First step is knowing why you eat

Losing control and stuffing your face with cakes and biscuits to the point of feeling sick is something many people do occasionally.

For Sunita Pattani, such binge eating wasn’t just occasional – it was every day for years. From a healthy size 12, she ballooned to a size 20 as she was ‘‘possessed by a food demon’’ that made her devour about 4000 calories worth of cream cakes, crisps, chocolate and ice-cream per day.

It was only when her despairing husband left her that she got the shock she needed to tackle her eating problem, started workshops helping other people with unhealthy food relationships, and wrote the book My Secret Affair With Chocolate Cake.

According to the eating disorders charity b-eat, there’s little information about the prevalence of binge eating – probably because so many people do it in secret.

But it’s thought that about 3 per cent of the UK population has binge-eating disorder, three times more than the number of people with anorexia.

In her book, Pattani, 31, who is now a size 14 and still losing weight, explains that diets only reduce the food that goes in your mouth without tackling the underlying cause of overeating.

What’s needed, she says, is an approach where over-eaters learn to understand what’s making them eat when they’re not hungry, and listen to their body’s cues rather than their mind’s.

‘‘When people go on diets, all they’re addressing is the issue of the food, not the feelings that make them overeat.

‘‘You need to look at the feelings that trigger the eating.

‘‘When my husband left, it was as if someone had shaken the ground beneath me, and I thought ‘I don’t know how to do it, but this has got to stop’.’’

Knowing dieting would simply tip her into the starve-binge cycle again, Pattani did some research and discovered what she describes as ‘‘a massive anti-diet movement’’ known as intuitive eating.

‘‘I learned to focus not on losing weight but on correcting my relationship with food; there was a difference between what my body was hungry for and what my mind was hungry for.’’

The idea is based around eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied by getting in touch with your bodily cues.

Pattani explains: ‘‘When we eat for reasons other than hunger, we eat to provide ourselves with something.

‘‘Whether that something is comfort, numbness, excitement, sweetness or a feeling of stability, we’re using food to fill a void that really needs to be felt and acknowledged.’’ AAP