Breaking Up With Binge Eating

The $895 Sweater

March 07, 2021 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
The $895 Sweater
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
The $895 Sweater
Mar 07, 2021
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

"I just want to eat". 

You've probably had this thought as you're considering all the other things you could choose from in this moment. But you're tired. It's been a hard day. You don't want those other things as much as you want food. In this episode, you'll find the tools you need to manage the moment successfully.  (You adaptable, thought-shifting superhero, you. )

Show Notes Transcript

"I just want to eat". 

You've probably had this thought as you're considering all the other things you could choose from in this moment. But you're tired. It's been a hard day. You don't want those other things as much as you want food. In this episode, you'll find the tools you need to manage the moment successfully.  (You adaptable, thought-shifting superhero, you. )

 “This job feels impossible,” Aurora told me. “I get home at the end of the day and either lay on the bed with an ice bag under my leg because my sciatica hurts like hell, or I just lay on the floor and don’t move.” Aurora is a nurse at an elder care facility, and in addition to the heavy physical labor of lifting and moving her patients, this week was emotionally difficult since one of the patients she was close to passed away. Another patient had a fall, and Aurora feels partially to blame for the mishap.  

She continued, "If I’m completely honest, I know I could do other things for enjoyment but I just want to eat. I think I really need a treat, and ice cream or chocolate is what I want most. It’s like the day was so hard nothing else will work." 

I think this is something most of us can identify with, and it can be hard to admit. I really admired how Aurora just laid it out honestly. She was aware of the alternative ways to spend her evening, but she was telling me that she needed some help because she didn’t WANT to do them enough. In today’s episode, we’ll talk about Aurora and how we were able to help her, and I’m hopeful you’ll be able to find some useful perspective that you can use as well.


Everyone in our Breaking Up With Binge Eating coaching program feels like even though they want to break their old habits, they still on some level want to binge or emotionally eat. It’s normal to wonder, “Why do I want to do something that I know is bad for me in the long term? How come I don't want to let it go?” 

One answer may be, because it works.

Eating does give us some relief from painful or anxious emotions. It is accessible, convenient, and it is legal! Eating does produce a temporary sense of pain relief, distraction, and pleasantness. And the pattern is not just about the taste, it encompasses the thoughts and emotions that go along with it. When we get food, even before we’ve eaten it, the relief and feeling of indulgence and safety can begin. We got our fair share. We got something just for us. 

 Two, since it is well practiced, it is familiar. We might feel like we lost something. 

Giving up something like that can be scary and uncomfortable. Leaving behind binge eating doesn’t mean saying goodbye to any foods, you can still have pizza, ice cream, peanut butter sandwiches, etc as part of normal eating. But some clients have said they would miss the feeling of being so stuffed they become numb. “I can eat ice cream,” one woman said, “but I wouldn’t be able to eat a half-gallon of ice cream.” 

Third, doing something new is scary. 

What if I try but fail? What if doing something else in the evenings means I have to feel my feelings and they are too much for me to bear? What other changes might this lead to that are even harder or worse? It is not going to work. I don’t feel like figuring this out. I just want to eat!

When we look at these three pieces, the idea of wanting to keep using food isn’t that bizarre. It’s understandable. Aurora was glad to hear that she wasn’t a weirdo for her feelings!

So we can see that a well-practiced set of thoughts, fears and actions that are keeping us stuck. The first step is noticing them. We can learn a lot from the stories we tell ourselves. What are they? Are they helpful? Say them out loud. They are not us. Our thoughts are not who we are.

Aurora shared some of her thoughts, when she’s lying on her bed in pain after a hard day, and just wants food. She said: 

“I think about doing something like reading, but I feel sad --  like I am losing something familiar and warm, like a security blanket. And also, I feel like the food is the best thing and everything else is just a lousy substitute, and shouldn’t I have what I really want? There’s also a feeling of just wanting to not think, not try, not really take care of myself because I don’t deserve it.” 

Aurora did a great job of sharing lines from the story in her head! “Food is the best, nothing else works, it’s my security blanket, I’ll be sad without it. I don’t deserve to take better care of my body.”  

Clearly, these are not facts. They are just thoughts, which might not be true at all. 

Next, we helped Aurora think of some steps she could take which would be smaller, more gradual adjustments. We reminded her she doesn’t need to be perfect or figure everything out. She doesn’t need to wait until she feels better or is 100% motivated. She can be willing to do some stuff. We can tip toe out of this. 

I asked her to consider if she could try doing something else for just a few minutes to comfort herself, and then eating if she still felt she needed to. Also, I suggested she think about how she would want to feel in an hour, and what would get her closer to that. Most of our clients report that eating doesn’t actually leave them feeling happier, but they get real relief after a hard day from physical activity, a shower, a good night’s sleep, or a heart to heart chat. 

Choosing these other options may take a bit more effort but if it’s the pathway to genuine relief from your pain as opposed to covering it with food, it might feel worth trying, even in a small amount. 

Aurora acknowledged, “My eating behavior does work. Until it doesn't. Eating when I want comfort or fun is a practiced behavior that is so entrenched in me that I would risk my health for it. I've failed at this over and over again. I am very uncomfortable. And angry. And kind of over it. And not feeling real motivated but I'm doing it anyway. This is a process and not an event. Changing my thoughts, feelings and behavior is doable for me. And just to add I do feel so much better since participating in this group more! I'm not feeling as deprived as I was or angry like I feel like I can't eat when I want to or that someone is taking my pacifier away from me!

I encouraged Aurora to practice giving herself real life treats anyway - even between eating sessions! So THEY can also become familiar things. I also posed the idea of considering the costs of different behaviors, not just the rewards. Food may seem more immediately rewarding than taking a walk or picking up the phone... but what is the cost to our bodies and minds of doing each of those activities? Often, emotional eating has the steepest price to pay.

I use the example of the $895 sweater. Imagine you’re shopping for fall clothes and you see this gorgeous sweater. It’s a beautiful color you know will look good on you. It’s so soft and cut perfectly, it’s really the most beautiful sweater you’ve ever seen. You pick up the price tag, and it’s 895 dollars.  Do you buy the sweater? 

Everyone I have ever posed this question to said, “no, I wouldn’t pay that much for a piece of clothing.” But you want the sweater more than all other pieces of clothing at the mall, it’s the prettiest, I say. And they say, I could find another sweater that’s still really nice, and isn’t close to that price. 

That is exactly my point. Food might be the $895 dollar sweater that looks really appealing and has the strongest pull on you of “I want that”. But the price tag says “Another day of emotional eating. Choosing this means disconnecting from your spouse, your kids, and your highest aspirations for your life. You’ll pay with guilt, a stomach ache, effects on your body which may worsen your health.”

This really struck a chord with Aurora, and many of the others in our group. 

Aurora wrote, “This is so important for me to consider. I'll be honest: I am near immobility and am already having trouble moving around and doing many tasks. It wasn't until recently that I equated my binging behavior with this. My first binge was at 6. And now I’m 51. This is all a nightmare in and of itself: poor self esteem, feeling hopeless and crazy. Waking up at night from blood sugar crashes after a binge night is terrible, and I don’t always think of that when I’m telling myself the “I just want food” story. The last 6 months of weight gain and binging have left me unable to walk somewhere for any length of time and now damage to my feet from uncontrolled diabetes. It has started being painful and I can no longer ignore it. My point? Do I want to live or die? I want to live and keep all my toes. And my eyes. When I was 30 it was easier to ignore. It's time to deal. Thank you for provoking me to think about WHY I am here.” 

This was a real turning point for Aurora. As the days passed she updated us. 

“Today I enjoyed sleeping in, reading in bed, watching tv, crocheting, and talking with a couple friends. Some of my best times are alone lol! I am wanting to focus on non food things this evening as I want to eat more at night. I will enjoy my time with my love, drink tea, and enjoy my evening. Then read some more. It's dinner time and I will have a snack before bed. Other than that I will focus on non food fun!

My choices haven't been perfect and I have skipped a meal here and there but I am eating mostly whole foods, tracking my eating and other behaviors, and am not binging. I think skipping meals is a habit and maybe some laziness or procrastination. But I am aware of it and owning it and that's a change. I can’t believe I’ve been buying $895 dollar sweaters. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, and gotten some ideas to boost your own awareness and keep moving forward. I’m Georgie Fear, your guide on breaking up with binge and emotional eating.