We live in a culture where dieting, restricting our food intake, obsessing over whether food is “healthy” or not, hating our bodies and judging others and ourselves based purely on how much fat we do or do not have on our bodies or what food we put in our mouths is the norm.
This obsession with body size and the cult of thinness causes a lot of people to feel “Crazy” around food. Many people will define themselves as “binge eaters” or “emotional eaters” or “Food Addicts.”
Isabel Foxen Duke is a body image coach with a history of overcoming her own disordered relationship with food and binge eating disorder.
As a guest on registered dietitian, nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counsellor Christie Harrison’s Food Psych podcast Isabel Foxen Duke talks about the difference between “Binge Eating” and “Emotional Eating”, what restriction is and how it leads to disordered eating and how letting go of rules and control around food can actually stop binge eating and feelings of being “addicted” to food.
Foxen Duke gives the definition of “Binge eating” as follows;
“Binge eating is a DIRECT reaction to dieting or restriction of some kind, like, I’m actively sitting on my hands trying not to eat bread OR I’m actively shaming and judging myself for eating bread- therefore my brain and my body go into a state of panic where I think the bread is going to be taken away from me, I’m in SCARCITY MENTALITY and therefore I want to eat nothing but bread until I’m sick.”
Comparatively she suggests that emotional eating is a totally normal coping mechanism used by the majority of human beings, but that it has been demonized by our obsession with dieting. She states; “Emotional Eating is not good or bad, it is literally the act of eating to soothe a feeling.”
The problem lies therefore in people defining themselves as a “binge eater”, “food addict” or a “emotional eater.” She says,
“The only people who call themselves emotional eaters are those who are judging themselves critically for what they eat.”
She goes on to explain that terms like “emotional eater” and “ food addict” are social constructs that have been born from diet culture, and it is this judgement around food which ultimately leads to restriction that causes the problems we have with food such as binge eating disorder.
“Binge eater, emotional eater, food addict. It takes a while to take people through a process where they start to realise that all of these terms are actually being unfairly placed upon them based on a culture that defines things as right or wrong in a way that is oppressive to them.”
So what is the solution? How do we stop feeling “crazy” around food? Foxen Duke has this to say;
“When it comes to binge eating the answer often is as simple as stop restricting. The question is what does it mean to not restrict? And how do I actually stop restricting in a diet culture?”
Giving up restriction does not only mean giving up “Weight Watchers” or “the Atkins”, it is much more difficult than it seems and requires a lot of work involving rejecting diet culture, a culture that we are all embedded in. Giving up restriction is essentially giving up on attempting to control your life by controlling food and your body. Isabell says,
“It’s so hard to give up control. It is a compulsion of humans to want to control the outcomes of there lives. For women in particular food and weight is such a tempting way to do that. We are all told every day by the culture around us that if I lose weight I will get more love, more satisfaction, rainbows and Unicorns will pop out of the sky. The pursuit of thinness feels like the greatest currency to getting the life of your dreams and its highly delusional.”
The truth is no diet is going to help keep you and your loved ones safe from harm, no way of eating is going to make you live forever, no amount of restriction is going to make you more loved.
Christie Harrison says, “Looking for something outside of yourself to control the painful and bad things is a way of keeping you away from also being present for the good things.” Using food restriction and dieting is a way of grasping for control of the things in life that cannot be controlled, it is also the “life thief” a term Christie Harrison uses in her more recent podcasts, that keeps you obsessed with keeping things at bay you have no control over, and away from experiencing all the positive things in life.
A lot of people who have eating disorders such as binge eating disorder or people who feel like they are “food addicts” or “emotional eaters” don’t realise that they have a issue with controlling food, they believe they have no control over food.
They may feel that they are not restricting themselves when in the middle of a binge. In that situation people feel as though they need to restrict in order to stop feeling out of control around food. But restriction is not a purely physical act. Restriction can mean going on a diet and cutting out carbs, or physically stopping yourself from eating your “trigger” food. But Restriction is also a mental issue.
If you are eating 5 packets of biscuits in a row and feeling disgusted with yourself and judging yourself for eating this “bad” food or “too much” food, that judgement is also restriction. If you are engaging in “last supper” mentality, a phrase which Foxen Duke uses to describe the act of eating as much as you physically can of “forbidden” foods the night before going on a new “diet”, “cleanse” or “lifestyle change” you are eating from a place of restriction and scarcity. Your body and brain reacts in exactly the same way to that psychological restriction as it does to physical restriction.
The only way to stop restriction is to give up control of all types of rules and regulations around food. This includes and is not restricted to:
eating purely for “health”,
“life style changes” which is another word for diets,
only eating non- processed foods,
cutting out food groups such as gluten or dairy to “lose weight” or “be healthy”
judging food as “good” or “bad”
exercising to compensate for eating,
not eating after 7pm,
not eating sugar
going on a “cleanse”
judging yourself or others based on weight or body size
All of these “Rules” around food and bodies are restrictions, all of these ways of thinking about food are restrictions. And the only way to stop “binge eating” or “food addiction” or whatever you want to call it is to STOP RESTRICTING.
Foxen Duke states “The more food is a treasure that you put up on a pedestal because you’re sitting on your hands trying not to eat it, the more likely you are going to try and reach for it in times of emotional duress and that’s just a fact. There’s no morality here, that’s just one of the consequences of dieting, period.”
She also discusses how some people are more likely to eat more during times of stress and others are likely to eat less and this distinction is between restrained and unrestrained eaters. She explains how she came across this concept in Linda Bacon’s seminal text “Health at Every Size.”
“(Linda Bacon) looked at people who were Restrained eaters (people with a history of dieting and restriction) and people who were None Restrained eaters (People who had little to no history of dieting and restriction) . The restrained eaters (historical dieters) tended to eat MORE when under emotional duress, and people who were None Restrained eaters (non-dieters) tended to lose there appetites and turn away from food when under emotional duress.”
This goes to show that people are not born to be “emotional eaters” or “binge eaters” or “food addicts” but strongly suggests that the restriction or restrained eating itself causes individuals to rely more heavily on food to cope with emotions and to control things, and the restriction itself causes “binge eating”.
Foxen Duke goes on to say,
“Eating disorders, disordered eating, emotional eating and restriction isn’t ultimately about weight loss. It’s about trying to control the outcome of my life.”
Isabell Foxen Duke asks you this;
“Shame. Is it serving you in any way?”
The answer is no. Shame is not motivating, judging yourself by your hunger levels, food choices or body size is not helping, so let it Go!
If you have issues with “binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction” or feeling “out of control around food or certain types of food why not listen to this podcast with Isabel Foxen Duke and Christie Harrison in its entirety HERE or check out Isabel Foxen Dukes website HERE for more information.