Episode 65: Fear: Managing Anxious Feelings During a Crisis, in Everyday Life, and in Bulimia Recovery (Interview with Richard Kerr)

Episode 63: Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis

Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis, Part III: Opportunity to Overcome the Habit

[ Here is Part I and Part II ]

No, I’m not going to tell you all of the reasons why your situation right now could be conducive to recovery. I’m not going to tell you that because you may have more time at home, you can focus on self-care and that will make quitting easier. I’m not going to tell you that because you’re eating in your house in most cases, you can be more mindful during your meals and learn to listen to your body. I’m not going to tell you that a lack of social engagements will lead to less pressure to look a certain way, which will help you let go of dieting. I’m not going to say that because you won’t be taking vacations, or having celebrations, or eating at restaurants, you will have less temptation and it will be easier to avoid binges. I’m not going to say that because you may have less money and less ability to shop, you will have less of an opportunity to buy binge food.

Even if some of what I just said feels like it might be true for you, and even if you think it will be easier to work on recovery during this time of isolation, the purpose of this blog post is not to tell you that isolation is an ideal time to quit binge eating. I do not believe that recovery depends on your circumstances—whether we are talking about a worldwide crisis or personal events in your life.

I believe that every day is an opportunity to stop binge eating.

Of course, it absolutely makes sense to take advantage of whatever uniquely works for you, so if there are aspects of self-isolation that seem to help you feel more capable of recovery, then there is nothing wrong with using the circumstances to support yourself in ending the habit. However, even if that’s not the case for you, and even if you feel like this time of self-isolation is making recovery more challenging, it is still an opportunity to overcome this habit for good.

The “right” time to recover is illusive

The reality is that there will never be a perfect time to recover. You can go back to Part I of this blog series, and see that no matter what is going on in your life, your lower brain will always produce reasons to binge. It’s important to accept that whenever you attempt to quit, you will have thoughts saying why “now” is not a good time—whether “now” is during the holidays, on a vacation, while you are trying to meet a work deadline or study for an exam, when you are going through a breakup, while you are trying to make a big decision, or when you are just dealing with everyday stress.

You may be thinking, “But, this is different!  It’s a global crisis! I’m filled with anxiety and uncertainty and stress and financial hardship and new responsibilities that I can’t manage!”

That is true, and you should have an abundance of compassion for yourself because this isn’t easy; but I also want you to understand that anxiety, uncertainty, stress, financial hardship, responsibilities, and even global pandemics do not cause binges. If you follow my blog or podcast (or you’ve read my books), you know that I believe recovery becomes much more simple and practical if you separate your life’s problems from your binge eating problems. (To learn more about this approach to recovery, you can get my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics).

An chance to experience your power to avoid binges under any circumstance 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of recovering now is that it gives you a clear opportunity to separate your life’s problems (and world problems) from binge eating. It also gives you the opportunity to recover in the midst of imperfect eating, which I wrote about in Part II.  If you can recover now, despite everything that’s going on, just imagine how confident you’ll feel moving forward and remaining binge-free after this crisis. You’ll know that no matter what life throws your way, you never have to binge.

Right now, you may be telling yourself that you’ll recover “when things get back to normal”.

But, I want you to take a moment and think back to before this pandemic…were you binge-free then?

If you were binge-free and you started to binge again during this crisis, then I hope these posts will help you get back on track, and help you be more prepared to stay binge-free in the future, even through major stress. If you were not binge-free before the coronavirus crisis, then remind yourself that normalcy did not equal freedom from binge eating then, and normalcy will not equal freedom from binge eating after this crisis.

If you think you can only recover when life is going a certain way, it’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain recovery over time—because life will not always go that way. I’m going to draw an analogy here that I hope will help you see this more clearly.

Don’t tie your recovery to specific conditions

As a parent, I’ve watched a lot of kids’ movies over the years, and this image from the end of Finding Nemo popped into my mind this week—in relation to social distancing, and in relation to binge eating (as I’ll explain later). If you haven’t seen the movie, these fish create an elaborate plan to escape from a dentist’s office aquarium so that they can be free in the open water. After many challenges, they are finally successful and land in the open water. They celebrate and cheer that they are free, but then they’re hit with the realization that they are all still tied in their clear plastic bags. They look at each other and one of the fish says, “Now what?”.  It’s meant to be funny and the movie simply ends there, leaving the audience to assume that they’ll eventually find their way out and into complete freedom.

Right now, during this crisis, we’re kind of like these fish—separated from each other in isolation. Our figurative plastic bags are necessary to keep us safe from the virus, and to prevent us from infecting the people around us. But, as time goes by and hopefully the virus starts to affect less and less people (which will certainly be a reason to celebrate!), we’re all going to have the question of, “now what?”.

A virus is not like a storm that simply passes and gives way to a clear blue sky, allowing us all to come out safely and worry-free. Without proof that most of us have already been exposed and are now immune, or without some kind of cure, or without a vaccine, or without some evidence that the virus won’t just pick right back up once we are together again—it’s a collective now what moment. We can only hope that the best minds in the world will put together a comprehensive answer to that question, because we can’t stay isolated forever. For us to truly conquer the virus, the virus must remain under control even after we get back to our normal lives.

In the same way, if you overcome binge eating under certain circumstances, you will only experience complete freedom if you can remain recovered when circumstances change.

I want you to know that stopping binge eating is always a reason to celebrate, and you should always be proud of your success—regardless of the circumstances. Don’t feel like you did something wrong if you changed a part of your life, or took advantage of specific conditions to support yourself in recovery (remember I said you should definitely use what works for you). However, if you think you need those conditions or need things to remain a certain way in your life in order to be binge-free, you may end up feeling like the fish trapped in the middle of the open water—wondering “now what?”.

Your freedom won’t really feel free, because you’ll be constantly trying to arrange your life to keep yourself protected from binge eating, and this can become exhausting (we all know how exhausting it’s been to try to stay protected from the virus). For example, you may feel like you always have to watch out for triggers, or eat only certain foods, or have a required amount of time for self-care, or keep yourself under a certain level of stress, or have places that you can and cannot go for fear of bingeing, or think you need to avoid some people in your life because of how they eat or comments they make about weight.

No matter where you are in recovery, or what you previously thought you needed to do to stay binge-free—this is an opportunity to move closer to complete freedom, without conditions.

Ending the habit now and for good

Your circumstances have undoubtedly changed in recent weeks, and they will undoubtedly change even more before this crisis wanes, and they will change again as we start to move back toward normalcy. This is a chance to experience the freedom of going through these changes, and even feeling like your life is being turned upside down, and still avoiding binges. 

Additionally, on the other side of this crisis, you’ll have a chance to experience the freedom of going back into the world—and revisiting all of your former stressors and temptations—and to still avoid binge eating. The past several weeks and the next several weeks might bring the most change in your daily activities that you’ll ever experience. If you can remain binge-free, or make any amount of progress in weakening this habit, you will feel your own power and potential to be free under any circumstance.

You might be having thoughts saying, “But what’s the point? Doesn’t it make sense to just wait to recover until this crisis has passed?”

You do not have to give value to thoughts like that—just like you don’t have to give value to thoughts that encourage you to binge. In fact, any thought that discourages recovery IS a binge-encouraging thought, and should be dismissed. You know there is always a reason to recover, and you know you want freedom even in challenging and difficult times. There are certainly things that have to wait until this crisis is over—like having a party or going to an amusement park—but recovery is not something that has to wait (even though your lower brain will tell you it’s not the “right” time). Binge eating is not helping you in any way during this crisis; it’s only making the whole situation harder and harming your health in the process. There is no reason to keep hanging on to the habit right now, or ever.

Once you stop binge eating, you’ll realize that the “benefits” your lower brain told you the habit was giving you—like distraction, or pleasure, or an escape from reality—were not benefits after all, and the idea of binge eating to feel better in any way will no longer make sense. And, it usually doesn’t take much time to realize this. To encourage you, I want to end this blog series with a short message I received from a woman who recently recovered using this approach, and now fully realizes that binge eating is not a viable coping strategy:

“I have been 90 days binge free and even during this crisis I haven’t even thought about going back to handling life like that, makes no sense to me now. I was sick for 20 years.”

I hope that one day, the idea of binge eating in response to any circumstance does not make sense to you either. I also hope this 3-part blog series has helped you in some way during this difficult time. Remember that you can’t always change your circumstances, but every day can be an opportunity to change the pathways in your brain to erase the binge eating habit.

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If you want more guidance as you stop binge eating, you can get my free e-book, or check out my podcast, course, or books. 

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P.S. I hope you and your family are safe and healthy, and continue to stay well. I want to mention here that I got a lot of emails asking for advice with specific aspects of recovering during this crisis. I wrote this 3-part series to address as many questions as I could, as thoroughly as I could; but I apologize if I did not cover all of the questions. I want to thank you for reaching out, but please know I’m not able to respond to every email, in order to focus on my family. Thank you for understanding and for reading my blog!       

 

 

 

Episode 62: Fear of Hunger in Binge Eating Recovery

Questions in Binge Eating Recovery (Course Q&A’s)

If you are like most binge eaters trying to end the habit, you likely have questions. Most people find it comforting to know that they aren’t the only one with a certain issue or concern. Over my years of helping binge eaters, I noticed common themes in what people 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 84 Q&A audios that are now a central part of the newest version of my course, which you can start anytime. (The course also includes 30 additional audios, and in total, there is about 1,000 minutes or 17 hours 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 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 course (see below). But first, I want to tell you a little more about why I took the time to create the Q&A’ audios…

I was previously answering these questions frequently in group coaching 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. (The introductory price for the new version of the course is $134, through March 1, 2020).

You definitely can’t put a price on freedom from an eating disorder because it’s worth any amount of money; but the reality is that binge eaters are often also struggling students, parents, caregivers, and people just trying to make it in this world, and I wanted to make coaching more accessible. (The course also includes my coaching audios for encouragement, reinforcement, and motivation).

With that being said, here is a list of the questions you’ll receive detailed answers to in the course. Each Q&A audio is about 7 or 8 minutes long on average (some are longer, some are shorter). You also can learn more about the course features and sign up here, and get answers to questions you may have about the course here.

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?

Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating.

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?

 

Episode 53: What Can Hold You Back in Binge Eating Recovery, Part 2: Weight Obsession (Interview with Katherine Thomson, Ph.D.)

Look Behind the Scenes to Ease Your Mind

I had a conversation with my daughter a couple of weeks ago that immediately inspired an idea for this blog post.  It all started when my oldest son, who is 11 and not scared of much at all, wanted to watch a trailer of a movie about aliens.  The trailer wasn’t too scary in my opinion, and he watched it a couple of times before my 9-year-old daughter became interested.  I figured it would be okay for her to see it as well, and she seemed fine at the time; but later, she told me that a certain image of an alien scared her and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

After some initial “mom guilt” for letting her watch it in the first place, and telling her no more scary movie previews, I told her simply that it wasn’t real and there was nothing to be afraid of.  Later, she brought it up again, and I said that her fearful thoughts about it would pass, and to try to focus on other things. After she brought it up for a third time, I started thinking of how I could do a better job of easing her mind.

Then, I remembered something my father used to say when I was scared of movies. He used to tell me to picture the camera operators recording the action, and to imagine the director, sound equipment, lighting…etc. behind the scenes. He told me to imagine the actors messing up while filming the scene and having to redo it over and over. He basically told me to turn my attention from the events happening on the screen and think about the events that created that scary scene in the first place.

I explained all of that to her, and also told her to see the people working to produce the amazing special effects that make it look so realistic. As we talked, I could see something shift in her. It seemed to really resonate and ease her fear, and she even laughed a little bit at imagining the movie from a new perspective.

As soon as the conversation was over, I immediately thought about how this “behind the scenes” view of a scary movie is related to binge eating recovery.

When you are looking at any of your harmful eating-disorder thoughts (including binge urges) from one angle, they can look real and powerful and can create feelings of fear.  But, when you shift your perspective and look at those same thoughts and urges from another angle, they can look and feel completely different.

For example, if you look at your urges to binge as an indication of something you truly want or need, you’ll likely experience strong feelings of desire, and you’ll feel compelled to act on them.  Viewing the urges as meaningful and powerful signals can make binge eating feel almost inevitable. But if you can instead look at where the binge urges are coming from – from a primal, instinctual system in your lower brain that is designed to maintain your habits – they will feel less intimidating.  If you can see that the binge urges are automatic, faulty signals that have no real meaning to you, you can simply move on with your life without being affected.  It’s the same with urges to engage in restrictive dieting. If you can view those urges to restrict as devoid of any truth or value, you may even find yourself laughing off thoughts about going on another diet.

You should know that, even with a new perspective, you may still experience some uncomfortable feelings, and I suspect this was the case with my daughter as well, in regard to the movie trailer. She likely still had some fearful thoughts, but the new “behind the scenes” perspective made it much more manageable, and gave her something to turn to, to ease her mind.  It’s the same in binge eating recovery. Even though some feelings of discomfort, anxiety, fear, or frustration may arise, you can tolerate those feelings as you move toward lasting change.

Being that it’s Halloween in the US when I’m posting this, there is another analogy I’d like to use to illustrate how looking behind the scenes allows you to manage uncomfortable feelings…

Let’s say you go in one of those “haunted houses” on Halloween where people dress up in costumes to intentionally scare you.  Even though you know it isn’t real, you probably still have some fear (of course you do, that’s what you pay for in a haunted house!). But, your fear is tolerable, because you know what’s behind the scenes. You can visualize the people behind the masks, just having fun trying to act as scary as possible.  You know it’s harmless, and you can even laugh at yourself when you jump with fright or when you scream.  If you thought it was real, the experience of an haunted house would be too terrifying for anyone.

Whether it’s a haunted house, a scary movie, or an eating disorder thought or urge, when you know how it all works, it allows you to experience it without feeling threatened.  You no longer feel like you have to run and hide, fight back, or do whatever you have to do to make the thoughts and uncomfortable feelings go away.  You stop feeling like you have to jump into action and perform harmful behaviors. You can simply step back, look behind the scenes, and realize that you are safe.