you eat tomorrow and the following week to “make up” for that binge? How much weight did you (in your mind, inevitably) gain? 

I was stuck in this cycle for years and years. There is a lot of shame and feelings of helplessness born in these cycles. You are so scared to get out of the cycle because if you don’t restrict after a binge, you’ll gain weight, and to you, that’s the worst thing that could ever happen, right?

What I realized on a conscious level, though, and what you probably realize subconsciously, is that binge eating is not an effective form of emotional management. Binge eating, yes, can allow you time to numb out, forget about your problems, experience a hit of dopamine, and fill you up (at least physically), but it will never be a healthy or sustainable coping mechanism for negative emotions and experiences that we all have, as part of the human experience. 

If you’re looking for ways to minimize or outright quit your binge eating, here are some key takeaways to remember. 

  1. Everyone has bad days and negative feelings. Life is 50/50. Most of us will feel awesome half the time and crappy half the time, and that’s just the way life is. We’re not guaranteed a permanent state of happiness, which is why it’s so interesting that we’re so resistant to negative emotions. If we didn’t have bad days or negative emotions, we would have no reference for when things were great. We would also never know how to problem solve or learn how to make things better if we didn’t deal with obstacles along the way. Simply remembering that everyone, and I mean everyone, has bad days and feels like garbage sometimes helps you to not resist those instances in your own life. It provides a space for self-compassion and an opportunity for reflection. 
  2. Ignoring negative feelings will not make them go away. What resists persists. The less you try to think about a negative emotion, thought, or event, the more you will internalize it. If it’s not processed, it has no way out. If you process it, feel it, and understand where it’s coming from, it’ll move through you and pass more easily and quickly. There are so many ways to process negative emotions–from thought work, to inquiry, to journaling, to meditation. Working with a coach through these instances can be particularly effective and powerful. But using food to numb out and avoid the problem at hand does little more than compounding it for the future and leave you feeling shameful for binge eating. 
  3. There are many kinds of self-care. We tend to think of long, luxurious massages and trips to the salon as the only modes of self-care; and then we disregard self-care because not all of us have the time or financial means to do that stuff regularly. As a result, we default to something cheaper and more readily available: food. What if we expanded our definition of self-care? What if it was simply reading for 10 minutes? Watch an episode of Friends on Netflix? Taking 10, slow, deep breaths? Journaling for five minutes so we can process our thoughts? 
  4. There is only one way to stop binge eating. And that is to stop restricting. You may think you’re “balancing out the scales” but what you’re really doing is setting yourself up for the next binge. Binge eating is a biological response to what your body perceives to be a famine (and what you call a diet). Your body will do everything it can to keep you alive, including binge eating, even if it feels mentally and physically horrible. Committing to consistent and adequate eating will result in better blood sugar levels, effective emotional management, more stable weight, and improved relationship with food and your body. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of the work I do with clients in terms of dismantling diet culture’s lies, analyzing the science behind dieting, debunking food rules, and healing scarcity mindsets; but it is the eventual goal for those stuck in binge eating cycles. 

If this post was helpful to you, and you want to work with me as your coach, go to to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with me. 

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