Last week we talked about using certain healthy coping strategies when strong emotions strike. One reader posted a very important comment. She wrote:

These tips are interesting, but how do I slow down enough to do any of these or even breathe? The strong feeling comes… bam, I go to food. I don’t know how to slow down.

I bet many of us have had similar struggles. That’s why I wanted to turn her valuable comment into its own blog post. So I consulted two eating disorder experts on their suggestions for slowing down. Here’s what they said.

Amy Pershing, LMSW, ACSW, is the Executive Director of Pershing Turner Centers, a full-spectrum outpatient center for the treatment of eating and related disorders in Annapolis, MD, and Clinical Director of the Center for Eating Disorders in Ann Arbor, MI.

  • “Work on breathing or checking in when not feeling anything in particular, or something pleasant or safe (like when with a pet, or when doing something [you] really enjoy). Just work on understanding feelings as body sensation, nothing more. They come in waves, and will pass.
  • It might help to learn more about the neurobiology of feelings, so [you] know cognitively what is going on when [you’re] having a feeling, and can keep this process in mind. [MT: Here’s a video that explains the neuroscience of emotions.]
  • Explore fears about slowing down; what might happen if [you] feel anything? [Do you] know? What has happened in the past?
  • Do the slowing down and breathing/checking in after a binge, if necessary.
  • Finally, I would suggest treatment of some kind. If any affect tolerance feels dangerous, [you] may well benefit from some other clinical interventions first.”

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, is the Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program and author of the books Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop and The Woman in the Mirror: Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are. 

(If you remember, I cited The Woman in the Mirror in my posts on the different types of fat talk and how to stop it.)

“Slowing down and pausing, breathing, relaxing etc. might work well further along in recovery once you have gotten some degree of control over the situation. Early on, or if the emotions are so strong, occasionally you just have to get out of dodge.

The operative word at this stage is STOP, not slow.

Avoidance as a long-term strategy is not a good plan, but as you are developing the skills, you might need to use it to give you that extra umpf to get past the urge.

For example, if you are in your kitchen and have an overwhelming urge to eat or binge, just standing there in the kitchen and doing deep breathing is not going to be enough to counter a powerful urge.

Get out of there, put your running shoes on, get out of the house, walk, take no money, put some distance between you and the food. Otherwise all that food is going to create static in your thoughts and keep you from gaining control.

Then when you are out of the line of fire, that’s when you can do some clearer thinking. If you need to phone a friend, get someone to distract you (while you work on strategies) then do it.

You also want to plan your next eating episode. You don’t want to go back into the house without a plan because the binge urge might rush right back in. But if you have a written plan for the next eating event, you have evidence that there is something you want to stick to.

An important backdrop to all of this is the importance of regular, predictable eating. These emotionally triggered episodes are so much more likely if you are skipping meals or eating irregularly.

Our bodies crave regularity. The more you can give them regular breakfast, lunch dinner and planed healthy snacks, the less likely you will be kidnapped by these urges.

Even if you succumb to a [binge] in the evening, do not skip breakfast the next day. Get back on the regularity horse and give your body the predictability it desires.”

Any questions about their suggestions? What else would you like to know about slowing down, managing emotions or binge eating? 

P.S., The awesome Deah Schwartz shared a great link on a listserv I’m part of. Please watch this video. It will make you smile. Promise.