If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re familiar with the experience of eating to the point beyond physical comfort. Perhaps it was during a holiday meal or over the weekend: despite feeling full, you found yourself continuing to eat. Before you knew it, the plate (or snack bag) was wiped clean and left you feeling a bit… ashamed.
In this article, we will uncover why dancers “over”-eat, what it means to binge eat, and how to break the cycle of feeling very in control around food to feeling very out of control around food. If you’re ready to finally quit “over”-eating, then keep reading, dancers.
What does it mean to binge eat?
Though they might seem interchangeable, “over”-eating” is not the same as binge eating. Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a life-threatening and treatable eating disorder with specific criteria known for diagnosis. BED It is characterized by:
- Recurring episodes of eating an amount of food in a discrete period of time (ie. within any 2-hour period) that is larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time.
- Eating often very quickly and until feeling uncomfortably full.
- A feeling of a loss of control during the binge.
- Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
- Not regularly participating in compensatory behaviors like purging.
BED involves behaviors known to isolate and harm an individual’s well-being. If you feel that these behaviors are relatable, then it’s encouraged that you seek support immediately. I encourage you to visit the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) helpline. For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on “over”-eating” and while the experience can feel similar to that of a binge, does not involve the same degree of severity.
What does it mean to “over”-eat?
As you read, you’ll notice that I place the “over” in “over”-eating within quotation marks. This is because everyone’s definition of “over”-eating is vastly different. Since every dancer’s nutritional needs vary, there are no definitive criteria for determining what it means to “over”-eat (or eat past normal limits).
How we define “over”-eating is challenging within the context of today’s health and wellness culture because dieting and restrictive eating are normalized. As a result, most dancers severely underestimate their daily calorie needs and eating past what is deemed “normal” might actually be far from “over”-eating.
Why am I “over”-eating?
Before we can strategically stop “over”-eating, we first need to identify the root cause of your “over”-eating.
Identify The Reason
Eating to a point beyond physical fullness can result from a variety of reasons but the most important question to consider when identifying your reasoning for “over”-eating is: is there an identifiable point of deprivation. There are three specific points of deprivation that can cause you to “over”-eat:
- Biological Deprivation involves eating too few calories to support your body’s physical and metabolic energy needs. If coming from a background of low-calorie dieting, then the feeling of “over”-eating is your body’s normal biological response as it makes up for the energy that wasn’t provided earlier.
- Psychological Deprivation involves restrictive food rules that prohibit you from eating certain types of foods or food groups. If you swear off pizza because you think it’s “bad” or unhealthy, then you’re bound to overeat. This psychological restriction is powerful enough to drive your “over”-eating.
- Anticipated Deprivation is planning for a future restriction, such as with the desire to “start fresh” on Monday.
Another important consideration about deprivation is whether or not your point of deprivation is intentional or unintentional. The three examples mentioned above represent intentional restrictions.
But sometimes life happens and we run into instances when our schedule doesn’t lend for planning ahead. Say for example your rehearsal lasts longer than expected. You may not have planned snacks and thus are likely to “over”-eat at your next meal. We may also “over”-eat simply because we’re enjoying our food. This is identified as taste hunger and it’s a topic I dive into here. You may also find yourself eating past fullness because of emotions. Read this article to learn more about emotional eating and the role at which deprivation exacerbates the experience.
How do I stop myself from eating too much?
#1: Focus on Self-Care, Not Self-Control
Diet culture has conditioned us to believe that when we “over”-eat, we lack willpower. Willpower, however, is a temporary form of control that is bound to fail as food restrictions drive your desire to eat. Diet culture utilizes the idea of “over”-eating as fear-based rhetoric in the testament to failed willpower. But actually, “over”eating is a direct result of the very diets we choose when striving for the unrealistic body- and performance- promises of diet culture. This is what fuels the cycle of restrictive and compulsive eating. We’ve heard this rhetoric before… here are a few articles that dive into topics of which diet culture utilizes the idea of willpower to shift the blame from diet to dieter:
Bottom line: Deprivation is your point of intervention, not willpower. Start by ensuring that you’re eating enough (here’s an article to learn more about calories for dancers). Then, break those food rules. A licensed dietitian can help you create a plan that consists of multiple meals and snacks spaced throughout your classes and rehearsals.
#2: Get Comfortable
If you feel physical discomfort from “over”-eating and you’ve identified a point of deprivation, then consider your need for comfort. This does not mean that come tomorrow, you’re “starting over.” It also doesn’t mean that you have to make up for those extra calories with an additional workout. This mindset will only set you vulnerable to that dreaded cycle of undereating and “over”-eating.
Now it’s time to focus on digestion. If feasible, put on some comfy clothes and participate in gentle movement. Light stretching, yoga, breathing techniques, and foam rolling are examples. Then, up your hydration and focus on a balanced meal plan (neither needs to be obsessed over).
#3: Reflect and Move On
Understanding why you’re “over”-eating is the first step to addressing the behavior. Utilize this time for reflection and discovery. Reflect on the experience, outline a plan (maybe this means stocking a few extra snacks in your bag!), and if needed, seek a professional for more help. To move past the physical discomfort, consider comfortable clothing, gentle movement (yoga, foam rolling), and hydration. These can help to promote digestion whilst you utilize compassionate curiosity to assess and learn from the experience.