#020: What do you really need (when it’s not food)?

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Uncover a deeper yearning

What if overeating or binge eating is an external indicator of your internal needs?

Understanding why your eating patterns are there may be something you haven’t considered. 

When you can see the role the eating is playing and what it’s trying to help you with, it makes much more sense. 

Yes, it might have been subconscious until now BUT there is a reason the bingeing is happening. And, when you uncover the deeper longing, you have the best starting point to find the tools to create what you really need so that you no longer need to rely on food.

Listen in to discover:

  • why food is an easy go-to and overeating can start young
  • 7 examples of how bingeing can can meet a need that has nothing to do with food. 

Click here for your FREE Guide: 8 simple strategies to break the binge eating cycle

View the full episode transcript

In today’s episode, I’d like to offer that the food is an outer indicator of another issue—perhaps lots of issues. That’s what diets and eating plans so often miss—the role that food is playing and the reason the overeating is there in the first place. And I’m going to give you lots of examples of how those might look so you can see what might be relevant in your own life.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Hello and welcome to another episode.

I’m really excited about this episode because I think it’s around the absolutely most powerful topic that’ll help you stop bingeing or the secret, out of control, compulsive eating that can feel like an addiction and brings with it so much despair and regret.  

And even just the idea of leaving that eating behind has such hope and positive energy behind it.

Well actually, that’s not always the case. Sometimes it can be really scary to think of not being able to turn to food in certain situations or at certain times, because of what the eating offers in the moment—the relief or escape or zoning out that a part of you longs for.. 

Both of those reactions—the hope, or the fear, or a mixture of both—are completely valid and natural. And both lead perfectly into what we’re talking about today, which is how to make sense of why the bingeing or overeating is happening. In other words, why can’t you stop overeating, and why do you seem to need the food so much.

Understanding why those eating patterns are there for you is so important and may well be something you haven’t actually considered before.

After all, most diets or health plans are so focused on what we can or can’t eat, or how much we can or can’t eat, or how much our body weighs or measures, or we appear on the outside. It’s all about what goes into our mouths and what image we present to the world, and when those issues are the only focus, we don’t tend to look for a deeper why behind what’s happening.

In today’s episode, I’d like to offer that the food is an outer indicator of another issue—perhaps lots of issues. That’s what diets and eating plans so often miss—the role that food is playing and the reason the overeating is there in the first place. And I’m going to give you lots of examples of how those might look so you can see what might be relevant in your own life.

The other reason it’s so key to consider the bingeing might be there for a really good reason is that, when the food makes more sense, it can begin to ease those feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt and thinking there’s something wrong with you. Because when you think you’re the problem that can’t be fixed, it stops you right in your tracks. After all, what’s the point? You’re broken. This is just how it is for you.

And feeling like that is most likely to lead to hiding or despairing or trying to block out what’s happening. And, hey, what better way to do that than eating more? I know because I’ve been there so many times and done just that for so many years and decades.

But when you can see the role the eating is playing and what it’s trying to help you with, it reframes it as a strategy that begins to make some sense. Yes, it might have been subconscious until now—and part of is likely still is subconscious or automatic—BUT there is a reason (or a collection of reasons) that the bingeing is happening. And, when you find the reason, you’ve uncovered a starting point to find a way through—a way to experiment with different tools that create what you really need so that you don’t need to rely so heavily on food.

So …. What do I mean when I say food is fulfilling some kind of need and that bingeing is there for a reason that really makes a whole lot of sense?  

Well, first of all, food is one of the few things we have some degree of control on early in life. Almost all of us have been given sweets and cakes and ice-creams or whatever as treats when we were children, and also to help us feel better if we’re feeling sad or to distract us if we bumped a knee or something. There are so many ways that food can and does help us feel better and take our mind off something or creates a form of enjoyment.

And, when you’re young, you probably don’t have access to alcohol or smoking or spending lots of money shopping or endless late-night tv or gaming or, say, gambling—-there are so many different behaviours that can be used to “take the edge off”—but most of them aren’t usually accessible until we’re a bit older.

But food is often (not always, but often) accessible for children. And it can be used to feel better from a really early age. I’ve probably, mentioned it before, but I started sneaking lunchbox treats—mini-mars bars were my favorite—when I was maybe 9 or 10 at primary school. I just knew I liked them and they tasted amazing and made me feel good. And, for lots of children, food is used as a way to feel better even earlier than that.

So food can be used as a sort of coping behaviour—a way to help you feel better or get through something tough—even at a young age. And you can probably envisage a child turning to food with some compassion. After all, young children don’t have the skills to know how to deal with those big feelings or fears—like being ditched by a friend who’s gone off with someone else, or having a teacher who picks on them and puts them down. I wonder if it make sense to you that a child might use food to feel better and help them through in situations like that—situations that they don’t yet have the other tools to deal with?

It certainly makes a whole lot of sense to me. The chocolate or whatever it is, is really effective in helping in the moment. But, later down the line, well … the eating likely ramps up (cos a couple of mini mars bars for sure wasn’t all that I was bingeing on when I was 15 or 25 or 35) and eventually we just don’t want to be doing that to ourselves any more. The pain outweighs the gain, big time.

To make this idea a little more tangible, let me give you some examples of how food can help in the moment—how eating can meet a need that may have nothing to do with food. I have 7 different examples here because I really wanted to offer lots of options to see if any would land with you. So, here goes:

Number 1. is If you’ve felt that you’re too much—maybe you’ve been told you’re too intense or too serious or too emotional. In fact, sometimes it’s not being told with words, you can feel too much just by absorbing the behavior and reactions of those around you. If, for example, a parent backs off or looks really uncomfortable when you’ve been crying or screaming, the lesson is soon learned that “it’s not safe to show these sides of me—I get disapproval or rejection or punishment so I need to block out the feelings that aren’t ok.” And eating is a way to, well, a way to swallow down your emotions—to block parts of you that aren’t accepted and you don’t know how to deal with. 

Number 2. could be that maybe you felt a little weird and different at school—didn’t quite fit in with the group of other kids in the way you wished you did. When that happens, it can lead to awkwardness and self-consciousness & shyness—and, if I’m totally honest, I’ve added this one in because, as well as being quite common, it was really something I felt when I was a young kid at school—sort of like an alien who didn’t quite fit in no matter how much I tried & didn’t know why, and was really confused about it. That sense of feeling left out can escalate into social anxiety and almost an expectation of being the outsider within a group of people at work or socially or in a sports club or wherever. 

And eating can be used as a way to calm that social anxiety. I know I’ve used it like that many times. In fact, even the thought of a school reunion and my mind immediately turns to chocolate cake—it’s that ingrained. But the difference for me now is that I notice it and understand what’s going on.

This next one is one that comes up a lot. It’s good-girl syndrome—being the one who feels responsible for whether or not other people are happy, and going out of your way to do what they want or expect from you. As women, we’re often taught to be kind & considerate and nurturing but it can get to the stage when keeping other people happy comes at the expense of you—of what you want and need in your own life. And, unless you’re a saint (which I’m certainly not!) sacrificing your wellbeing for other people only goes so far and eventually leads to being time-deprived and resentful. And some people, right, they’re never satisfied—whatever you do it’s never good enough! But even if it was enough, if you’re sacrificing something you need then it comes at a price and that need is still there and comes out in a different way.

And using food or bingeing can be how it comes out—-either to help manage the resentment, or as a way to just cope and keep going—a little something for you, almost a break or a rest or a treat that no one else is coming forward and offering.

The fourth reason is also really common and one that’s been coming up a bit for me recently as something I know I need to pay a bit of attention to—it’s as if, because my thoughts are turning to food more than usual, something is being flagged up for me. So this one is the go-go-go list of seemingly never-ending tasks that keeps you time deprived and spinning. I don’t know about you but when I feel like I’m always on the go with the kids and then work and then all the house stuff and actually wanting to get some exercise or sleep or even reading in—and throw in any additional commitments you have in there too—it can seem a bit like being on a hamster wheel where you sort of finally collapse at the end of the day. And that feeling of being overstretched and a bit frazzled and probably pretty tired too—well, food offers a break of sorts—even if it’s a standing-up-eating-at-the-fridge kind of break.

Eating is almost a brief moment of calm or distraction or even an energy boost to keep going. It’s as if it creates a pause.

Three more examples to come ….

The next is perfectionism. Wanting to do a brilliant job makes sense. We usually want to do our best, right? But being perfect—that’s not really an attainable goal because we’re each a beautifully, complex perfectly-imperfect human, and perfectionism for sure creates a huge amount of pressure. 

If that sounds like you, then I really get you—I was the teenager who was still writing essays in pencil so I could rub out my mistakes without wrecking my work. And I’ve changed careers or study paths quite a few times too, often holding on to the dream of starting again with a clean slate so I could just get it right from the start. 

But the thing is with perfectionism—as well as the pressure it creates for you—is that it ignores the constant learning and tweaking and improving that’s such a natural part of life. After all, the 5th draft or iteration of a project is always gonna come with greater insights than the first. But, without getting going on that imperfect first draft, there’s no place to build in the improvements over time and with experience.

And, as “perfect” is unattainable anyway, turning to food can be a way to put off the inevitable not-good-enough, as well as to provide a way to relieve the pressure you’re putting on yourself.

The 6th reason, I think, will make a lot of sense if you’ve ever felt it. When something is a threat, or you perceive it as a threat or really creepy or frightening. It can cause that freeze response when it’s as if you don’t have the capacity to react or respond in any way—it’s like a shut down. The freeze response is actually the oldest survival response in the nervous system—it evolved even before the fight or flight response—-so it’ll kick in without conscious thought. Now, that doesn’t mean it always makes rational sense. Getting the side eye from someone at a bar or at the school gate, or even hearing the doorbell ring, have the potential to seem like a threat if you’re hyper alert to those signals. And turning to food can be a way of hiding or zoning out or creating or reacting to that shutdown freeze response that’s activated by a very real and innate need to be safe.

And number 7—the very last one I’m going to mention here, is when you’re coming down hard on yourself. I’ve touched on it in other episodes, but that internal voice can be pretty mean and judgemental and critical. In fact, if you listen to your internal chat and write it down and then imagine saying it to someone else—well, I bet you’d be horrified and you’d for sure expect them to want to get away from you as soon as possible! 

If all that chat’s going on in your own head, and it barely pauses for breath, well—you probably want to get away from that inner critic too. Like make it shut up!

And eating can quieten down your inner critic when it gets too much. A binge can give you some relief if you’re really hard on yourself—even if that part of you that’s hard on yourself is doing it with the very best of intentions.

Like, for example, you have this voice telling you you’re rubbish and eating this way is stupid and ridiculous and it’s just gotta stop cos look what you’re doing to yourself and what’s your life gonna come to if it carries on this way—for goodness sake, pull yourself together. It’s not a nice commentary to have on constant repeat, is it? Even if the intention behind it is to help you eat in a way that supports you to be your best self so you can be happier and more fulfilled, and it sounds really reasonable and true. 

Doing something to quieten down that voice—something like eating (even if the voice is telling you not to)—well, who wouldn’t want to, right?

So those are a few examples of how overeating or bingeing can actually be trying to meet a need that has nothing to do with food. 

It might be to block emotions that aren’t seen as ok, or to help with social anxiety, or the resentment that comes with putting other people’s needs before your own. The food might offer a much needed break, or relieve the intense pressure of perfectionism. It could offer way to feel safer through shutting down or feeling invisible (even through putting extra weight on your body, because that can also be a way to feel less noticed in the world)—or it might give you a break from an ever-running self-critique. 

Or maybe, for you, the eating is a way to fulfill a different need. And, my guess is, whatever that need is, it will make some kinda sense to you.

Sometimes, it’s really helpful to try imagining someone else with that coping mechanism. What’s it like to think of food is helping someone else through a certain situation or emotion, especially when they don’t know what else to do that will help?

When it makes sense that someone else might use food for those sorts of reasons then maybe, just maybe, it might make sense for you too.

And, as soon as you begin to understand it just a little, the feeling of shame or brokenness can begin to shift as well.

Because, if there’s a reason or a need underneath the eating—well, that’s something to work with. When you understand what the eating is trying to do for you or to help you with, you can start to wonder. Perhaps just that start of an understanding piques your interest enough to think about the overeating or bingeing in a slightly different way—like, it’s about so much more than just what the food is and how much of it is eaten. 

Because, if the bingeing is happening for a reason, then you can start to look at other ways to meet your deeper needs that can’t really be satisfied with food for long.

So, to wrap up, I’m going to end this episode with an invitation to open to looking at the patterns in your eating.

To ask yourself, when am I most likely to overeat or binge? What’s might be going on for me at those time? 

What am I feeling like when it happens? 

How does eating help me in the moment? Or, what does it offer me that I’m feeling desperate for?

And, when you’ve identified a reason for the food, ask; does it makes sense that I might turn to food? Maybe, after having done it so many times over the years, it’s become a learned or automatic coping strategy.

When you can start asking those questions, you’re opening the door to move toward creating more effective and supportive coping strategies and things that will help you through those times—things that are specific to you and your life and your needs.

And, if you’d like more tools to help you ease back from binge eating and overeating, go to the show notes to download my free guide, 8 simple strategies to break the binge eating cycle. When you download the guide you’ll also get access to my email so you can send me any questions you have or topics you’d like to be addressed on future episodes. I really do love hearing from you!

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

And, if you liked what you heard, it would be wonderful if you’d take a moment to rate this podcast on whichever platform you listen on.

Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

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Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

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