*Warning, potential eating disorder trigger*
Eating disorders (including binge-eating disorder) are a sensitive, yet important, subject to discuss with all my athletes. It’s no surprise that studies show an increased prevalence of disordered eating in athletes (especially when weight classes and competitive leanness is involved) when compared to the general population. Such disorders will need a full team approach consisting of professional care, and as a strength coach, it’s important to be aware so my athletes can get the proper treatment while I take their training into careful consideration.
A common issue associated with feeding and eating disorders is binge-eating. Binging is generally associated with physical and psychological problems (also a higher prevalence with mood disorders, impulse control disorders and substance abuse). Feelings of embarrassment and guilt often lead to hiding issues and not seeking help.
So what is binge eating anyway?
Usually, it consists of three (or more) of the following:
- Eating until feeling past full (uncomfortable)
- Eating alone out of embarrassment
- Eating faster than a normal pace
- Feelings of depression and guilt after eating
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry
Each check in, I specifically ask about their relationship with food in an effort to keep an open line of communication. Although it isn’t the coaches responsibility to treat an athlete for an eating disorder, it is important to be aware of signs and symptoms. As a coach, I can refer to an eating disorder specialist and always offer tailored advice to minimize binge eating in the meantime.
These may include:
- Telling someone about it. Rather than keeping it your hidden secret that you share alone, it helps to share information with someone.
- Acknowledging when it happens, then moving on. Don’t dwell over it, which could possibly be the hardest part. The more guilt you feel, the more likely you are to keep eating over these type of feelings.
- Stop buying in bulk. Consider buying pre-packaged items that come in small numbers. It helps to even bag food items in snack-sized bags yourself. You are less likely to keep eating if you have your portion pre-sized and predetermined for you ahead of time.
- Getting rid of trigger foods, for a while. Although a restrictive diet is not something I usually suggest, for someone who has a habitual binging pattern, it may help to get rid of certain foods temporarily – just until things are a little better controlled. Trigger foods, or whatever you want to call them, are things that are difficult to stop eating.
- Changing your mindset. When you feel yourself losing control, tell yourself, “I know I can have this food, but not right now.” If you follow flexible dieting, that’s the beauty of this lifestyle. It’s not restrictive. You can still have these foods, just not at the moment. You can have that piece of cake when it “fits” your macros. Adjust your numbers for tomorrow, and make it work.
- Writing it down. What time of day are you normally binging? Is it when you are winding down from a long stressful day after work? Is it when you bored? Are you overly emotional? Take note of these feelings, write them down. If you see a pattern, it will help to address these issues head on.
- Filling your time with something different. Pick something new to fill your time when you would normally start eating. Get out of the house. Start a project. Attend a yoga class. Go for a run. Do something hands-on. Occupy your mind so that you stop thinking about food. If it’s snacking while you watch TV, buy yourself a cheap stationary bike and hop on to peddle while you watch your shows. It’s proven that exercise can reduce cravings and thus, binge behavior, so I love recommending this idea.
- Setting a short term goal. Normally we focus on long-term fitness and nutrition goals, but this will require something different. How many days in a row do you think you could not over-eat? Three? Five? Seven? Start small and pick a realistic number. Write it down, and put it somewhere that you will see every-day.
- Taking it one day at a time. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Same concept here. Well, except we aren’t going to eat the whole elephant. Now that you only have to concentrate on a small, short term goal, focus on hitting that, instead of being overwhelmed with the big picture.
- Rewarding yourself. Something that you want (but not food). Buy it now, wrap it. Put it away until you hit your short-term goal. For your next goal, make it little longer than the first. It seems silly, but this is when I’ve seen the MOST success.
As always, a professional who is experienced and qualified in treating disorders should be the primary care point of contact for an athlete with a serious eating disorder. And the first step to treatment is talking about it.
Happy training friends!