What Can Lockdown Teach Us About Binge Eating?

I want to start by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to all the medical professionals (both frontline and behind the scenes) currently working, at great personal risk, to care for the sick. I’d also like to thank all those carrying out essential services – collecting our rubbish, stacking the shelves, delivering our orders – for their hard work and dedication at such a difficult time.

Thank you. All of you.

The rest of us are playing our part by staying at home in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease. And it seems that some of us are struggling with the lockdown, while others are enjoying it.

Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, there may be some valuable personal learning, especially if you’ve noticed changes in your eating behaviour. So, rather than seeing this as a time of enforced isolation, could you view it as a chance to reflect?

Has your eating improved?
Many of you who struggle with binge eating have a side that likes to issue orders from the moment you wake up (as this post about The Drill Sergeant explains). This side bosses you around constantly, has very high standards and zero regard for your wellbeing.

However, as a result of lockdown, you simply can’t rush around in the way you’re used to. The lockdown order has come from an authority higher than The Drill Sergeant – the Government – so it can’t argue and can’t issue commands in the usual way. Effectively, you’ve been given permission to step back from everything and take a breather, perhaps for the first time in years.

With the pressure off, many of you are reporting feeling more at peace. Life has calmed down considerably and, as a result, so has your eating. Notice the benefit to your wellbeing. This is a strong indication that the way you usually live your life isn’t making you happy, and your binge eating is a reflection of your unhappiness.

When lockdown is lifted and life returns to some sort of normality, how are you going to ensure you maintain some peace in your life? How will you stop The Drill Sergeant (or The Foreman, The Boss, The General or whatever you might call it) from taking charge again? Things don’t have to go back to the way they were if you don’t want them to.

Life is about balance, not about constantly achieving at the expense of our health. You don’t need the Government to give you permission to take a step back. Give yourself permission.

Has your eating got worse?
You’re bound to be feeling a lot at the moment. If you live alone, any sense of loneliness and isolation may have intensified. If there are cracks in your relationships, they can be brought into focus when you’re stuck at home with family members. You may be isolating with people who are toxic or abusive. These are all reasons why The Comforter – the side of us that likes to step in and tell us to eat to avoid our feelings – may be around a lot.

Research shows that putting feelings into words helps to decrease their intensity, as this article explains. Decreasing the intensity of our feelings helps us to handle them more effectively and from there we’re more likely to be able to work out what we truly need to feel better.

So this is a good time to ask The Comforter to back off so you can explore what you’re feeling.  It may be something relatively small like you’re restless or bored. Or it may be something big like admitting to yourself you dislike being at home all day with the kids, or you regret your choice of partner.

Often, we avoid exploring our feelings because we believe it means we have to take some sort of action. But we don’t. It’s OK just to explore and consider your options at a later date.

Your feelings don’t go away when you turn to food. They’re simply delayed until the binge has worn off. Eventually you’ll have to binge again to detach from them. Again, your eating behaviour is an indication that something in your life is making you unhappy and needs to change.

Give yourself a chance to explore what that might be.

*

Although this is a time of social distancing, it doesn’t mean we have to feel distant from ourselves and others. Isolation and disconnection are not the same thing. Here are some ideas to help you feel closer:

Connect to yourself
Take a moment to reflect on what’s important to you and what’s not. When all this is over, what do you want to retain in your life and what will you let go of? Plan the future you want when lockdown is over, according to what feels right to you.

Connect to your body
If you want to resolve your issues, you need a relationship with your body. There are fantastic online resources for yoga, pilates and other ways to help you feel more connected to yourself physically. Also, exercise is a great way of alleviating anxiety, as this article explains.

Connect to others
Connection is an antidote to isolation. Just because you can’t hang out with people doesn’t mean you can’t reach out. Technology allows us to connect virtually whenever we feel like it. Many people are taking advantage of virtual meeting spaces, how about you?

*

Lockdown doesn’t have to halt your process of recovery. In fact, I think it has a lot to teach us about binge eating. If you allow yourself, you could use the time for self-reflection and personal growth. Ultimately, what you learn could help you move forward in understanding both yourself and your eating issues.

Stay safe everyone.

 

26 thoughts on “What Can Lockdown Teach Us About Binge Eating?

  1. This is one interesting article, Julie.

    I have an eating disorder: whenever I’m angry, I always feel an urge to eat spicy foods, even if I’d just finished eating something heavy. Usually, the spicy food I eat is noodles. But because noodles is somehow hard to get due to the lockdown, whenever I get angry, I just distract myself with some music.

    I don’t know if I’ll go back to my old habits after the pandemic is over, but I certainly hope not. Cultivating healthy eating habits has not only improved my health; it has also saved me a lot of money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so interested that you reach for spicy foods when you’re angry – something fiery, like anger itself. I’m also interested that, given the noodles aren’t available to you at present, you’ve naturally found an alternative in music. Often people think they could never find an alternative to binge eating but we can if we have to.

      It sounds like you need a way to acknowledge your anger when you feel it. It can be useful to write a list of everything you’re angry about, and keep adding to it. Doing something physical such as (safely) punching a pillow can also help to release rage.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Obinna. I hope you’re safe and well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Punching a pillow sounds like something I would love to try out, so thank you for that wonderful suggestion. And thank you again for the idea of writing a list of the things that provoke me. I shall heed your advice to the last detail.

        I’m safe and well, Julie. And I hope it’s just the same with you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I love a good punch of a pillow when I’m angry – it helps to take the heat out of the emotion so I can think a bit more clearly. Hope you enjoy it too, Obinna, and hope it helps.

        I’m also safe and well, thanks. Take care.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not binge eating but there are some days that I want a cigarette so bad that I can taste it. So horrible to feel that way. I feel stressed. My daughter couldn’t travel home from Ireland, others have had to cancel their future travel plans and I miss my work. It’s sad that I feel this way because I don’t have a terrible life. Sigh…..I miss being social Julie. Thank goodness for technology otherwise I would have started smoking again. Smoking comforts me. I wondered if you were going to write about binge eating to comfort yourself lol.

    Hope you and yours are well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand you miss being sociable, Erin – it’s just not the same talking to people online/on the phone as it is in person, is it? We need human contact. I can also understand you feel stressed – it’s a scary time, especially if you have loved ones scattered around the globe. It’s a very similar thing that you want to turn to cigarettes in the way others turn to food (I certainly would have turned to both in the past!). I know what you mean when you say it’s sad you feel the way you do because your life isn’t terrible, but then that doesn’t mean you’re not feeling what you’re feeling, and you have every right to feel it. We’re all safe and well here – hope you and yours are too. Thanks for sharing you thoughts, it’s very much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Julie for once again putting what I’m feeling into words and explaining it. I was so surprised at the immediate change in my eating habits when I stopped having to go in to work a month ago. My eating improved *so much*. It was an eye opener about how my emotions were affecting me in ways I hadn’t fully realized (or had denied).

    I knew I was a bit unhappy with my job, and am working to change that, but I hadn’t realized, as you said, that my eating was a reflection of my unhappiness. I attributed issues with my eating to other things, but when my work changed, boom, no more binges or any urge to binge at all. I remember chuckling to myself at the change and thinking, well, it’s kind of hard to deny that now, isn’t it?

    Stay well, and thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re not alone, Karen, by any means. I think lots of people – women in particular – are having similar experiences. If we’re so used to ignoring our feelings and soldiering on, it comes as a real eye-opener, as you say, when there’s a dramatic positive change in how we eat as a result of lockdown. You’re absolutely right that it’s hard to deny. Binge eating often occurs because there’s something in our life that isn’t working for us, but we don’t feel we have the right to change it. There can be a sense of “I’ve made my bed, I have to lie in it” or “everyone hates their job, why should I be any different?”. Again, our feelings are key to what we really need to make us happy and that has a knock-on effect on our eating. I’m so grateful to you for sharing your experience – I know it will resonate with many people. Hope you and your family are all safe and well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your insights are so helpful, it’s as if you’re looking into my head and heart! We’re all well here, adapting to this lifestyle and grateful to be safe.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I really love your advice to connect to yourself, connect to your body and connect to others. These are all such good reminders for this time, and we may actually find ourselves with more time for these things, without as much commuting, etc. Stay well, Julie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that those three things can be really challenging for people with overeating/binge eating issues but, given that many of us have been forced to retreat, it’s a really good time to connect. I think if people aren’t used to connecting to their bodies especially, it could be such a good opportunity to experiment with yoga or some other form of movement, to enable connection. But I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of yoga! Great to hear from you Cristy, I hope you and your family are all doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing!.. I believe that while life’s challenges may impact one’s life in some manner, one’s diet should remain basically the same… while I may have to make some minor changes because of accessibility, my diet today is no different than any other day of the year… 🙂

    “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve not actually felt that relief with things relaxing and calming down yet, I seem to have had more stress and things to do, though that’s perhaps partly due to health issues and falling so behind on so much. However, I am hoping that I can feel that easing soon. It’s funny you posted this about the lockdown and eating behaviours because I was just thinking about it this morning! It’s so complex because it could swing either way, better or worse. The inability to get out regularly or have the choice for fresh, ‘healthy’ foods is also a bit of an issue here. But there was plenty of heavily discounted chocolate in the shop from Easter. Go figure! Another excellent, thought-provoking post, Julie.
    Stay safe xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It entirely depends on circumstances and the individual, doesn’t it? Some people appreciate the chance to step back but for others it will be such a challenge, and it will impact their eating behaviour accordingly. I can imagine that with serious health issues it’s a very scary time, so I hope you’re doing OK, Caz. It’s lovely to hear from you as ever, look after yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.