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Binges Happen When You Feel Powerless

interrupt-anxiety-with-gratitudeI recently bought a few more books on addiction and habits that I look forward to sharing insights with you about as I read them.  The one I’m studying now is called Breaking Addiction: A 7-Step Handbook for Ending Any Addiction by Lance Dodes, MD.

I’ve only just started the book, but within the first chapter I read I already found a powerful insight worth sharing. From Lance’s book:

The feeling at the key moment along the path to addictive behavior is helplessness or powerlessness.  It feels like you are in a trap that you can do nothing about.

Boy is that ever true!

If you’ve read my post about breaking binging habits, you may recall that I shared the habit cycle which I picked up from the book The Power of Habit.

 Trigger/Cue –> Habit Routine/Addiction –> Reward/Payoff

Now after reading Breaking Addiction I would re-frame this as:

Feel Powerless –> Habit Routine/Addiction –> Reward/Payoff

For a lot of you reading this your habit routine will be the binge/pure cycle of bulimia.  Where your binges are temporary relief from the cue that sparked the moment you turned to food to feel relief – the payoff.  Some of you reading this may have another addictive routine like drinking, drugs, gambling or any other habituated routine that seems like it’s running you and you wish you could stop.  It doesn’t matter what you binge on really as this can apply to most addictions.

What Triggers Your Addiction?

In the recovery coaching I do 1:1 with clients I am asking them to pay attention to what is happening before they go into full binge mode.  See my post on breaking the habit for full details about what I suggest to look for.

What I love about what this author shares is that regardless of the external cue or trigger, it’s tied to a feeling.


It comes down to what’s going on inside you that creates the urge to binge (drink, eat or whatever your drug of choice) that you then act upon to feel relief from that feeling of powerlessness.

It’s amazing.  This distinction makes the trigger so much more clear to me now. The author shares a nice story to tell how this shows up, but I’ll use my personal experience with bulimia to relate it for you.

My Binging Trigger Story

Shortly after college I had a job as a customer service representative answering phones and helping people with their orders for a high end window covering company in San Francisco.  The clientele were well-known, well-paid, well-respected interior designers and the like.  Needless to say these people got a bit testy when things didn’t go their way. In addition, my boss sat four feet from me and listened to every conversation I had and would critique me when I got off the phone if I didn’t do it just the way she had wanted.  All day every day I would answer the phone and either have the possible anxiety of a stressed client mad at me or my boss correcting me for something I’d said.

What resulted was almost every day by mid-afternoon I could hardly wait to leave the office because I was so anxious about doing something wrong I felt hopeless to make everyone happy.  Each day those feelings of powerlessness had me leave the office and head straight to a store, buy a bunch of food and eat it all the way home only to purge after arriving.  Usually that one binge would give me the relief I needed and I wouldn’t do it all night every night, but there were definitely some nights when the binging and purging would go on for hours.

I wish I had read about this 25 years ago.  I would have looked at the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness I felt in my work as a signal what was triggering my bulimia. I knew that I felt anxious at work.  I didn’t realize that it was that feeling of losing my power that triggered me to want to do something I could control…and regain my power.

Many years later I found my way to different coping mechanisms to switch to instead of going into a full blown binge.  The whole addiction cycle is really pathetic now that I reflect back on it. 

I was feeling powerless so I ate and felt out of control in an attempt to give myself control back only to end the purging with feelings of self-loathing, shame and yuckiness that never got me any where in the end. 

It’s amazing to me the power habits and addictions can have on us and drive us to do crap we know we shouldn’t and often don’t even want to do. Ugh…makes me so mad just sharing this with you because I have a feeling you may be wrapped up in that cycle and I so want to help you break out, too.

Self-Awareness and “The Pause”

The Power of Breath in Addiction RecoveryI’ve written many articles on alternative bulimia coping mechanisms and the bulimia mindset shift to help you find different ways of changing both your mind and your patterns to free yourself from your addiction.  Today, I think one of the most important elements, now realizing the feeling of powerlessness as a trigger for addiction, is the practice of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is becoming aware of one’s self from an almost higher conscious, stand outside of yourself and observe what you’re thinking and doing perspective. Self-awareness takes practice to improve upon.  A lot of clients tell me they knew they were going to binge long before they took their first bite, yet they had already decided they were going to binge so they just let it go.

Self-awareness has been defined as “conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.”

One of the most important elements of lasting recovery besides the decision and commitment to changing your addictive routines is the moment of clarity that in the throws of an urge, you choose not to act upon that urge.  I’ll call this “the pause“.

Taking that split second before you choose to go into your routine, taking a deep breath (which allows God-force chi energy to flow into your body) and remembering you have a choice.

Sometimes remembering you have a choice isn’t enough.  You also have to be so connected to your vision as a non-addict that it is present to you and you remember why you want to stop acting out.

If you can pause, slow things down for a moment and take a deep breath to give yourself a space between the instinctual routine of your habit and the urge, you have a chance at correcting your behavior.

I’m not here to tell you can always stop the urge to binge 100% of the time just by taking a deep breath. I’m offering this up to help you find one way (out of many) that can give you the clarity of being so you can remember in that moment that binging doesn’t ever play out well.

I never got to the end of a binge and celebrated a win.

I never got to the end of a binge and congratulated myself on my accomplishment.

I never got to the end of a binge and felt fantastic and on top of the world.

I felt the opposite.  I know the same is true for you.  That’s how it is for all of us.  Acting on urges we no longer want to do never leaves us feeling empowered or better than before.  We mistakenly think it will.

If you could begin to link up in your mind that binging feels bad, makes you hate yourself and is completely exhausting and a waste of time….sooner or later you would stop doing it.  For whatever reason you and I linked up that binging felt better than the feeling of powerlessness that we felt before.

The Power of the Mind for Addiction RecoverySad part…it isn’t even true.

We are just like a hamster on a wheel going in circles around and around because we THINK it makes us feel better.  Game over.  Wake up.  Stop fooling yourself.

Binging does NOT make you feel better.

I hope you remember that sentence the next time you have a moment of self-awareness, take a deep breath and pause.  If you can remember that binging isn’t going to make you feel better, I think you could start to choose differently.  And choose differently again and again.

Breaking the binge habit WILL make you feel amazing.

Breaking the binge habit IS a win you can celebrate.

Breaking the binge habit WILL make you feel on top of the world.

The process of replacing the trigger -> routine -> reward takes time and is a practice.  You practiced and perfected the binge routine. Changing that behavior isn’t something most of us win at the first time we try.  Heck, it took me years to get it.  But it’s so worth it.

Time to Regain Your Power

It’s my intention that this and everything I write about helps you along your path.  To get you in action, please share one thing you’re taking away from this that you’re going to do immediately to change the course of your life and regain your power over food.  I invite you to share your commitment to one thing below in the comments, email it to me, or write it down. Writing it down (here or on paper) will be 100 times more impactful and you’re more likely to carry through than if you just read this and go on to something else.

You want to change your life?  Want to be free of binging forever?  Take a stand for yourself and do one thing to move you in that direction…NOW!

I look forward to reading your comments – or email me a question if there’s something I can help you with.

With love and light,