After a Binge, Feed Yourself a Healthy Portion of Self-CompassionAugust 16, 2021
So, you had another binge followed by the usual verbal barrage of self-inflicted unmerciful cruelty. Somehow, your inner critic’s efforts to keep you in line with your food plan failed again, because low and behold, the pattern repeats itself. Want a different outcome than binging?
Binge and Behavioral Chain Analysis (BCA)
Behavioral Chain Analysis (BCA) can help. BCA was developed in 1913 by John B. Watson, who is often thought of as the father of behavioral psychology. His studies focused on the relationship between the external environmental events and human behavior. As behavioral psychology matured over the years, other psychologists furthered the connection between reinforcement and learning. BCA helps a person learn what prompts behaviors and how the results of performing those behaviors strengthen the consequences of the target behavior.
The premise of BCA is that the more you understand about the sequence of events that lead to the target behavior, the more options you have for shifting from ineffective to effective actions. For example, imagine parts of a chain that, when linked together, tell a story of a pattern that results in binge eating. Using the example below, the target behavior would be binging which is reinforced with malicious inner dialogue.
Binge Eating and BCA: How It Works
BCA starts off with the identification of a target behavior that happened for you on a certain day. What pattern are you trying to understand? For purposes of this article, the target behavior is binge eating; however, you can use BCA for any target behavior.
The first page of the download is a blank template for you to use. The second page of the download is an example template for reference.
- Write this down on the top of Template 1 provided above.
- Next, reflect upon what factors for yourself and in your environment that make you vulnerable to that target behavior. You are looking at why your target behavior occurred at this specific time and this specific day. An example might be not enough sleep.
- On the template, write down your vulnerability factors in the box under the target behavior.
- Now you are ready to identify the links in the chain that lead to the target behavior. Begin with the prompting event, which starts the chain of problematic behaviors.
No Healthy Food In The House
An example might be there was no healthy food in the house.
- Jot down the prompting event at the beginning of the chain on the provided template.
- What happened next?
- Think about what you were doing, thinking, and feeling.
- Think about what urges and sensations you experienced.
These five factors are your links that sequentially tell what happened next in your story. How did you get from A to B and from B to C? Reflect. Slow down the moment and the process to gain detailed information by paying attention.
Detail is necessary to understand how each link is connected so that you can see how these events happened and where the opportunities are for things to have gone differently and more effectively. Take some time to put in writing your own sequence of events that lead to a binge.
Lastly, at the bottom of the template, think about exactly what the consequences were in your environment and in yourself as a result of practicing binge behavior. See Template 2 for an example.
For many people who struggle with binge eating, self-inflicted shame, through diminutive self-talk, reinforces negative feelings towards the self and can trigger a binge episode. The binge episode would be considered the consequence in the environment. The consequence within is the negative self-talk.
There are likely more consequences in the environment and within yourself as a result of binge eating. Binge eating and negative self-talk can be a common chain link. When a behavior is reinforced, it is more likely to repeat. What reinforced the binge eating? Write them in the box that states “consequences” underneath the chain analysis.
There are many points in BCA where you can break the chain, which increases the likelihood of a different outcome to binging. These points involve the implementation of strategies to the various chain links (urges, sensations, thoughts, feeling, and behaviors).
One such behavioral strategy is to offer yourself a healthy portion of self-compassion after your binge. Self-compassion is the opposite of shame. Shame is crippling. Shaming yourself can reinforce your binge pattern.
The shame police do not have the power to change your unworkable binge pattern. What might happen if you interrupted your inner critic with self-compassion? What if shame meets kindness? What might you feel? But what if you do not know what self-compassion looks like?
Tara Brach, a leader in compassionate therapy, suggests you put your hand over your heart and say to yourself… I am so sorry that you suffer. I choose to be here for you now. I will support you with any steps you need to make so that you can stop this practice. What words do you long to hear to get better? Can you speak them to yourself?
When you feed yourself a healthy potion of self-compassion in the place of a shame binge, you are being there for yourself rather than abandoning yourself. You are empowering yourself rather than disempowering yourself. You are checking in with yourself rather than checking out.
Practicing the behavior of compassion towards yourself can change the way you feel and ultimately drive your behavior in a different direction, that which is on board to change your target behavior.
- Rizvi, S. L. (2019). Chain analysis in dialectical behavior therapy. Guilford Publications.
- Bulik, C. M., & Taylor, N. (2005). Runaway eating: The 8-point plan to conquer adult food and weight obsessions. Rodale.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy influenced Harris, R. (2008) The Happiness Trap. Boston: Shambhala.
- (My own synthesis of the above three in a template.)
ABOUT THE AUTHORDr. Michelle Matoff, Psy.D, LCSW is a board certified bariatric counselor, a member of the American Bariatric Advisory Board, EFT certified (Level 2), DBT board certified, and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with a doctorate degree in psychology (Psy.D) and is a psychotherapist with her private practice in San Luis Obispo.
Read more articles by Dr. Michelle Matoff!