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Breaking Free Of The Binge Eating Cycle

We develop patterns of behavior early in life. We start associating certain events with certain behaviors. One such pattern is our behavior  with food. Being fed by our parents when we were young may come to represent being cared for or being loved. On the other hand, not being fed when we were hungry may have produced a deep insecurity about whether there would be enough food in the future.

Food can also serve as a distraction. For instance, we may have been told at the doctor’s office that if we didn’t cry when we got a shot, we would be rewarded with a lollypop. Therefore, we focused on getting the lollypop instead of feeling the fear or pain of the needle. We effectively blocked the pain and focused on the reward, the sugar. Is it any wonder that later in life when we experience pain, emotional or physical, that we think a candy bar will make us feel better?

We may associate happy occasions, holidays, and celebrations with food. We then look to food to recapture the feelings of togetherness, love, and joy that we felt on those special occasions. We may have been told we can have dessert if we are good or if we eat everything on our plate. Thus, dessert became a reward, an acknowledgement of success. We trudge through a hard day at work knowing a reward awaits us at the end of the day.

We can also use food to procrastinate; to avoid some action or responsibility that needs to be taken care of or just to get through the mundane, boring tasks of daily life. We may even recognize that food has become our best friend and our source of comfort. But inside, we feel like we have an empty hole inside us, and no amount of food seems to make us feel whole and complete.

We pick up so many associations between food and behavior  early in life. Some are life enhancing, and some have become subconscious, core beliefs that interfere with our life today. We may be using food to cope with the stress in our lives. But, in time, our destructive eating behavior actually makes the stress worse. We find that we have less time and less energy.

Because we automatically use food, we cannot discover what is truly disturbing us. If we are not conscious of these associations, the first step in changing them is awareness. We can’t change something if we are not even aware of it.

What Is Disordered Eating?

People with disordered eating have developed the habit of relying on food to cope with life situations. They use food as a means to displace or “stuff down” uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. They may use food to avoid some part of life by grazing or eating all day. This is called compulsive overeating. Some may binge, eating large amounts of food in a short time. Binge eating usually starts in response to a diet. Others may restrict their food intake with a rigid diet until they become so malnourished that they cannot think clearly or function physically, and until their long-term health, or even their life itself, is endangered. This is anorexia. Still others may overeat, and then get rid of the food. This is bulimia.

Disordered eating is not just about food. The primary thing that keeps a person trapped in the illness is FEAR: fear of getting fat, fear of rejection, fear of being found out, fear of abandonment, fear of being controlled, or fear of feeling. By concentrating on the illness, weight, diet, or body image, one can avoid the fear and numb the feelings.

A mental obsession with food, weight, diet, or body image has profound effects on our self-esteem, relationships, finances, daily activities, and quality of life. People often become depressed or anxious because of their eating patterns.

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Written by Rebecca Cooper for


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