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.
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, but just 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 coming from your higher brain.
To stop dieting, it’s important to start to turn it around and see that dieting isn’t actually what you want and that it’s harming you and making recovery impossible. This blog post will help you look at your motivations for dieting, so you can see that it’s not your true desire and you can move away from it.
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 stuck. Dieting became your norm, so you just kept 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 tomorrow.”
Instead of considering if these thoughts are serving you, you automatically take them as truth, and don’t consider 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 and/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.
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
When you achieve a weight loss goal, it may give you a temporary good feeling – a feeling of achievement or pride or confidence. The feeling is fleeting, but it temporarily lifts your mood and how you feel about yourself. The problem is: if that weight is outside of your natural weight range, it’s impossible to maintain it or the good feelings that came along with it. So, what this can lead to is a yo-yo effect where you are perpetually seeking that weight to get the fleeting moment(s) 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 the self-sabotage of a diet to achieve those good feelings, and you certainly don’t need to see a certain number on a scale to have those good feelings.
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; you can find feelings of happiness being with people you love without your mind caught up in thinking about food; you can find confidence in mastering a 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 and more fulfilling ways.
An important thing to remember is that you won’t 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. But, the point is just 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: Attention / Affection
The previous motivation was all about how dieting makes you feel internally, but related to that is the external attention you get (which can also lead to the internal feelings). It’s possible you feel that dieting and working on having the perfect body attracts attention toward you, whether that’s through admiration or romantic attraction.
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, from being a loyal friend/mother/father/sister/son…etc., from being hard-working, intelligent, funny, and being appreciated for who you are.
Motivation for Dieting #3: 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. 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 nature of our existence), so 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. 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. Maybe your friends or family members were doing it, 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(s) might be and then try to find a new, healthier perspective.
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. But, right now (and 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 you make that new choice to start 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.
*You can learn more about how to dismiss binge urges by downloading the The Brain over Binge Basics.