2nd April 2021

Memories of past events or traumas can keep us stuck in cycles of bingeing.
 
We can easily get stuck in vicious cycles where memories lead to bingeing. Bingeing then makes us feel worse about ourselves. This keeps us stuck and unable to move ourselves away from the memories.
 
Bingeing has many roles for different people. Commonly, bingeing can numb distress. Although this numbing doesn’t usually last long, it provides a brief period of freedom from the turmoil in our minds.
 
Take home message: Bingeing is not a weakness; it is a symptom of previous emotional discomfort.

We often feel shame or blame when we feel stuck in a behaviour like bingeing. Although we ‘logically’ know it is not benefiting us, we can’t seem to stop. This ‘stuckness’ is not your fault and is nothing to do with ‘weakness’, it is a symptom of the powerlessness, humiliation and shame we may have felt in the original event.
 
We can only move on from bingeing when we feel safe. If we have constant rumination or memories of events that distress us, we keep frozen. We can only change from a place of safety and not fear.

Are you stuck?


We can easily get stuck in vicious cycles where memories lead to bingeing. Bingeing then makes us feel worse about ourselves. This keeps us stuck and unable to move ourselves away from the memories.

Bingeing as numbing
Bingeing has many roles for different people. Commonly, bingeing can numb distress. Although this numbing doesn’t usually last long, it provides a brief period of freedom from the turmoil in our minds.

Why we stay stuck


Often the events that caused painful memories made us feel powerless, humiliated and ashamed. By treating ourselves negatively in the present we keep ourselves in a similar powerless position where we don’t feel empowered enough to rescue ourselves from whatever situation we are in.

Bingeing is not a weakness.

We often feel shame or blame when we feel stuck in a behaviour like bingeing. Although we ‘logically’ know it is not benefiting us, we can’t seem to stop. This ‘stuckness’ is not your fault and is not anything to do with ‘weakness’, it is a symptom of the powerlessness, humiliation, and shame we may have felt in the original event.

The neurobiology of feeling stuck.
There is a neurological explanation for this ‘stuckness’ which is the evolutionary freeze response. When we are stuck or frozen, we feel safe. Change feels scary and familiarity is comforting. Familiarity feels safe but keeps us stuck.

When we feel threatened, our primitive brain releases endogenous opioids which switches our pain off so that we can easily play dead. The opioids block our pain so we can be still. This is understandably tempting as a short-term solution to feelings of emotional pain.

This freeze response allows us to drift off into a numb dissociated state. Food, alcohol, Netflix binges and phone scrolling all create this numbness.

When we are in this place, we feel safe but have no motivation to change, we are stuck, the brakes are on.

Short term survival versus long term thriving.
As we may be chronically stressed and overwhelmed with work stress, family stress and a never-ending to-do list, we can feel in a constant state of alert. This can lead to us often feeling frozen and unable to cope with the idea of change for long enough to form new healthy habits.

We don’t notice that we are missing out on life and forgetting to follow our dreams. Short term survival behaviours like bingeing prevent long term thriving.

The joy of a life without bingeing is likely to be greater than the pain that can be left behind. But how do we get ourselves out of this stuck numbed zone where we don’t have energy to change?

What do we need to do to change?


We can only move on from bingeing when we feel safe. If we have constant rumination or memories of events that distress us, we keep frozen. We can only change from a place of safety and not fear.

See. Hear. Feel.

A way to feel safe, is to be heard, seen and to feel. While it helps if another person really hears, sees and feels our pain, many of us do not hear, see and feel all of the parts of ourselves. When we ignore or hate ourselves, this can make us feel powerless and stuck. When we ignore or hate ourselves, we don’t feel safe. When we don’t feel safe it is incredibly difficult to change, including to stop binge eating.

Acceptance

To escape from the cycles of bingeing, we need to experience and accept the feelings from those original memories. We need to feel the pain, darkness and loneliness. These are the feelings that bingeing is trying to numb or keep us safe from. When we can experience these feelings, we no longer need to block them out with food and we can move on from bingeing.

While using food to numb feelings may have kept us safe at the time or the original events, it is likely that using food to numb feelings now causes more harm than good.

Here are some tips to get unstuck, to feel safe and to find the motivation and solutions to escape from binge eating:


Nurture your energies to change.
We need to nurture all of our energies to find our motivation to change, this includes sufficient sleep, healthy diet and sufficient exercise.
 
Notice when you are using your primitive brain.
It is helpful to recognize when you are acting from your primitive brain. The primitive brain is responsible for numbing behaviours like bingeing and being snappy. When we are using our logical brain, we might be making plans or considering decisions. When you notice that you are using the primitive brain, can you try and switch to the logical part? The logical brain doesn’t binge.
 
You need to move to be able to move.
Moving your body helps your mind to feel that it is safe. If your body is moving then it can learn that it is safe enough that you don’t need to ‘play dead’.
 
Do some life planning.
We are kept frozen by our primitive brain. Our logical brain can get us out of this place by planning, imagining the future and making our ideas into reality. Doing visualizations of the future, life planning and evaluation of life goals uses our logical brain.
 
Focusing on feelings.
Focusing on, and thinking about, feelings and thoughts is the work of the logical brain and helps us to live more from the logical place where we know bingeing doesn’t really solve our problems or help us long term.

  1. Notice that you are experiencing an emotion. Take a moment to feel it, notice where it is physically and how you feel mentally. Try not to push it away but sit with it for a few moments. Embrace the discomfort. An emotion itself only lasts about 90 seconds, it is the stories that we write around the emotions that last longer and haunt us.
  2. Listen and hear what your emotion it trying to tell you. If it helps, have a conversation with it, either in your head or out loud. You could imagine the emotion as someone coming to the door who will keep ringing the doorbell until you speak to them and let them deliver the message. Once they have delivered the message, they will be able to go away.

Be nice.
When we are mean to ourselves, it keeps us thinking that we are still in danger. When we feel in danger, we get stuck in the freeze and numbed response of our primitive brains. We all have the ability to solve our own problems in our logical brains, but when we are stuck in our primitive brains we can’t access our logic for long enough to change. when we are kind to ourselves, it is more likely that we will find the way to get ourselves unstuck.

Self-soothe.
We need to self-soothe rather than self-sabotage to teach our primitive brains that we are safe now and we can change. We can’t recover from pain when we keep causing ourselves pain. To change, we need to feel safe, supported and treated with kindness. We need to treat ourselves this way first. When we feel like this, our logical brains can step up and find a solution to many of our problems.

Take your time.

It takes time to feel safe, supported and to treat ourselves with enough kindness to allow our primitive selves to feel safe enough to let us recover from our painful past experiences. We live in a next-day delivery society where we are used to instant gratification and Netflix on-demand. We want things done yesterday. Your primitive brain, the part that is coping using binge eating, needs gentleness, kindness and time to heal. How can you treat yourself with kindness today?


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