Is there a connection to Fitness?

Personal and social issues aside, perhaps fitness and unrealistic dieting could be the reason that enough isn’t enough.

We all eat more on occasion – for festive, comfort, or emotional reasons.

Unfortunately, some of us do this too often, or worse: on an ongoing basis – losing control and therefore powerless to stop.

In such cases, if left untreated, repetitive binge eating can become a longstanding disorder with a host of physical and mental problems.

Why address binge eating on a fitness website?

"How to stop binge eating?" It's a quandary that may not belong to fitness, but there is a connection. It's why I feel that including this page on the Site is justified.

Just because you're an avid fitness nut, doesn't mean you get a free pass on binge eating – or other eating issues for that matter.

It's easy to err. And whether out of boredom, frustration or depression – binge eating too often can sabotage your weight management and fitness goals, leaving you sidelined in the process. 

What we'll cover on this page

You may already know that MyFitnessRoad.com adopts the 'sensible' approach. From this angle, and with respect to the problem of binge eating (and other eating issues), let me highlight two essential components of optimal health and wellness for the long-term:

  • Eating real food;
  • Setting realistically attainable fitness goals

Keep them in mind as you read on.

Although these components will put you on the right track – reducing the chances you'll fall prey to binge eating – we're merely 'scratching the surface' here. There's a lot more to diagnosing and treating binge eating and related disorders. 

Even so, I do want to:

  1. Address the connection to fitness;
  2. Highlight common warning signals of destructive eating patterns; 
  3. Share some insight gained from my own experience and other sources;
  4. Offer practical tips to help you avoid falling into the trap of binge eating;
  5. Provide a list of professional resources and support organizations

It's worthwhile noting that the question of "how to stop binge eating" extends way beyond the realm of fitness, and into other areas of life. Binge eating tendencies and full-blown binge eating disorder (BED) are certainly not commonplace only to the fitness industry. 

That aside, in my experience there’s a lot to be answered for by this industry, particularly from a marketing point-of-view.

1. Promoting the 'impossible' as possible

We constantly see the giant corporates–especially supplement companies–punting the the body-ideal, and what you 'simply' need to do, or consume in order to achieve it.

Fitness-supplement-promises.png

These are just two of countless examples you'll find on the Internet – suggesting that extreme levels of leanness, muscularity or slenderness are straightforward.

In reality, it couldn't be further from the truth.

Regardless, acting in tandem with the fitness industry, the mass media echo that distorted reality, ensuring viral distribution. Over and over again.

The result?

Society has begun demanding insane levels of instant gratification in search of 'superior' physical attributes.

Bodybuilding nutrition supplements and chemistry

Over-supplementation, implants, performance-enhancing drug-use, and the list goes on. And with so much emphasis on appearance, it’s no wonder why we see increasing levels of obsessive-compulsive disorders like muscle dysmorphia (also known as Adonis complex), anorexia and bulimia.

Individuals with muscle dysmorphia "report an obsessional preoccupation with their muscularity, to the point where their social and occupational functioning may be severely impaired," according to a team of researchers led by Dr. Harrison Pope Jr., of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

In fact, men have begun to suffer from body image issues which were formerly limited to women.

As surveyed by 'Psychology Today', the number of men dissatisfied with their overall appearance nearly tripled from 15% in 1972, to 43% in 1997. Women's rates more than doubled in the same period, from 25% to 56%.

It seems that being fit, lean and healthy is no longer good enough. Apparently, you have to be ripped and muscular like Superman.

No, I mean Henry Cavill. Christopher Reeve’s once perfectly-acceptable athleticism just won’t do for modern-day demands.

“Did he even lift?”

"Many modern figures display the physiques of advanced bodybuilders and some display levels of muscularity far exceeding the outer limits of actual human attainment," report Pope and colleagues in their studies on the evolvement of male action toys.

See what happened to Luke Skywalker?

Now I mean no disrespect towards today’s actors (male or female), who take roles as super heroes.

But you do see the trend, don’t you?

Beware of extremes

My aim is not to deter people from becoming the best that they can at fitness or sport. Even I enjoy staying in optimal condition, although I’m consistently wary of the likely pitfalls when things are taken to extremes. 

By all means, go all out to achieve your goals. But act responsibly. Go for what's genetically possible. And don't put aesthetics above physiological and spiritual health. 

Stones pyramid on sand symbolizing zen, harmony, balance

All-round wellness is key to a happiness and success over the sustained course of your life. So invest in all areas of fitness.

The stress of achieving and maintaining superior aesthetics – or dealing with the disappointment of falling short of expectations, come with a heavy price. There're no free rides.

For those reasons, fitness buffs, bodybuilders, bikini contestants and other sportspeople are all prone to eating-related issues. Extended periods of planning, weighing and prepping meals do have their effect of the ‘normalcy’ of day-to-day living. 

So, the threat of obsession and potential eating disorders is always near.

Unless you already adopt a sensible approach to fitness, what really matters most is how you deal with the hours of exercise, the think-work and consuming ‘clean’ food over extended periods. 

Ask yourself:

  • Can you fit 'it' in along with your social commitments, relationships and spending quality-time with loved ones? 
  • Can you be a parent and actually raise children responsibly, while chasing your fitness goals? 
  • How much of 'normal living' are you prepared to sacrifice?

These are crucially important points to consider, and to keep in mind.

'Too much' or 'too extreme' means you're bound to leave the straight-and-narrow at some point. Hence the tendency for eating disorders like bing eating being more common among the fitness crowd, than the physically inactive everyday people like Al.

The most plausible reasoning here is the relation found to exist between dieting and binge eating. Although research cannot conclude that dieting causes binge eating disorder (BED), it’s most likely that extreme and/or protracted periods of ‘dieting’ lead to eating issues like bingeing.

Let me be clear about my view on 'dieting'

MyFitnessRoad.com promotes a healthy, practical and moderate approach to working out, nutrition planning, preparation and eating. In a word: 'sensible.'

It means working responsibly toward achieving realistic goals as an everyday person, and having a well-rounded life – without obsessing about your food and your exercise regimen.

It's not 'dieting.' Purely because it's meant to be part of your lifestyle – not a painful detour!

I frequently reiterate that the sensible approach excludes ‘dieting’ in favor of a long-term strategy. 

Aside from periodic specialization programs like bulking or cutting – I highly discourage extremes. Rather, I promote eating nutritionally dense meals, while not excluding those all-important (for-the-soul) pleasure foods – ably supported by a regular but time-efficient fitness plan

I know the fitness industry leans toward ‘clean’ eating as a matter of course, punctuated by the occasional ‘cheat’ meal. In my view, trying to fit this into your social circles – or at home – presents a huge challenge over the long haul. That's why I prefer a realistic flexible eating plan instead.

Even if your eating has you feeling even the slightest bit deprived, when prolonged – you will become prone to binge eating. 

I know. 

I frequently dealt with my own inclinations and infractions in the past. Maybe you've got your feet on solid ground and possess the strength and discipline to resist. 

Then again, maybe not.

Should I be worried about eating for comfort?

Unfortunately, far fewer of us are known to be champions of 'good' eating habits, than sufferers of overindulgence in food (more often than not, rich food). 

Therefore, comfort or ‘emotional’ eating is usually seen in a negative light. However, a little comfort eating now-and-then is harmless if it's for reasons of enjoyment or pleasure.

Comfort-food.png

If instead, your comfort eating is helping you cope with stress, depression or other problems – then there is reason for concern.

The healthcare industry considers emotional eating as the consumption (or overconsumption) of high-calorie foods in response to emotions, rather than to feelings of hunger.

2. Heed these warning signs!

Remember, we all binge on the odd occasion.

If you don't have a recurring tendency, or a pattern to this behavior – great!  You obviously have balance and control in your life. On the other hand, if you find you have issues with your eating, you might want to consult a professional (see Support and Resources below).

Below is a list of the more common behaviors which could point to a binge eating disorder*, if experienced on a regular basis:

  1. Consuming large quantities of food at a single sitting
  2. Continuing to eat, even though you're already satiated
  3. Eating rapidly or ‘devouring’ your meals
  4. Not feeling in control of your eating
  5. Experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt or disgust associated with eating
  6. Frequent starvation-dieting (short of purging the body, as associated with bulimia)
  7. Eating when you're alone
  8. Eating very late at night

* A professional diagnosis of BED can be made in line with the widely adopted Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 5th edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013.

3. My own experience

Although keep a balance is usually easy – I still allow myself to overindulge now-and-then. Without losing control.

But I have fallen off the wagon a couple of times in the past.

Fortunately, I was able to identify and fix things that weren't right. Don't get me wrong, I'm no less prone to binge eating than the next person. But I found that simply taking the time and effort to review my life situation and make some adjustments, was the right way forward. 

Everything fell into place once I'd pressed 'reset', including wilfully exercising and eating responsibly – and for the 'right' reasons. The return of balance and control.

You see, binge eating is almost always linked to coping with one or more underlying and unresolved social or psychological issue. But even without 'issues', if you've ever been on a rigorous fitness program with restricted nutrition, then you'll know about the physiological reason I alluded to earlier. In fact, I don't ever recall binge eating in my early adulthood before getting acquainted with fitness. 

How so?

It's not that I blame fitness for this. It's just that looking and feeling good, working out and eating appropriately – all require a bit of thinking.

This can lead to obsessiveness.

So try not to overdo things. And remember to try eliminating tedium and deprivation from your eating.

I've found that using 'sensible' in my approach to fitness and nutrition has brought me a long-term solution. As I see it, this is the everyday person's only realistic logical way to sustainable health and fitness – without feeling  deprived. 

To this end, I eat all food types; I don't restrict my nutrition. I also avoid unnecessarily long or extreme workouts.

But for others, "how to stop binge eating" presents years of pain and suffering.

Two accounts of battles with binge eating

1. Isabel's story

Since leaving high school, Isabel had desperately wanted to lose weight. She had a troubled youth, often turning to food as a means to cope.

College turned out to be even more demanding. By age 23, she had gone from a 'chubby' 150 lbs right up to 190 lbs.

After completing her studies, she finally consulted a Fitness Trainer. Since the fitness industry sells all kinds of transformation dreams, Isabel chose an agressive weight loss plan. Along with a tough exercise regimen, her trainer prescribed a strict low-carb 'diet.'

A steep road awaited Isabel. Unrealistic perhaps – especially because the underlying social issues still remained. Dormant, yet unresolved.

Would she cope when things got tough?

Nonetheless, Isabel was convinced that she'd eventually be happy when she lost her unwanted weight, and was 'ready.'

In reality, the transformation program proved extremely difficult.

Isabel stuck it out for two months, proudly adhering to her eating and training commitments – but the desired changes were slow and painful. Way short of expectations. She was tired and frustrated. And really beginning to feel deprived.

Could she sustain this?

At a subsequent check-in with her Trainer, she was advised to further 'restrict' her eating. This time, her overall calories were reduced – since there were few carbs left to cut. But she was sold on the vision of what was promised to her.

And so for a further three weeks Isabel stayed on the straight-and-narrow – refusing social invites and avoiding food she was beginning to crave like never before.

It seemed like there was no end in sight to this drastic and restrictive diet.

Before long, the floodgates opened. Unable to bear it any longer, Isabel opted for instant relief.

Unfortunate, but inevitable.

She was longer in control of her eating.

During the weeks that followed, Isabel's weight began to increase again. She felt betrayed by herself and experienced a deep sense of failure. There would be no more diet or fitness program. She didn't 'deserve' her intended goal anyway.

Isabel's life would never be the same again.

Why did things go so wrong?

Isabel never really attempted to address the root causes of her unhappiness during her earlier life. She also didn't feel that her Fitness Trainer had the expertise or empathy to work with her 'issues.'

Resorting to binge eating may provide momentary relief. But soon enough, reality bites – leaving only discomfort, regret and self-loathing. Before long, body fat levels rise. The return of weight gain merely reinforces the compulsion to binge eat.

The worse you feel about this type of situation, the more you need food to medicate.

You're no longer eating for hunger. And this is where a vicious cycle sets in.

2. Out of Control: A True Story of Binge Eating

I've included a link to another story–this time about Jane E. Brody, a New York Times journalist – and her battle with binge eating.

You'll note from the article (published in 2007), that the author was concerned about binge-eating disorder (unlike anorexia and bulimia) not having been considered a formal diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association.

This is no longer the case.

Since 2013, binge eating disorder is formally diagnosed (as shown in the point above, dealing with warning signs).

4. Practical advice on how to stop binge eating

While it may be difficult to overcome food addiction and binge eating on your own, the following 5 tips are a good place to start. (Remember, chronic cases should always be referred to a qualified practitioner.)

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1. Review your life goals

This is the absolute number one aspect to tackle. Remember the point I made about underlying issues? It's highly likely that you're binge eating to cope with something that isn't quite right. 

Perhaps you're in a rut without even consciously realizing it.

There will be times in life when we need to revisit and refocus our milestones and long-term objectives. Especially if we perpetually have our noses to the grindstone.

You may find that when you 'come up for air', you're way off your intended course. 

It's is natural.

Merely taking the time to discuss these with a close-friend or relative can get you back in touch with things. But ultimately, you need to confront your 'issues' head-on!

Only then do begin to regain control.

2. Manage your stress levels

If you find that you resort to binge eating as a means to combat stress, then consider finding alternate ways which do not constitute eating. 

You may come home from a long hard day at work–tired, stressed and hungry. You're in the danger zone at this point. A perfect storm awaits you.

Plan your life better so you get home already-exercised (ideally). And not famished either. 

Eat when you're hungry. Don't eat when you're stressed out!

There are few better activities to reduce stress-levels, than physical exercise and meditation. The list of possibilities is endless.

You might argue (as so many do) that you have no time. Then start with simple relaxation or breathing techniques to music. Later on you can get into more serious stuff. 

But please, start!

3. No more dieting, please

Seriously, stop!

Rather, consider a long-term lifestyle change and give up deprivation and hunger for good. I already mentioned my take on 'dieting.' Here's that link again.

Remember the relation we spoke about between fitness, dieting and binge eating?

Let common sense prevail. Follow a holistic eating plan which includes all types of food – with respect to warranted limitations or intolerances – or if you're diabetic, intolerant, vegan or otherwise. 

Eat in moderation most of the time. Splurge some of the time. The occasional binge won't ruin an ultra-lean torso – whether you have one (or want one).

I found a ratio of 80-20 works just fine for me, whether trying to lose, maintain or gain weight.

You can easily find your sweet-spot too! (Pun intended.)

4. Don't neglect physical exercise

The benefits are endless.

In addition, exercise together with a solid eating plan (not a diet) makes for a true win-win situation. As you'll see from the link above, exercise supports healthy weight loss, elevates your mood, clears your head and more. 

What about depression and stress? Well, these start to melt away in the process.

Resetting your physiological chemistry with regular exercise allows you to avoid eating for emotional reasons. Not only will exercise help you lose weight in a healthy way, but it also lifts depression, improves overall health, and reduces stress. 

The natural mood-boosting effects of exercise drastically reduce the need for compulsive and emotional eating.

5. know when to Get PROFESSIONAL help

Even your and my best intentions – together with the help top self-help resources out there – may not be enough.

You might be at the point of "tried everything, but cannot manage to control myself." If this is you, actively recognize that you have an eating issue or problem if you’re inclined to eat (or overeat) frequently for reasons beyond nourishment, satiety and pleasure – whether planned or accidental.

You're human, and you're not the only person struggling to conquer binge eating. Don't beat yourself up and think you're a failure.

What you do need to do when you reach rock bottom – is to realize that you won't win this fight alone. Now is not the time to withdraw into yourself.

Act sooner than later! 

You owe it to you and those who are dear to you.

(For help and other important information – see 'Support and Resources' below.)

5. Support and Resources

If you cannot resolve your binge eating problem on your own, why not contact one of the several professional guidance, support and therapy resources available online.

Here are some of the more prominent ones:

Academy for Eating Disorders (AED)

Global professional association committed to leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment, and prevention.

Beat

UK charity organization supporting anyone affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food, weight and shape; provide information and support through via telephone and internet.

Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA)

US non-profit organization focused on providing leadership, recognition, prevention, and treatment of BED and associated weight stigma; raise awareness; increase education and research; facilitate treatment and support for those who live with and those who treat the disorder and its associated conditions.

Eating Disorder Hope

Organization which offers global support, information and resources to individual eating disorder sufferers, their family members and treatment providers.

Eating Disorders Services Association of New Zealand (EDANZ)

New Zealand incorporated society established to provide support, information and help to families that have a member with an eating disorder; change the way people think and talk about eating disorders.

HelpGuide.org

US non-profit guide to mental health and well-being; provide information to strengthen emotional (and physical) health, improve relationships, and in taking control of life.

Montrose Manor treatment centre

South-African licensed acute treatment facility. Specialises exclusively in both the primary and the extended treatment of severe and enduring eating disorders.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)

US non-profit corporation corporation that seeks to prevent and alleviate the problems of eating disorders, especially including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)

US non-profit organization devoted to preventing eating disorders, providing treatment referrals, and increasing the education and understanding of eating disorders, weight, and body image.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC)

Australian government department initiative for the collaboration of people and organizations with an expertise and/or interest in eating disorders; to develop a nationally consistent, evidence-based approach to the prevention and management of eating disorders.

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)

Canadian non-profit organization focusing on awareness and the prevention of eating disorders, food and weight preoccupation, and disordered eating by promoting critical thinking skills and a healthy, balanced-lifestyle.

The Eating Disorders Association Of Ireland (BODYWYS)

Ireland’s national voluntary organization supporting people affected by eating disorders; provide support, awareness and understanding of eating disorders amongst the wider community.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

US government agency dealing with the treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.

References

  1. Batten, C. (2009). Addictions & Eating Disorders. In Mentality: How Changing Your Mind Can Change Your Life and Your World! Rayleigh: BattenCreations;
  2. Fulvio, L. (2014). Step Nine: Understanding Your Hunger. In Reclaiming Yourself from Binge Eating: A Step-By-Step Guide to Healing Washington: Ayni Books;
  3. Pope, H., & Phillips, K. (2002). Fear of Fat: Men and Eating Disorders. In The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys New York: Simon & Schuster;
  4. Pope, H., Olivardia, R., Gruber, A., Borowiecki, J. (1998). Evolving Ideals of Male Body Image as Seen Through Action Toys. International Journal of Eating Disorders (John Wiley & Sons, Inc);
  5. Binge Eating Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder.htm
  6. Binge Eating Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/binge_eating/Pages/binge-eating-disorder.aspx
  7. Eating Disorders: About More Than Food. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml
  8. Psychological Treatments for Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433807/
  9. Serious Health Problems Caused By Binge Eating. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/health-problems-binge-eating

NOTE: The aim of this page is to discuss the topic of "how to stop binge eating", providing practical tips and information from a fitness perspective. A purely clinical approach is not my intention, nor my area of qualified expertise. If you are a sufferer of chronic emotional or binge eating, and experience one or more of the symptoms discussed, you would be best advised to seek professional help from a qualified practitioner.