Swimsuit season is a big stressor in an already stressed life but now that we are at the halfway point, that stress should begin to fade. While that statement sounds logical, it simply isn’t true. Many people not only stress about swimsuits for most of the year but this specific point in the season is particularly difficult because of the harsh diets that many women use to get them in ‘swimsuit shape.’ Unnecessary body image issues lead many women to diet extensively in the early spring. This strenuous dieting often leads to binge eating during the summer and fall. While harsh dieting may have faded by this time of year, unduly stressing the body by restricting foods can have unique side effects such as severe cravings that can lead to binge eating.
Now don’t get me wrong, binge eating is not just about responding to the cravings. Binge eating has several known causes and many that are still in the hypothetical stage of research. Binge eating has been attributed to psychological, biological, and even environmental factors. Contributing factors include, among other things, a chemical imbalance in the brain, post-traumatic stress disorder, blood sugar spikes, vitamin deficiencies, and emotional coping. In addition, binge eating has be linked to mental health disorders including depression and impulse control and, if that isn’t enough, there is some evidence that suggests that eating disorder might even be inherited.
Without delving too far into the causes of binge eating, there are several things you can do to avoid falling victim to an episode. Below are tips to avoid binge eating but keep in mind that these tips are not condition specific so they can apply to many different eating disorders.
- Practice delayed gratification. Wait until a set time to eat instead of at the first twinge of hunger. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Fortunately, here in the U.S. many of us have never known true hunger. This causes us to confuse our body’s signals making an assumption that we are hungry when we may just be thirsty.
- Cope with emotions. Some people eat in response to varying emotions. Instead of eating immediately, take a walk or do some simple stretches to release dopamine. You can also phone a friend or write in a journal to help track emotional eating cues.
- Avoid comfort foods. Stress can build up and create a craving for comfort food. Replace sugary or carb-loaded foods in your cabinet and fridge with healthy alternatives such as fruits and veggies. Limited access can give you the time necessary for a craving to subside.
- Seek medical advice. Binge eating can be triggered by several different physical conditions such as blood sugar regulation, digestive tract inflammation, and even neurotransmitter irregularities. All of these conditions can successfully be managed with lifestyle changes or medication. Alert your primary care physician as soon as you notice changes in your eating habits.
- Consider therapy. Psychotherapy is the currently the most effective intervention if your binge eating is a coping strategy. By visiting a psychotherapist you can learn structured self-help techniques while receiving assistance in finding the root cause of binge eating.
While it may not be possible to prevent all episodes, it is recommended to begin treatment as soon as binge eating is suspected. Regardless of what we have been taught, binge eating is not just about will power. Two important things to keep in mind are: You don’t have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one and recovery is a challenge, but its not as difficult as continuing to live the wrath of an eating disorder.
If you need help, reach out to a friend, a family member, or a professional. You don’t have to struggle alone.