Struggling with Binge Eating and Self-Loathing? Here’s How to Break Free

Have you ever struggled with feelings of self-loathing after a binge, or reached for food when you're mad at yourself? Which came first, the binge or the self-hatred? Turns out, they are intertwined.

Binge eating is not about willpower. It's not about control or addiction. It's not even about food. 

Our feelings about ourselves and our behaviors are often rooted in our past, often from experiences or events that we might not even remember. 

Unlocking the hidden meanings and messages about your self-image and relationship with food is the key to creating change, cultivating a more accepting attitude toward yourself, and leaving binge eating behind. 

Table of Contents

Understanding the Roots of Self-Hatred

Our sense of likability and lovability begins in childhood, a time when we're particularly vulnerable to the messages we receive from our environment. 

Children often interpret negative or harmful messages from caregivers as a reflection of their own worth, leading to deep-seated beliefs of fault and inherent wrongness.

Children don't think, “There's something wrong with the way I'm being treated.” Instead, they believe, “There's something wrong with me and that's why I'm getting treated badly. I must deserve it.”

Then the cycle of binge eating and subsequent feelings of guilt and shame can reinforce the negative self-perceptions, creating a vicious cycle. 

By recognizing these patterns, we can begin to challenge and transform our internal narratives, paving the way for healing and self-acceptance.

Dana's Story

Dana struggled with severe binge eating disorder and feelings of self-loathing that intrusively permeated her thoughts. She started bingeing when she was an adolescent, dealing with a father who displayed periodic rage, irrational criticism, and emotional neglect.

Dane interpreted her father's verbal attacks and lack of nurturance as evidence that she was unworthy of love. She thought she was a “bad seed” at her core. 

She thought if she could just figure out what was so bad about her and make herself good, she'd get a loving father.

This strategy for hope ended up becoming a fixed belief that there was something deeply and terribly wrong with her. 

As an adult, she was unrelentingly self-critical, treating herself as her father had treated her. Bingeing brought temporary relief by blocking out this self-directed hostility. 

By coming to terms with how the past was haunting her present, Dana began rewriting old cognitive scripts. She challenged the shame that felt so real and slowly began to recognize her true goodness. 

Her self-attacks slowed, and so did the urge to binge. Eventually, she was able to feel good about herself and stopped binge eating.

Dana's story exemplifies how our past impacts us in the present, and by challenging the past, we can release ourselves from the grips of early trauma, resolving both self-hatred and disordered eating.

Binge Eating as a Form of Escape

Those who are struggling with binge eating often use food as a shield to guard against experiencing difficult or painful emotions. Often, when they need the most comfort and compassion, they attack themselves instead. 

Since it's impossible to both attack and soothe yourself, eating becomes the way to escape those mean voices.

It's a tough cycle. That inner critic gets loud, telling you that you’re not enough and suddenly, food seems like the only thing that will muffle the noise. 

Eating becomes a way to not just fill the belly, but to fill the emotional gaps, too. Then the guilt after a binge awakens those inner critics and the cycle continues.

Struggling with Binge Eating and Self-Loathing: Tessa's Story

Tessa described a lifelong pattern of using food to cope with life. Tessa's parents were immigrants intent on her succeeding in the West, and as a result, they were hyper-critical. 

Their intentions were good (but as Tessa noted, the road to hell is said to be paved with good intentions) and they tried to motivate her to succeed by being relentlessly critical. Nothing was ever good enough for them, which left Tessa feeling worthless and full of shame.

As an adult, whenever she made even a minor mistake, Tessa told herself things like, “You idiot. You're so stupid and incompetent!” This would rapidly escalate into a full-blown crisis, complete with panic and self-directed rage. 

Tessa was treating herself the way her parents treated her. She lacked any internalized compassionate presence to counterbalance her self-attacks.

Those were the times when she desperately headed to the kitchen and binged on chips, cookies, and ice cream. This served as a way for her to mentally “check out” from her overwhelming emotions and to drown out her cruel inner critic. 

By dis-identifying with the internalized parental voices, she broke free from the demoralizing shame-binge cycle that created so much self-hatred.

Binge Eating as a Form of Punishment

Binge eating can serve as self-punishment, reflecting a person's feelings of self-loathing and self-hatred. Overeating to the point of physical discomfort and even pain can be a way of punishing yourself for the “crime” of not being good enough. 

Unconsciously, this also converts emotional pain into physical pain. Unfortunately, this self-destructive behavior only reinforces feelings of worthlessness and perpetuates the cycle of binge eating and self-hatred.

Struggling with Binge Eating and Self-Loathing: John's Story

One of the first things John told me was, “I hate myself. I feel like the worst person ever. I feel sorry for you that you have to deal with me.” John's father struggled with unemployment, alcoholism, and depression, often expressing feelings of inadequacy, weakness, and self-loathing while being unable to provide for or protect the family. 

Growing up with an emotionally broken male role model shaped John's identity. He came to believe men must continually prove their strength, success, and competence – never showing signs of vulnerability. 

He developed a brutal inner critic that attacked any perceived failures or weaknesses within himself. His inner voice constantly judged and mocked him for not achieving enough.

When John's business hit financial struggles during the pandemic, this self-flagellating inner voice went on the attack, overwhelming him with self-directed disgust and shame for being “pathetic.”  

John binged on pizza, punishing himself with painful stomach aches and self-degradation for failing to live up to his harsh standards of manhood. 

By realizing his self-hatred was a way of defending himself against the pain of being disappointed in his father, John cultivated compassion for both himself and his father. He embraced fallibility as part of the human condition. The more self-accepting he became, the less he binged.

Never Feeling “Good Enough”

Some people have rigid, perfectionistic standards for themselves that are impossible to meet. Falling short leads to chronic self-criticism, feelings of failure, and deep self-disappointment. This creates self-hatred and a sense of never being “good enough.”

Perfectionists are relentlessly hard on themselves, expecting to succeed spectacularly in every part of life, all the time. School, parenting, health goals, career aspirations – they demand excellence 24/7. Falling short of top-tier performance threatens their sense of worth. Despite tons of wins, they feel like losers inside. 

It's as if you have to be perfect all the time and never miss a beat. Not only is this impossible, it leads to self-judgment and negatively impacts self-esteem.

In a sense, you must earn your right to be lovable by constantly meeting perfectionistic standards.

The antidote to perfectionism and the ensuing self-hatred is cultivating radical self-compassion. 

Challenge those perfectionist thoughts and beliefs by identifying the unrealistic standards you've set for yourself and questioning their validity and usefulness. Would you hold anyone else up to those standards?

When you recognize these expectations for what they are – irrational ideas that disconnect us from our humanity–you can slowly create change. That means speaking kindly to ourselves, flaws and all, and gradually cultivating self-acceptance.

Struggling with Binge Eating and Self-Loathing: Zaya's Story

Zaya held herself to extremely high standards across every part of her life. As a busy working mom of two kids, Zaya demanded flawless performance from herself at all times – as an employee, wife, mother, and friend.

She felt constantly dissatisfied with her parenting if the house wasn't immaculate or the kids didn't excel academically.

At work, minor oversights left Zaya feeling incompetent and ashamed. She told herself, “You're so disorganized, no wonder you're struggling!” or “You'll never become managing director if you keep messing up.” 

Ultimately, Zaya's perfectionism left her feeling empty and like a failure nearly every day. She rarely paused to appreciate her significant accomplishments and instead zeroed in on minute shortcomings. 

As a result, she was struggling with binge eating and chronic self-loathing, feelings of inadequacy, and eating for comfort at the end of her stressful days.

We dialed down Zaya's perfectionist tendencies by evaluating her self-talk and unrealistic expectations, then challenged her harsh inner judge. 

As Zaya learned to identify perfectionistic demands, get curious about their origins, and respond to herself with more grace, she started appreciating her perfectly imperfect self. Her self-hatred softened into self-acceptance.

Self-Loathing as a Defense Mechanism

In psychological terms, a defense mechanism is an unconscious strategy that the mind uses to protect itself from difficult thoughts, feelings, or realities that we find too difficult to accept. Self-loathing can be a way to cope with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, or shame.

For instance, you might feel intense self-hatred to deflect from painful feelings of abandonment, rejection, or anger. You avoid dealing with complex, underlying issues by focusing on your perceived flaws and shortcomings. 

Also, by hating yourself, you avoid getting in touch with thoughts and emotions you might have toward others.

Another way self-loathing serves a protection function is that by beating ourselves up internally, we won't be as vulnerable to other people's thoughts about us. If you hate yourself and someone rejects you, you can tell yourself you knew this would happen.

Essentially, by rejecting yourself first, you believe you're cushioning yourself against potential rejection by others. If you already hate yourself, you won't be surprised when other people judge or reject you. 

Struggling with Binge Eating and Self-Loathing: Francine's Story

Francine described an inner voice that continually berated her, telling her she was worthless, stupid, and bound to end up a failure. 

Her last romantic relationship had ended suddenly when her partner abandoned her for someone else. This brought up intense feelings of rejection, abandonment, and anger that were too painful to process.

Instead, she coped by attacking herself.  She fixated on her perceived flaws as the reason for the breakup, describing herself as undesirable, too heavy, boring, and “damaged goods.” 

By hating herself, Francine avoided confronting the grief and betrayal she felt over her ex's decision to leave her. Self-loathing protected her from those feelings, which were even more painful.

On an unconscious level, Francine also hoped that by attacking herself so harshly, she was protecting herself against future rejection. If she already viewed herself as worthless, no one else's negative perceptions could affect her. Her self-hatred shielded her from fully facing her fear of being unwanted and unlovable in relationships.

Francine finally grieved her breakup in healthy ways and addressed her emotional needs surrounding intimacy, and she became kinder to herself. That’s when she stopped binge eating.

Understanding the complexities of self-hatred and binge eating is the first step towards healing. It involves embracing our flaws and learning to treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion we would offer to others. 

Nobody is born hating themselves; it's something you learned and something you can unlearn. So, challenge the idea that there is something essentially wrong with you and get on a path to a healthier, happier you. 

Therapy is a great place to start creating the kind of meaningful change that will transform self-loathing into self-love. And remember, there is always hope.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you continue to process the stories and insights shared above, you may find that you're not alone in struggling with binge-eating and underlying self-hatred. It's natural to have a myriad of queries and thoughts during such a process.

Hence, we've taken time to address some frequently asked questions to aid you on this journey towards healing and understanding.

1. How can I start to challenge my self-loathing thoughts? 

The first step is to acknowledge these thoughts when they arise, and not brush them aside. You may find it helpful to keep a journal of these moments, writing down what occurred, how it made you feel, and what self-loathing message you were telling yourself. 

Over time, you'll be able to identify patterns and begin challenging these thoughts with positivity and understanding.

2. Can therapy really help with self-hatred and binge eating? 

Absolutely. Therapy can provide you with a safe space to explore your emotions and to develop coping mechanisms to manage self-destructive behaviors. A professional therapist can help you understand and deconstruct the origins of your self-hatred and work with you to rebuild a healthier self-image.

3. How does self-hatred contribute to binge eating disorder?

For many individuals, food can be a coping mechanism for overwhelming feelings of self-hatred and unworthiness.

Binge eating is often a response to emotional distress, acting as a temporary distraction or source of comfort. However, this often leads to a vicious cycle of guilt and further self-loathing post-binge.

 

4. How can I practice self-compassion?

 Self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness, particularly during times of failure or mistake. 

Practice mindful awareness, acknowledge your feelings without judgment, and start replacing self-critical thoughts with more positive, affirming messages.


5. What can I do if I'm feeling hopeless? 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start, seeking professional help is a valid and important step.

Reaching out to a trusted friend, a family member, a counselor, or a support group can provide emotional assistance. Remember, it’s absolutely okay to ask for help.

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 The Author



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Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio.


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