Eat Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want

Eat Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want?

The idea of eating “whatever you want, whenever you want” is an often-discussed topic in the eating disorder recovery space. Some use this directive to encourage people to give up food restriction and food rules, and others speak out against the idea of eating “whatever you want, whenever you want,” saying that it’s unrealistic or will lead to overeating and poor food choices.

This phrase is also (incorrectly) used to describe the popular Intuitive Eating approach, which is much more nuanced than simply “eating whatever you want, whenever you want.” The original philosophy of Intuitive Eating was developed by Evelyn Tripoli and Elise Resh, and the basic premise is that your body knows what foods are best for you and how much you need to eat. So, if you can learn to follow that inner guidance, you’ll eventually be able to eat in a natural way and your body will be at the unique size that’s right for you. Intuitive eating involves tuning in to taste preferences and to how foods make you feel; it’s not just about following every food desire that you have.

If you are unsure if an intuitive approach to eating is right for you, you can listen to Episode 16: Eating Intuitively: Is it Right for You in Recovery from Binge Eating? or read this blog post: Is Intuitive Eating a Remedy for Binge Eating?. Also know that what I talk about in the rest of this post is not meant to be a reflection of the Intuitive Eating philosophy. I only wanted to mention it up front because it’s so strongly linked in many people’s minds to the idea of “eating whatever you want, whenever you want.”

Rethinking the Idea of Eating “Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want.”

Taken at face value, “eating whatever you want, whenever you want” seems to lack sound judgement and wisdom, but I’m going to turn the tables a bit here and say that maybe we should all be eating “whatever we want, whenever we want”…but only if we reinterpret this phrase.

Admittedly, throughout my years of working with binge eaters, I’ve been more on the side of people who say that “eating whatever you want, whenever you want” is unrealistic and can lead to eating an overabundance of highly stimulating, processed food. However, I’ve recently had new insights about this, realizing that I was interpreting this phrase in an overly simplistic way, and realizing it holds more truth than I’ve thought in the past.

Re-Examining the Meaning of “Wants”

As humans, we naturally have many desires and wants, and this is an absolutely normal part of our existence. Much of this wanting is fueled by our primitive brain and its reward/pleasure center, which naturally drives us toward behaviors that are going to keep us alive, help us experience pleasure, and allow us to avoid pain. Eating is a behavior that does all of the above.

Whether or not we struggle with a binge eating habit, we are going to want often and we’re going to want food often, and especially tasty food. It’s simply in our nature, and if we didn’t have this strong desire for food, we might not have survived as a species. Add to that the abundance of highly stimulating foods available to many of us today, and it’s easy to see why our normal cravings for food can get amplified. Some of us have stronger desires than others when it comes to food or other pleasures, and binge eaters have a glitch in this primitive reward system that makes them want massive amounts of food.

Primitive Wanting vs. Truly Wanting

What’s important to know is that having the experience of wanting something in the moment (because of our primitive drives) does not have much to do with what we actually, truly want for our lives.

Wanting is a feeling, a sensation, a type of energy that moves through us…but it is not us.

If we take another look at the phrase, “eat whatever you want, whenever you want,” you can see how this philosophy could potentially be harmful—because we do “want” often and we “want” food often. This can create a dilemma if we are fortunate enough to have access to food often, because even if we’re not actively eating—we may be smelling food, passing by it, seeing others eating it, and viewing advertising for it.

Normal eaters experience this too, but most people aren’t out there eating whatever they see, smell, or think about, or whenever their body creates the sensation of wanting around food. What normal eaters get good at is distinguishing what they actually, truly want from what they feel like they want in the moment.

Basically, a normal eater decides what “wants” to follow and what “wants” not to follow based on balancing their momentary desire for pleasure with their desire to feel good and to be able to function well in the world. A normal eater will certainly choose to eat just for pleasure sometimes and even do this more often than is ideal for health, especially in our modern food environment. But even when they eat purely for pleasure, it does not feel vastly out of line with their true self and the choices they want to be making.

I want or I want

Someone who is not making those conscious choices with food and instead feels driven by their momentary desires and cravings may say: “I eat whatever I want whenever I want.”

But someone who is making those conscious food choices would instead say, “I eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”

The difference is in what word is emphasized. If we emphasize the word I, it changes the whole experience and puts you back in control.

If you are instead focusing on the word want, and you are therefore eating every time you feel “wanting” around food, you are not allowing your true self to choose how you really want to be eating.

For example, your lower brain may want to constantly graze all day, but that doesn’t make you feel good. You realize that you actually feel better and more in touch with your appetite cues when you eat a few nourishing meals plus a couple snacks during the day, at generally the same times. That’s what you want to eat and when you want to eat, so when you eat in that way, you are in fact eating “whatever you want, whenever you want.” You’re making wise choices for yourself, and your additional, excessive wants and primitive brain desires are just along for the ride.

How Do You Handle “Wants” in the Rest of Your Life? 

Think about all of the other things you don’t do (or don’t do exactly when you want to) because your higher brain has greater goals—goals not to go broke, or ruin your relationships, or lose your job. We all disregard momentary desires sometimes for more important wants, and honestly, sometimes we do the opposite in that we disregard our greater goals for some guilty pleasure…and that’s okay too! But it’s about choosing that balance for yourself—by connecting to what you actually want for your life and for your eating, and leaving room for enjoyment too.

This is never about banishing food pleasure, and conversely, it’s also never about trying to convince yourself that you really want to be on a strict eating plan that deprives your body of enough food. If you struggle with wanting to be too restrictive, listen to Episode 49: Can I Use the Brain over Binge Approach to Stick to Strict Eating Plans?

How Much Space Are You Giving Your “Wants”?

As I was thinking about this topic, I ran across an insightful and relevant post—part of which I’m going to share here—from one of my favorite authors and podcast creators, Forrest Hansen. He said…

Much like dishes, laundry, and email, our wants never end. They expand to fill the space they’re allowed. We can never get to the bottom of dishes, laundry, or email. Doing email simply leaves us with more email to do as sending email means receiving more in return. Doing dishes today still means more tomorrow, and unfortunately, I never seem to run out of dirty clothing.

Our wants work the same way. Most people carry around this sense that if they could just get to the bottom of their wants, they’d finally be happy, but the truth is that our wants expand to fill the space they’re allowed. As we satisfy old wants, new ones appear to take their place and even when we’re currently enjoying that thing that we wanted, we can notice ourselves teleporting into the future, anticipating, planning, and desiring some new and slightly better version.

The problem isn’t just that our wants are never ending and constantly expanding, it’s that we can’t solve this problem by abandoning wants altogether. Important boxes must be checked for us to feel fulfilled. There is space for our wants, but the trick is to be thoughtful, not just about what wants we’re filling that space with, but how much space we’re allowing our wants to have. Are they in the passenger’s seat of the car or the driver’s seat?”

I hope that these words from Forrest Hansen and my discussion helps you see that you no longer have to be driven by your wants—in relation to food or anything else in your life—but you can get skilled at determining what you truly desire. You can learn to give yourself ample pleasure when it comes to food, while still not following the endless wants that are part of the human condition.

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If you want more help as you navigate this and as you create a way of eating that works for you, you can utilize the following Brain over Binge resources:

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private and highly personalized session with Kathryn or Coach Julie. You will learn to change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

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.

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.

binge eating holiday resources

Brain over Binge Holiday Resources

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.

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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.

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T️his podcast episode addresses the tendency to delay recovery to a future date, which is extremely common leading up to the new year. You’ll learn why “I’ll start tomorrow…or next week…or next year” thoughts are so tempting and how you can overcome them. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Join this interactive virtual retreat on 12/27 to end 2023 with success and prepare for a binge-free 2024. Brain over Binge Coach Julie will teach you practical and powerful mindfulness-based strategies tailored specifically toward freeing yourself from binge eating, plus provide personalized coaching!

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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.

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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 for daily coaching and encouragement, weekly group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

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You can also work on your holiday challenges (and other recovery issues) privately with Kathryn or Coach Julie. You can book a 45-minute Zoom session where you will receive help changing your thinking, uncovering what is holding you back, and getting on a path to complete freedom from binge eating.

Stop Believing There Is Ever a Reason to Binge

Do you try to come up with complex reasons for why you binge? You are not alone, and this is a common tendency in all bad habits. In this post, I want to help you shift your perspective in a useful way surrounding your reasons for binge eating, and also help you let go of those reasons.

To stop binge eating, you need to stop believing there is ever a reason to binge.

The brain will provide endless rationalizations for continuing the binge eating habit…until you realize it’s not telling the truth. Justifying habits is part of a universal pattern of the lower brain, and it’s important to know that as long as you are engaging in binge eating, the brain will never stop pointing to emotions, problems, or circumstances as reasons for your behavior.

This is not to diminish anything you’re struggling with, because we are all complex individuals, and no one’s life is simple. You have your own unique tendencies, personality, and history. There are likely some factors that led you into the binge eating habit in the first place, but once you realize it’s hurting you, trying to figure out all of the theoretical reasons is not an efficient use of time. Even if you solve for one reason, the brain will provide another and another, because its job is to maintain the habit. Instead, you can learn to dismiss any and all reasons, and take back control. (If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get my free eBook to help you get started). 

What if my reasons for binge eating are valid?

Until this point, you may think I’m telling you to simply ignore your reasons, and to a large extent, that’s exactly what you need to do. But you may feel that there are certain issues which make it impossible for you to stop binge eating. For example, what if you believe you are acting compulsively because of another issue like ADHD or trauma?

There are definitely factors that can affect your ability to access self-control at times, and I always want you to be compassionate toward yourself for what you are facing. However, I want to challenge you to stop seeing any other issue as a “reason to binge,” and instead start seeing it as a “reason to get additional help in order to stop binge eating.” There are zero conditions that I’m aware of where binge eating is the recommended solution. So, even if you have another condition, get help for that condition, and don’t point to it as a reason to resign to binge eating.

In other words, believing that there is never a reason to binge includes solving for any reason you think is holding you back. Because the truth is, no matter what you are dealing with, binge eating is harming and not helping.

What if it’s helping me emotionally?

You may struggle to let go of emotional reasons for binge eating. Mainstream therapy and also the culture as a whole perpetuates the idea that binge eating is about meeting emotional needs or coping. It’s appealing to believe this, because when we are engaging in a behavior that feels so out of line with our true self, we naturally want to feel like that behavior “makes sense” in some way. Emotions are easy to blame because they are readily available; we are full of difficult emotions daily, and even on our good days, it’s always possible to point to an emotion as the reason.

This is not specific to binge eating. We all want to feel like we have deeper reasons for doing things that we know are destructive, and there’s certainly a place for self-analysis. But when you want to quit binge eating, it’s time to stop analyzing and to start believing that you can avoid the behavior no matter what. The reality is that binge eating does not actually help with emotions, it makes them worse in the long run, and gives you additional negative emotions. Binge eating increases shame, anxiety, depression, loneliness, despair, and fear. It also makes us less able to deal with the other problems in our lives. Even if binge eating brings some temporary distraction or escape from feelings in the moment of bingeing, it isn’t worth it.

Letting go of reasons for binge eating means letting go of the illusion that binge eating is doing anything truly helpful for you.

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I understand that this can be a challenging mindset shift to make, and we’re here to help you along the way as you recover.  You can use the resources below to get the support you need to free yourself from this source of pain.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private and highly personalized session with Kathryn or Coach Julie. You will learn to change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

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.

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.

emotions are not the cause of binge eating

Emotions Are Not the Cause of Binge Eating

Emotions are not the cause of binge eating.

This is not always the most popular message, but once I internalized this concept, it was so freeing. It allowed me to stay binge-free no matter what was going on in my life or in my mind, because I knew that even in the darkest, loneliest, scariest times, I had the ability not to binge.

I understand that it’s often not that simple to let go of the belief that you binge because of emotions. This belief could feel very true for you right now, and I’m not here to talk you out of that. Everyone has their own experience and story, and if the idea that binge eating is because of emotions is helping you stop the behavior, then please don’t change course. This post is for people who are struggling and who can’t seem to stop bingeing no matter what emotional healing or self-improvement work they do. This is for people who sense that they can binge under any circumstance or in response to any feeling (even positive ones), and who believe that even if they could learn to cope with emotions well, they’d still want to binge. This post is also for people who sense that connecting binge eating to emotions is making things worse.

Blaming emotions makes you “need” the harmful binge eating behavior

Through my years of helping binge eaters, I’ve heard from so many who tell me that therapy or other self-help resources convinced them they binged for deep emotional reasons, and this only served to strengthen the habit, because it made them feel like they actually needed the habit to cope.

You may have indeed developed a connection between your emotions and your bingeing, I think that most people with a binge eating habit (or any habit) do. But, as I talk about in my books, this connection is indirect. Emotions don’t truly cause the bingeing, because if that were true, anyone who had strong emotions would binge, and curing emotional issues would cure binge eating.

Because of patterns you’ve developed over time, your brain may automatically urge you to binge in response to certain emotions. When you can recognize this pattern, you can gradually learn to decondition it. However, what often happens is that when you try to avoid binges, emotions can seem temporarily worse, which may cause you to give up and revert back to your old patterns. I want to help you understand this so that it doesn’t stop you from continuing toward a binge-free life.

Why do emotions feel worse when I try to stop binge eating?

There are a couple of common reasons why emotions may seem more difficult for a period of time as you are ending binge eating:

1.) You’re out of practice being with emotions without binge eating

2.) Your primitive brain tells you the emotions are terrible so that it can get what it wants – a binge

1. You are out of practice being with emotions without binge eating

If you’re used to following the urge automatically during certain emotions, then to just have the emotion without binge eating is going to feel different. Different does not mean worse. All things considered, it feels much worse to binge.

Binge eating is a dangerous and health-sabotaging behavior, but that’s what you’re used to at this point. So, when you don’t distract yourself, there are going to be new sensations that arise. You’ll have to deal with both dismissing the urge and having whatever sensations the emotions cause. It’s not that bingeing ever helped you cope with that emotion or solved any problem, but it did create temporary pleasure that diverted your attention, and then pain and shame afterward that likely prevented you from focusing on other problems and emotions.

It’s important to accept that whatever distraction binge eating provides, it’s not worth it. You don’t want to be binge eating in response to emotions, or to anything for that matter. You want binge eating out of your life, and to do that, it’s going to take some practice of not binge eating and dealing with whatever you feel when you aren’t distracted by a dangerous habit. It often takes just letting these emotions pass a few times to start realizing that you are definitely capable of doing that, and nothing terrible happens, and in fact, you are so much better for it.

You can do whatever you need to do to learn to deal with emotions, but to give yourself a chance to learn to cope in healthy ways, you have to dismiss the urge to binge. When binging is simply not an option, then you have so many options available to you for helping you get through tough emotions.

2.  Your primitive brain tells you the emotions are terrible so that it can get what it wants – a binge

The second reason emotions feel worse when you first quit binge eating is that your primitive brain is trying to perpetuate a habit. To do that, you’ll have automatic thoughts that tell you how awful it is to not binge. Your primitive/lower brain will send messages that make you believe the emotions are much worse than they really are. During urges to binge, you’ll feel like the emotions are awful and a binge will be great, but in reality, that’s not the case.

This thought is very common: “you can’t possibly deal with this emotion, so you need to binge.”

That thought has likely worked to get you to binge in the past, so it’s going keep showing up, without regard for the fact that binge eating is so much worse for you than an emotion. Consider that this thought is simply part of how your urge to binge operates and has nothing to do with what you’re truly capable of. When you dismiss the thoughts that say you should binge because you can’t handle emotions, you start to realize that the emotions are never as bad as your primitive brain says they are.

On the other hand, the binges are always much, much worse than your primitive brain says they are going to be. You’ll have thoughts saying a binge is exactly what you need, but when you follow that thought, it only leads to pain. If you can step back from the lower brain’s false promises and realize that you can learn to experience the full range of human emotions, it helps build your confidence, and you’ll realize that you never actually needed to binge to cope with emotions.

More help:

If you want extra guidance as you learn to break the connection between binge eating and emotions, 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, weekly 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.

Marijuana and Binge Eating Recovery

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:

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What sparked this conversation about marijuana and binge eating?

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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?

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.”

Kathryn:

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

Jeff:

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?

Kathryn:

Oh for sure.

Jeff:

I just find that the book definition is not necessarily real life.

Kathryn:

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?

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

We laugh, but if a binge eater said that we would not be laughing.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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

Jeff:

But is it a mental disorder or is it just habit it brought on by urges?

Kathryn:

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.

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?

Kathryn:

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?

Jeff:

Oh, I think it enhances everything.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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?

Jeff:

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…

Kathryn:

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?

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

Yes, that’s a good point. I think some people are out there even promoting marijuana as a weight loss remedy…

Jeff:

Which is insane.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

Oh yeah, same thing with marijuana, you don’t get spiritually whole to overcome the munchies.

Jeff:

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?

Kathryn:

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

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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?

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

From your experience, and there’s probably research out there, how long does it take for that heightened desire to eat to go away?

Jeff:

You know, the clock moves very slowly when you’re high. I really can’t say, I would estimate, probably an hour.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

I feel like I was vry unhelpful…

Kathryn:

What do you mean?

Jeff:

I don’t feel like I provided any definitive answers…

Kathryn:

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?

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

Truth, that’s the absolute truth.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

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.

Kathryn:

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.

Jeff:

I’ll never nag you again to be on your podcast.

Kathryn:

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.

 

Thinking Too Much About Food?

Is food constantly in your thoughts? Even if you’re not having urges to binge, are you incessantly thinking about eating?

This post will help you learn to manage these bothersome food thoughts.

You can listen to a audio version of what follows at BrainoverBinge.com/subscribe (Scroll down on that page until you see the audio except from course Lesson 8: Food Thoughts)

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In addition to your struggles with bingeing, you may feel like food takes up too much of your brain space. If you’re around food, you may have a hard time focusing on anything else. Even if you’re not necessarily thinking about binge eating or feeling that impulse to eat very large quantities of food, you might be thinking about what’s in your refrigerator or what you’re going to eat next.

You may be at work and trying to get things done, and all you can think about is getting your lunch, even if you’re not hungry yet. If this is the case for you, you may find yourself eating just to make those incessant thoughts about eating go away. Eating might feel like it just quiets your mind for a minute—but then once you’re done eating—it’s possible that more thoughts start to pop up about what you’re going to have next. It can feel exhausting to be constantly thinking about eating or trying to talk yourself out of eating. Understandably, you want to be able to concentrate on the rest of your life and not just concentrate on food.

It’s definitely not your fault that you’re feeling this way and that you’re having these incessant thoughts, but it’s important to accept that this is simply the way that your brain is wired at this point in time. Getting upset at the food thoughts, or strongly wishing they would go away, or getting upset at yourself is only going bring more attention to these food thoughts. So as much as you can, try not to react emotionally to these thoughts. Notice them with a level of detachment, so that you’re observing these thoughts without so much judgment.

As far as why your brain seems to be so zoned in on food, there could be various reasons for it. One factor could be a natural tendency based in your genetics that does make you more attracted to food. Everyone is different, and some people do find food more rewarding than others. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It’s just part of a normal variation. The reason that you’re so zoned in on food could also have to do with past dieting and the fact that your lower brain is still trying to protect you—by encouraging you to eat as much as possible.

This fixation on food could have something to do with conditioning from childhood—if you were constantly given food—and now your body and brain still expects that constant supply of food. It’s possible that a partial cause could be some of the types of food that you’re eating, which may be causing drops in blood sugar and therefore some thoughts about getting more food to get your blood sugar back up. Another cause could be that the binge eating itself has trained your brain to make food a priority, even when you’re not bingeing.

But whatever the theoretical cause may be, you can learn to redirect your focus and change this habit of thinking about food too much—and  if the cause has anything to do with the types of food you’re eating, you can look at that as well. Even if the cause has some of its roots in you being more genetically attracted to food and rewarding experiences, that does not mean you’re destined to be constantly consumed with food thoughts. Knowing your tendencies helps you deal with those tendencies appropriately. Once you’re self-aware of whatever your susceptibilities may be, you can take steps to help yourself.

For example, if you’re naturally prone to anxiety or worrisome thoughts, you can be prepared for them and you can use strategies for calming yourself down in difficult moments. If you’re naturally more prone to focus on food, then you can be prepared for the thoughts to come up and you can use strategies that help you turn your attention elsewhere. This tendency is probably very common, but it does not have to interfere with your life. Everyone is susceptible to something, but your genetics and your brain-based tendencies are not your destiny. Your brain is plastic, it can change. You can teach it to function at its best, and take advantage of your strengths—and you can simply be aware of some of the thoughts and the behaviors that you’re at risk of engaging in, and then take steps to prevent that.

So far, I’ve basically explained some of the possible reasons you may be focused on food and why it’s important to accept it, and also believe that change is possible. I’ve also mentioned that learning to refocus your attention will be very important to changing this tendency. Through the rest of this discussion, I’m going to give you some suggestions for learning to shift your attention away from food and onto other things.

My first suggestion is to set the proper expectations.

Even when you bring your food thoughts down to a normal level, you should still expect to have food thoughts. Normal eaters enjoy eating, they look forward to eating, they certainly may have thoughts that pop into their head while they’re working or doing other things about what they’re going to eat next. They’ll probably look forward to their lunch break or look forward to getting home for dinner. Normal eaters also have feelings of desire surface when they have these food thoughts. They may think about how delicious something is going to be. They’ll definitely look forward to eating a great dessert. If their favorite food is around at a party, they may be thinking about it more than they would like to.

These examples are just to show you that you do not need to label all of your food thoughts as problematic. It’s normal to have a desire for food and thoughts about food. But I want that to have its proper place in your life and not feel like it’s taking over your mind. You’ll want to get to a place where your thoughts about food feel more fleeting, and less incessant. You’re certainly capable of bringing your food thoughts down to a level that feels much healthier to you, but make sure you’re not expecting them to go away completely.

My second suggestion for refocusing your attention is to notice when you’re not thinking about food.

I know it can sometimes feel that you’re thinking about food all the time, but I know that there are moments in the day when you’re not thinking about it. There are times when you’re focusing fully on your work or on something else in your life. I want you to notice that and see that your brain does have the capacity to go in other directions. Now, I realize that looking for those moments that you’re not thinking about food and then possibly saying, “Wow, this is great. I’m not thinking about food right now” can possibly have the unintended effect of making you then think about food. So try to do this in a way that you’re just observing your mind in a relaxed way, instead of constantly judging whether or not you’re thinking about food in that particular moment.

My third suggestion is to notice when your mind wanders onto other things that are not food, and then realize that the food thoughts don’t have to have so much significance.

I’m going to explain what I mean by this. Right now you may be thinking that when your mind wanders, food is the only thing that it’s turning to. But when you step back and observe your mind, you’ll notice that you have wandering thoughts of other things as well—but the difference is that you don’t take those other thoughts so seriously. You likely don’t get mad at those other thoughts that your mind is creating. You don’t criticize yourself for having those thoughts. You don’t think those other thoughts mean that you’re diseased or damaged. You just let those thoughts come and go.

Try to view your food thoughts as just one type of countless thoughts that run through your head during the day. When you view the food thought just like any other thought, you’ll see that you can have the food thoughts running through your head and still do what you need to do in your life—because that’s exactly what you do when you’re experiencing other types of thoughts.

My last suggestion for redirecting your attention is to simply refocus, refocus, refocus.

When you notice the food thoughts, you can redirect your attention back to the present moment and focus on whatever you’re doing or whatever you want to focus on. You may need to refocus a lot at first, but it will get easier over time. You could compare this to a meditation practice. When you do a meditation practice, your mind naturally wanders, and then you bring your attention back to a focal point or a mantra. And when you first start a meditation practice, you may need to refocus your attention on the mantra or on the focal point hundreds of times, even within just a minute—but it gets easier over time, and your brain starts to stay more and more focused on what you want to be focusing on.

It’s the same with the food thoughts. You may need to bring your attention back from the food thoughts onto something else many, many times before it starts to become more effortless and the food thoughts start appearing less and less. Your brain learns that the thoughts you focus attention on are the ones that are important to you, and will keep producing those thoughts over and over; but when you stop focusing attention on certain thoughts, the brain will learn that those thoughts have less significance to you, and the food thoughts will stop being so intrusive in your life.

One last thing I want to mention here is that, if you are struggling with incessant food thoughts—just make sure that you are eating enough food. Everything I’ve said here assumes that the problem does not lie in current restriction. If you are restricting and you start nourishing yourself well, you’ll likely find that a lot of these food thoughts simply go away on their own.

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More help:

If you want extra guidance as you learn to develop a healthy relationship with exercise, food, and weight, 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, weekly 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.

exercise tips binge eating

5 Tips for a Healthy Relationship with Exercise

I want to give you 5 tips for incorporating exercise in a healthy way during binge eating recovery and beyond. If you have a history of using exercise to purge or to try to control your weight in a way that is harmful to your body, you may feel confused about how to exercise now that you are focused on being free of the struggle with food. My goal is to help you learn to exercise in a way that benefits you, and doesn’t cause any physical, mental, or emotional harm.

[Before reading this, know that you should get your doctor’s approval for any exercise routines that you’re incorporating into your life.] 

Tip 1: Ask yourself:  Is my exercise an unhealthy compulsion or a healthy habit?

It’s important to make this distinction because even healthy habits have some similarities to unhealthy compulsions. When you develop a healthy habitual behavior, you will have urges to perform that behavior (for example, you feel compelled to brush your teeth). It’s okay to feel driven toward something that’s healthy for you, and this includes feeling driven toward exercise. I want you to look at your desire to exercise and ask yourself: Is my brain encouraging me toward something beneficial (as a healthy habit) or something harmful (as an unhealthy compulsion)?

You may find it difficult not to exercise, but that doesn’t always mean it’s an unhealthy compulsion. However, if you feel you absolutely have to exercise even when you are extremely tired, sick, or injured for example, then this is clearly in the territory of an unhealthy compulsion. Just do some self-observation and self-reflection and see if you can sense the difference when it comes to your own exercise. Here are some additional questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity:
Are my exercise patterns taking over my life?
Do my exercise patterns prevent me from doing other things that I want to do?
Does my exercise take up too much time that I’d rather be spending elsewhere?
Does my exercise take me away from my relationships or my family and friends too much?
Does thinking about exercise take up too much of my mental space?

If you feel like your exercise is an unhealthy compulsion, it doesn’t mean you have to completely give it up. It means you need to alter your routines and mindset to bring it back into the healthy-habit category.

Tip 2: Use exercise as just one tool in managing your health.

Exercise is just one single aspect of your overall health, and there are so many other things to consider. This is not to overwhelm you, but to help you reduce any overemphasis you may be putting on exercise. When you think about the other factors that can affect health and weight (for example: stress, sleep, relationships, career, eating, mood, environment), it makes you realize that you don’t need to obsess about any one factor, but instead work toward a balance.

There has been a pervasive cultural idea that weight results from an overly simplistic equation of calories in – calories out. When you operate on this assumption, it can make exercise seem vitally important as half of that equation. But it’s been proven by now that our bodies, weight, and metabolism are much more complex than that. Nevertheless, when you try to use exercise as a way to “burn calories” to try to control weight, you can get in a mental rut of calculating calories in/calories out, and this obsessive mindset takes any joy and stress-relief out of exercise.

However, when you stop using exercise to “offset” your eating, you can return it to its proper place in your life—as just one factor in maintaining overall health. And a healthy body can much more easily arrive at and maintain a weight that is natural and normal, and that weight is unique to each person.

Tip 3: Don’t use exercise to “compensate”

You may be in the habit of overexercising after binge eating or after eating what you think is too much. I don’t want you to criticize yourself for that, but it’s important to move away from using exercise as a compensatory behavior. Sometimes our bodies may naturally compensate, meaning that when we eat more, we may end up with some extra energy and a desire to move more, and that’s okay. But, when we’re not listening to our bodies, but instead to a harsh mindset that says we must “undo the damage of eating,” then we are going down a dangerous path.

You’ve likely trained yourself to have an urge to overexercise after overeating or binge eating, but you no longer have to follow that unhealthy urge. You can take a step back and realize you don’t have to be driven by those old habitual patterns.

 

Tip 4: Eat enough to support your exercise

You don’t need to do any obsessive tracking of your food intake, but if you are exercising, you can’t eat as if you’re not exercising. Exercise naturally increases hunger and our fuel requirements, and you never want to ignore that.

Don’t try to get by with as little food as possible; instead, give yourself plentiful proteins, healthy fats, and goods quality carbohydrates, as well as any other foods you enjoy. Do your best to nourish yourself to support whatever exercise routine you’re doing. Eating adequately is a big part of the Brain over Binge approach, and when you consider what eating adequately means to you, it’s important to take your exercise routine into account.

 

Tip 5: Don’t compare yourself to others

Try to find your own balance and what works for you. There is not only one right way when it comes to exercise, and the amount that works for you will depend on factors like age and lifestyle. Think about how different exercises, in different amounts and intensities, make you feel—without worrying about what other people are doing or promoting. It’s about tuning in to your own body and also knowing your own unique circumstances.

That being said, I think there are also some objective and common-sense standards of what is “too much” exercise. For example, in Brain over Binge, when I talk about how I exercised for three to seven hours on the days after binges, anyone would look at that and agree that is unhealthy and out of the range of normal. If your exercise amount is more of a gray area, try thinking about it as if someone you love was doing that amount of exercise. Would you think it is too much? Would you tell them that you believe it is unhealthy? While avoiding comparison, try to start treating yourself with the same compassion and kindness you would give to someone else. Engage in some honest self-observation and self-reflection when deciding what works for you, knowing that you can always adjust if necessary.

I hope these 5 tips will give the simple guidance you need to start using exercise as self-care, and not self-punishment.

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More help:

If you want extra guidance as you learn to develop a healthy relationship with exercise, food, and weight, 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, weekly 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.