If you are like most people struggling with binge eating, you probably have questions. The women and men I’ve spoken with over the years—who have read my books or been in my course, or who are new to the brain over binge approach—find it comforting to know that they aren’t the only ones with a certain issue or concern. I’ve noticed common themes in what people have asked me, and I decided that it would be practical and useful to compile and record detailed answers to all of these questions.
This task took me over a year, but when it was complete, I had created 85 Q&A tracks that are now a central part of the newest version of my course, which you can start anytime. I’m adding a new track monthly to continue answering questions, but the course currently has 117 total tracks – plus other resources – to help you stop bingeing. (In total, there is over 1,000 minutes of guidance, tips, information, suggestions, and ideas).
I wanted course users to be able to simply click on a question they have, at any time of day or night, and listen to a thorough response from me. I’ve received extremely positive feedback about these Q&A recordings, but people who are struggling with binge eating disorder or bulimia—and aren’t sure whether or not to sign up for the course—have frequently asked me questions about the questions, wanting to know which topics are discussed.
So, in this blog post, I want to share the entire list of questions that are in the Brain over Binge course (see below). But first, I want to tell you a little more about why I took the time to create the Q&A’ tracks…
I was previously answering these questions frequently in group coaching for binge eating or one-on-one coaching, but I saw room for improvement. I found that I would sometimes inadvertently leave out something I wanted to say, or I found it difficult to give a detailed answer in a short message on a forum or on a time-limited group call when there were many more questions to address. I also realized that a coach’s, counselor’s, or mentor’s time is extremely valuable, and because of that, it’s not financially feasible for everyone to have a personal coach.
I decided that answering these questions in a recorded format could be the next best thing to having a personal coach, and could be much more affordable for people who need guidance.
You definitely can’t put a price on freedom from bulimia and binge eating disorder because it’s worth any amount of money; but the reality is that binge eaters are often also students, parents, or caregivers, and recovery shouldn’t have to be expensive. I wanted to make coaching more accessible in the new version of my course. (The course also includes 15 coaching tracks for encouragement, reinforcement, and motivation. You can listen to a free coaching track at the bottom of the course information page.)
With that being said, here is a list of the questions you’ll receive detailed answers to in the course. Each Q&A track is about 7 or 8 minutes long on average (some are longer, some are shorter).
You can also listen to a free Q&A track (that answers the following question) at the bottom of the course information page:
*Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating*
How much focus should I put on recovery?
Can you explain more about the word “dismiss”? Is it the same as willpower?
What does “don’t diet” mean?
Should I exercise during recovery?
What if I’m taking medication to try to help me stop binge eating?
I’m having a hard time defining my binges. How can I decide what is a binge and what is not?
I don’t feel like I get urges. My binges feel automatic. How can I dismiss urges if I don’t experience them?
I feel like there are deeper emotional reasons for my urges. What does that mean for recovery?
What do I do about all or nothing thoughts that seem to lead to binge eating?
What if I’m unhappy with my weight during recovery?
What is the purpose of journaling in the Brain over Binge approach?
What is the role of alcohol in binge eating? Should I drink alcohol while trying to recover?
Should I continue therapy?
How do I deal with others who are dieting?
Can you talk more about the lower brain and why it’s not really me, and how to separate from it?
I don’t seem to be able to eat sugar in moderation. Should I give up sugar?
I’m overeating in a way that feels very similar to binge eating. I feel like my overeating is almost as problematic as my binge eating, and it makes me feel out of control.
How can others that I’ve confided in about my binge eating best help me?
How long will it take for my binge urges to go away once I stop acting on them?
Is it okay to do something else during urges or should I avoid distracting myself?
Is it okay to eat or drink while I’m having an urge to binge?
My urge thoughts are compelling and I often end up believing them and acting on them.
What do I do if my urges keep coming back after I dismiss them?
I feel like I can’t allow myself to get excited about dismissing an urge or having another success in recovery.
I’m planning binges in my mind long before I’ll have an opportunity to binge. What do I do about thoughts that come well in advance of a binge?
I’m still reacting strongly to binge urges. The urges make me feel panicked and stressed, and it seems like a binge is the only thing that will calm me down.
Should incorporate mindfulness or meditation into recovery?
I’m having trouble getting past the idea that my binges are enjoyable. Even if I did not have urges, I think I would still choose to binge, if there were no consequences.
My urges get worse when I’m stressed. I know the urges cause the binge eating, but the stress seems to make it so much harder.
I binge more at night more than I do during the day. How do I deal with nighttime urges to binge?
How are binge urges different from the binge triggers that I learned about in traditional therapy?
I only feel good when I’m a certain weight or when I look a certain way.
I’m grazing throughout the day and that’s leading to guilt, and binges.
How can I avoid a fear of relapse?
I do well on days that my life is relatively calm, but when I have a demanding work and family schedule, I find it so hard to dismiss urges.
How do I know if I’m having an urge to binge or if I’m just hungry?
I am working on ending the binge eating habit, but I need to lose weight. How can I lose weight without triggering my survival instincts?
My desire to restrict food feels very strong. How can I overcome this so that I can eat adequately?
I’ll eat dinner or another meal and then I just keep getting more and more food and I often end up bingeing. How do I find a stopping point when I eat?
Is it okay to eat healthy and avoid junk foods during recovery?
I’m having trouble stopping my purging behaviors. How do I deal with urges to purge?
Thoughts of compensating for the binge (by restricting or purging) are encouraging me to binge. How can I deal with these thoughts?
I’ll have a few good days, but then I seem to automatically slip back into restriction and binge eating. How can I have continued success?
How can I handle events where there is a lot of food?
I’m having a lot of trouble recognizing and deciphering my body’s signals of hunger and fullness. What should I do about this?
Fullness makes me feel anxiety and it also seems to triggers urges to binge, or binge and purge. How can I learn to deal with feelings of fullness?
I want to eat based on my hunger, but it often does not fit with my schedule or when my family is eating.
I don’t go into binges with the intention of bingeing. I tell myself I’m just going to have one bite, but then I find myself bingeing.
I fear my hunger. I worry that when I’m hungry, I’ll binge.
Should I incorporate former binge foods into my diet, and how do I go about doing this?
Late in the day, I want the immediate gratification of a binge, and I don’t even care about the consequences. How do I stay motivated at the end of the day?
Can I use a diet like keto, weight watchers, paleo, or intermittent fasting to guide my eating?
I’m bingeing or just eating in the middle of the night. How do I dismiss urges at this time?
I have a lot of anxiety about my weight.
I have a lot of black and white thinking, so I feel like when I don’t restrict, I binge.
I’m mindlessly overeating. How do I stop myself? Should I consider this behavior a type of binge?
I resist the work of recovery. Is it possible that I don’t actually want to quit binge eating?
Should I dismiss my desires to eat emotionally? How does emotional eating affect recovery from binge eating?
I feel like as I try to quit bingeing, my urges get stronger. What can I do about this?
I’ve heard that food addictions can stem from problems with my neurotransmitters. How can I overcome this?
How do I quickly overcome a setback?
How do highly processed foods affect binge eating and recovery?
What if I’m gaining weight during recovery?
How can I learn to accept my body?
I feel like my rational self wants to binge. What do I do when I feel like I’m choosing to binge?
Should I make a big resolution to never binge again? Or, should I just aim to reduce or delay binges and accept that slips are part of recovery?
I get more urges during PMS or when I’m feeling off hormonally or physically. What can I do about this?
My most convincing thought says it won’t hurt to binge “one last time.” How can I get past this thought?
Can I dismiss any thought that’s harmful to my recovery?
After stopping the binge eating habit, I’m having other obsessive thoughts and also regrets about the time I lost to binge eating problems.
I clear my plate every time, even if I feel full. How do I learn to put the fork down when I’m full?
I’m eating less than the calorie recommendation of the Brain over Binge approach. Is this okay provided I’m not feeling restricted? Also, if I’m counting my calories to make sure I’m eating adequately, how long do I need to do this?
I stopped bingeing and purging (in the form of vomiting). I thought I would feel great and healthy, but I feel less energetic, fuzzy, and bloated. Will I feel better over time, or is this the new normal I should expect?
I feel in control and successful when I restrict, and I feel guilty and fat when I try to eat adequately, which usually leads me to just giving up and bingeing.
Will there be a point when I can consider myself healed, or do I need to constantly work on recovery? What are my chances of relapsing?
When I binge, I feel like I might be subconsciously self-sabotaging my recovery. Is it possible that I’m continuing to binge because I think I don’t deserve recovery?
Can I do a gentle diet for health reasons? For example, a weight loss eating plan crafted by a nutritionist to make sure I’m not hungry.
When I want a dessert or sweets or to snack when I’m not hungry, I don’t know if it’s me or my lower brain that wants it. How can I tell which cravings to follow and which ones not to follow?
How do I deal with others who are giving me bad advice, eating in front of me in ways that are not helpful, or constantly offering me food?
During the urge to binge, I’m telling myself “No, I don’t want to binge, “ or I’m telling myself “This is just an urge from my lower brain,” or “A binge is not an option,” or “The urge has no power to make me act.” Is it wrong to do this? When I tell myself things like this, does it mean I’m fighting the urge?
I’m having trouble finding things to do instead of binge. What are some ideas of alternative activities?
I know that dieting can lead to the initial development of binge eating, but can problematic cravings also lead to the development of bingeing?
What if I need to gain weight after stopping the habit?
If you are ready to stop binge eating, you can check out the new course subscription, which gives you access to the entire course for only $18.99 per month.
It’s difficult to deal with binge eating at any time of year, but the holidays can bring extra challenges. One of those challenges is dealing with holiday events where people frequently talk about food, weight, and diets. These seem to be favorite topics of conversation for some people, and when I was a binge eater, hearing friends and relatives talk about their diet plans, weight loss strategies, and workout programs often made me anxious. You probably know people who can’t seem to participate in a holiday meal—or any meal for that matter—without talking about how fattening they think certain foods are, or what foods they are or are not eating because of their diet, or how guilty they feel for eating this or that. You probably also know people who comment on or criticize their own body or others’ bodies, or give unwanted weight loss advice, or think that it somehow makes sense to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be eating.
Because the holidays bring more temptation surrounding food and more concerns about weight gain, these conversations seem to ramp up. I want to give you some ideas for dealing with this, so that you can stay on track in binge eating recovery during the holidays—and in many situations where you encounter food and weight talk. Know that holiday food and weight talk does not cause holiday binge eating, but it’s helpful to learn to manage your own reactions and responses.
Dismissing Food and Weight Talk and Urges To Binge
Giving up dieting and weight obsession is very important in recovery from bulimia and binge eating disorder, because it allows you to nourish your body and get out of the survival state that drives bingeing. When you are letting go of dieting, learning to eat normally, and trying to accept your weight, it can be unsettling to hear about people doing the very things you are making an effort to avoid. For example, let’s say you are at a holiday meal and you are trying to enjoy eating everything in moderation and not feel guilty about eating certain indulgent foods, and then a friend or family member says they aren’t eating those same indulgent foods because it’s not compliant with their “diet”—this can make you question yourself and feel shaken or even ashamed.
The most simple solution for this is to treat the food or weight comment you hear like you treat the binge urges: Just dismiss it.
[If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can learn about dismissing binge urges by downloading the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF.]
Dismissing a thought or feeling is to view it as unimportant, meaningless, and not worth your attention. You can dismiss any thought or feeling encouraging you to binge or to engage in other harmful behaviors—like dieting or being overly focused on weight. These thoughts arise inside of you, but you can use the same strategy to disregard comments from others. You don’t have to give the other person’s diet comment any value or consideration. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude to that person, but you can politely ignore the comment or kindly change the subject, and move on. This sounds easy, but I know that sometimes it may not feel easy in the moment, so I’m going to dive a little deeper to help you remain unaffected by food and weight talk, and avoid holiday binge eating.
Be Mindful of Your Own Reactions
The reason why dismissing someone’s food or weight comment may feel difficult is because that comment may immediately lead to an emotional, mental, or physical reaction in you. You may find your own food thoughts increasing in that moment; you may have feelings of anxiety arise; you may feel angry at the person for bringing up the topic; you may feel guilty if you are eating something that goes against the person’s weight or food advice.
You may even begin questioning your recovery or wondering if it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with food, when even people without eating disorders are dieting and making weight a big focus of their lives. You may start to have some food cravings when you hear dieting talk, because the thought of dieting may be strongly associated in your brain with overeating or binge eating.
In other words, what may seem like a mundane comment to the person saying it can lead to some unwanted, obsessive, anxious, or impulsive thoughts in you. It’s not usually what the person says that bothers you the most, it’s your own reactions.
[If you are someone who struggles with incessant food thoughts on a daily basis, listen to Episode 76 of the podcast: “Do You Think About Food too Much?”]
Like I said in the beginning of this post, it’s important to know that food and weight comments do not cause binge eating, and you remain in control regardless of what someone else says. I also want you to know that a person’s food or weight comment is not the direct cause of your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and I’ll explain what I mean by this…
If other relatives or friends heard that same comment, they would be left with different feelings and reactions, or they would be completely unaffected. In the past, that same comment could have lead to a different reaction in you, and in the future, it will give rise to a different reaction in you. But at a specific point in time, when the comment hits your ears—and is processed by your particular belief system and experiences—your thoughts can start to race in a way that feels unwanted and intrusive, and goes against the peaceful relationship that you want to have with food. You don’t have to spend time trying to figure out why this is the case, because that can lead to you feeling like something is wrong with you, and it’s not the most efficient way forward. It’s simply that your brain is temporarily conditioned to react this way to food comments, but you have the ability to change it.
You Don’t Need to Avoid Holiday Food Talk to Avoid Holiday Binge Eating
Whether it’s during the holidays or at any time of year, avoiding all food and weight talk is not really an option. Even if you could somehow avoid every person that might say something unhelpful, I do not think this would benefit you. Food and weight talk is extremely common, and not only would it be impractical and probably impossible to avoid it altogether, it would severely limit your choices of what to do, where to go, and who to see.
Furthermore, thinking that you need to avoid food talk in order to recover from binge eating disorder or bulimia encourages a mindset of powerlessness. When you tell yourself you are not capable of dealing with food talk, then food talk will be much more upsetting to you, and the conditioned reactions you have to it will be become stronger. Furthermore, if you think that food and weight talk will lead you into harmful behaviors, then it probably will. On the other hand, if you can learn to dismiss harmful food talk when it occurs, you can become confident that you can handle any comment in any situation—and that you can avoid holiday binge eating and any behavior that would hinder your recovery.
Have Compassion for the Other Person
In order to get in a better mindset to deal with food and weight comments, you must first understand that everyone has their own thoughts driving what they say or do. Most people do mean well; but what they say about food and weight comes from what is making sense in their own mind in that moment, based on a multitude of their own experiences, emotions, and opinions. It’s unlikely that the person is saying something about food or weight to intentionally hurt you; they are simply making a comment, or just trying to make conversation.
When food is the center of an event, it can seem to make sense to talk about it, so that’s what people often do, and you don’t need to make it more meaningful than that. If the event didn’t include food, but instead took place around a big table of flower arrangements, people would likely feel compelled to start conversations about flowers. The problem is that food is often an emotionally charged topic, so the conversations about it don’t always feel as positive or pleasant as conversations about flowers might feel.
We are all guilty of sometimes not considering how our words may affect others, or saying something without really thinking, so try to have compassion for the person making the food or weight comment. It could be that they’ve simply gotten into the habit of talking about diets and weight during meals, so those thoughts automatically come up for them and they don’t filter their thoughts before they speak. Whatever the case, being upset with the person isn’t practical or helpful. Keeping an attitude of compassion for that person keeps your emotions from running high and makes it easier to dismiss their words.
It’s Not About You
Regardless of the exact reason the comment was made, know that it’s not about you. Someone saying that he or she is not eating sugar this Christmas does not mean you should also consider avoiding sugar this Christmas. Someone saying that they need to lose weight after the holidays does not mean you should consider that as your goal as well. Someone else criticizing their body size does not mean you need to turn attention to your own appearance. For help with body image issues, you can listen to Episode 40: Body Image and Binge Eating.
I’m going to add a helpful little disclaimer to any holiday food talk that you might hear: What people say about food and weight is often not accurate, and doesn’t always line up with what they actually do. The person who says sugar is off limits may have had cookies the day before, or may decide to have a delicious dessert later at the party. The person who says she is going to lose weight may never change one eating habit.
It’s common for people to claim to eat healthier or less than they really do. They aren’t intentionally lying about their eating habits or weight loss plans, but people often express what they aspire to, as if it’s fact. If you are someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, you’ve likely learned how harmful diets are, and you know that the percentage of people who actually stick to them is very low. It’s very unlikely that the people who are making dieting comments at a party are the exceptions to diet failure.
Even if the person making the food comment is really dieting and losing weight exactly like they say they are, it still doesn’t have to affect you. It’s simply the path that person is on right now—a path that may change tomorrow or in the future, but it’s not your path.
In addition to compassion, try viewing food and weight comments with curiosity as well. This can help reduce any anxiety you feel. If, in a moment of holiday food talk, you can think, “hmm, I wonder why they feel that way?” or… “I wonder what that’s about?” it can make a big difference in your mindset. You don’t need to say these words out loud, and you don’t need to actually answer these questions; it’s simply about switching from an anxiety-filled reaction to a curious one.
You can also use curiosity to help you with your own emotional, physical, and mental reactions. Being a curious observer of your own mind helps you get some distance from your thoughts and reactions and not take them so seriously. You don’t need to try to figure anything out; you don’t need to know exactly why your reactions are what they are; but being curious about your own thoughts and feelings is a much better way to manage them than being fearful of those thoughts and feelings or criticizing yourself for having them.
Don’t Engage the Food Talk
I find that in most cases, it’s best to avoid engaging this type of food, weight, and diet talk in any way. During recovery, it’s helpful to take the focus off of these things, and talking about someone else’s diet and weight is contradictory to that. It’s not that you can’t talk about it, but it typically doesn’t serve a useful purpose and it’s a distraction from your goal of having a healthy relationship with food.
If you strongly feel the other person’s diet is ill-advised, then you might consider addressing the topic with them at another time in a private setting. But in the context of a holiday event or meal, just try to kindly bring the focus back to something other than food. It gently sends the message that you aren’t really interested in diving deeper into that conversation, without you needing to be critical of the other person. Ask about the person’s family, their job, their house, their hobbies, or anything that is important to them.
Let Your Reactions Subside, and Get Back to Enjoying Yourself
Many emotional, mental, and physical reactions are automatic, which means you can’t necessarily control what comes up inside of you in response to food and weight talk. But, you’ll find that the reactions subside on their own, without you having to do anything. You can allow any uncomfortable feelings and thoughts to be present, without giving them a lot of attention or meaning, and this helps the thoughts and feelings to simply run their course and fade away. This is the same process you can use to deal with urges to binge. Learn more about not reacting to binge urges in Episode 6: Dismiss Urges to Binge: Component 3 (Stop Reacting to Urges to Binge.
As your reactions subside, you’ll find yourself naturally coming back to a less-anxious and more-peaceful mindset, where the other person’s words and your own feelings and thoughts are no longer bothering you. Then, you are free to continue enjoying the holiday event or having other conversations that don’t involve food or weight.
Keep this in mind as you attend holiday events and aim to avoid binge eating during the holidays: Comments from others or harmful thoughts that arise in your own mind are messages that you can choose to take or leave. Just because someone says something about food, weight, or dieting does not mean you have to believe it or give it any significance in your life. You can simply let comments and your own reactions come and go, and move on. Other people’s words do not hold the power to get you off track in recovery. You can stay connected to what you need to do to end the binge eating habit for good.
If you want extra guidance as you work on the recovery goals of the Brain over Binge approach, here are some resources for additional support:
Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 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 or Kathryn Hansen. You will learn to change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.
In order to end the binge eating habit, it’s necessary to stop acting on the urges to binge. You are trying to de-condition a habit, and to do that, you want to stop reinforcing the brain pathways that leads you to binge. Once the binge urges no longer lead to binge eating, the brain will gradually stop producing the urges. This is because the brain has the ability to change based on the actions you take or don’t take, and this is called neuroplasticity.
In my books, blog, and on the Brain over Binge podcast, I share ideas and principles to help you avoid acting on binge urges, and you can get all of the basics in my free PDF. You can also read many additional ideas and insights in Part I of this blog series. But I want you to know that, when it comes to how to stop acting on urges to binge, there isn’t one exact “right” way, and different ideas work better for different people. Also, the experience of avoiding a binge feels a little different for everyone. I’ve found that the best tips for using the Brain over Binge approach and for recovery itself come from the people who have succeeded.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of women and men describe their own experiences and what helps them detach from binge urges and stop acting on them. I want to share the experience of one woman below, who explained to me what was helping her, and gave me permission to share it on my blog. I really liked the analogy she described, which helped her visualize herself as separate from the urges to binge. Hearing someone else’s experience can spark your own insights, and help you change your own perspective in a helpful way. I hope you benefit from reading her tips and success story:
While I was reading Brain over Binge, I had a light bulb moment. What the light bulb illuminated: “This book could be a real game changer for me. Am I ready to take the big step of having my game with food entirely change? Yes, I am!” And indeed, I am on Day 37 binge-free. I truly feel that binge eating has moved into my past.
My problem with resisting binge urges, for many years, can be summed up with one word: inevitability. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but I truly believed, for the longest time, that my binge eating was inevitable, handed down from above, totally out of my control. What helped me to overcome it unfolded in a series of steps: I happened to be reading, in the book 59 Seconds, a review of several different studies on what factors most enable people to achieve big long-term goals. When I looked at the list of factors, one of them stood out: “Go public.” The author recommended, based on solid evidence, that if you want to achieve something big, you should announce it to the world—kind of like giving a press conference. As a result of that tip, I got online and went in search of a public forum, a place where people announce their goals and give each other support, and announced my big project.
The next step, based on something else I read in 59 Seconds, was setting “mini goals.” One of the tried and true techniques in accomplishing a big goal, is to break the project up into smaller sub-goals, and work on them one at a time. So I set myself my first mini-goal: “Go 30 days without any binge-type eating.” (I think the longest I’d ever gone between binges was 13 days.)
The next step came, then, when I was putting techniques from Brain over Binge to work, where the rubber meets the road, in dealing with a real-life urge to binge. What it felt like, to me, was a mental feat. Since my most recent experience with pulling off mental feats is memorization (at the advanced age of 58) of vocabulary in a foreign language, I found myself reaching for one of the mental tools I’ve learned—specifically, vivid imagery (visual plus other senses) with some sort of action going on.
Let me formulate this as a tip for you, in confronting your own urges to binge. As soon as the urge arises, look for some way of dramatizing, in pictures and sounds, how you, as the higher self, are very separate from the binge urge, which is “neurological junk.” For example, I thought of myself as a cool cerebral character playing chess, in a room where a ridiculous little yappy dog (the urge to binge) is trying to get me to play fetch with it. I imagined the dog as having a high-pitched yelp of a voice, barking away, and I imagined it holding the ball in its mouth and doing everything in its power to get my attention—butting my legs, knocking against the chess board, and so on.
Meanwhile, I am not exactly ignoring it: I am merely observing its frantic, silly behavior while I contemplate my next chess move. (Since I’m a higher being, I can do both of those things at once.) I’m not saying anything to the dog, nor am I reacting to it in any way. I don’t need to tell you the end of this story, because it’s obvious: the yappy dog eventually gives up and wanders off into another room.
You can use, adapt, that little drama however you like, or better yet, come up with a new one of your own, but take care to make the scenario very specific (imagine the dog’s little ratty tail), with more than one sense (visual, auditory, etc.) involved, with some kind of action taking place. The more ridiculous—even humorous—you make the urge to binge appear, the more easily you can be in the role of cool, calm, collected observer.
I’ve had very few urges to binge since coming up with the yappy-dog scenario, and the ones that have arrived are so attenuated, they just float up briefly into my consciousness and drift away. To reinforce the thought that my binge urges are in the past, a couple of times I have visualized myself actually bingeing, and I’ve observed how the visualization, as if made of old fragile film stock, has a lot of little white and black blobs obscuring the view, like pixelated static, as it drifts further and further into the past. 37 days may not seem very long, but believe me, that behavior is ancient history. The last time an urge to binge surfaced, I just thought, “What’s this? We don’t do that anymore!” and the urge went poof! and vanished.
Thanks to all of you who’ve read this far, and best of luck in getting your own urges to binge into ancient history!
I created the Brain over Binge blog to give you a variety of tips, ideas, information, and insights to go along with my two books. Even if you haven’t read the books, you can benefit from my posts, especially if you’ve learned the basics of the Brain over Binge approach in my free PDF or by listening to my podcast. I hope what I have written so far on the blog, and what I will write in the future, will help you toward freedom from binge eating.
This post and the next (Tips to Help You Achieve Recovery, Part 2) will be a central part of the Brain over Binge blog, because I’m writing it for people who need extra help in recovery. This two-part blog series will give you additional ideas if you are struggling to stop binge eating, and if you are having a difficult time letting the binge urges pass rather than acting on them. I’ve heard from many women and men who understand the Brain over Binge approach and know they have the ability to avoid binges, but they still find themselves following the binge urges. (For more about the urges, listen to Episode 2: The Cause of Binge Eating: Urges to Binge).
Are You Having Trouble Avoiding Binges?
The first thing I want to tell you is that not everyone stops acting on binge urges immediately. Even if you develop a new and empowering perspective about your binge eating, and even if you know that you are capable of overcoming the harmful habit without needing to solve other problems first, that doesn’t mean your recovery will be automatic. You are on your own path, and different ideas work for different people in different ways. That’s not to give you excuses, because you have the ability to end binge eating for good, but you always want to have self-compassion along the way. Being self-critical is not an effective way to move toward change.
To help you create the change you want, I’m going to list some common obstacles that may be getting in the way of you successfully avoiding binges, and I’ll explain how you can move past these obstacles. I’ll also share and link to other useful posts and resources on the Brain over Binge blog and website so that you can get more information to support your recovery.
Recovery Obstacle #1: You Are Arguing With the Binge Urges
Several people have asked if there was anything specific I did or told myself to detach from the urges to binge. Besides briefly reminding myself of the brain-based information I’d learned and the fact that those urge thoughts and feelings weren’t truly me, there wasn’t any specific mental dialogue or action that helped me separate from my lower brain—the primitive part of the brain that created my urges. (You can listen to Episode 3 and Episode 5 for more information about the lower and higher brain). I simply accepted the experience of the urges, without letting those urges affect me and lead me into a binge.
I think trying to have any sort of mental dialogue with the urges to binge is counterproductive, because it engages the lower brain. The lower brain sends automatic messages to try to get you to maintain a habit it senses you need, and there’s nothing you can say to yourself to make those messages go away. Actually, the more you try to say things to yourself, the more you end up arguing with the urges; and you therefore give the urges more attention and significance, which makes them stronger.
I’m going to use an analogy to try to explain this:
Let’s say you are in an argument with someone, and you are listening, getting upset, and arguing back. Your words and actions are helping to fuel the disagreement. Whatever you say, the person has a counterargument, and emotions run high. But, if you eventually realize that arguing is futile and not worth your time, you will just quit listening and letting the person’s words affect you. You will still hear what they are saying, and you will still have the experience of being in an argument, but that experience will suddenly feel very different. The person’s words will no longer make any difference to you, and you’ll no longer feel so emotionally charged. That’s detachment. That’s how you can experience the urges to binge.
You don’t need to announce that the urges aren’t worth your time. You don’t need to say “I’m not listening anymore.” Detachment is a mental shift that you can make without any dialogue with the urge thoughts. You can just let the lower brain do what it’s been conditioned to do, without reacting to it, and it will eventually fall silent.
Recovery Obstacle #2: You Are Letting Binges Lead to More Binges
After learning information about the lower/higher brain, completely changing how I understood my bulimia, and realizing that I had the power to stop acting on urges—I still binged two more times. But, I didn’t see the binges as a sign of failure or as an indication that I couldn’t be successful with my new approach to recovery. I saw that I had simply acted on urges to binge, but that it was not inevitable for me to act on binge urges that would follow. After those two binges, I didn’t feel like I had to start over, or find a new approach. I just took a look at what happened, and saw how I could prevent it from happening again. I explained this in more detail in my first book: Brain over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered for Good.
If you have a binge while you are trying to recover, don’t make it mean more than it does. It doesn’t mean you won’t recover, it doesn’t mean you can’t utilize your higher brain more effectively next time. Something helpful you can do is to mentally go back to determine what led you to act on the urge. I’m not talking about figuring out what events or feelings “triggered” the binge, I’m talking about determining how the urge itself led you into the binge. How did your lower brain get what it wanted? What binge-encouraging thoughts did you believe? When did you lose that detachment and separation from the urges?
You might feel discouraged about a binge, and that’s okay, but by analyzing what happened, you can keep the binge in perspective. You may realize it was just one enticing thought that hooked you and made you decide to follow the urge. You’ll be prepared to experience the next urge without believing the lower brain’s faulty messages.
Recovery Obstacle #3: You Feel Like You Want to Binge
In Brain over Binge, I also talked about how learning to stop acting on binge urges wasn’t truly difficult for me, but it was tricky at first. My lower brain could be deceptive, and by far the most tempting and common reason it gave me to binge was because I simply wanted to. I had thoughts telling me that it didn’t matter what part of my brain generated my urges, because I wanted to binge nonetheless. I had thoughts telling me I should definitely follow my urges because a binge was my true desire. As long as I stayed detached from those thoughts and viewed them as meaningless, they could not affect me.
This topic of wanting to binge comes up a lot in those who are trying to recover, so I’ve addressed this issue in two other posts on the Brain over Binge blog: Is “Wanting to Binge” Holding You Back in Recovery? and Do You Want to Recover?: Why It Sometimes Feels Like You Want to Keep Binge Eating.
It’s so important to be able to dismiss ANY thought or feeling encouraging binge eating as the neurological junk that it is. This includes those messages that tell you binge eating is worth it, or that it is really you that wants to binge. You don’t need to disagree with those thoughts or try to argue them away, because like I talked about earlier, that doesn’t work; but you can remain unaffected by those thoughts and feelings until they pass.
Recovery Obstacle #4: You Are Not Eating Enough
I’ve brought this up a lot on the blog so far, but I believe it’s the most common reason for struggling in binge eating recovery. If you are not eating adequately, you are keeping your body and brain in survival mode, and I truly believe that urges that arise because of food restriction are harder to dismiss than urges that arise due to habit. Eating less than you need is not compatible with the Brain over Binge approach. If you think this may be a problem for you, these two blog posts will give you some useful information as you give up dieting: Weight Gain From Binge Eating Recovery? and What are Your Motivations for Dieting?
Recovery Obstacle #5: You Need Additional Guidance in Recovery
Some people can read a book or learn the basics of a new approach, and then apply it with consistency—without any additional help. But, this is not always the case. Most people need to have a way to reinforce what they’ve learned, or need some questions answered along the way, or need additional clarity about how this approach applies to their specific situation, or need some help staying focused as they put an end to binge eating.
There are many ways you can get additional guidance, clarity, and reinforcement—and that may be outside of the Brain over Binge blog and website—but if you resonate with my approach and would like extra help and additional recovery resources, I want to tell you that I’ve created the Brain over Binge Course to serve as a powerful way to keep you on track and moving toward freedom from binge eating. I’ve also made sure that it’s affordable for anyone who is committed to ending binge eating (you can get access to the course for only $18.99 per month)
As a part of this course, I’ve recorded detailed answers to nearly every question I’ve been asked over the years, so that you can get the information, ideas, and advice that you need to support yourself on your journey to freedom from binge eating.
Here is what one course member had to say:
This course is exactly what I needed to hear! I’ve read countless books on the BED-topic (including Brain over Binge) before, without any success. The course is full of deep insights and packed with valuable and practical information. I really appreciate the rational and organized form everything is presented. I’m exceedingly thankful for the course – it has really changed my life! THANK YOU!!!
Continue to Part 2 of this blog series.