Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. I never imagined that watching a toddler throw a tantrum would lead to a solution for my binge eating problem.
What a nice looking family! A mom, dad and their two young sons stopped at the empty row in front of me. As they settled into their seats, Mom dispensed what she had brought for their entertainment: iPads for the boys and expensive headphones for Dad. I remember bringing crayons and coloring books for my daughters when we flew to Hawaii – parenting certainly has changed!
But toddler behavior hasn’t. It was time to put away all electronics. Mom dutifully collected the iPads. Her older son complied, but his younger brother protested. “I want it. I want it! I waaannnt it!” Mom tried to explain. Dad tried to explain. But the little boy was inconsolable. “I WANT IT, I WANT IT, I WANT IT!”
Twenty-five “I-want-it’s” later, I was ready to kill someone. Not the little boy, but his mom and dad. Why did they think they could reason with a two year old? Why didn’t they use redirection?
Redirection. The art of distraction. Parents use it on young children all the time. Instead of saying “no, don’t touch that”, you say “here is something very interesting you can play with instead”. The child is happily redirected to something else, and there is no conflict. It’s a win-win.
That little boy’s tantrum struck a chord. He was behaving exactly like me when I am in my binge eating mood. His singular focus mirrored mine when I am looking for a fat laden carbohydrate treat. I want it, and I want it now! Bag of chips, package of cookies, quart of ice cream – I must have it now! And I can think of nothing else.
But could I be redirected? I wondered. If this can work for a 2 year old, why not me?
I strategized, I put thought into a plan. After all, I needed to outsmart an extremely experienced binge eater: ME!
I gather up my daughter’s current snack stash and put it in plain view. Hiding these items hasn’t been working because I know where to find them when I really, really want to eat them. I buy an alternative treat, sugar free candy, and place it in front of the snacks. My reasoning: I can redirect myself to a not-so-bad-for-me snack before I start to binge on my daughter’s treats.
I discover there are degrees to my wanting to binge. The sugar free candy initially works, and I eat a few pieces instead of consuming the bag of dried mango that was calling my name. But then I hit a particularly bad day, and my need to binge is extremely strong. I grab the sugar free candy AND all the snacks and in the moment, I don’t care at all. I eat until everything is gone. ?
I decide that redirecting a binge eater to other eating is not a good idea. I think about the underlying reason for my binge eating. Eating carbs makes me feel good. I need a non-food alternative that is readily available and equally compelling in the pleasure department.
It took a few months of trial and error for me to find a solution. But I’ve tested it over and over and so far it seems to work. My binge eating usually occurs at night, and now, whenever I have the slightest inkling that I need to binge, I work on acrylic painting instead.
Success! Binge eating has been redirected!
I had never dabbled with any kind of art before, and tried a free class at Michael’s on a whim. Painting is an effective distraction for me because once I start, I get engrossed, giving time for the urge to binge to subside. And I find creating a picture out of paints and a blank canvas to be very satisfying – so I feel better without needing to eat.
So in summary, replacing binge eating with a new habit became possible when the new habit met the following criteria:
- It did not involve food
- It was readily available
- It engaged me for enough time, allowing the urge to eat to pass
- It was interesting and it made me feel good
It’s been 3 weeks since my last binge eating episode, and I’ve completed 5 paintings instead. I’m guessing that the urge to binge eat will always be with me, but am hoping that this new interest in art will serve as an ongoing alternative. I just signed up for a free drawing class at Michaels, so I will soon be adding charcoal and pencils to my tool collection. Can’t wait!
Come in for a visit to Enara Health and learn how you can manage Binge Eating today!