Years ago, I was in a relationship and we fought all the time. We were completely wrong for each other, but at the same time we also had a certain hold on each other. An attraction, a clash, a chemical reaction… call it what you will!
Even after we decided to end the relationship, we would get back together constantly. Off and on, like moths to a flame. I would tell myself each time that it was going to be different, and there was always an initial rush at the start. But then after awhile the same feelings would rise to the surface: regret, shame, self-loathing, and sadness. It became a very destructive cycle. High then low. Up then down. A rush then shame.
It was almost like a drug.
Binge eating or drinking have a similar effect, but instead of being in a destructive relationship with a person, you are in a destructive relationship with food or alcohol.
In any addictive cycle, the stimulant (for example, the forbidden food, people or alcohol) causes the brain to release dopamine, which stimulates feelings of pleasure & rewards, and opioids, the active ingredient in heroin and cocaine. This explains why binge eating is so addictive, and why it can’t be kicked with simple willpower or logic. Your brain has powerful associations between binge eating and feeling a rush. Food becomes a part of your emotional survival. When you need a hit, you reach for forbidden food.
If we practice something repeatedly, whether it is the piano or binge eating, the nerve cells in our brain associated with that practice all wire together strongly. After awhile, that behaviour becomes engrained in our identity and personality: we start connecting it with ‘who we are.’
HOW TO TRANSFORM BINGE EATING
The answer is in rewiring our brain, and the good news is that this is possible. I can assure you that I am now happily married to another man, so if I can rewire my brain away from that destructive relationship, then anyone can rewire their brains out of any habit. Here are 5 steps to rewire your brain and heal your relationship with food.
Step One: Replace the binge eating/drinking with another (slightly healthier) behaviour that only gives you a small rush. For example, if you typically binge on chocolate, replace the chocolate that you currently binge on with raw or dark chocolate. If you typically binge on alcohol, have fewer half-strength drinks. If you typically binge on ice-cream, replace it with frozen yoghurt. If you binge on bread, replace it with brown bread. This is giving your brain a small shock without sending it into panic mode.
Step Two: The reason that you binge is deeply enmeshed with the reward patterns you set up in childhood. Whenever you feel like bingeing and if you feel strong enough, write in a journal of the feelings that come up when you want to binge. Ask yourself, when do I remember feeling this (desperate, scared, sad, overwhelmed etc.) as a child? How did I respond to that feeling then? Use your non-dominant hand to write the answers to the question and you will be able to connect with your ‘inner child’ more easily.
Step Three: You might benefit from seeing a coach, counsellor, psychologist or other caring professional to talk about the feelings that arise at this point in time. I know when I was healing my associations with relationships, I saw a coach who helped me enormously. I used to see my coach as a personal trainer for my brain!
Step Four: Adopt a daily practice of focusing (a style of meditation that I have written about in another blog here). This is a part of my daily routine and it has changed my life.
Step Five: Remember, healing starts with self-love and self-compassion. We are all the same, and we are all in this together- we are beautiful creatures who just need to rewire some areas of our brains.
Don’t create a story around your trigger or talk about it constantly because it gives it too much power. Keep visualising the end goal and how amazing you will feel when you are happy and healthy.