In podcast episode 112: Marijuana Use and Binge Eating, we explored the connection between marijuana use, overeating, and binge eating, and we encouraged you to determine if marijuana is right for you in binge eating recovery. I encourage you to listen to the full episode, but I also wanted to turn it into a blog post as well, for those who learn better though reading. This is a transcription, but I streamlined certain parts to make it easier to follow.
Intro: Why are we talking about marijuana and binge eating recovery?
Marijuana often has the effect of stimulating appetite and the desire for food. My boyfriend Jeff pointed out to me that in some cases, this can look and feel a lot like binge eating episodes. Because marijuana use is on the rise and the laws are changing to make it much more mainstream and accessible, I think this is something really important to talk about as it relates to recovery. Jeff and I decided to share own experiences and thoughts on this topic to help you determine if and how marijuana fits into your own life and recovery.
Jeff and I say this a few times during the conversation that follows, but I also want to say here that we are not medical professionals; and because marijuana is often used for medical reasons, please consult your doctor about your specific situation, needs, and health concerns. Also know that Jeff and I do share some details about overeating episodes as far as food and calories…not overly so, but I just wanted to let you know that upfront.
With all of that being said, I’ll go ahead and share our conversation:
What sparked this conversation about marijuana and binge eating?
Jeff was here last time on the show to talk about the new edition of Brain over Binge, and we had such a great conversation, and then he had an idea for this episode, so now he’ll explain what we’re going to discuss and how it came about.
I had my medical marijuana card, and I would smoke and partake in medical marijuana, and one of the things I found is when I was high, I would overeat sometimes, and I would like really overeat…I mean 5,000 calories overeat. It was really interesting because I remember going through it, and then bringing it up to you, and asking, “Is this binge eating?”
I curious if this was what you experienced or others in your realm have experienced?
Yes, I remember you calling me one time after you had overeaten after smoking marijuana and wondering if this was what I experienced as a binge eater. And thought that was so interesting because in a lot of ways what you described to me seemed very similar.
To be honest, I haven’t really smoked much pot, so it’s not something I’ve personally experienced, but I’ve personally experienced the binge eating side of it. So just talking about our experiences and how they line up has been interesting.
The majority of the time I ever would take marijuana was just to help me sleep. But sometimes, every once in a blue moon, I would do it earlier in the night. And then, you know, you kind of come down off the high and that’s when you “have the munchies.”
We’re here today with this as a topic, but we’re not experts on this. I’ve done some research and I’m going to talk about some of that research, but we almost have more questions than answers at this point. But, we want to bring up this topic so you can figure out what’s best for you at this point because there’s really no doubt that marijuana increases your appetite.
I mean, there are people who have different experiences, but as a general rule, statistically most people do experience that increase of appetite, and most people will call it the munchies. We basically want to help you determine if marijuana fits for you right now in your recovery from bingeing. So to get this conversation rolling a little more, Jeff and I are going to compare our experience—him smoking pot and me as a binge eater. And we’re going to talk about some of the ways they’re similar and some of the ways they’re different.
Marijuana creates an experience that is similar to that of a binge eater
Yeah, I think it’s interesting too because as you looked it up, they said, “well, no, marijuana doesn’t make you binge eat, but it can make you overeat.” And it just seems like that’s semantics. Like how are you really defining that? Isn’t that different for every individual and can’t anything become a habit?
Oh for sure.
I just find that the book definition is not necessarily real life.
That’s a good point. I feel like a lot of articles that I’ve found said pretty emphatically that binge eating is not the same as marijuana-induced overeating. But then you go on to read the descriptions and they’re pretty much the same.
Clinically binge eating is defined as eating within a discreet period of time, a lot more food than a normal person would eat under similar circumstances. …And Jeff is pointing at himself right now—so is that what you feel like you do? You’re eating an abnormal amount of food within a discreet period of time?
Yes, and I remember describing it to you and I had the light bulb go off more when I said, “there was no bottom, there was no full.” I remember that night in particular, I ate, uh, pizza, which I love pizza, it’s like my favorite thing in the world. And usually I can eat two slices and be fine and move on, but I think I ate like a whole large pizza by myself. I’m not too proud.
We laugh, but if a binge eater said that we would not be laughing.
Well, and I’m laughing out of embarrassment. I remember feeling there was no bottom, I could just eat, eat, eat. And I remember I didn’t just eat the pizza, I ate more salty and sweet snacks. I don’t think I was exaggerating, I probably ate around 5,000 calories. I mean, I ate everything in my fridge, I went to the cupboard and ate more salty and sweet snacks, and I could find no bottom.
And sugar is my worst because I love sugar and nothing makes me feel worse than overindulging sugar. I get really sick. But I think I talked to you or I went to bed, but I remember lying in bed and just being so sick, and just pain in my stomach. And you go through it in your mind like, “what in the hell did I do? I didn’t need to eat all that.” I knew I had enough calories for the day but there was, there was no bottom, there was no full. I could just keep consuming and enjoying the consumption until you get to that point where you’re lying in the bed, and I remember just being so sick, I couldn’t go to sleep because I was in so much pain.
Anyone out there listening, from what Jeff is describing, I’m sure you can relate to that as a binge eater and that feeling of just never finding your bottom, never feeling full, and feeling like you could continue to eat and eat and never feel satisfied. And also just the feeling of being out of control and then the regret after, and feeling physically awful.
So the experiences really line up, you know, they seem very similar. And I was saying that we were laughing about it before, but I don’t think it’s just us. I think on a cultural level we hear “the munchies” and it’s just something kind of funny that people do, and it’s not taken seriously. Whereas, you know, binge eating is considered to be a “mental disorder.” So a lot of the resources I’ve found said, “oh, bingeing is not the same as the munchies because binging is a mental disorder.”
Marijuana and binge eating both create a brain “glitch” that enhances appetite and desire for food
But is it a mental disorder or is it just habit it brought on by urges?
Good point, because a lot of my work focuses on that and focuses on helping people see that it’s not because of these other psychological problems, it’s not because of emotions, it’s because you have this glitch in your brain and this habit that you’ve developed over time that is bringing on an experience just like the experience that you’re talking about Jeff.
Yeah, and I think you did in your research, because I’d be really curious…I, for the most part, when I did marijuana, I always liked to smoke it. I smoked it not with flower, but the vape pen. Flower can really affect your lungs. Vape pen supposedly doesn’t affect your lungs as much. You get higher quicker, so it hits a lot sooner. And, and I felt that if I smoked it then I could be high and I could control the level of highness that you’re getting because you take one puff or two puffs. But the thing with the edibles, you don’t know necessarily what you’re getting. I think it’s gotten a lot better now that it’s in medical, you know, like what’s five milligrams versus 10 milligrams.
You don’t necessarily know how long it’s going to take to hit, and like I said, the majority of the time when I would partake in marijuana, it’s to go to sleep. It kind of shuts the brain out to relax, and that’s when I would do it. So I didn’t want to take the gummy, wait an hour, “oh, did it work? or did it not? do I then have to wait an hour to take another gummy. So that’s why I always did the vape pen and they hit differently. So, my question to you is: is there any correlation between taking marijuana through either flower or vape pen versus an edible? Is there any correlation between overeating and how you take marijuana?
Jeff, that’s a really good question, and it’s not something that I know at this point. I mean, my research has not been extensive. This is a topic that, you know, we’ve gotten interested in and I would love to explore more and talk about more one day. But what I do know is that the active ingredient in marijuana, the THC, does stimulate appetite. Some mechanisms by which that happens—some research shows that it increases the smell and taste of food, so it actually makes food more pleasurable. Do you find that to be the case?
Oh, I think it enhances everything.
Yes, and it also stimulates specific neurons that drive overeating. It basically switches the brain wiring and sends strong messages of hunger, even though, like you talked about, you’re not necessarily actually hungry.
It was an interesting place to be, because I remember being very conscious of the fact that I should be full and I’m not full.
It’s lines up so much with the experience of a binge eater because, as I talk about in my books, bingeing is also a brain wiring issue. Your brain is malfunctioning, if that’s the right word, because of a habit, and also because of survival instincts. When you diet, you put your brain in this state where your body does shut down your fullness because that’s what you need to survive. You don’t need that “off” switch. You don’t need to feel full if you’re starving. So, it’s kind of a similar thing. If you’re dieting and really depriving the body, you’re not going to feel full in the same way that marijuana artificially shuts down that fullness signal. Does that make sense?
It does make sense. But it’s interesting too, I guess because you were saying that the THC specifically targets neurons in the brain—because with alcohol, which I honestly believe alcohol is worse than marijuana. It can damage your whole thought process, and doesn’t that lead to lessening inhibitions? The first thing alcohol goes after is judgment, and so if you have a predisposition to bingeing, wouldn’t alcohol consumption almost be worse? or about the same? I really don’t know, again, I have more questions than I do answers. I can only tell you my experience of marijuana…and yeah, most of it is great except for…
Except for the bingeing. I mean, I would call it bingeing.
Are there ways to use marijuana in binge eating recovery without triggering out-of-control eating?
That’s what it felt like. I remember waking up the next day, again feeling the guilt, and that’s when I would just go back to smoking marijuana before I went to bed, because I can do it right before I go to bed, and then I’m in bed, and I’m not going to get up and go to the kitchen. I’m asleep, and I’m going to sleep through that period where there’s the comedown and you have the munchies as it were.
That’s a good point for people to know—people who do smoke marijuana and are recovering from bingeing and really feel like they need the marijuana. I mean, some people are prescribed it for anxiety and for different conditions, and it has a use and it’s very helpful for some people. So, things like you’re saying as far as going to sleep and timing it right so that you avoid being awake for the time that your appetite is abnormal is a good tip.
Now, we’re of course not doctors, and speak to your doctor, but it is something to bring up—that you are also struggling with binge eating—and maybe you can come up with a plan to see how it can fit into your life without affecting your recovery.
Yes. And I’m not a doctor, but I still feel like marijuana is still being accepted in the medical professional arena. So as you talk to your general practitioner, I’m wondering what the reaction would be if you said, yeah, I’m recovering from bingeing and I also take marijuana. I’m curious, I don’t mean to go off on a rail here, but I still think it’s probably seen as a street drug. Though, again, in my arguments, I think alcohol would be a lot worse than marijuana.
I’m glad you brought up alcohol because I do have a podcast on that (Episode 19: Should I Drink Alcohol While Trying to Stop Bingeing). But I basically advise people to really see how alcohol affects you personally, and it’s not the same across the board. I think it’s similar with marijuana in that you have to decide what’s right for you, but with alcohol, yes, it lowers your inhibitions.
Now for some people, those lower inhibitions lead to you acting on the habit, and lead to you having those out of control behaviors. But for some it doesn’t—it puts you in a state where maybe you’re not going to have urges to binge because you’re having pleasure from the alcohol and maybe you don’t want the pleasure of the food.
It is so different for each individual. Marijuana is going to affect each individual differently. How you smoke it or how ingest it, it’s going to affect people differently. Alcohol is going to affect people differently. I mean, I do drink alcohol, but I think it’s terrible for people. It’s poison that you put on your internal organs and on your brain, and there’s so many studies about how it rewires your brain and not for the better, and it slows you down.
And, you know, marijuana can have a lot of the same effects too on your neurons and, if you’re smoking it, on your lungs and capillaries and things of that nature when it comes to circulation. So I think the ideal situation is don’t do any of it, but it can have both beneficial and non-beneficial results for people.
Again, it’s just so individualized. You can’t make a general rule for everybody because it just affects people so differently. As I just told you, I’ve had that happen when I’ve overeaten a number of times—not every time I’ve taken it, but a number of times when I’ve taken it, and I can understand the correlation. So then I kind of change the habit because I don’t want to eat 5,000 calories and feel terrible. I try to set myself up for success. But I think it’s that individual journey where you’ve got to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.
The relationship between marijuana use and binge eating is nuanced
Yeah, for sure. From what I’ve found, people are not saying in the research that marijuana use leads to binge eating disorder.They’re saying as a general rule on the whole, that’s not the case. But they’re actually saying the reverse is true in some studies—in that binge eaters are more likely to turn to marijuana, because of depression for example. Because of the stress that the binges cause in their life, they’re more likely to be using marijuana because of that.
So it’s interesting because that could lead to a spiral where you’re feeling depressed, so you either get prescribed marijuana or you start using marijuana and then you end up with these appetite increases that make things worse. So I do think the relationship is very nuanced and I’m sure there will be more studies that come out, but for now, I really recommend looking at the research for yourself and also just your personal experience.
Yeah and I think those things can be leaned into too much, especially when it comes to marijuana. I don’t know if I mentioned this in the last podcast, but I’m a veteran. So I went to Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m a combat veteran. And they’ll say, oh, for PTSD, you should smoke marijuana. I think when you’re reliant on anything external, it can lead to these habits. And as you write in your book, it’s breaking the habit and the urge.
I’ve seen my fellow soldiers just become dependent. Now it’s not a physical addiction, but again, as you articulate in your book, it’s not about a physical addiction. It’s about, you know, the mental addiction and the habit that you’re forming. If you need to smoke marijuana to get over the hump, you know, I’m not a doctor, but I would say that does work. But if you’re not doing some sort of meditation or some sort of other practices outside of it that you’re not reliant on an external thing (whether it be food, alcohol) then I don’t think that’s the right path as a whole.
Yeah. Because it runs the same risk of you constantly using something external to deal with emotions and cope with emotions. And I think our society feeds into that, I mean, a lot of my book is focused on that. And when we have that in our minds—that substances are coping mechanisms, binge eating is a coping mechanism—and when we have that urge to do it, we think that we’re sort of justified in doing it, and that it’s going to help us, and that we have these deep reasons and these emotional needs that need to be fulfilled. Whether we’re turning to food, whether we’re turning to marijuana, it can just lead us down a terrible path.
And I think it’s interesting too, because one thing I really respect about you is your integrity. As you wrote your book, as you do these podcasts, you are your true self. I always respect how you present your arguments or present your point of view…one it’s just that, and as we’re talking here about marijuana, we’re obviously not saying this is the cure or the damage. It’s just, this is the experience and you do need to have that individual journey to figure this out.
Yes, that’s a good point. I think some people are out there even promoting marijuana as a weight loss remedy…
Which is insane.
But it seems to have a regulatory effect on our appetites overall, which again, I found very interesting because in the moment, it’s shutting down fullness, it’s making you have increased hunger. So I’m just throwing these ideas out there to say that the research is very, very nuanced.
But from Jeff’s experience, and you know, this is not just Jeff, this is so many people who consume this…you do get this out of control feeling and this out of control eating behavior. And I just don’t think that can be a good thing for people trying to recover from bingeing. I’m hesitant to say, “don’t do it” because there are people who find that the benefits outweigh the risks. But I just don’t see how it can be a good thing to put yourself in that state where you’re basically mimicking what the urge to binge does to people.
I’ve taken marijuana in a lot of different realms…we go to concerts, I’ll take marijuana, we’ll watch Seinfeld, I like to smoke marijuana sometimes. It’s an enjoyable activity when I do it, you know, safely and not driving and all those things. And at times it has caused me to binge, again, I’m saying bingeing, but I’m not trying to diminish anything, I’m not trying to minimize anything. Maybe what I have done is overeat and not binge. But it has at times led me to overeat and go through that process—not every time, but that’s something now I’m much more conscious of.
Advice for recovering binge eaters is different from advice for people who overeat after marijuana
And I want to talk about that because when I was looking into this—and again, I’m not an expert, I keep saying that—but the recommendations for helping people overcome the urge to overeat after marijuana were very, very different from what you find for binge eaters.
So the recommendations for marijuana users dealing with the munchies were things like distract yourself, keep better food in the house. One of the big ones that hit me was like—realize that it’s all in your head, realize that it’s not real hunger, realize it’s just a brain glitch. It’s something going on with your neurons and your appetite mechanisms, but it’s not real. And honestly, that’s kind of what I teach people as far as bingeing.
You realize that this is a glitch in your brain, this is what I call neurological junk. It’s a habit. Your brain has created a pattern that your neurons have gotten into that’s firing, but it doesn’t mean that you’re actually hungry. It doesn’t mean you actually need those calories, and you basically have to ride it out and that is what the recommendation was to the marijuana users.
But then you go to binge eating and it’s like, “cope with your emotions,” and “learn to deal with depression.” And no one is telling that to someone who’s high having a brain glitch because they’re high, but they’re telling that to a binge eater who’s having a brain glitch for a variety of reasons—or because of dieting.
Well, use this or don’t use this, but it sounds like one of those persons is a victim and the other person is just going through a momentary lapse. And I think you would argue that you’re not a victim, you’re just going through that momentary lapse where you can overcome it. I don’t know if it was this in your book or you and I talking, but it was that no one tries to get spiritually whole to quit smoking.
Oh yeah, same thing with marijuana, you don’t get spiritually whole to overcome the munchies.
Yeah. I think what was interesting though, because I’m recalling now, when I first started eating that pizza, it was, “oh, I’m starving.” I mean, it was real, and this is before we had the conversation for me to have that extra layer of consciousness over it. Because when I was eating, I felt like I needed to eat—like I was starving. To say, “oh, just sit down and you’ll be fine,” I would’ve said that is a lie.
I remember feeling, “oh my gosh, I have to eat.” And so I think after our conversation and kind of working through it, there is that next level of consciousness to where, when you do feel that way, I can say, “oh, okay, I’m going through this momentarily and it will subside,” and it kind of works, and it kind of goes away. But not that night! It was real, and there’s nothing that anybody could have told me to change my mind about that, until I was lying on my bed sick. Then I was like, what did I do?
Yeah, the first time I binged due to being calorie restricted and being in a starvation state, yes, that was the experience. Even though I didn’t need thousands and thousands of calories (I needed normal meals, I needed nourishment over time, I didn’t need it all in that one sitting), if someone would’ve said, “this is not real,” I wouldn’t have believed them at the time. It was real. But once you get an understanding of what’s happening in the brain, once you understand those mechanisms, then you’re able to step back from that.
You can overcome binge urges and marijuana-induced desires to overeat
For whatever reason, it reminds me of like when you’ve had too much alcohol, you know not to drive. You become self-aware that okay, I’ve had too many, I’m not going to drive anymore. To me, it’s the same consciousness of, “okay, I’ve gotten high, I’m going to go through this period, it’s not going to last, and then I’ll be fine. And once you just do that, you kind of do develop that habit, and it just kind of goes away.
That’s really interesting. So, do you feel like now—learning what you’ve learned about the brain and kind of how this happens and how it’s a brain glitch—do you feel like under the influence of marijuana, you’re still able to access that self-control?
Yes, and more so, I think it’s heightened my enjoyment of it because I’m focusing on the benefits and not the detriments of it. Because you can go through it, enjoy it, and realize, okay, this is a part, but that’s not the whole part. And you just kind of move past it.
From your experience, and there’s probably research out there, how long does it take for that heightened desire to eat to go away?
You know, the clock moves very slowly when you’re high. I really can’t say, I would estimate, probably an hour.
And I’m sure everyone is different as far as how long that would last. And, it’s not that you can’t eat anything—you know, if you’re hungry, eat something. But I think you have to go into it knowing that you’re not going to have a bottom.
I always advocate for people to make sure they eat enough, to make sure they don’t go hungry. So if you’re in this state and you feel hungry, absolutely eat something, but know that you’re not going to get the stop signal. So you have to choose basically with your higher brain, how much is enough. You have to choose with your eyes—like, looking at everything you ate, all the pizza, the different things, you know that’s too much food. So you basically have to visualize what’s enough, and use your rational capacity more than your internal mechanisms.
And you obviously know more about this than I do, but especially that night, the salts, the sweets—that just made it worse. It hits the right taste bud or the right neuron in your brain, and you go, oh yeah, that’s it.
What I’ve done, and I probably have done this subconsciously now that I think about it, is avoided those things. So I don’t go for the chips. I’ll go for the celery because I know I don’t want to eat that much of it—you know, celery and peanut butter, or I do a lot of apples and peanut butter.
Yeah. It’s like when you’re in a state where you know you’re vulnerable, you choose foods that are not going to really stimulate those pleasure centers, really stimulate the appetite. And then that’s not a cure for bingeing because people can really binge on anything, but it’s just developing that extra layer of consciousness and supporting yourself better—not getting yourself into a situation where you’re just surrounded by salty and sweet snacks where you feel like you can’t control yourself.
I feel like we’ve covered this pretty thoroughly. I mean, I know there’s more we could talk about.
I feel like I was vry unhelpful…
What do you mean?
I don’t feel like I provided any definitive answers…
You’re not supposed to. I mean, I feel like you just describing your experience, it normalizes it for people. You’re a healthy man without an eating disorder and you can have something flip in your brain. You know, Jeff is in good shape, he eats a lot but not terribly unhealthy…and just to hear him talk about this experience of marijuana flipping the switch in his brain to kind of make him become a binge eater in the moment—whether or not we want to call it that—I hope it just gives you some level of comfort that you are not alone in these experiences that you have. And Jeff, would you like to say something to that?
I think that’s the really interesting part and I think that’s really what sparked this conversation. I told you about this experience and how it really related to the experience that you had when you were binge eating. And so I think it’s interesting to understand that anybody can be in these situations with different things, and so you do have to be that next level of conscious of your actions if you’re going to partake in marijuana.
Again, I think there are a lot of benefits to marijuana when it’s done safely. I think it’s just that you should understand how you’re going to react. And that’s just something I had to go through in my journey and again, talking with you about it.
Yes, I think it points to, I guess a common humanity or a common way all of our brains work. Like in binge eating, people are often told, “oh, there’s something wrong with you, you know, this is your past, this is your childhood, this is because of deep reasons.” Whereas all you did was smoke pot to have this created in your brain—to have the appetite become dysregulated. So for whatever reason it’s happened to you the listener, just realize that it doesn’t mean you’re fundamentally broken.
Truth, that’s the absolute truth.
And there are ways you can overcome it. And like Jeff says, we don’t want to minimize binge eating disorder and say, “oh, it’s just like the munchies.” No, there are differences here, but there are also some common elements, and we can learn from each other, and I hope you’ve learned from Jeff’s experience, and I appreciate you being here today.
Thank you so much for letting me be back on the show. I can’t wait to do it another year, hopefully, I’ll keep nagging you.
I think it was May that we did the other show together, and I thought it was great. You asked me a bunch of questions about the new edition of Brain over Binge and yeah, it was by popular demand that you come back.
He kept asking, when are we going to do the marijuana show? And the thing is, I kept putting it off because I felt like I needed to become an expert on it before I came on and talked about it. But as I looked at the research, I feel like there’s more questions than answers. So we’re just coming on, you know, vulnerable, sharing our experiences, not knowing all the answers, but we hope that it’s been helpful.
I’ll never nag you again to be on your podcast.
I’m sure that he’ll be back.
Thank you everyone for listening to this episode. I hope that it helped you have some of your own insights about the effect that marijuana or other substances may have on you as you let go of binge eating.
If you need some extra guidance, you can learn about the options available through BrainoverBinge.com/Subscribe.
There you can find information about the extensive self-paced online course, as well as the highly supportive structure of group coaching or one-on-one coaching with our amazing Brain over Binge coach Julie.
I look forward to talking to you again soon, and as always, I want to encourage you and remind you that you have the power to change your brain and live a binge free life.
I wanted to put together a collection of blog posts, podcast episodes, and other resources to help you overcome challenges that may come up during the holidays. I hope what I’ve included below will guide you to have a binge-free holiday season (if you celebrate), or simply help you end the year with progress toward recovery.
Below you’ll find an image link to each post/episode/resource along with a short description. You can refer back to this post whenever you need some extra help.
Whether it’s a big holiday meal, or a simple dinner at home, you may find yourself struggling to end the eating. It can be tempting to keep going back for more, and before long, you may find yourself spiraling into a binge. This free track from the Brain over Binge course will give you ideas and strategies to approach holiday meals or everyday meals with more confidence.
T️his blog post addresses dealing with challenging conversations about food and weight that often come up during this time of year. You can learn to react differently and not let what people say interfere with what you know is best for you.
This episode addresses the tendency to link your ability to binge or not binge to the choices that you make. I want to encourage you to believe that you can choose not to binge regardless of your other holiday decisions.
This blog post addresses the same topic as Episode 32 of the podcast (above). I wanted to include it here for those of you who would rather read than listen, and there are also a few new ideas in the blog post. The holidays are a great opportunity to teach your brain that binge eating is not an option in any situation.
The holidays also provide many opportunities to drink alcohol, and you may wonder how that factors into recovery. In this episode, I talk about the effect that alcohol has on the higher and lower brain, and why drinking may make it more difficult to dismiss binge urges. You will learn how to make a good individual decision about whether or not to have alcohol.
In this post, I address the tendency to give up on recovery in December and make a resolution to stop binge eating in January. I’ll help you change this harmful pattern, so that you can make progress toward freedom from binge eating now, rather than telling yourself you will start over in the new year.
In this episode, I talk about motivation, and I also give you one of my coaching sessions that focuses on staying motivated to dismiss binge urges each day. You can use this coaching session during holidays or any day that you want to remind yourself why you want to avoid binge eating.
This episode will help you stay on track to a binge-free life as we approach the new year. If you are going to end binge eating for good, you can’t turn back to restrictive behaviors come January. You can still focus on being healthier and improving yourself, but ensuring that you eat enough is a fundamental part of recovery.
This blog post addresses a topic similar to what I discussed in podcast Episode 30 (above). The more reminders that dieting is not a healthy path, the better! I hope this post helps you realize that restricting your food will only lead to more problems.
You can have help at your fingertips through the holidays (and beyond) with my online course. This course is self-paced and includes an app for only $18.99/month with no commitment. You’ll be able to access 8 lessons and over 120 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.
During the holidays, and whenever you need it, you can get support from Brain over Binge coach Julie and from others who are overcoming this habit. The Brain over Binge group includes a forum that is open 24/7, group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.
You can also work on your holiday challenges (and other recovery issues) privately with coach Julie. You can book a 45-minute Zoom session where Julie will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from binge eating.
If you are like most people struggling with binge eating, you probably have questions. The women and men I’ve spoken with over the years—who have read my books or been in my course, or who are new to the brain over binge approach—find it comforting to know that they aren’t the only ones with a certain issue or concern. I’ve noticed common themes in what people have asked me, and I decided that it would be practical and useful to compile and record detailed answers to all of these questions.
This task took me over a year, but when it was complete, I had created 85 Q&A tracks that are now a central part of the newest version of my course, which you can start anytime. I’m adding a new track monthly to continue answering questions, but the course currently has 117 total tracks – plus other resources – to help you stop bingeing. (In total, there is over 1,000 minutes of guidance, tips, information, suggestions, and ideas).
I wanted course users to be able to simply click on a question they have, at any time of day or night, and listen to a thorough response from me. I’ve received extremely positive feedback about these Q&A recordings, but people who are struggling with binge eating disorder or bulimia—and aren’t sure whether or not to sign up for the course—have frequently asked me questions about the questions, wanting to know which topics are discussed.
So, in this blog post, I want to share the entire list of questions that are in the Brain over Binge course (see below). But first, I want to tell you a little more about why I took the time to create the Q&A’ tracks…
I was previously answering these questions frequently in group coaching for binge eating or one-on-one coaching, but I saw room for improvement. I found that I would sometimes inadvertently leave out something I wanted to say, or I found it difficult to give a detailed answer in a short message on a forum or on a time-limited group call when there were many more questions to address. I also realized that a coach’s, counselor’s, or mentor’s time is extremely valuable, and because of that, it’s not financially feasible for everyone to have a personal coach.
I decided that answering these questions in a recorded format could be the next best thing to having a personal coach, and could be much more affordable for people who need guidance.
You definitely can’t put a price on freedom from bulimia and binge eating disorder because it’s worth any amount of money; but the reality is that binge eaters are often also students, parents, or caregivers, and recovery shouldn’t have to be expensive. I wanted to make coaching more accessible in the new version of my course. (The course also includes 15 coaching tracks for encouragement, reinforcement, and motivation. You can listen to a free coaching track at the bottom of the course information page.)
With that being said, here is a list of the questions you’ll receive detailed answers to in the course. Each Q&A track is about 7 or 8 minutes long on average (some are longer, some are shorter).
You can also listen to a free Q&A track (that answers the following question) at the bottom of the course information page:
*Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating*
How much focus should I put on recovery?
Can you explain more about the word “dismiss”? Is it the same as willpower?
What does “don’t diet” mean?
Should I exercise during recovery?
What if I’m taking medication to try to help me stop binge eating?
I’m having a hard time defining my binges. How can I decide what is a binge and what is not?
I don’t feel like I get urges. My binges feel automatic. How can I dismiss urges if I don’t experience them?
I feel like there are deeper emotional reasons for my urges. What does that mean for recovery?
What do I do about all or nothing thoughts that seem to lead to binge eating?
What if I’m unhappy with my weight during recovery?
What is the purpose of journaling in the Brain over Binge approach?
What is the role of alcohol in binge eating? Should I drink alcohol while trying to recover?
Should I continue therapy?
How do I deal with others who are dieting?
Can you talk more about the lower brain and why it’s not really me, and how to separate from it?
I don’t seem to be able to eat sugar in moderation. Should I give up sugar?
I’m overeating in a way that feels very similar to binge eating. I feel like my overeating is almost as problematic as my binge eating, and it makes me feel out of control.
How can others that I’ve confided in about my binge eating best help me?
How long will it take for my binge urges to go away once I stop acting on them?
Is it okay to do something else during urges or should I avoid distracting myself?
Is it okay to eat or drink while I’m having an urge to binge?
My urge thoughts are compelling and I often end up believing them and acting on them.
What do I do if my urges keep coming back after I dismiss them?
I feel like I can’t allow myself to get excited about dismissing an urge or having another success in recovery.
I’m planning binges in my mind long before I’ll have an opportunity to binge. What do I do about thoughts that come well in advance of a binge?
I’m still reacting strongly to binge urges. The urges make me feel panicked and stressed, and it seems like a binge is the only thing that will calm me down.
Should incorporate mindfulness or meditation into recovery?
I’m having trouble getting past the idea that my binges are enjoyable. Even if I did not have urges, I think I would still choose to binge, if there were no consequences.
My urges get worse when I’m stressed. I know the urges cause the binge eating, but the stress seems to make it so much harder.
I binge more at night more than I do during the day. How do I deal with nighttime urges to binge?
How are binge urges different from the binge triggers that I learned about in traditional therapy?
I only feel good when I’m a certain weight or when I look a certain way.
I’m grazing throughout the day and that’s leading to guilt, and binges.
How can I avoid a fear of relapse?
I do well on days that my life is relatively calm, but when I have a demanding work and family schedule, I find it so hard to dismiss urges.
How do I know if I’m having an urge to binge or if I’m just hungry?
I am working on ending the binge eating habit, but I need to lose weight. How can I lose weight without triggering my survival instincts?
My desire to restrict food feels very strong. How can I overcome this so that I can eat adequately?
I’ll eat dinner or another meal and then I just keep getting more and more food and I often end up bingeing. How do I find a stopping point when I eat?
Is it okay to eat healthy and avoid junk foods during recovery?
I’m having trouble stopping my purging behaviors. How do I deal with urges to purge?
Thoughts of compensating for the binge (by restricting or purging) are encouraging me to binge. How can I deal with these thoughts?
I’ll have a few good days, but then I seem to automatically slip back into restriction and binge eating. How can I have continued success?
How can I handle events where there is a lot of food?
I’m having a lot of trouble recognizing and deciphering my body’s signals of hunger and fullness. What should I do about this?
Fullness makes me feel anxiety and it also seems to triggers urges to binge, or binge and purge. How can I learn to deal with feelings of fullness?
I want to eat based on my hunger, but it often does not fit with my schedule or when my family is eating.
I don’t go into binges with the intention of bingeing. I tell myself I’m just going to have one bite, but then I find myself bingeing.
I fear my hunger. I worry that when I’m hungry, I’ll binge.
Should I incorporate former binge foods into my diet, and how do I go about doing this?
Late in the day, I want the immediate gratification of a binge, and I don’t even care about the consequences. How do I stay motivated at the end of the day?
Can I use a diet like keto, weight watchers, paleo, or intermittent fasting to guide my eating?
I’m bingeing or just eating in the middle of the night. How do I dismiss urges at this time?
I have a lot of anxiety about my weight.
I have a lot of black and white thinking, so I feel like when I don’t restrict, I binge.
I’m mindlessly overeating. How do I stop myself? Should I consider this behavior a type of binge?
I resist the work of recovery. Is it possible that I don’t actually want to quit binge eating?
Should I dismiss my desires to eat emotionally? How does emotional eating affect recovery from binge eating?
I feel like as I try to quit bingeing, my urges get stronger. What can I do about this?
I’ve heard that food addictions can stem from problems with my neurotransmitters. How can I overcome this?
How do I quickly overcome a setback?
How do highly processed foods affect binge eating and recovery?
What if I’m gaining weight during recovery?
How can I learn to accept my body?
I feel like my rational self wants to binge. What do I do when I feel like I’m choosing to binge?
Should I make a big resolution to never binge again? Or, should I just aim to reduce or delay binges and accept that slips are part of recovery?
I get more urges during PMS or when I’m feeling off hormonally or physically. What can I do about this?
My most convincing thought says it won’t hurt to binge “one last time.” How can I get past this thought?
Can I dismiss any thought that’s harmful to my recovery?
After stopping the binge eating habit, I’m having other obsessive thoughts and also regrets about the time I lost to binge eating problems.
I clear my plate every time, even if I feel full. How do I learn to put the fork down when I’m full?
I’m eating less than the calorie recommendation of the Brain over Binge approach. Is this okay provided I’m not feeling restricted? Also, if I’m counting my calories to make sure I’m eating adequately, how long do I need to do this?
I stopped bingeing and purging (in the form of vomiting). I thought I would feel great and healthy, but I feel less energetic, fuzzy, and bloated. Will I feel better over time, or is this the new normal I should expect?
I feel in control and successful when I restrict, and I feel guilty and fat when I try to eat adequately, which usually leads me to just giving up and bingeing.
Will there be a point when I can consider myself healed, or do I need to constantly work on recovery? What are my chances of relapsing?
When I binge, I feel like I might be subconsciously self-sabotaging my recovery. Is it possible that I’m continuing to binge because I think I don’t deserve recovery?
Can I do a gentle diet for health reasons? For example, a weight loss eating plan crafted by a nutritionist to make sure I’m not hungry.
When I want a dessert or sweets or to snack when I’m not hungry, I don’t know if it’s me or my lower brain that wants it. How can I tell which cravings to follow and which ones not to follow?
How do I deal with others who are giving me bad advice, eating in front of me in ways that are not helpful, or constantly offering me food?
During the urge to binge, I’m telling myself “No, I don’t want to binge, “ or I’m telling myself “This is just an urge from my lower brain,” or “A binge is not an option,” or “The urge has no power to make me act.” Is it wrong to do this? When I tell myself things like this, does it mean I’m fighting the urge?
I’m having trouble finding things to do instead of binge. What are some ideas of alternative activities?
I know that dieting can lead to the initial development of binge eating, but can problematic cravings also lead to the development of bingeing?
What if I need to gain weight after stopping the habit?
If you are ready to stop binge eating, you can check out the new course subscription, which gives you access to the entire course for only $18.99 per month.
When I struggled with binge eating, it seemed like alcohol often ruined my progress in recovery. I’d have days when I felt like I was doing pretty well—my eating was relatively normal and I felt like maybe I would make it through the day without a binge. Then, I’d get invited out to have drinks, and it seemed like my desire for recovery faded, so that by the time I got home, I didn’t hesitate to follow my urge to binge.
To avoid acting on the urge to binge, you have to use your prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain responsible for self-control and rational decision-making. The problem is: Alcohol directly affects the prefrontal cortex and reduces your ability to make sound decisions.
Does This Mean Everyone Trying to Quit Binge Eating Should Abstain From Alcohol?
Not necessarily, but I think it’s an important decision that each person in recovery from bulimia or binge eating disorder needs to make. I hope some information in this post will help you decide how you want to handle alcohol as you are breaking the binge eating habit, and you can also listen to my podcast episode on this same topic of alcohol and binge eating.
I want to first share my personal story of alcohol use during binge eating recovery, and then give you some advice to help you decide what is right for you.
When alcohol seemed to interfere with my progress, I had not yet discovered the brain-based information that I shared in my books. I still had the mindset that I was diseased or powerless over my desire to binge, and that I needed to solve my underlying emotional issues and learn to cope with problems more effectively before I could say no to binges each and every time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to resist urges to binge, but it usually felt like a losing battle, and that was especially the case when I drank alcohol.
At the time, the things I thought I needed to do to avoid a binge—like journaling about my feelings, or engaging in healthy self care, or reducing my anxiety, or trying to get my emotional needs met —- just didn’t feel doable when I was drinking. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to engage with any of those activities, which rarely helped me avoid a binge anyway. Under the influence of alcohol, I was much more likely to say screw it, and go right into the harmful binge eating behavior without even trying to avoid it.
Once I changed my approach to recovery, and realized I had the power to stop acting on my urges regardless of my mental or emotional state, then avoiding binges while drinking suddenly became possible. (If you are new here and want to learn about the Brain over Binge approach, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics.) Because of this new and empowering mindset, I felt confident that I wouldn’t binge, even after drinking.
However, I was not a frequent or heavy drinker. At the time I recovered in 2005, I was only having one or two beers or glasses of wine a couple times per month. Since it only took a few months for my binge urges to decrease significantly, this only gave me about six times to experience the effects of alcohol on my binge urges and my ability to avoid acting on them. So, I do not have significant personal experience with the combination of alcohol and binge urges when using this brain-based approach; but looking back, I do not remember it being any harder to avoid binges when I was drinking.
I believe this was due to the simplicity of my new approach to recovery. I no longer felt like I needed to deal with my emotional issues, or stress level, or problems to avoid a binge. I only needed to see the binge urges for what they were — automatic, faulty messages from my lower brain that no longer meant anything to me — and then just move on with my life. I had the mental capacity to do this even when under the influence of alcohol. I saw those binge-promoting thoughts in the same way that I saw other outrageous thoughts that popped up when I was drinking. Alcohol only reduces self-control functioning in the brain, it does not eliminate self-control completely. I knew there were many things I could trust myself not to do even while drinking, and binge eating became one of those things.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Ability to Avoid Binges?
In talking to others who have more experience with alcohol while trying to stop bulimia or binge eating disorder, I’ve found that alcohol can cloud thinking and reduce self-control so much that the binge urges feel very compelling. This only makes sense due to the way alcohol inhibits the prefrontal cortex, which I also call the higher brain.
With each drink, the prefrontal cortex is impaired a little more until you feel like you have little control over your voluntary actions. This can make you more likely to act in habitual and survival-oriented ways. Since binge eating is a habit and a survival response, this means that alcohol primes you to use the neural pathways in the lower brain that drive the binge eating habit, instead of the newly developing pathways in the higher brain that are working on recovery.
You may also feel less motivated toward recovery when you are drinking. This is because the prefrontal cortex also gives you your identity and allows you to think about long term goals and plans. When this more sophisticated part of the brain isn’t at full strength, you tend to act in ways that are out of character, and you tend to focus more on immediate gratification, and you temporarily don’t care about the consequences of your behaviors. You put what you truly want (recovery) aside and fall into a screw it mindset when you are being driven by the more primitive part of your brain.
Furthermore, alcohol strengthens those primitive parts of the brain that drive habitual behaviors. In other words, it has the opposite effect on the lower brain and the higher brain. Drinking causes a release in dopamine, which arouses pleasure and reward circuitry in the lower brain. It basically makes you more pleasure-seeking, and since the lower brain senses that binge eating is a form of pleasure, this could mean an increase in your urges to binge. However, this is not the case for everyone who struggles with bulimia or binge eating disorder. You may find that alcohol and the feelings it gives you are pleasurable on their own, without triggering a desire for the temporary and harmful pleasure of a binge (which always results in pain).
How Should You Deal with Alcohol as You Recover from Binge Eating?
Even if you know you have power over your urges, even if you understand that you don’t have to act on them (listen to Episode 4 for more on how to stop acting on urges to binge), drinking may tip the balance in favor of your lower brain so much that you find yourself binge eating. In the moment, you may feel like you don’t even care about recovery, and you may believe the thoughts that say, just one last time, and you can quit tomorrow. Drinking may even take away the sting of regret you usually feel right after the binge; but, when you wake up the next day, your rational brain will return and you’ll remember your desire for recovery and wish you had not binged.
On the other hand, you may be someone who can avoid the I don’t care mindset that sometimes gets drunk people to do things they regret. This could be due to a difference in personality types or a difference in the way alcohol affects each person physiologically. You may be someone who feels confident in your ability to say no to binge urges, no matter how many drinks you have. Or, you may be somewhere in between, and find that you only feel in control up to a certain point. After 2 drinks, you might feel like you can easily avoid the harmful lower-brain-driven behaviors, but after 4 drinks, a binge starts to seems much more compelling.
Even though I personally felt like I could avoid a binge even if I was drinking, I didn’t put it to the test with larger amounts of alcohol. Not drinking a lot wasn’t something I resolved to do to help recovery —- I just wasn’t into drinking very much at the time. There were previous times, in college, when I did have more than a couple drinks, and can’t say for sure whether the new brain-based perspective that eventually helped me recover would have prevented binges during those times or not. I’d like to think that binge eating was so off limits in my mind that I still would have been able to say no, just like I always said no to driving after drinking.
I encourage you to think about the experiences you’ve had with alcohol and binge eating, and decide on a plan that works for you. Think about the way alcohol makes you feel in relation to your urges to binge, and your motivation toward recovery. Considering how alcohol affects the brain, it’s best to proceed with caution when you drink. You may even decide to give up alcohol completely until you’ve significantly weakened the binge eating habit or ended it altogether. Alternately, you may decide to simply limit your alcohol intake until you feel much more confident in your recovery. You can always make changes over time as you make progress in stopping the binge eating habit.
*This post is for recovering binge eaters whose drinking is already within reasonable limits. This post is not for people who feel like they have a problem with alcohol. If your drinking feels out of control, please seek appropriate help.