Dr. Amy Johnson the mind binge eating

Ep. 89: The Mind & Binge Eating, 5 Common Patterns (with Dr. Amy Johnson)

binge eating recovery simple

Is Binge Eating Recovery Ever “Simple”?

If you’ve followed my blog or podcast, or read my books, you may notice that I use the word “simple” a lot to describe my approach. My podcast introduction is, “you’ll learn a simple, brain-based approach to ending binge eating,” and the subtitle of my second book (The Brain over Binge Recovery Guide) is, “A Simple and Personalized Plan for Ending Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder.”

When I was finishing up that book at the end of 2015, I received the first printed copy of it in the mail to review before publication. I remember picking up the book, looking at the cover, and the word simple really standing out to me—as a word that seemed to contradict the size of the book (378 pages!). In that moment, I kind of laughed at myself for choosing the word simple for such a thick book, and I imagined future readers wondering how in the world this approach could be simple.

Without ever opening the book, it does seem like an inconsistency, and I did briefly think about changing the subtitle at the last minute to avoid potential confusion. However, I ultimately decided to stick with it because I trusted that the reader would quickly understand why I used that word.

Only 2 Goals to End Binge Eating

At its core, the Brain over Binge approach is a simple approach to binge eating recovery. You focus on just two recovery goals: Learning to dismiss the urges to binge, and learning to eat adequately. You do not need to solve all of your other problems, or learn to cope perfectly with your emotions, or create a happy life, or develop fulfilling relationships. You also do not have to control your circumstances, or avoid triggers, or eat in one certain way, or be at your ideal weight.

I try to help you narrow your focus and learn to use the power of your brain to end the binge eating habit. Truly, all you need to do is stop following urges to binge and eat enough food. But, I realize that seems much too simple on the surface, so there’s a lot of explaining that I need to do and background information I need to give for the two recovery goals to make sense. This is the primary reason for the length of my books, and why I’m already up to Episode 87 on my podcast.

Another reason that my approach is simple, but my resources are extensive is: the two recovery goals of dismissing binge urges and eating adequately are not typically goals that you wake up and suddenly decide to do, and know exactly how to do, and achieve perfect success right away. There are usually questions that come up along the way, and I do my best to answer them.


Dismissing Binge Urges Requires a New Perspective & Practice

The first recovery goal (learning to dismiss binge urges) requires viewing the urges in a new way, so that you can stop reacting to them and stop acting on them. Again, this takes some explaining, especially about the brain and how it drives behavior. It’s necessary to become aware of your thinking and how your urges are convincing you to binge, and it’s important to be able to experience your own power over these urges—which you may not experience right away.

Additionally, it can take practice to become consistently successful at avoiding binges. You may need to do some troubleshooting to improve your ability to dismiss the urges—determining what works uniquely for you. The process of change is a little different for each person, even though there are certainly similarities in all habits, based on the way the human brain works.

Eating Adequately Requires Ending Dieting & Finding Your Own Formula

As it relates to the second recovery goal (eating adequately), this can also be something that requires some learning—or even a great deal of learning. You certainly do not need to eat perfectly to stop binge eating, but if you’re used to restriction and not giving your body enough food, then you’ll need to learn to nourish yourself properly. It’s impossible to stop binge eating for good if you continue down the path of dieting and continue not meeting your body’s physical needs.

Giving up dieting can be a challenge if you’ve been attached to it for a long time, and as part of this fundamentally simple goal of eating adequately, I share a lot of information to help you let dieting go. It’s important to understand why dieting is not a way to reach and maintain a healthy weight, and you need to learn to overcome fears of weight gain. Additionally, binge eating itself has negative effects on appetite regulation, so I also offer guidance (especially in my course) that is aimed at helping you through the process of learning to eat normally again.

The way of eating that works for you is going to be different than it is for someone else. As Brain over Binge coach Julie frequently says in group coaching and one-on-one coaching, it’s about finding your own formula—how you uniquely want to eat, and what feels good in your own body.

This Is Not a “Just Quit” Approach to Binge Eating Recovery

Everything I’ve said so far does not mean recovery needs to be a long road. I do not believe that’s the case, and one of my main goals is to empower you to believe that you absolutely can stop this habit and move on with your life. However, I want to be clear that my message includes much more than telling you to “just stop binge eating.”

I think that’s where it’s possible to misinterpret the simplicity of the Brain over Binge approach. Although the ultimate goal is to stop binge eating (as it would be with any approach), I fully realize there is more to it than that. When I was struggling with bingeing, if anyone would have told me to “just stop,” it would have made me angry—because of course I was trying to stop! I did not want to be binge eating, and if I could have “just stopped” at the time, I would have.

So when you hear me say in a blog post, or podcast episode, or Instagram post that you have the power to stop bingeing, please know that if you keep reading or listening, I will do my best to help you understand this, and apply it in your life, and free yourself from binge eating.


Let Recovery Be as Simple as Possible

I believe that traditional ways of viewing eating disorders—as diseases or symptoms of underlying emotional or psychological issues—make recovery much more complicated than it needs to be. You do not need to fundamentally transform yourself or solve your other problems to recover. Let your recovery from binge eating be as simple as possible. Don’t feel like you need to change so many parts of your life, or eat perfectly, or love your body all of the time in order to stop this habit.

Recovery may take letting go of some old ideas that are no longer serving you. It may take realizing that binge eating is not doing anything positive for you. It may take a new understanding of how your brain is working to get you to binge. Avoiding binges and learning to consistently nourish your body can take some practice; but I hope that by cutting out any unnecessary confusion, the Brain over Binge approach gives you a much more clear-cut, efficient, and simple path to ending this habit.


More help:

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 $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.

desire a binge free life

Ep 87: Start Desiring a Binge-Free Life

I Don't Know How to Eat

Ep. 86: Stop Thinking “I Don’t Know How to Eat”

vacations traveling binge eating recovery

Vacations and Traveling in Binge Eating Recovery

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

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

Simplify: Focus on the Two Recovery Goals

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

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

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

Don’t Let Negative Body Thoughts Lead to Binge Eating

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

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

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

Visualize Your Vacation Success

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

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

Allow for Flexibility

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

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

Focus on Living!

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

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If you need personalized help and support as you learn to stay binge free on vacation and every day, know that we now offer Brain over Binge one-on-one coaching

Drop the "Shoulds" Around Eating

Ep. 85: Drop the “Shoulds” Around Eating

commitment binge eating recovery

Making Commitments Last in Binge Eating Recovery

When I was a binge eater, I seemed to have endless Day 1’s. What I mean by this is—telling myself it was Day 1 of my binge-free life, because I had resolved to never binge again. I had too many of these new starts to count.

New starts were sometimes spontaneous, for example, when I would wake up feeling awful after a binge and declare it was Day 1, and that I’d never do that to myself again. But more commonly, I planned my Day 1 in advance and lined it up with an occasion like my birthday, New Year’s, or even just with the start of a new week or month. I often picked a Day 1 that coincided with my next therapy appointment, or when I was going to start a new meal plan, or a new strategy in recovery. If I had an important event coming up—like a friend’s wedding—when I wanted to be at my best, I’d sometimes set my Day 1 to be a certain number of days or weeks in advance of that event.

Leading up my self-declared Day 1, I would often do things like buy a new journal, or make a new chart to track all the binge-free days I knew I was going to have, or come up with a new reward system for myself for when I was successful, or create elaborate plans for my upcoming binge-free days—thinking that if I somehow blocked out every minute with something to do, then I would not binge. In addition to any planning I did for Day 1, I always did a lot of bingeing as well. I would usually binge all the way until the “official” start date and time that I had set for myself.

My new plans and new commitments had good intentions, but they typically did not last very long. Until I finally recovered for good, I rarely got to day 3 or day 4 without a binge, regardless of the plan I implemented. So it seemed like I was always either bingeing or starting over on Day 1 with a new plan—that led right back to bingeing. Each time, I really thought that setting the new commitment would help, but I stayed stuck in this frustrating cycle.

When I was caught up in this, I couldn’t really see what was happening. I seemed to automatically go into planning a new Day 1 or making a new resolution, without stopping to think about why the last one hadn’t worked. I don’t think I ever really slowed down to observe what I was doing, and how my thoughts and actions were getting in the way of my progress.

Knowing what I know now, I want to help you feel better prepared to make a commitment to binge eating recovery, so in this post, I want to give you some advice on making commitments last.

Avoid Thinking of “Day 1” in a Literal Way—You are Not Starting Over in Binge Eating Recovery

It’s understandable that you want to make a commitment to stop binge eating, and it’s great that you want to be free of this habit that’s causing you so much pain. But, if you’ve been trying to recover for any amount of time, you’re never truly starting over at Day 1. I suggest that you stop thinking of recovery attempts as brand new starts. You can even stop using the term Day 1 altogether.

You already have knowledge and experience that you can use to your advantage as you fully end the binge eating habit, and thinking you have to go all the way back to the starting line makes recovery seem daunting. Imagine recovery to be like running a race with hurdles—the runners don’t go back to the starting line every time they trip over a hurdle. They simply get up and keep running—committed to jumping the next hurdle, and the next, until they finish the race. They begin again from the place where they fall, and they can still complete the race successfully.

You’ve already made progress in recovery, even if you are struggling right now, so look at your commitment as a continuation, rather than a new beginning. You are committed to finishing the race, to doing your absolute best from this day forward, even if you trip over other hurdles along the way. With this mentality, you will arrive at where you want to be, so try thinking of new commitments in terms of renewed focus, not in terms of going backward and starting at Day 1 again.

Even With a New Commitment to Stop Binge Eating, You Will Still Have the Same Brain

The next piece of advice I’ll give you is to know that your new commitment doesn’t undo the binge eating habit in your brain. You may think that your new commitment or new plan will usher in a new you who does not want to binge, or at least does not want to binge much at all. The reality is that the you that shows up to refocus on recovery has fundamentally the same brain pathways and the same physiology that you did the day before your new commitment. Once you repeat the behavior of binge eating many times, it becomes habitual—wired into your primitive brain centers. Furthermore, the large quantities of food that you’re consuming affect your physiology, digestion, hunger signals, and cravings; and recommitting to recovery does not automatically give you a new body and a new brain.

As you refocus on recovery, and stay committed, your brain and body will gradually change as you decondition the habit. Your brain and body will get the message that you’re no longer binge-eating, and they will adapt accordingly. The problem that I made and that a lot people make is thinking that there will be little to no temptation if they are firmly committed to recovery. This is not the case, because your brain is not yet wired as someone who does not binge.

It is true that you don’t want to binge anymore. You, in your higher brain—the part of your brain responsible for your goals and plans and rational thinking—absolutely does desire recovery. But it’s also important to understand that your lower brain is still conditioned to react as if the habit is absolutely necessary, and it will still send urges for the behavior.

When I didn’t understand my lower and higher brain, it was so frustrating that—despite my shiny new chart to keep track of my success, despite my beautiful new recovery journal, or meal plan, or therapist—I still felt driven to binge. Because I didn’t realize that desire for the habit is a normal part of habit change, I lost focus and I lost my commitment when I had that desire. When I started feeling those binge urges on Day 2, 3, or 4 of my fresh new start, I assumed it was because I truly did want to binge after all.

This made me so angry with myself to want two completely different things—complete freedom and non-stop binge eating—in just a matter or days, or even hours. When the urges to binge got strong, I gave in; and in those moments, it was as if I concluded that binge eating was what I really wanted, and that the new commitment I’d made wasn’t actually me.

But after the binge, I always wished I could erase it. I wished I could go back to being that “new commitment” me. So yet again, I created a new plan and I said that this time I would keep my promise. I’m telling you this so you will understand that a new or renewed commitment does not make your urges to binge go away. Having urges to binge even when you are committed to recovery is totally normal, and does not mean anything is wrong with you. It means your brain is operating as it should.

When you make a commitment to recovery, it then becomes your job to begin to rewire your brain, using whatever support and whatever approach helps you. The day you decide to focus on recovery is the day you will begin to chip away at this habit in your brain. The commitment may help give your higher brain some strength and motivation, but you will still feel a pull toward the harmful behaviors at times, and it’s important that you don’t let this surprise you. You can allow those tempting feelings to pass, while keeping your commitment to remain binge free, and those urges will fade in time.

A “Last Binge” Will Only Make New Commitments More Difficult

I’ve talked and written about the “one last binge” mentality before, and I encourage you to check out this blog post and podcast episode for more on this topic; but there can be another layer to this mentality as well—which relates to making new commitments. What can happen is…in the days before you know you want to really commit to recovery, you can have thoughts that say having “one last binge” will actually help you when it’s time for your commitment to begin. You may believe these thoughts for two reasons:

First, you may think that having a last binge or a last string of binges before a new commitment will finally make you feel satisfied. You may believe that you’ll finally feel like you’ve had enough, and then you’ll be totally ready to give up the habit.

Looking at it from a brain-based perspective, this belief does not make logical sense. Each time you try to have a “last binge” to fully satisfy the habitual desire, you only strengthen that desire and the neural pathways and physiological processes that fuel it.  You teach your lower brain that you need to binge even more—you do not teach it that you are ready to quit. This sets you up to have a more difficult time when the day of your commitment arrives.

Due to your “last binge” or “last binges” (in an attempt to silence the urges once and for all), you’ve created stronger urges, and also stretched your stomach and affected your digestion so that cravings are worse, and it’s harder to eat normally. Going into a recovery attempt while dealing with the acute after-affects of binge eating makes everything much more challenging. You can definitely overcome these challenges, but you’ll make it easier on yourself if you don’t have these big, “last” binges.

The second reason you may believe you need to have one last binge, or several last binges, before you refocus on recovery is because you think the binges will make you feel so badly afterward that you will never want to do it again. You know the pain that comes after binges, and you may think that the pain will deter you from ever wanting to binge again—which will make your new commitment last. But, this is also working against you—again because of how the brain works:

When the lower brain is conditioned to binge, or to have any other destructive habit, you’ll still have a desire for it regardless of the pain that it causes. When you are feeling driven to binge, you don’t usually remember the pain of past binges. As much as you can try to remind yourself of the pain, it doesn’t convince the lower brain. Binge eating in advance of a new attempt to quit will not somehow make the lower brain remember the consequences of binge eating.

Any thoughts that say “one last binge” will benefit you and your commitment are faulty, lower-brain thoughts that you can learn to dismiss. The sooner you can start dismissing these thoughts, and any other thoughts that encourage binge eating, the better position you’ll be in to break this habit for good.

I hope the ideas I’ve shared here will help you make a new commitment and make it last!

If you want help becoming and staying binge-free, you can get my course (only $10.99 per month), and also get personalized support and accountability with one-on-one coaching or group coaching.

life after binge eating recovery

Ep. 83: Recovery From Binge Eating Means Regaining Your LIFE! (Part I)