It 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!