Breaking Up With Binge Eating

Meeting Your Psychological Needs

October 18, 2020 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Meeting Your Psychological Needs
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Meeting Your Psychological Needs
Oct 18, 2020
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

There's nothing quite as upsetting as noticing someone is in distress and being able to do NOTHING about it. All too often, that person is us. We might notice through self-monitoring (see prior episode) that we are having a hard time, or just barely surviving, but draw a blank on what to do. Today we'll cover the 5 basic psychological needs introduced in the last show and some suggestions for what actions you can do if you are struggling in each area. 

Show Notes Transcript

There's nothing quite as upsetting as noticing someone is in distress and being able to do NOTHING about it. All too often, that person is us. We might notice through self-monitoring (see prior episode) that we are having a hard time, or just barely surviving, but draw a blank on what to do. Today we'll cover the 5 basic psychological needs introduced in the last show and some suggestions for what actions you can do if you are struggling in each area. 

"I was standing in line at the gas station convenience store waiting to check out. I had a big bag of potato chips, two candy bars, and a pint of ice cream in my hands. And I was getting annoyed at how long the person in front of me was taking because I was worried my ice cream was melting. So I’m looking around and spot the beer display and I think, I’m not drinking, but this is no different than all those times I used to stand in line with a case of beer in my hands. I wanted to get home, crack into it, and just erase the week from my mind." 

My client Cindy had stopped drinking more than a decade ago, but binge eating had continued to pop up in her life from time to time. She hadn’t binged in months, but she told me “I knew what I was doing Friday night, and I did it anyway. And over the weekend, she repeated the process of purchasing and consuming more food. “I felt insatiable”, she said. 

But by Monday, she started to level with herself. I don't feel good, my whole body aches from all the sugar. I'm not making myself feel better, I’m making myself feel worse. And what is it that I’m insatiable for? With all that food, it just can’t possibly be actual hunger. 

Cindy felt insatiable, but knew she was eating far more food than her body needed. She realized she was feeling highly anxious and tense. She tried to take stock of her mental state this week, to figure out why THIS week, of all weeks she had felt like binge eating after months of eating normally. 

Cindy had been worrying that she couldn’t keep up with the other people at work, and fearing she was not capable enough to keep her new job. So she worked longer hours, staying late every night, working through her lunch breaks. And generally exhausting herself. She could sense this wasn’t the best self-care move of the year, so she started to criticize herself for losing the balance in her life and not taking better care of herself. Now she felt like she was doubtful of her own competence, AND felt inept at taking care of herself. By Friday, she was underslept, overworked, and in high emotional distress. No wonder she found herself in the line at the convenience store.

In the last episode I talked about self monitoring your psychological wellbeing, by checking on how well 5 of your basic needs are being met. Self monitoring allows us to intervene early, when our distresses are smaller, before they grow into an ocean of unmet needs. If Cindy had been monitoring her mental wellbeing she may have noticed on Tuesday or Wednesday that she was on a crash course and made some adjustments. That’s the companion skill to self-monitoring, take action to respond to what you find.

It’s not helpful to notice you are in distress if you aren’t going to do anything about it, right? Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t know WHAT to do about our distress, or we prioritize our attending to our own distress as less important than all the other things we need to do, so we limp along in psychological pain, until we can’t anymore. And that’s often where binge eating comes in. 

My goal for my clients is to be able to notice early when they are in distress, and also to know what to do to help themselves feel better. 

Here are some ideas for addressing each of the 5 basic psychological needs that I talked about in the last podcast episode: 

Are you feeling less safe? Worries about the future or our health are difficult to shake, because we can't HAVE 100% certainty for our own health and wellness. What can help us cope with this unavoidable vulnerability is to seek knowledge about how we can best protect ourselves, and take reasonable actions to do so. For example, with the current pandemic, wearing a face mask when you’re in public, and handwashing are wise precautions. Because this sort of worry is also fairly universal, it can be soothing to talk about it with other people, and discover how much we share this very human experience. I find it’s also comforting to think about all the professionals who are there to help if we get sick or injured. I'm happy I don’t live in Sparta or something where I’d be left to die in the woods. 

It’s important to consider that physical safety is one concern, but psychological safety is just as necessary for our wellbeing. Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. It’s the safety to speak your mind and be yourself. If you feel like saying the wrong thing will make someone in your life blow up, make fun of you or belittle you, you do not have psychological safety.  This can be an issue in personal relationships, workplaces, or any group, even Facebook groups have cultures which vary in how psychologically safe they are. I have two ideas to try out if you are upset from feeling psychologically unsafe. First, check if your fears are substantiated by past experience. Sometimes, we project how awful people will respond to us, but it’s just our fears, because the people are totally kind and supportive. Second, if there is evidence that you are in a psychologically unsafe group or relationship - consider if that’s possible to change, or whether you’d be better off leaving. Either one could help you feel much better. 

How about if you’re feeling less capable / competent? Making a mistake can trigger a feeling of being "dumb" or a "fool". When we feel this way, we often are seeing the world through a mental filter, suddenly remembering all the other things we botched in life, while we forget about our successes. Placing that mental filter down means also deliberately remembering all the things you did and do well, the times you excelled, and the strengths you have. 

It can also be helpful to take stock of what resources you have. After all, I may not know how to do a lot of things, but I have faith I can learn, that I can find a suitable expert to help, or at very least, that I improve my competence with an afternoon of Youtube.

In Cindy’s case, her feelings of incompetence were fears that weren’t actually substantiated by any evidence. If she looked at her job performance and what she was getting done, there was absolutely no factual basis to her feeling of falling behind. You might have some of these fears too, that pop up again and again, worry that you didn’t do well enough, aren’t smart enough, or are failing in some way. It can be helpful to recognize that story in your mind as just that, a story, Not fact. You might say to yourself, I feel like I’m not capable of doing this task, but I’ve also felt that way about a thousand other things that I ended up pulling off. 

Let’s say you’re feeling like your need for autonomy is not being met. Autonomy is basically free-will. If you feel like you are bossed around, forced into things, and generally unable to do what you want, it's a contributing factor to burnout and depression. To help soothe this type of distress, start by making some decisions. Decide what you want to wear, where you want to move the sofa, what you want to have for breakfast, and what music you want to listen to. There are some things we don’t get to pick, but thankfully, a lot of things in our lives are ones we can control.  

Here’s my second tip for when you’re distressed because of not having enough autonomy. Think about the things you "have to do" and consider not doing them. You can say no. You can choose not to attend something.  Are there some unpleasant consequences? Well, then maybe you aren't forced to do them as much as you want to do them. Trying to see that we are choosing our actions can help us feel loads better. 

Lastly, when we are upset because of situations that are beyond our control - one soothing thought is that we get to choose how we respond to the situation. When you become injured or ill, that’s a situation which makes us all feel powerless and upset. But we can respond to it in a number of different ways. Maybe it’s time we finally took that online course we signed up for, since we can’t hit the ski slopes this year. Maybe it would feel good to join a support group to lighten our distress by sharing it with others. Or maybe it would feel good to write a blog or even a book about our experiences. 

I love biographies. I love human stories, that’s part of why I do what I do. And the people I admire the most are ones who took really crappy circumstances, and found a way to respond to them in an inspiring way. I want to be like that. I can think of some occasions where I have been proud of my response to adversity or criticism, but I also can recall some really extended pity parties or times I lashed back instead of rising above. I’m a work in progress, too. 

Cindy was really feeling out of control. Partially because her calendar was filling up with back to back meetings all day, every day. She decided to chat with her admin assistant, and set up some parameters. At very least, she needed 30 minutes to have lunch, preferably the whole hour. And she would leave at 6 pm every day. On rare occasions she could handle working until 7, but that couldn’t be the norm. The awesome thing? Her assistant said “Oh good, you really needed to cut back, you’ve been working way too hard!” Apparently other people could see Cindy was setting herself up for a crash just by looking ather schedule. 

Emotional distress can also be created when our sense of personal value falls. This is closely linked with our need for belonging not being met. When we feel like we aren’t connected to others, it can seem like it’s because we aren’t good enough to earn their closeness. So then we not only feel lonely and isolated, but also like that might be appropriate given the lousy people we are! It’s a painful combo. 

Self-esteem hits can come from our inner critic, judging us and undermining our self-esteem.  You’re too loud. You’re too quiet. You are a loser. Nobody likes you. You spend too much money. You’re a cheapskate.  You can’t win when the inner critic wants to pipe up. 

Your self esteem can also fall from spending time with people who de-value you. They might ignore you, treat you like your feelings don’t matter, or like you are less of a person. Experiencing racism, bias or stigma can also harm our sense of personal value. 

It often will help you feel better to spend not just more time with other people, but with the right people. The folks who recognize your value and share some common ground. Feeling better might mean stepping away from relationships that leave you feeling less awesome. As for that inner critic, you can distance yourself from them as well, by countering their diatribe with love and understanding for yourself. When you notice you are being mean to yourself, stop. Step in like you would stop a bully from picking on someone. “Hey, leave her alone. She’s just fine.” 

If your sense of personal value or self esteem is rooted externally, you might notice a pattern - you feel lousy when you don’t accomplish or achieve enough. You also might find that you need other people’s compliments and approval to feel like you’re OK. To help yourself feel better from this kind of distress, you’ll want to build an internally constructed self-esteem. This means liking and approving of yourself. You can still feel warm and fuzzy when someone else gives you positive feedback, but it will just compliment your own solid sense that you’re not just okay, you’re valuable beyond measure. 

That’s it for this episode. I’d love to hear your thoughts on topics you want to hear more about so drop a line to [email protected] and say hi.