hunger anxiety

Anxiety About Hunger in Binge Eating Recovery

If you have anxiety or negative associations surrounding your hunger, or you feel like hunger is your enemy in binge eating recovery, this post will help you start developing a healthier mindset when it comes to this natural body signal.

It’s possible that you fear your hunger because you think it has sabotaged your past efforts to diet or because you feel like strong hunger always leads you to binge.  This anxiety response to hunger is something to address in recovery, as well as in your efforts to make peace with food in general.

Hunger discomfort

Hunger is a normal sensation, and reminding yourself that it’s part of the human experience will help you avoid believing there is something wrong with you when you are hungry. That does not mean you’re going to like feeling hungry. You’re not supposed to like it. Hunger is meant to be an uncomfortable sensation that motivates you to fix it by eating. Humans would not have survived for long without this uncomfortable drive.

When hunger first starts, it can be just a gentle feeling nudging you toward food, but as more time goes by, you may become irritable, you may not be able to think about anything else besides food, you may get frustrated if you can’t get food right away, and you may have a lot of unpleasant sensations in your body.

It’s not realistic to expect yourself to have all of those feelings and sensations—which are meant to strongly motivate you toward food—and feel completely calm about it. Making peace with your hunger simply means that you’ll learn to experience the discomfort without causing it to be worse with a lot of fear, anxiety, and self-judgement.

Recall your pre-eating-disorder experience of hunger

You can likely remember times when you’ve experienced hunger without the anxiety and self-criticism, especially if you think back to before you began restricting or binge eating. Maybe think about when you were a child in school, and you were hungry while sitting in class waiting for lunchtime. I’m sure you did not like that feeling of hunger, and I’m sure you did not feel perfectly peaceful in those moments. Your empty and growling stomach probably distracted you from the work you needed to be doing, and you probably looked at the clock wishing time would pass. I’m sure you that you were excited about eating when the time finally came and that it felt so good to satisfy your hunger.

Through all of this, you didn’t judge yourself for what you were experiencing. You didn’t fear your hunger, and you didn’t criticize yourself for wanting food or enjoying it when it was time to eat. You weren’t sitting in class as a child thinking, I shouldn’t be hungry … I have no willpower … I’ll never be able to control myself when I start eating … I’m scared that I’m going to overdo it and gain weight … why can’t I just stop thinking about food so much.

Before your eating disorder, hunger was a lot more of a pure experience—meaning you just experienced it without judging yourself for it. You just knew that you were hungry and that you wanted food—without thinking you were broken in some way for having these natural body signals and desires for food.

Anxiety about hunger often stems from restriction

Anxiety and negative associations with hunger often develop as a result of dieting. When you are trying to eat less than you need, your hunger can start to feel like your enemy. When you know you’re only “allowed” a certain amount of food (according to your diet), but your hunger tells you that you should eat more than that, you feel like you need to suppress your hunger and ignore it. You may get angry with your hunger and wish it away and think it’s the reason you can’t stick to a diet.

Because our bodies are wired to protect us from starvation, your hunger likely got stronger during your diet. Understandably, you eventually followed your hunger and broke your diet, and because you thought it meant you were “weak,” you then engaged in a lot of self-critical thoughts. This may have repeated countless times for you.

If you started bingeing in response to your strong hunger, then that adds another layer of negative feelings, self-judgement, and anxiety. You start to fear your hunger because you fear that it will lead you to binge. It makes sense that you are afraid to binge, because binge eating is a harmful and painful behavior that you truly don’t want to engage in. In turn, it also makes sense that you would come to fear anything you think causes that behavior.

Hunger is not the problem

I hope that now you better understand how hunger goes from being a pure experience (not a comfortable one) to something that brings up a lot of anxiety. When it comes to making peace with your hunger, an important starting point is realizing that the sensations of hunger are not the problem. The problem is the negative thoughts and feelings you’ve inadvertently connected to hunger over time.

You can start to separate the sensations of hunger from those negative thoughts and feelings, and you can start to dismiss those negative thoughts and feelings—including anxiety and self-judgement. You can start gravitating back toward experiencing hunger as you did before developing this struggle with food.

Decondition the [hunger = binge] pattern

As it relates to getting rid of the fear that you’ll binge in response to hunger, this just takes time and consistency. As you learn to experience urges to binge without acting on them, you’ll get more confident that nothing will lead you to binge, not even strong hunger. Then, the anxiety around hunger can naturally subside.

For this to happen, it’s going to take many times of being hungry and then satisfying that hunger without going on to binge. Once you’re confident that you can eat adequately in response to hunger, and that it won’t spiral out of control, then hunger is no longer going to feel like a threat.

Making sure that you’re eating enough overall and giving up restriction is definitely going to make hunger feel less fear-inducing, because you’re no longer going to be trying to suppress the hunger, or deny it, or view it as the enemy. As you let go of dieting, and as you learn to nourish your body, you will start viewing hunger simply as a signal that it’s time to eat. You can even learn to welcome this signal as your body’s amazing way of communicating your needs.

Heightened hunger signals will fade

One thing to know (if you’ve engaged in restrictive dieting) is that your hunger may be stronger right now than it would otherwise be if you had never restricted. When we diet, our body turns up the hormones and neurochemicals that drive hunger and turns down the ones that lead to fullness. This only makes sense from a survival standpoint.

Once you start eating enough, this heightened hunger can take some time to regulate. So, if your hunger feels more uncomfortable than you think it should, know that this is something that corrects itself over time—as you get further and further away from restriction.

Binge eating also has the effect of increasing your hunger because your body and brain simply come to expect and demand large amounts of food. But as you recover, you allow your digestive system to heal and your appetite to go back to normal. If you have any concerns about abnormal hunger during recovery, you should absolutely get the medical and nutritional help you need, but the solution is never to binge.

Over time, you’ll learn that hunger—although not a pleasant sensation—doesn’t have to create anxiety. You can learn to make peace with many different levels of hunger, and never fear that it’s going to lead you to binge.


More help:

If you want extra guidance as you learn to give up dieting and binge eating, and make peace with your hunger, here are some resources for additional support:

Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private session with coach Julie. She will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

Marcus Kain

Ep. 90: Letting Go of Unrealistic Recovery Goals and Unhealthy Fitness Standards (with Marcus Kain)

vacations traveling binge eating recovery

Vacations and Traveling in Binge Eating Recovery

You may be planning to travel or vacation this summer, especially after not being able to go anywhere last summer. If you are trying to recover from binge eating, you may be wondering how to handle this. You may be concerned that being out of your normal routine, and eating foods you don’t usually eat will interfere with your efforts to become and stay binge-free. Also, summer vacations often involve wearing swim suits or other clothes that bring up some body image concerns or desires to lose weight.

I want to give you some simple ideas to stay on track in recovery during travel, so that you can enjoy your vacation experience, and stay committed to ending the habit—no matter where you are or what you are doing. It’s important to learn to deal with variations in your routine, because the point of recovering is so that you can live your life without feeling held back by the eating disorder. You definitely don’t want to have to always keep one set routine in order to avoid binges, because that’s very limiting and it doesn’t give you the freedom that you want.

Simplify: Focus on the Two Recovery Goals

My first tip for vacation or travel is to remember that regardless of your location or situation, all you have to do for recovery is two things: 1. Dismiss the urges to binge, and 2. Eat adequately. If you’ve followed my podcast, blog, or read the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, you know that those are the two goals of the brain over binge approach. Those two recovery goals do not change when you’re away from home or when you’re engaging in activities that you don’t normally do. You may think that you need to do something special for different situations, and there is definitely value in being prepared (which I’ll talk about next), but know that you are ultimately just trying to not binge and to eat enough to support your efforts to not binge. You don’t need to make things overly complicated.

You can prepare to stay on track in recovery during vacation by making plans that will help you with both recovery goals. This is especially helpful when it comes to eating adequately while you are out of your normal routine. If you can generally plan (in a flexible way) for where and when you’ll have your meals and snacks, it can allow you to you feel more secure knowing that you aren’t going to let yourself get too hungry, which can be a setup for that survival drive to binge. If you’re going to be with others and therefore not in full control of when and where you’ll be eating, then it can be helpful to have some food on hand that you can eat if you’ll be waiting a long time between meals.

For the recovery goal of dismissing urges, there isn’t anything specific you need to do, but you can take a look at your patterns and determine when urges may be likely to come up on your vacation, and then develop plans to support yourself in dismissing them. For example, if you tend to have urges after meals and you find that it helps you to get out of the eating environment, you can plan to go for walks after you eat. Keep in mind that the activities you choose to do while you are experiencing urges aren’t meant to take the urges away, but doing something else can give you the time and space you need to connect with your higher brain and dismiss the urges. If you are new to dismissing urges to binge, you can learn the basics in my free PDF.

Don’t Let Negative Body Thoughts Lead to Binge Eating

If you travel in warm weather, or vacation at the beach, you may be concerned about what you’ll wear and how you’ll look. Even if you know rationally that you can enjoy yourself regardless of your weight or body size, you may have habitual negative body thoughts that pop up when you step out of your comfort zone with what you wear. It’s important to remember that it’s these body thoughts that you need to learn to manage, and your weight will take care of itself as you stay consistent with the two recovery goals. When you try to do the opposite—and attempt to manage your weight (with a restrictive diet), in order to get your body thoughts to go away—it has the unintended effect of making your binge eating worse, and making it harder to reach your natural healthy weight over time. (For thorough discussions about many weight-related topics, go to BrainoverBinge.com/Weight/)

No matter how you’re feeling about the way you look, and no matter if you’re comparing yourself to others, you can continue to eat enough food to support your recovery and to let your body heal. That doesn’t mean you should just let negative thoughts take over, because it’s definitely helpful to learn to stop being so critical of your own body. Being comfortable and confident does help you enjoy experiences more, but it’s not something that happens overnight; so for now, you can learn to enjoy experiences while having some automatic, habitual, negative body thoughts. You can dismiss and disregard the thoughts as much as you can, and you will get more skilled at this over time as the thoughts fade away. (Listen to Episode 40: Body Image and Binge Eating for more help with body image issues).

You also don’t have to feel great about your body to avoid binge eating. It’s possible you have a pattern right now of feeling unhappy with your body, and then having thoughts like, “I’ll never look the way I want, so I might as well binge.” When you learn to recognize thoughts like this as neurological junk, and when you don’t let those thoughts drive your actions, you are well on your way to a binge-free vacation, and a binge-free life.

Visualize Your Vacation Success

My next tip for you is to visualize or mentally rehearse how you’ll successfully handle challenging situations while you are out of your normal routine. For example, if you know that binge urges tend to arise when you feel negatively about your body, you can try to imagine having those body image concerns, and mentally rehearse what the thoughts urging you to binge might say. Then, you can see yourself (in your mind) not giving those binge thoughts any attention and refocusing on your vacation. If you’re someone who feels tempted to engage in restrictive dieting, you can also visualize yourself being successful at eating adequately in situations where you may be tempted to under-eat.

If you need a little extra help with this, I’ve created a recording to guide you in visualizing your success in dismissing urges (coaching track 4) and another one to help you imagine being successful at eating adequately (coaching track 11), and if you are a course member, I recommend that you listen to these two tracks prior to and during your trip, as well as other coaching tracks that help you stay on the path to recovery. If you are not a member, know that the course now includes an app that makes it convenient to listen on the go, and it’s only $10.99 per month for the coaching tracks plus over 100 other course resources to guide you toward freedom from binge eating. There is no long-term commitment, so you can get the course just for extra help on your trip and then cancel when you’re ready.

Allow for Flexibility

My final tip is to allow for flexibility and know that you do not have to be perfect on this vacation—or ever—and you can still avoid binge eating. This doesn’t mean you’ll give yourself excuses to overindulge in a problematic way on vacation, it means you need to realize that no one eats perfectly, and especially on vacation when you’re often eating out a lot. Your eating will be different than it is at home, and that’s okay. You can see this as an opportunity to learn that you can eat normally in any situation and eat normal amounts of any food.

If you’re used to eating healthy most of the time, and you won’t have the ability to cook or have access to your regular nutritious foods, this may bring up some anxiety. But, this is a great chance to teach yourself that you can be successful regardless of the types of foods you are eating. Eating in a way that’s less healthy than usual does not mean you’re binge eating or that you’re doing something wrong in recovery. It gives you so much freedom to know that you are capable of eating fast food, or convenience food, or delicious food at a restaurant, and still avoid going into an out-of-control binge. It’s impossible to eat in a perfect way your whole life, and vacation is a great opportunity to practice imperfection and still stay on track in recovery.

Focus on Living!

My last simple tip is the most important, and that’s to enjoy your vacation! Each time your brain tries to habitually pull your focus toward food, weight, or bingeing, you can consciously redirect your focus toward what truly matters to you. Focus on the people you are with, the sights you are seeing, the activities you are engaged in, and the pleasure of a break from your normal daily schedule. You deserve to live free of this habit, and you can start stepping into that binge-free version of yourself right now.

_______________________

If you want extra guidance as you use the Brain over Binge approach, here are some resources for additional support:

Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private session with coach Julie. She will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

Gillian Young

Ep. 81: Getting Over Night Eating Syndrome (Interview with Gillian Young)

Fernanda Lind

Ep: 79 Learning to Thrive After Binge Eating Recovery (Interview with Fernanda Lind)

NLP and Eating Disorders

Ep. 75: NLP, Self-Worth, and Changing Harmful Beliefs (Interview with Laurette Smith)

eating disorders and digestive health

Ep. 74: Eating Disorders and Digestive Health (Interview with Pauline Hanuise)