The first urges to binge commonly appear after a period of restrictive dieting. The binge urges are a primal survival response—when you restrict food, the primitive part of your brain starts to encourage you to eat as much as possible. (You can learn more about this in Episode 2: The Cause of Binge Eating: Urges to Binge). To get rid of the binge urges, it’s necessary not only to stop acting on them, but also to get your body out of that “survival” state by eating enough food. You cannot continue to restrict food and expect to fully recover. That doesn’t mean you have to eat the exact, perfect amount at each and every meal; it just means that overall, you need to give your body what it needs.
You may have some hesitations about letting go of dieting, or you may think that you actually want to continue dieting, even though you certainly want to stop binge eating. It’s easier to see that binge eating is something you don’t (rationally) want in your life, but dieting can sometimes feel like a deliberate choice that is in line with your true desires. To stop dieting, it’s important to start to change your mindset and see that dieting is not actually what you want, and that it’s harming you and making recovery impossible. It’s important to explore your motivation for dieting and challenge the reasoning behind it, so that you can move toward freedom from binge eating.
Below, I’ve listed 4 common factors that may serve as your motivation for dieting. Know that more than one might apply to you, and that it’s possible to let go of all of these reasons.
Motivation for Dieting #1: None—It’s an Habit
It’s highly possible that your reason for dieting is devoid of any real, thoughtful motivation. It’s possibly you are just following the force of a habit you’ve created. You may have had some original motivation to diet at the outset, but then it simply stuck. Dieting became your norm, so you just keep doing it, without stopping to think if it is the right course of action.
Your thoughts about weight loss or perfect eating plans, or your desire to restrict calories may appear at predictable times and in predictable situations. For example, you may finish eating a nice meal at a restaurant and you may automatically have thoughts saying, “I need to work out extra and eat very little tomorrow to make up for this,” or “I need to start over with my diet tomorrow.”
Instead of considering if these thoughts are serving you, you automatically take them as truth, and don’t see that you actually do have other, healthier options. In this example, you don’t stop to rationalize that resuming normal eating at the next meal or the next time you are hungry will help you in your efforts to stop binge eating, and be much better for healthy weight maintenance in the long run. (For questions and issues surrounding weight, you can see my post: Addressing Weight Issues in Binge Eating Recovery.)
Treating the habitual dieting thoughts and urges to restrict food as neurological junk is a helpful way to overcome them and start eating adequately. At any point, you are capable of turning attention away from the faulty thoughts that say you should be dieting.
Motivation for Dieting #2: Positive Feelings
If you achieved a weight-loss goal in the past, it may have given you a temporary good feeling—a feeling of achievement, or pride, or confidence. This feeling is fleeting, but it can temporarily lift your mood and make you feel good about yourself. The problem is: if the weight-loss goal you achieved in the past or the weight-loss goal you are chasing now is outside of your natural weight range, it’s impossible to maintain that weight—or the good feelings that came along with it (or the good feelings you imagine will come along with a certain number on the scale). So, what this can lead to is a yo-yo effect where you are perpetually seeking that weight in an attempt to experience the fleeting moments of positive feelings.
But chasing those good feelings while you are making yourself miserable with strict diet rules, self-criticism, and binge eating, just isn’t worth it.
If you can see that the positive feeling (of happiness, pride, achievement, confidence) is what you actually want, you can see that you don’t need a certain number on a scale to get that feeling. You don’t need the self-sabotage of a diet to achieve a positive feeling, and you certainly don’t need to be a specific weight to experience happiness, pride, achievement, and confidence.
All of those same feelings can be achieved in a non-diet way—in a way that’s sustainable, doesn’t harm you, and doesn’t lead to binge eating. If you want a feeling of achievement, you can work toward that in other parts of your life. If you want happiness, you can find that feeling being with people you love—without your mind caught up in thinking about food. If you want confidence, you can learn a new skill that has nothing to do with weight loss. Good feelings don’t always have to be connected to accomplishments either, good feelings are available to you in simple ways.
An important thing to remember is that you won’t always feel great about yourself or reside in positive feelings all of the time; it’s normal to have ups and downs in your state of mind. The point is not to chase unrealistic goals or perform harmful behaviors in order to try to experience the ups, because the overall impact will be to bring you down.
Motivation for Dieting #3: Affection and Attention
The previous motivation was all about how dieting and weight loss makes you feel internally, but related to that is the external attention you may get for achieving a weight loss goal (which can also lead to the internal feelings). It’s possible that dieting and temporary weight loss has attracted positive attention toward you in the past, whether that was through admiration or romantic attraction, and you want that attention again. Maybe you’ve never had that type of attention, but you believe that if you can only look a certain way, you will receive it.
With this motivation for dieting, it’s important not only to see that you can get attention and affection in other ways, but that the attention and affection you receive as a result of dieting is mostly superficial. If you are only using your body to attract attention, is that truly the kind of attention you want? If you let your authentic self shine through, and let your personality and heart attract the attention, you’ll naturally get better quality attention.
Giving up dieting does not mean giving up on being a healthy, strong, well-presented person; it does not mean you’ll stop taking pride in yourself. It just means you will take pride in yourself at your natural size and not try to control your body in an effort to gain more attention. Think about how you could gain good-quality attention in your life—the kind that feels fulfilling—such as the attention you receive from helping others or giving of yourself, or from being a loyal friend/mother/father/sister/son…etc., or from being hard-working, intelligent, funny, and being appreciated for who you are.
Motivation for Dieting #4: Control
Your motivation for dieting could be that you like to feel in control. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a predictable schedule, or manage your life, or even have a plan for your eating, feeling like you need to perfectly control everything you put in your mouth can backfire (for more on this, you can read my post about not overdoing self-control). Eating is a natural, fundamental biological drive and it doesn’t lend itself well to being perfectly controlled, especially when that “control” means deprivation.
When you over-control your eating by not giving yourself enough food, your lower brain gets the message that you are starving and heightens your desire and drive to eat. So, the “control” actually leads to the opposite effect of you feeling more out of control.
If you feel like your life is unstable (everyone does to some extent just by the fragile nature of our existence), and over-controlling your eating seems appealing, try to focus on taking some control elsewhere. Try to see if there is an area of your life that you can put energy into managing better, which won’t backfire and lead you to feeling more out of control. Maybe that means seeking more career stability, or improving a relationship, or organizing your home, or developing a more consistent schedule. Doing those things doesn’t cure an eating disorder, but anything that will take your focus away from restrictive dieting helps break the habit.
Also, changing how you think about the concept of control can be helpful as well. We truly aren’t in control of everything, even most things, in our lives, and trying to pretend that we are often leads to frustration and exhaustion. There is freedom in getting comfortable with knowing you are not in control, and that may even lead you toward spirituality, or a deeper perspective of the universe.
Don’t Get Caught Up In Analysis
Keep in mind that your motivation for dieting may not be very “deep” at all. You may have simply wanted to lose some weight, and it seemed innocent enough at the time. This was similar to my experience, which I detailed in Brain over Binge. Maybe your friends or family members were dieting, and that gave you motivation to restrict your food too, and you didn’t think too much about it. You just tried it without knowledge of what would happen, and it turned out to be a bad experience that led to binge eating. You can now learn from that experience and not repeat it in the future—no further analysis necessary.
Even if you feel there are deeper and stronger motivations for why you started dieting and why you continued, that doesn’t mean you should spend too much time dwelling on those motivations, or trying to solve everything before moving forward with giving up the harmful dieting behavior. Just take an honest look at what your biggest motivation for dieting might be and then try to find a new, healthier perspective. (You can also listen to podcast Episode 48: How Do I Get Rid of the Dieting Mentality in Binge Eating Recovery?)
Dieting is ultimately a choice—one that brings consequences, and one that is detrimental for your recovery from binge eating. For whatever reason, it made sense for you at one point in time to begin dieting, and until now, it may have seemed to make sense to continue dieting. But, at any point, you can make a new choice that is more beneficial to your recovery and to your life as a whole.
I hope that this blog post helps support you in choosing to eat adequately and nourishing your body. When you eat enough food, it makes dismissing the binge urges possible and takes you a long way toward complete freedom from disordered eating.
If you need more guidance in eating adequately, the Brain over Binge Course is a powerful resource. 4 out of the 8 lessons of the course focus on adequate eating, and many of the course’s 84 Q&A audios address giving up dieting and learning to eat in a way that works for you.
If you have bulimia or binge eating disorder, you’ve most likely experienced weight gain from binge eating. You may wonder what will happen as you recover…will you lose the weight you’ve gained? Will you gain more weight as you begin eating normally? What will your weight be as a binge-free and diet-free person?
It’s important for you to understand that recovery from binge eating is not about weight loss or avoiding any further weight gain. Overcoming binge eating is about letting go of a harmful, health-sabotaging behavior, rising above the shame and pain it brought, and moving on with your life. However, the reality is that weight concerns are very common in recovering binge eaters, so I want to give you some help in this area.
I’ve addressed weight thoroughly for the first time in my 2012 post, “Weight After Recovery” and other posts after that (see a list of my weight-related blog posts), as well as in The Brain over Binge Recovery Guide. Today, I’m also going to talk about possibility of gaining weight during and after binge eating recovery, and how you can deal with this in a healthy way.
When I Stop Binge Eating, Does that Mean I’ll Stop Gaining Weight?
Usually, yes. It only makes sense that binge eating recovery commonly involves a cessation of weight gain and eventual weight loss as the out-of-control eating episodes decrease and go away. When you stop eating abnormally large amounts of food, your calorie intake goes down to a normal level, and it follows that body weight naturally goes down to the level that is normal for your unique body.
Eventual and gradual weight loss is even common in people who self-induce vomiting or use other forms of purging after binges, because a significant portion of the binge calories are still absorbed, and stopping the binge/purge cycle still leads to an overall decrease in calories. Even if there is some bloating when you first stop purging, the body can regulate, and any weight gained from bulimia can be slowly released. (For help stopping purging and dealing with bloating, read these Tips to Help You Stop Purging, and listen to Episode 54: Stop Purging in Binge Eating Recovery: Interview with Ali Kerr.
The fact that stopping binge eating reduces calories also holds true if you are dieting restrictively between binges. If you consider your overall calorie intake from restrictive dieting plus binge eating, you’ll realize that the total is likely more, and often much more, than the calorie total of a normal diet. For example, I recommend a daily minimum of 2,200 calories to help you recover from restriction and binge eating. Someone who is restricting and eating only 1,200 calories per day, but then having 6,000 calorie binges a few times a week, is actually averaging over 3,500 calories per day.
Like I said at the start, recovery is not about weight loss, but the simple fact that quitting will reduce calorie intake goes a long way to alleviate some weight-related fears of recovery You may have previously worried that giving up restriction and purging would make you gain weight; but when you also factor in that you’ll be stopping binge eating as well, you may feel reassured to know that your overall calorie intake will go down to a normal level. You may feel more willing to eat enough food on a daily basis, which is absolutely necessary, because recovery won’t happen if you keep yourself in a state of starvation.
If I Keep Restricting, Can I Speed Up Weight Loss in Binge Eating Recovery, or Avoid Weight Gain?
No. If you keep restricting, you will keep binge eating, and keep your calorie intake higher than if you just ate normally. Some people think that they can stop binge eating without stopping dieting and other dangerous weight-control behaviors like purging; but you simply cannot recover while your body is in underfed. This is why I teach that recovery comes down to two basic goals:
- Recovery Goal 1: Dismiss urges to binge (stop giving urges attention and stop acting on them)
- Recovery Goal 2: Eat Adequately (eat enough decent quality food)
It is impossible to accomplish Recovery Goal 1 on a consistent basis without implementing Recovery Goal 2.
If you’ve read this far and still find yourself having significant resistance to Recovery Goal 2 (Eating Adequately), this could be because you believe you believe you are an exception to what I’ve explained above about binge eating recovery usually leading to a cessation of weight gain and eventual weight loss.
What if I Think I Will Gain Weight from Binge Eating Recovery?
To understand how weight gain is possible from binge eating recovery, let’s shift gears for a moment and think about anorexia recovery. It is a given that weight gain is a part of the process of restoring the recovering anorexic back to health. Weight gain is necessary and beneficial, and I believe this is also the case when weight gain is a part of binge eating recovery.
Stopping the binge and purge cycle and learning to nourish your body may lead to an overall calorie increase for you. This can be the case if you binge infrequently, if binge on smaller quantities of food, and if you restrict severely between binges. Even if you know you want freedom from the binge and purge cycle, the thought of weight gain may make you worry and make you want to avoid making healthy changes.
So, how then do you alleviate fears of weight gain from binge eating recovery? How do you convince yourself to eat enough food every day? How do you avoid giving in to the temptation to restrict?
In the rest of this blog post, I’m going to give you 5 tips to help with these concerns:
Tip 1: Realize the Futility and Danger of Your Current Path
In my own personal recovery, I was in the majority. Stopping binge eating led to an overall decrease in calories and my body gradually went back down to its natural weight. So, when giving these tips, I want you to know that I’m speaking of a challenge that I did not personally go through. Nevertheless, I believe my personal experience shines an important light on this issue that I hope you will find helpful.
The reason I did not go through the challenge of weight gain in binge eating recovery was due to the time in my disorder that I recovered. I recovered after the binge eating had already brought me well over my natural weight. If I would have recovered in an earlier stage of my bulimia—when I was still underweight from restricting and anorexia, and before my binges had gotten very frequent and very large—then I would have indeed gained weight in recovery.
I look back and wish that I would have recovered at this earlier stage when I was still below my normal weight, both because it would have saved me valuable time that I wasted to bulimia, and it would have been safer and healthier than spiraling further into binge eating.
My binges got worse and worse over time, and the quantity of food I ate during binges increased; and I put on weight in an unhealthy and shame-producing way. Gaining weight by eating normally would have been so much less stressful and less painful, and I would have gained much less weight than I eventually gained by staying bulimic.
If you fear recovery because you are still under your natural weight due to harmful restrictive behaviors, you need to realize that this won’t last. You are on a dangerous path and it will only hurt you. It’s simply not sustainable to starve yourself or purge frequently to try to fend off weight gain from binge eating. It will only make the binge eating get worse and worse, and you will eventually gain weight—and likely more weight than if you learn to let go of those unhealthy behaviors now and accept natural, normal, and healthy weight gain.
*If you are severely restricting and/or underweight, it’s important to seek medical and nutritional help to gradually reintroduce a normal diet and restore weight.
Also know that the effect that restriction has on your metabolism adds to the futility of your current path. Starving yourself and purging slows your metabolism so that it will be increasingly more difficult and even impossible to maintain your current too-low weight. Thinking about what you are doing from a long-term perspective can help you realize that you can’t keep up these harmful behaviors forever. Restriction and purging cause too much stress, exhaustion, shame, and health problems.
Additionally, for all of the trouble and pain you are going through, your calorie intake (after factoring in the binges) is likely not much lower than what a normal diet would be. You may only be managing to eat a couple hundred calories less than you’d be eating if you stopped all of the dangerous behaviors. Wouldn’t it be easier to just eat and digest the small amount of extra food? Wouldn’t any weight gain that results be worth it, in order to be free of the painful daily struggle?
Tip 2: Weight is Not All about Calories. Be Patient.
If you are underweight or under your natural weight, then of course, you will need to gain weight, just as someone in anorexia recovery would. But, you are close to what you believe is your natural weight range, know that an increase in calories does not necessarily equal long-term weight gain. Recovery might involve some initial bloating and simply more food being in your system, which the number on the scale can temporarily reflect; but that doesn’t mean that extra weight is permanent.
As your body gets used to processing a normal amount of food, and you get any necessary help with digestive issues, you allow your metabolism to start working normally again. Calorie restriction makes the body more efficient at using calories, so that it gets the most out of every calorie you give it. This metabolism-suppressing effect can make you feel trapped into always eating less and less, which is impossible, and will lead to increased binge eating. (For more on this, listen to Episode 9: Avoid Restrictive Dieting to Stop Binge Eating).
Once you eat normally for a while and your body realizes that you are no longer starving, it can start to use calories for energy instead of storing them in preparation for the next “famine” (restrictive diet). This means that, even though you may be eating more overall, you won’t be gaining weight. This regulation of metabolism can take time, so patience is required. By feeding yourself adequately, you are giving yourself a gift that will last—a normal and healthy metabolism.
Tip 3: View Feeding Yourself in a Positive Light, Focus on Adding Foods that Benefit You
When you give yourself enough food, you are doing something good for yourself, and it’s helpful to keep this in mind. Think of all the nutrients you are putting into your body, and focus on adding foods that make you feel good. Of course, it’s fine to have all types of foods, even unhealthy ones; but if you are feeling hesitant about eating more, incorporating foods you feel really good about can help you feel less self-critical. It can take you from a mindset of thinking that you are overindulging (which you aren’t!) to a more positive mindset of knowing you are doing something very good for your body. This positive mindset will encourage you to keep going down the healthy path, and not slip back into restriction.
Another aspect of viewing normal eating in a positive light is to avoid thinking that you are overeating. If you are used to trying to maintain a daily restrictive diet of 1,200 calories, then initially, eating 2,200 or more on a daily basis may feel like it’s too much. Even though you likely binge on much more than that, your digestive system simply isn’t used to consistently getting that nourishing amount of food each day.
Know that this isn’t specific nutritional or medical advice, but if eating more food leaves you feeling overly full, you can try adding the extra calories as healthy fats and other healthy calorie-dense foods. Think of butter or coconut oil for example—there are a lot of calories packed into a small volume of food so that it doesn’t leave your stomach feeling too stretched during the time when you are increasing calories and regulating digestion. Adding healthy fat also has a positive effect on your metabolism’s ability to use calories for energy.
Tip 4: Think of How You’d Want to Feed Someone You Love.
If you are tempted to restrict, think of what you’d want someone you love to do in your situation. For example, if you imagine having a daughter who had this problem, would you want her to try to get by on the absolute minimum number of calories? Would you want her trying to starve herself while trying to stop binge eating, or at any time in her life?
Or… would you want to make absolutely sure she was getting enough nourishment? Would you want to make sure her body and brain got the message that binge eating was no longer needed? You can see that if you are thinking about someone you love, you want to make sure that person is well-fed; and you deserve the same kind and compassionate treatment.
Tip 5: Be Open to the Recovery Process and to Your Natural Weight
It is possible that—at this point—you aren’t even sure what your natural, healthy weight is. You may have dieted and binged for as long as you can remember and never allowed your body to find it’s normal set weight range. If this is the case for you, eating normally and stopping binge eating will be a leap of faith as far as weight is concerned. What can help in this situation is to know deeply that wherever you eventually end up weight-wise, it will be better than where you are now—trying desperately to control your weight and then feeling so out of control with the binges.
If you can allow your body to just be and gravitate toward it’s natural weight—whatever that may be—you will be free to live your life. Will you end up being the weight you want? There is no way to know. If maintaining the weight you desire is or has been a stressful struggle and required starvation, you need to listen to your body. An “ideal” weight that is impossible for you to maintain is not your natural, healthy weight and it just isn’t worth it. Trying to fight your natural weight is a losing battle, and if you are open to accepting your body’s unique size, the binge eating recovery process will be much easier on you.
For help learning to stop the binge eating habit, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF. The Brain over Binge Course also contains thorough answers to many questions about weight and eating.
If you struggle with binge eating, you may also have obsessive thoughts about eating healthy. Extreme or excessive preoccupation with healthy eating that results in unhealthy consequences is called orthorexia.
Like other forms of restrictive dieting, orthorexia can lead to binge eating, and orthorexic tendencies can fuel the binge and purge cycle. Trying to eat well to nourish the body is a good thing, and I’ve addressed how you can approach this in my post, What is Healthy Eating? However, when healthy eating becomes a stressful obsession, it is no longer healthy for the mind and body.
I have a guest blog post to share with you today, from Elisa Oras, on the topic of orthorexia and binge eating. Elisa is the author of the new book, BrainwashED: Diet-Induced Eating Disorders. How You Got Sucked In and How to Recover. I asked her to talk about this because I do not have personal experience with orthorexia, and I think you will benefit from hearing her story. If your healthy eating has gotten out of hand and is harming your life, I hope you will find inspiration in this post from Elisa.
When Eating Healthy Becomes Unhealthy – by Elisa Oras
When I was 21 years old, I went through a very hard time in my life and developed depression that lasted for three years. With that, my health got worse. Suddenly, I had to deal with severe acne, hair falling out in chunks and a lot of terrible digestion issues.
I started to search the internet for solutions and found out that leaving out some foods from my diet could improve my health. The advice I received was to skip eating processed and junk foods and move towards a plant-based diet with an abundance of raw foods, and to start doing occasional water fasts and raw food cleanses.
Of course, now I see that all these health issues were mostly just the side-effects of the stress and depression I had, but then I did not see it that way and opted for a complete diet change instead.
I didn’t want to simply take drugs for my physical or mental health but wanted to heal naturally. I believed I was capable of healing my body and mind inside out if I just made an effort.
As you can see, I had good intentions. I wanted my body to be able to support its healing and not simply mask the symptoms by taking some drugs with serious side-effects. Eating more fruits and veggies and leaving out junk foods can definitely improve health, but at the same time, I didn’t know that healthy diet could be taken too far.
In 2011, I went to Australia with a work and holiday visa. I started to eat even more raw foods, and a few times, I went 30 days completely raw. I saw improvements in my skin, my energy levels, and my weight. I started a raw food blog and gained some following. There were people looking up to me who were inspired by my journey. I felt empowered and motivated to continue.
During that time, I also noticed it had become more difficult to digest some foods I had previously eaten, and I became very sensitive to a lot of stuff. I thought this was the proof that cooked food was indeed toxic to my body and I had to limit or avoid it even more. My ultimate goal was to be 100% raw for optimal health.
But my body did not seem to have the same goal as me. The more raw, clean and pure was my diet, the stronger food cravings I got. The healthy eating became more and more extreme as I was following the low-fat raw vegan diet. The “healthy” eating had to be free from salt, oils, very low fat, no grains or legumes, nothing artificial or man-made and of course, no processed or junk foods. Basically eating only raw fruits and veggies. I became more rigid and obsessed about foods than ever!
This “lifestyle” did not recommend restricting calories (which was good) so I was still eating above 2000 calories a day, often about 2500-3000 calories (and way more if you include the bingeing sessions). So I wasn’t simply dieting for weight loss at that point, but I just wanted to be healthy.
The more you let yourself be pulled into one specific way of eating, only interact with the people in the same boat, read the same books, websites, and recommendations, the more “right” it seems to you. You start to think that this is the only way to be healthy and happy and it is the sole answer to everything that is wrong in your life at the moment. Your mindset becomes brainwashed. You can’t even separate the fact from fiction or where to draw the line.
A rigid diet led to cravings and binges
I had to deal with constant cravings. I craved more fatty and salty foods, cooked food and even junk foods. The last one was particularly worrying for me because previously I had never been a big junk food eater. I wasn’t raised like that and never had such strong cravings for it. But the interesting thing is that the more I tried to eat super clean and pure, to eat only raw fruits and veggies, the more unhealthy junk food cravings I had.
As I was the raw food “inspiration” for many people or at least I thought I was, I felt very anxious and guilty to have those cravings. Like I was about to commit a serious crime. Like I was about to abandon my religion. I felt so conflicted. What I believed in my head and what my body craved did not match. I felt like I was living two separate lives where one was the good way to live and the other was bad.
Of course, the willpower only takes you so far and I could not resist my cravings for too long. I started to buy all the foods I craved and secretly binged on them. After I came out of my food coma I started eating healthy again and promised to never repeat this kind of bad and destructive behavior. I believed I just needed more willpower and more resistance. I still believed that if I only stayed raw long enough, my cravings would disappear and my taste buds would change.
A miserable cycle of orthorexia and binge eating
But every time I went back to my clean healthy eating I somehow ended up bingeing on the “unhealthy” foods I truly craved. Every time I binged, I promised myself that I would be back to 100% raw the next day. “This is the last time!” I would tell myself. But it never was because the harder I tried to restrict the foods I craved, the more I ended up bingeing.
Then one day I decided to do another 30-day raw food challenge. I had done them before but this time, I really believed I needed it to end all my junk food cravings and to be healthy once and for all!
I still had cravings on a daily basis this time, but I was able to stick with the challenge somehow. I did, however, have a never-ending craving for a burrito that sometimes kept me up all night.
After the 30-day challenge was over, I still had the burrito craving and decided to have one: “Just to get it out of my mind and get over it,” as I told myself. I thought this way my body will get what it wants, get over it, and I can just continue with my perfect raw food diet.
But that first bite turned into a two-month junk food binge and purge episode. I felt so sick, guilty and disgusting and I knew the purging to be the only way to “undo it” or to relieve some of the guilt and the uncomfortable sensation I felt with a stomach full of junk foods.
I felt miserable, stuck, and bloated. I felt like my own worst enemy. Someone who I had no control over. I had turned into this food smashing monster who was greedy and did not care about her own health. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to eat the most nutritious foods on the planet, foods we are supposedly biologically designed for as taught in the raw food books.
To fight this binge-purge situation I was in, I decided to do a three-day water fast. I thought that maybe I just needed to clean my system and my taste buds, and then my body would naturally start to crave healthy foods again. I could start fresh. At this point, I was just so desperate to end this unhealthy bingeing and purging.
Before the first day of my water fast, I planned one “final” binge, promising myself that from tomorrow I will never eat junk again. I bought all of my usual binge foods, ate them all, felt disgusting and bloated, and then vomited. Now I was truly “motivated” to start over with my three-day water fast.
I fasted those three days and felt great afterward. I felt clean and pure, and I lost weight. When I decided to eat again, I first started with some raw juicy fruits. I knew that for the first days after a fast it is not good to eat overly much, but gradually increase the food volume. It was all good in theory, but in practice, it was somewhat different.
I felt my digestion working again and true hunger signals kick in. By the next day, I felt so ravenous that I went to the shop, bought all of my usual binge foods and binged again!
The cycle had just continued. My eating disorder was worse than ever. I purged till the blood vessels in both of my eyes broke, and I walked around with completely red, bloody eyes for about a month.
I was in shock. I was crying and felt the worst I ever felt. I realized I was totally out of control and lost.
After that, I gained weight. I usually NEVER gained too much weight because previously I did not do any calorie restriction. But after the three-day period of no food whatsoever, with reduced metabolism, with the binge and purge session that followed it, I gained about thirteen pounds. I was at my heaviest at that point, and I felt so uncomfortable.
After that, I started to eat cooked foods again without any will to be 100% raw anymore. I just realized it wouldn’t work.
However, my eating disorder was not cured, it was just the beginning. I continued with the high carb low fat vegan diet – the cooked food version. I was still eating a lot of raw foods but included cooked foods too. This was a little bit more sustainable, but I still could not stop the bingeing on junk foods or eating until I felt sick.
I was still trying to eat clean, and I still felt guilty about certain foods, but since I wasn’t doing any calorie restriction or fasting, I slowly lost the extra weight. It took me a whole year to lose that weight by not restricting calories. I also stopped purging for a good while that year, so that helped with normalizing my weight.
But my mentality was still eating disordered, I still wanted to eat as clean as possible – I was not recovered. I was still overeating for most meals. The bulimia came back later on because I did not understand that by restricting the foods I craved, I couldn’t recover. This continued until the start of my recovery in 2013.
Letting go of strict food rules to gain control of bulimia
In September 2013, I was still planning to eventually return to raw foods one day. This was simply what I believed to be the only answer for me. I did not see any other way. I was too focused on eating only healthy foods and limiting all unhealthy foods.
I remember planning to start another 30-day raw food challenge from October 1st. But as usual, this meant going on a “last and final binge” so I could start “fresh” from tomorrow. So I did it, and felt incredibly sick afterward and purged.
I remember crying and suddenly I started seeing how sick it was what I was doing. How stuck I really was. And based on my numerous attempts to be fully raw previously I KNEW this 30-day raw food challenge would just lead to another binge and purge. I had simply seen it happen so many times.
I started to wake up and see the vicious battle that I was in. For the first time, I started to realize that maybe the bingeing and purging was not the thing that had to be stopped. Maybe it was the RESTRICTION that had to be stopped first.
So, from that realization, instead of doing another 30-day raw food challenge, I started my recovery. From then on, I wrote in my diary (where I always wrote down my restriction goals) to “eat what I truly crave.” I was just so tired of fighting against my body at that point. I was willing to try a different approach.
Finding balance and freedom from orthorexia, binge eating, purging, and food obsessions
It was a process of one year during which I totally re-evaluated my food choices, learned about my body signals, how to not restrict and eat what I craved and returned back to intuitive eating. It was a process of trial and error to find out how to recover. But one year after my final binge and purge session I was fully recovered from my bulimia and orthorexia.
I do not believe that eating fruits and veggies and trying to improve one’s diet to be healthy directly causes eating disorders. But when your healthy eating makes you binge-prone, obsessed with foods, fearful of foods, causes you to have too much stress over foods and eating, it overrides the health benefits and replaces it with more damage to your health and well-being instead. We have to know where to draw the line because there is a point where eating healthy can become unhealthy.
Now I am completely recovered from my eating disorder. I am able to eat when hungry and stop when full. I eat what I want when I want and how much I want. I have clear skin, good digestion, normal healthy weight, and no more cravings or junk food binges. I lost the ability to overeat and do not have a “good or bad” foods mindset. My health and eating are way more balanced now by listening and trusting my body than when I tried to actively control everything.
Even now, I still sometimes look back at my journey and am so thankful and amazed how the body is able to recover and find balance again with food and eating, if only given the right tools and conditions to do so. By not fighting against it but working with it.
Find out more about Elisa:
Read more posts related to this topic:
For more help ending binge eating, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF. It is a 30-page guide to help you understand why you binge and how you can take control back.
During my years of binge eating, and what seemed like thousands of attempts to recover (before I finally found help in Jack Trimpey’s book, Rational Recovery), I looked for the reasons why I wasn’t successful. Through therapy and reading self-help information online, one of the theories I came up with was that I simply wasn’t ready to stop binge eating. Maybe there was something I needed to change in my life first; maybe there was a problem I needed to solve; maybe there was pain from my past that I needed to heal; maybe there was a stressor that I needed to eliminate from my days. Maybe once I found and dealt with whatever was in the way of recovery, then I’d be ready.
I wasn’t even sure what it really meant to be ready to stop binge eating, but that didn’t stop me from looking for reasons why I wasn’t yet equipped for recovery. Since all of my attempts to stop binge eating (before reading Rational Recovery) had failed, it only made sense that there was something getting in the way. Now that I’ve recovered, I see things differently, and I want to help you understand why you might be asking yourself, am I ready to stop binge eating? I also want to share ideas with you to help you feel capable of stopping the habit, and to help you address anything that is truly a roadblock to recovery.
What Does it Mean to Be Ready for Recovery?
I began thinking about this a lot because of an interview I did in February of 2013. I was a guest on Alen Standish’s Quit Binge Eating Podcast (this podcast is no longer available because Alen needed to focus on a health issue in his family). Alen asked a question that inspired me to start writing this blog post about recovery readiness. His question was very insightful, and in asking it, he shared some of his own personal experience and how it was different than mine. Here is what he said:
Alen: You cautioned in Brain over Binge that you are only focusing on how to stop binge eating and are not addressing any other underlying problems a person may be having in their life. In my own case I actually had to work on several areas of my own life to better round myself out before I was ready to fully take on stopping my own binge eating disorder. Your book was a large part of that, but it only worked for me because I was ready for it at that point in my life. Based on my experiences and this is just my own opinion, I find that it seems to be a balancing act that only the person suffering from the disorder knows when they are ready to just say no to their disordered eating, and from that when and where to start their recovery process and most important, how to recover. It’s a very individual thing. What are your thoughts?
Below, I’ve included my response with many additional ideas added, to help you if you are doubting your readiness to end bulimia or binge eating disorder:
First of all, I think an important thing to remember when reading anyone’s recovery story, using any self-help program, or even attending therapy, is that you can use what works for you at this particular time in your life, and discard what doesn’t. Sometimes people get caught up in trying to do things exactly right, based on someone else’s advice, and it doesn’t end up feeling authentic. If someone else’s advice doesn’t help you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t ready. It just might not be the right approach for you.
My recovery came about from me discovering useful information about the brain and an approach that resonated deeply within me. This was primarily due to reading Rational Recovery, and having my own insights afterward, as well as continuing to explore simple brain science, which I discussed in my book. Once I changed how I approached recovery, the question of whether or not I was ready to stop binge eating didn’t seem to apply anymore. I put the information and insights into action, and stopped binge eating quickly. Questioning my readiness for recovery was something I did when I wasn’t successful, and once I was successful, the question seemed to just fade away.
I knew binge eating brought me misery, and I knew I didn’t want it in my life; and this was the case since my binge eating began. In that way, I guess I was always ready to recover.
I believe it can be as simple as this: If you want to be free of binge eating, you are ready to be free of binge eating.
Rational Recovery Helped Me Let Go of the “Benefits” of Binge Eating
I also realize that it’s not that simple for everyone, especially if you’ve come to believe that your eating disorder serves a purpose in your life, or helps you cope with problems, or helps you fill some sort of emotional void (see my podcast about emotional attachment to binge eating). I know that when I believed my eating disorder gave me certain benefits, it was much easier to think that I wasn’t ready to give it up. Even thought I knew that whatever theoretical benefits or temporary pleasure I received from the binge eating wasn’t worth the cost, the idea that binge eating was a coping mechanism made it easier to keep hanging on to the behavior.
In order to feel ready to let the binge eating go, I spent a long time in therapy and on my own trying to sort out things in my life and solve other problems. Some of these problems I did sort out and solve, and some of these problems I didn’t; but there was always another problem I could find and decide that I needed to fix before I could be free of binge eating.
If Rational Recovery would have been another approach saying that it might not work if you have other problems to sort out first, I don’t think it would have helped me. I needed a no excuses approach at the time. I needed to hear that whatever benefits I thought binge eating gave me were irrational and not my true thoughts. I needed to learn that I could quit right away without having to do anything else first. In other words, I needed to hear that I was already ready to let the binge eating go.
Preparation for Recovery is Different for Everyone
I’ve shared my experience, but Alen’s experience was different and uniquely authentic to him; and your experience might be different from both of ours. I agree with Alen that recovery is an individual thing and only the person recovering can decide what they need. This is why it’s important to have alternative perspectives in eating disorder recovery, because some ideas will be a better fit for certain people at certain times than other ideas.
If you read my book, or attend therapy, or complete a self-help program and you don’t improve even after giving it proper effort and practice, this is not the time to put yourself down or lose hope. It’s the time to determine how to adjust the ideas to better suit you, or it’s time look elsewhere for ideas that feel like your own unique truth and that work for you, or it’s time to decide if there is some preparation work you need to do in order to be ready to stop binge eating.
I don’t believe recovery should be a maze or that you should jump around from one approach to another, without being consistent enough to see changes occur. Recovery can and should keep moving forward, but there may come a time when you feel like you do need to work on another area of your life in order to move forward, or keep moving forward.
How Do I Become Ready to Stop Binge Eating?
I’ve spent some time thinking about a way to merge the idea that some people, like Alen, might need to work on other areas of their life in order to feel more able stop binge eating, and my approach which focuses on stopping the behavior without needing to address other issues first. Here are my thoughts…
I believe that recovery from binge eating comes down to 2 goals:
- Learning to dismiss urges to binge
- Learning to eat adequately
If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach and want a better understanding of those two goals, you can download my free PDF—the Brain over Binge Basics.
You can use those two simple recovery goals to guide you in determining what you might need to work on, in order to make yourself recovery ready.
It’s not helpful to put too many conditions on your ability to recover, but I think it’s helpful to work on any specific issues you feel are holding you back from being successful at one or both recovery goals. You can listen to my podcast episodes about two common issues that hold people back: food addiction, and weight obsession. Basically, if you think that working on another problem or issue in your life will help you move toward the two goals, then work on that issue or problem.
Of course, you can work on whatever issue or problem you want as a way to live a better life, but try not to wrap up all of your self-improvement work into your eating disorder recovery. You don’t want to be endlessly trying to work on emotions or solve other problems, hoping that will magically make you feel ready to recover, or even take the eating disorder away. But, if you stay focused on the two recovery goals of learning to dismiss binge urges and learning to eat adequately, you can tackle recovery readiness with a much more strategic mindset. I’ll give you some examples so you can see how this could play out in your life.
Let’s say you have poor body-image, and because of that, you are determined to diet restrictively and lose weight in an attempt to feel better about yourself. That might prevent you from eating enough food, which in turn, will make your urges to binge stronger and more difficult to dismiss. If you feel unable to allow yourself a nourishing amount of food to meet your physical needs, you might need to address your poor body-image in order to move forward (for help, you can listen to this episode on body image). This doesn’t mean a positive body-image is a cure for binge eating; but improving the way you view and relate to your body will help you start feeding it properly, and therefore put you in a position to stop acting on the binge urges.
Another example: let’s say you have severe depression that prevents you from wanting a better life for yourself. You don’t have the desire to avoid binges, so you allow the lower brain (the part of the brain that drives binge eating) to overtake you, without even trying to avoid the behavior. You simply don’t have any motivation to let go of the binge eating. Again, improving the other problem (in this case, depression) isn’t a cure, but it will put you in a better position to start overcoming the binge eating. Feeling less depressed will strengthen your higher brain (the part of your brain that can change a habit), and allow you to connect with your desire to live free of your eating disorder.
To summarize what I’m suggesting: If you don’t feel ready for recovery, get to work on the issues you believe are preventing you from eating adequately or dismissing binge urges.
In contrast, what I’m not suggesting is this: If you don’t feel ready for recovery, work on the problems or emotions that you feel binge eating helps you cope with, and expect that resolving those problems will make the binges go away.
Sometimes what I’m suggesting and what I’m not suggesting can involve the same problem. If that seems a little confusing, I’ll explain, using anxiety as an example.
Let’s say you think you binge to cope with anxiety, so you try address that anxiety by relaxing more and avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. You do this hoping that decreasing anxiety will decrease your need to binge. If the binge urges habitually come when you are anxious, this approach might indeed help you avoid some binge urges (which may be helpful in some ways), but reducing anxiety isn’t truly helping you learn how to dismiss the binge urges when they come up. There are likely other situations where you have urges, and you still binge. Furthermore, it’s impossible to control every situation and feeling in your life, so when anxiety inevitably comes up, you may find yourself swept away by the urges.
The problem with this approach to reducing anxiety is that you are trying to make a problem go away in hopes that binge urges will go away too. But, this usually doesn’t work, and it’s more effective to learn to avoid acting on urges in any situation or in response to any feeling.
On the other hand, if something about anxiety is making it more difficult for you to dismiss binge urges or eat adequately, then it makes sense that you’ll need to address it before you feel ready to stop binge eating (listen to Episode 65 on managing anxiety). For example, if anxiety about weight gain is keeping you depriving your body of food, then yes, that anxiety is something to work on as a part of binge eating recovery. The distinction can seem subtle, but I think it’s important not to make recovery too complex or think you need to work on too many things to be ready.
I want to make sure you realize that I’m not telling you to just resign to deal with certain problems. You can absolutely work on whatever issues you want to work on, but as much as you can, keep that separate from binge eating recovery. Otherwise, you could keep working on other problems indefinitely, hoping that will take your binge eating away, without getting any closer to accomplishing the two recovery goals that change your brain to end the binge eating habit.
Although I believe recovery is an individual thing, I hope that keeping the two recovery goals in mind will help you zero in on what’s truly necessary for you to do to be ready to stop binge eating for good.
“It’s fine to raise awareness about eating disorders, but I believe more focus should be on preventing dieting, because eating disorders are not illnesses that inexplicably happen to people. Nearly all cases of anorexia and bulimia, and a large number of cases of BED, would never occur without the initial diet.” –Brain over Binge, pg 276
Dieting prevention is a multifaceted topic, and there is not one way to ensure dieting does not happen in a young person—or anyone, at any point in life. In Brain over Binge, I mentioned some things that may have helped me personally avoid turning to dieting in my teen years, and one of them was: less emphasis on weight in the family. I frequently heard comments from my parents, relatives, and family friends that led me to believe remaining slim was of extreme importance. When I naturally put on some weight during puberty, it was more concerning to me than it should have been, I believe, because of my previous exposure to a lot of dieting and weight talk.
I’ve made an effort to keep that type of talk away from my kids as much as possible, although I can’t shelter them from what they hear outside of my home, or every little thing that may come up in what they watch. It’s impossible to control the culture and the often unrealistic images children may see, but something we can do as adult role models is to be aware of what we say and the effect it could have. Even seemingly innocent comments about food and weight can add up over time, causing children to feel like dieting and obsessing about weight is a normal part of growing up. Conversely, when adults offer a positive example, it can help young people avoid falling into unhealthy restrictive behaviors.
If you’ve struggled with an eating disorder or other food issues, I know it can be a priority for you to not pass those struggles on to your children. I want to offer some simple tips to help keep dieting and weight talk to a minimum. I’ve listed several suggestions of things not to say around young people, but consider that this advice can be useful for any conversation you have—in order to reduce your focus on your body and food, and help you focus elsewhere.
Stop saying negative comments about your own body (even if you’re having negative thoughts about your body).
Stop talking about your desire to lose weight.
Stop commenting on the weight of others. (Don’t say who has lost or gained weight, or who is too thin or too fat. Teach children that we’re all different and we’re all worthy, and that people are much more than their appearance.)
Don’t say that certain foods will make you gain weight. (It’s fine to teach your kids which foods are the most nourishing for the body, but don’t make it about body size.)
After you’ve eaten, don’t express feelings of guilt. (If you believe you made a poor food choice, just move on and try to make a better choice next time.)
Don’t warn children that one day they’ll have to watch their weight, and therefore stop being able to eat what they want. (The truth is that an attitude of deprivation leads to more overeating and more weight gain in the long run. Of course we want kids to make good choices around food, but instilling a restrictive mindset won’t help them reach that goal.)
Accept compliments on the way you look, without responding with something critical or negative about your body or size. (just say thank you!)
Don’t give weight-related reasons for not having desserts or other foods. (If someone offers you cake for example, and you don’t want it, just say no thank you. Don’t say that it will go straight to your hips or that it will ruin your diet.)
Don’t tell your kids you exercise in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain. (Tell them it’s about being strong, feeling good, having energy, and taking care of your health.)
Make choosing healthy foods about health and self-care, not weight. (If you eat something healthier than what your kids are eating, don’t tell them it’s because what they are eating is too fattening or has too many calories.)
Don’t criticize yourself about what you are choosing to eat. (Don’t say, I shouldn’t be eating this. When you choose to eat something, eat it and enjoy it, without beating yourself up. Model the fact that no one eats perfectly.)
Don’t make comments about children’s weight. (There’s no need to make children turn attention to their body shape, even if you think you are offering them a compliment.)
All of this advice does not mean that you can’t teach children about nutrition or what habits will lead to a healthy life. Talk to them about nourishment. Talk to them about eating to feel good. Talk to them about playing outside for fun, and moving their body for the pure enjoyment of it. If you can model a healthy, balanced, and active lifestyle—while also avoiding teaching children to diet and try to control their weight by depriving themselves—it gives them the best chance of maintaining a positive relationship with food and a healthy weight for a lifetime.
If you struggle with binge eating and want guidance as you recover, here are some resources for additional support:
Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $10.99/month. Includes over 120 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.