“I know. Binge eating is just a habit!“ is a sentence I have heard a lot.
And, according to the Cambridge dictionary, “habit” can mean either
habitual behavior or addiction.
And, if you don’t understand what’s coming next you may end up feeling like Lauren who sent me an email this morning to let me know how hard things were for her:
“I’m just still trying to connect with the place of strength within that allows me to put to use all the answers that come my way. That strength comes and goes. Right now it is gone.”
And, I don’t want you to stay stuck in a life force sucking rut just because of the confusing information about what binge eating really is. So read on.
How I Trained Myself to Change a Habitual Behavior:
I trained myself to clean up after eating using cues and micro-habits.
I used to eat.
Go lie on the couch.
And, the dishes didn’t get washed.
The table remained dirty…
So I used finishing diner as a cue to stand up with dishes in my hands.
Soon after, I got up and take the dishes to the kitchen.
Then, I learned to do the dishes once they were in the kitchen…
A little later, cleaning up everything after eating had become my new habit.
Funny enough, I now feel shocked when someone doesn’t do the same. 🙂
If you would like to discover great tips on how to change habits, I recommend you read Atomic Habits.
But, don’t use them to help you overcome binge eating or prepare to be disappointed. I’ll tell you why in a minute…
What’s the Difference Between Changing a Habit and Stopping Binge Eating?
First, habits are rather easy to change and to stick to. But binge eating recovery can feel like climbing an ever-growing mountain.
Even if you reach the top, you can fall and have to start over from the bottom up.
Second, it takes 66 days on average to create a new habitual behavior that sticks. But I know several women who stopped binge eating for a few years, and resumed.
Why Is It Easier To Change A Habit Than Stopping Binge Eating?
There is a heated debate on the topic in the scientific world.
But a simple answer is that:
1. the survival brain helps you survive the best it can by:
- overriding your decision-making, and impulse regulation center
- making you escape pain and seek pleasure.
2. it was designed for an environment very different from the one you currently live in.
Your survival brain can create obsessions, cravings, distraction, distorted thinking… when it feels your survival is under threat. And when this happens, you feel out of control.
It feels like you don’t have a choice but to binge.
If you like a more scientific explanation here is a quote from an article published in Psychology Today, you may find interesting:
“…in regular eaters, the pre-frontal cortex, like a nagging mother, imposes impulse control. “Don’t even think about eating more food; you look like a bean bag chair with lips.” However, if you have pre-frontal cortex damage, reduced serotonin, or excessive stress, the prefrontal cortex’s ability to impose impulse control decreases. Even if you’re experiencing a major distraction in your life the prefrontal cortex’s functionality is compromised. This inability to exercise impulse control allows a behavior like eating to transform from being a hedonic goal-oriented habit… to a compulsive stimulus-response habit…”
And, if you prefer educational videos, watch this 4-minute summary from the Addiction Policy Forum a US “nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating addiction as a major health problem.”
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So, Is Binge Eating a Habit?
My personal answer to the question “is binge eating a habit” is: “no” if you consider it as a habitual behavior and “yes” if you view it as a compulsive behavior.
In other words, even if you improve your eating habits by practicing mindful eating, for example, it won’t help you stop binge eating.
This is what I have observed with the people I worked with. They would “do good” until they just couldn’t resist food anymore. And, when this happened nothing would stop them, not even mindful eating.
That’s because a behavioral habit cannot prevent a compulsive impulse.
Yet, too many women blame themselves for losing control over food. They think “if only I had behaved differently…” when a different behavior wouldn’t have changed anything.
Maybe it’s because they scoured the internet to find tips for binge eating recovery and found “call a friend”, “take a bath”, “play Tetris”, “smell some fragrance”…. which all imply that you can stop a binge by taking action.
Action may bring temporary relief. But it won’t help anyone beat binge eating.
So if you have been blaming yourself for not behaving better, you have the right to unload this guilt. I’ll share with you below what you can do instead.
To recap, we saw that:
a behavioral habit was not the same as an addiction _ even if the scientific world is still debating on this.
according to science, your “survival brain” takes over your prefrontal cortex and makes you indulge.
OK, But this doesn’t give you the whole picture? (more about this below).
And, it doesn’t help understanding why YOU binge.
After all, we all have a brain with similar functions.
Why do some people binge and why others don’t?
Why do people are addicted to gambling and others to food?
Can genes explain everything?
If so, why do people recover?…
If you’ve been asking yourself “why do I binge?” for years and are desperate to find an easy and effortless way to make peace with food, I highly suggest you get your free copy of my Ultimate overeating drives cheatsheet + walkthrough video.
And, you? What do you think?
Do you think binge eating is a habit?