Compulsive eating: how to distinguish the signs and treat discomfort according to an expert

“Eating to treat discomfort is characterized by signs such as eating too much or too little, a constant preoccupation with food, and feelings of guilt or shame after eating. » If you recognized yourself in this description by expert Juliette Hazart, then this article might interest you.

Why do I turn to food when I'm not well?

The addiction expert uses a term that sums up the situation perfectly: “We eat to fill a void.” As she explains, “eating foods high in fat or sugar is a temporary way to “relieve” emotions. » As a comfort solution, “a person may turn to food when feeling lonely or depressed.”

Triggers for compulsive eating

Triggers vary from person to person, “including stress, anxiety, sadness, boredom, or even certain environments or social situations.” Shame, guilt and anger are part of it but not only: people can also suffer from depression, chronic stress or even loneliness, with a feeling of emptiness, boredom or rejection. »

“Eat your emotions”

Initially, the expert prefers to qualify so-called “negative” emotions as “unpleasant” emotions. A notion “important and crucial in understanding the psychological mechanisms which imply excessive bulimic behavior”.

Sudden cravings for food can be explained in another way: your body would seek to “compensate for a past period of restriction” (for example, if you experienced a period of great food restriction, then your body would seek to “make up for” this lack). The expert indicates that “it is also possible that these behaviors are linked to unresolved underlying issues, such as trauma or mental health problems.”

Do I eat out of compulsion?

First of all, if you think you have an eating disorder, “it can be useful to keep a “food diary” so that you can identify the triggers and patterns of your behavior. »

“Inappropriate compensatory behaviors”

If you combine excessive food consumption with “a poor self-image, reflected in a negative self-judgment centered on your weight, your figure, and a low tolerance for so-called negative emotions and significant relational difficulties”, it You may suffer from bulimia.

“Behaviors in bulimia have a reason to exist”

It is crucial to understand that behaviors such as binge eating or inappropriate compensatory behaviors in bulimia have a reason, just like any other behavior. They perform a specific function. In fact, they aim to reduce or attenuate unpleasant emotions perceived as intolerable by the individual. These behaviors offer short-term emotional relief, even a kind of emotional anesthesia.

Identifying a binge

According to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), an attack of bulimia (or “binge eating”) meets the following two characteristics:

  • “Absorption, in a limited period of time (for example, less than 2 hours), of a quantity of food far greater than what most people would absorb in a similar period of time and under the same circumstances”
  • “Feeling a loss of control over eating behavior during binge eating (for example, feeling like you can't stop eating or can't control what or how much you eat). eat) “

During these crises, we find at least three of the following characteristics:

  • Eating much faster than normal.
  • Eat until you experience a painful sensation of abdominal distention.
  • Eating large quantities of food in the absence of a physical feeling of hunger.
  • Eating alone because you are embarrassed by the amount of food you eat.
  • Feeling disgusted with yourself, depressed, or very guilty after eating.

“In all cases, eating behavior is a source of marked suffering, interfering with the person's daily life. »

Distinguishing bulimia from overeating

What definitively qualifies bulimia will be the “post-crisis” behavior. “In bulimia (unlike binge eating disorder), bulimic behavior is associated with the regular use of “inappropriate compensatory behaviors.” These have only one objective: “to prevent weight gain through voluntarily induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications, but also the practice of fasting or excessive physical exercise. »

In the absence of these compensatory actions to “lose weight,” this behavioral disorder is called “binge eating disorder.” In this case, it is possible that your attacks have led to weight gain to the point of obesity.

Mindfulness, food diary, strategies… how to treat discomfort through food?

Added to the practice that the expert offers to her patients, those of “cardiac coherence techniques coupled with meditation”, other methods exist to “better perceive the sensations of hunger and satiety, regain the appetite for foods beneficial to health but also better regulate your emotions and reduce your stress level. »

Practice “mindful eating”

To develop our “emotional intelligence” and thus “welcome, name and accept our emotions to prevent them from overwhelming us or being repressed, we opt for the practice of mindfulness. » In this way, it would be possible to “develop a new relationship with food and the function of eating, mainly by calming your relationship with food. »

Develop “healthier” strategies

“Psycho-corporeal techniques” would be one of the keys to good management of stress and “unpleasant emotions” defined above. What does it consist of ? In a set of “relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation, yoga…”

Finally, “it may be helpful to speak to a dietitian for advice on a balanced diet.” It is also essential to take care of yourself by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and spending time with loved ones. » Whatever happens, the help of professionals, such as a GP, remains essential for a good recovery.

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