Binge What?

tango_weather_snow_115981It snowed again yesterday. After a morning of menial tasks, I found myself watching the first season of “The West Wing”. I mean the whole first season. I loved it the first time and loved it the second time.

When asked what I had done, I confessed to binge-watching television. I guess the term fits the activity, but it got me thinking. How has the word binge become an everyday part of our vocabulary?

Bingeing gets its most common definition from overeating. In fact the dictionary defines bingeing as to “indulge in an activity, especially eating, to excess”. In recent years we have attached the word to drinking, watching, shopping, even exercising. Why do we need to ‘binge’ to excess? What emptiness are we trying to fill?

As a weight loss counselor, I spent a lot of time with clients talking about bingeing. While many could identify the triggers, most could not stop the process without help.

Michelle Joy Schulman of  “Raw Pure Joy” sites several types of binges:

The Hunger Binge- triggered by physical deprivation

The Deprivation Binge -triggered by emotional deprivation

The Stress Binge- triggered by (you guessed it) stress

The Opportunity Binge- occurs when time and opportunity and privacy are available, often triggered by boredom

The Vengeful Binge-triggered by anger

The Pleasure Binge-triggered by the desire to enhance pleasure

I think the last binge, the Pleasure Binge, is worth noting. Bingeing is a way to feel better in reaction to any number of issues or triggers. How do we feel better? We seek pleasure. The downside here is the temporary nature of the pleasure. Just as the pleasure of overeating registers, the guilt and shame take over. (Note: For this discussion we are focusing only on the emotional damage)

Why does the behavior repeat itself if the feelings of pleasure are so brief and the negative feelings so long lasting? Like many behaviors, this is learned and reinforced over many years. Your inner voice craves chocolate because it’s been a lousy day, your boss yelled at you, your car is making a funny noise and the school called to say one of the kids is running a fever. You take care of everything else (the car, the boss, the child) and run for the pantry. Just one minute of pleasure, of indulgence. Before you have even swallowed the first handful of semi-sweet morsels, you feel awful. ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘ My skirt is already tight.’ ‘ I have no self control!’ ‘ I cannot trust myself.’ The litany of negative and damaging thoughts mentally beats you. You are familiar with the lecture, you know what you’ve done, but you are going to hear it anyway.

Many experts have ‘weighed in’ (sorry, couldn’t resist) on the process for ‘curing’ the binge. I have read most of Geneen Roth’s books on overeating. The steps outlined in her program, and other’s who have written on the subject are clear, reasonable and simple. Simple is the last thing this is!

I believe that the first step to changing any behavior is to be aware of it. In order to be aware, we have to listen closely to the messages we send ourselves. For instance, if the boss is nasty to you do you (a) tell yourself he/she must have had a tough night or, (b) take it personally and question yourself for the rest of the day?

When we begin to hear what we say to ourselves, we can begin to select alternative messages. Make no mistake; this is not a quick or magical process. I’ve taken to carrying a small notepad with me. When I am struggling with my inner voice, I write down the things I ‘hear’ and then ask myself how much of what I’ve written is true. (Thanks to author and speaker Byron Katie, for giving me the question to ask.) Most often the answer is ‘Of course it’s not true’. So what is the truth? This is where it gets fun. I write down one truth for every negative thought and read it to myself three times immediately. I reread my notes throughout the day, closing with the positive statements I created.


I find this process very helpful and have seen clients respond positively as well. I feel the need to state, however, that your bingeing, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, TV watching or exercise, is yours. In listening to yourself and really looking at what triggers you and how the binge makes you feel before, during and after, you can gain great insight and be your best advocate. This information may inspire you to seek professional help from a therapist or coach, or you may find that just by listening you can begin to self soothe and heal.

Until next time!



An Organized Purse, A Clear Mind?

Isn’t it interesting that the frenzy of the winter holidays is followed by a push to clean out and organize? Actually, the timing couldn’t be better. The clutter of the holidays the gifts, the tree, the trimming, the food has to be dealt with in the New Year. Why not clean out a closet at the same time?

I love to organize, to clean out and giveaway things that are just collecting dust.  It’s hard (I still have the shoes I got married in and I’ll never wear them again), but so satisfying. My philosophy is simple; I can’t bring something in to my house without getting rid of something. I have one room in my house that serves as the collection site for the things we no longer need or use. When the pile begins to grow too large, I contact one of the charities in our area for a pickup Easy!

Cleaning out and organizing feels cathartic to me. When I look at a pristine well- organized closet I’m reminded that I control my life, not the reverse. I have many friends who disagree. They debate the “ifs” and “I might need it” of every item. The task takes twice as long and before you know it, they’ve given up. Their homes don’t provide them with the calm and ‘sanctuary’ they crave. For that matter their homes are often a mirror of the chaos within them.

Peter Walsh (of Oprah fame) says, ‘Your home should be the antidote to stress, not the cause.’ I agree. If you walk into a home that is a mess or room with a table crammed with paperwork, do you want to stay? Does it relax you? Quite the opposite, it can be debilitating. If you’ve ever seen any of the hoarding shows on television, you know it can even affect your health.

My point is this, if you spent 10 minutes each day on a small part of your home — a closet, the pantry, the fridge — and clear out the clutter, you will feel so much better. Imagine being able to find that other glove, or the potato masher?

My cousin is a professional organizer in New York City. She has successfully moved, organized and created beautifully organized spaces for her clients.  Although she works on her own, she often has the client work with her. Long-term success organizing a space is often a result of the client’s participation.

I work on this with clients all the time. If you control your environment, you control your life. One of my clients has struggled with binge eating for years. When I asked her what it feels like while she’s binging, she says things like, ‘frenetic’, ‘crazy’, ‘out of control’. During one session, I asked her to try something different. When the urge to binge begins, I suggested she find an unorganized drawer, her purse or a shelf and organize it! I told her this should take no more than ten minutes. When the task is done, she should come up with three words to describe the space.  After a week, she reported that her first attempt failed, because, in her words ‘I took on too much’. A day later the urge to binge reared its ugly head again. This time she dumped out her purse on the living room floor and cleaned it out. She described it as ‘clean’, ‘clear’, and ‘light’. Once done, the urge to binge was diminished.

Notice, I said ‘diminished’ not ‘cured’. Like everything else in life, this takes practice.

Is there a space that you need to tackle? How will purging in small, manageable pieces help you?

Until next time!