Have you ever checked your bank statement and wondered what you’ve been spending your money on only to find a history of takeaways, corner shop purchases and Deliveroo receipts? That’s what many of the clients I work with who have a poor relationship to food experience.
This can lead to some financial hardship for those who experience episodes of binge eating, impulsive buying food, and generally going through a tough time with food.
Sometimes people spend most of their earnings on food. Some might find themselves getting into debt. This is a common aspect of eating disorders that no-one seems to talks about.
We often discuss the emotional and physical outcomes of binge eating but what if bingeing episodes are causing financial strain? For many young people this strain can be put on their family’s finances too. The eating disorder charity BEAT reports that on average family members will spend around £32,672 due to their loved one’s eating disorder.
Individual personal costs for those suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is estimated at £0.6 and £0.9 billion in the UK in 2021. This tends to include treatment related costs and food costs, both of which contribute to the strain.
This amount of spending will have an impact on your quality of life as your funds available for socialising, housing, spending and saving will decrease. So why do we spend so much on binge food if it might not be worth it?
Why do people spend lots of money on binge food?
When you search this online, forums replies will ask: ‘Have you tried only buying enough food’’ or ‘‘only eating enough for that mea.’’ Some might even try to give unasked for education on so-called ‘’processed’’ vs. non processed foods.
Overeating is a cornerstone of binge eating disorder and may not be a conscious choice.
Often foods my clients binge onare comfort foods. This often means people buy ready-made meals, takeout food or a range of snack style foods (e.g. crisps, doughnuts, cakes etc.).
These foods aren’t often easy to make, and often nowhere near as tasty making them at home. So people are forced to buy them at a higher price or are willing to pay more to get food delivered.
It’s also pretty common to want to get rid of your binge food ASAP. You don’t want to have it at home so you eat it all quickly, right?
1. What days do you buy takeout?
Check in with yourself as to how much you realistically buy takeout foods. This might be:
A sandwich for lunch
Pizza for dinner
A lunch when you’re working from home
This way you can see what you’re currently spending, and make a plan to start spending less. I know this sounds pretty simple, but the first step to change is awareness.
2. Fast meals are key
If you’re like some of the people I work with, you feel like every meal needs to be homemade. But you really struggle with motivation to cook, and you end up ordering takeaway.
You might find making a list of 5-10 minute meals is really helpful. You might even find that having a quick snack before cooking helps take the edge off, and means you can enjoy cooking more. You then won’t feel as ravenous and cook frantically. Maybe you can even be one of those people that are relaxed by cooking!?
You might also buy a few ready meals or frozen foods per week. These can be really helpful to stop ordering food. It’s also going to be helpful to make sure you have foods you want to snack on at home, to save you from going on night-time snack runs.
3. Plan in your budget for takeaway
Cutting out takeaways might be a form of restriction. This ultimately keeps the binge restrict cycle going. Therefore, planning how many takeaways you can realistically afford over a set period will mean they are available to you. But then once you’ve reached your limit other options have to be explored. Knowing you can afford one takeaway a week may come into your decision-making process.
If you have intense urges to order food that can’t be ignored, I recommend:
Getting yourself out of the house. Can you go for a quick walk around the block? Or head outside for a while?
Eat a really quick snack. Oftentimes my clients have a huge urge to binge on a takeaway, and having a snack takes this ‘’primal’’ hunger away. This way you can then ask your less-ravenous self if you really want to order Deliveroo.
4. Take notice of what you’re eating - or more importantly, not eating
Food fatigue is real.
If you’re eating the same thing ever single week, you are definitely going to ave the urge to buy food. Especially if you’re someone struggling with binge eating.
For many of my clients who binge eat, there’s often a tendency to buy a lot of ‘‘healthy’’ foods. And often these end up rotting in their fridge, which makes them feeling pretty guilty.
I recommend really looking at what you buy, versus what you eat. It’s time for honesty– you’ve bought enough bags of spinach and thrown them away. You need to up the variety.
5. Focus on hunger
Tune into your hunger so that you don’t reach the stage of lightheaded deliria where you can only think about food when you reach for your next meal. When eating mindfully we can become more in tune with our hunger levels and know when we’re hungry. We have an article on types of hunger if you are interested in what type of hunger may be at play - emotional vs. physical hunger.
As long as you are eating enough to ensure your biological urge to eat is met, it may be emotional eating that you’re experiencing. Check in how you’re feeling – are you sad? Lonely? Angry? Once you know how you’re feeling you can figure out how is best to deal with this, through tools in your emotional toolkit.
If you still feel like food is the best answer to such an emotion that is your choice and is valid, food can sometimes be inherently linked to emotions, that isn’t a bad thing if you’re aware of it. If you want to unpack these feelings and how they make you feel about food it may be worth seeking out a professional who can help you safely unpack these feelings.
We also have an article that focuses on stopping the urge to eat when you’re not hungry.
6. Show self-compassion when you do order
If you do order takeout think about how you talk to yourself.
Imagine a friend or family member telling you they're going to order a takeaway or buying food from the shop. Would you talk to them negatively, like you do yourself?
Beating yourself up for ordering the food won’t stop the food arriving, stop any bingeing or, stop any guilty feelings. It will contribute to the negative feelings. And it will make your all or nothing thinking worse
7. Plan a shopping list
Using your newfound knowledge of what you’ve been eating, and how much you’re buying means you can create a shopping list.
Set aside some time to plan some meals and see what ingredients you need. Don’t be afraid to have a look around and see what shops have the cheapest options for each ingredient. If you have someone who can help you with this it may make it more enjoyable and less of a laborious task.
8. Social shopping
Now to actually buy the food. It probably seems like a lot of steps to reach this point but with repetition it gets easier. As you approach shopping, tap into what you know works for you to reduce any anxiety you may experience.
It could be:
Taking a friend or family member for support
Making a playlist of music, or listening to a podcast to distract yourself
Working on grounding techniques to help you feel in the moment
I love listening to a podcast with list in hand so I can pick up food from the list while concentrating on the conversation. This also helps to limit being distracted by diet culture marketing throughout any shops and look less at food labels.
Support is available
Get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau for advice and support with any financial difficulty, as eating disorder charity Beat suggests, and don’t forget that the charity’s helpline is available all year round via phone, email, anonymous one-to-one web chat or social media.
If you are struggling with debt, find access to a free, non-judgemental debt advisor at the Money Advice Service.