Binge eating during a crisis

Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis, Part 1: Opportunity to Binge

This is the first part of a 3-part series that I’m going to complete over the next several weeks, and I hope it will help you in some way during this difficult time of dealing with the direct and indirect effects of the coronavirus crisis. Even if the virus itself hasn’t impacted you or your family, the physical, mental, and emotional stress of this crisis is likely reaching every area of your life.

You may also be concerned about how all of this is going to impact your recovery, and you may worry about how you’ll stay binge-free during this time. In this 3-part series, I’ll try to provide some ideas and insights that you can use to keep moving toward freedom from binge eating, despite everything else you are dealing with. The posts will center around the idea of opportunity, in a few different ways. In this post, I’m going to talk about how your lower brain (the part of the brain that drives binge eating) might sense this difficult time as an opportunity to binge, and how you can overcome that.

I’ve received several emails from people saying that they are struggling with increased binge eating during this crisis, and especially while they are in isolation. If you are someone whose binge urges are strongly linked to being alone, or to anxiety, or to sadness, or to having a lot of food in the house, it only makes sense that your lower brain would produce more urges right now. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. You may be someone who experiences more urges during times of work travel or when you have a packed schedule, and you may find yourself having less urges to binge now that you aren’t busy.

It’s important to see that it’s not the events or the emotions that cause the binge eating. A situation that frequently leads to a binge for one person might never lead to a binge for another person. The cause of a binge is always the urge to binge, and if you are new to the Brain over Binge approach and you want to learn more about this, you can get my free eBook.

It’s also important to see that, even if you do have some relatively consistent patterns to when your binge urges appear, the lower brain is opportunistic. It’s job is to maintain your habit, and it will provide compelling reasons to binge in a variety of situations and in response to a variety of feelings. If your normal day-to-day life suddenly changes, your lower brain doesn’t just give up on urging you to binge; it will find opportunities to maintain your habit.

Below, I’m going to run through some of the binge-encouraging thoughts that your lower brain may have produced before this crisis, and then some of the binge-encouraging thoughts you may be experiencing now. I hope this gives you some insight into how the lower brain works, and how it can create binge opportunities from different situations. I also hope it helps you see that any binge-encouraging thought is a faulty brain message that you don’t need to give any value, meaning, or attention.
Binge-encouraging thoughts during normal life and during this crisis:

Normal life: “You have so much to do, you can’t possibly keep up. [You need to binge to relax.]”
Crisis: “You have too much down time. [There is nothing to do but binge.]”

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Normal life: “Work is too stressful. [You deserve a binge when you get home.]”
Crisis:
“Trying to work from home (or having time off) is too stressful. [You deserve a binge.]”

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Normal life: “You can’t possibly deal with seeing the junk food people keep bringing into the office, or passing the bakery on the way home from work, or driving by the fast food restaurants. [You should just give up and binge.]”
Crisis: “You can’t possibly deal with all of the food in the house that’s supposed to last for weeks. [You might as well give up and binge.]”

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Normal life: Social situations produce so much anxiety and self-criticism. [You should binge to distract yourself.]”
Crisis: 
“Social distancing creates so much loneliness. [You should binge to distract yourself.]”

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Normal life: “Eating in restaurants is too tempting and too difficult. [You should binge afterward.]”
Crisis:
“Eating the same boring foods at home is unsatisfying. [You should binge for excitement and pleasure.]”

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Normal life: “You have too many places to go when all you really want to do is stay home and rest. [You should binge and cancel all of your plans].”
Crisis: “You can’t leave the house, you can’t do anything you want to do. [You should binge to cope with boredom.]”

_______

Normal life: “Eating with friends and extended family is frustrating and leads to a lot of self-judgement. [You should binge to punish yourself.]”
Crisis:
“It’s too hard to stay in control when you are eating alone. [You might as give up any control and binge.]”

_______

Normal life: “Working out with others at the gym makes you feel out of shape and bad about yourself.” [You should binge because you’ll never be in shape anyway.]
Crisis: “It’s too hard to get motivated to work out alone at home. [You should give up on health and binge, and start over with a diet when the crisis ends.]

_______

Normal life:“You are worried about work, health, family, relationships…etc. [You should binge to numb yourself].”
Crisis:
“You are worried about the coronavirus. [You should binge to numb yourself].”
You don’t truly believe that any of these situations, feelings, or thoughts justifies a binge (whether that’s during a crisis or during more normal days). The automatic, binge-encouraging thoughts from the lower brain are just a product of the habit. You can notice, observe, devalue, and dismiss these thoughts.

You don’t need to criticize yourself for having these thoughts. There is nothing wrong with you. People across the globe are having all sorts of thoughts right now, and that’s expected. Some thoughts during this crisis will be filled with anxiety, some will provide a sense of security or peace, some will produce panic, some will give you a strong sense of compassion, some will make you feel helpless and hopeless, and some will allow you to experiencing love and connection like never before.
…and if you have a binge eating habit, some thoughts will undoubtedly encourage you to binge, but you don’t have to follow those thoughts.

You don’t have to follow a binge-encouraging thought during this crisis any more than you have to follow a thought that says to throw a big party with everyone you know. You don’t want to harm yourself with a binge any more than you want to harm yourself (or anyone else) with a virus. We will get through this difficult time, but don’t believe any thoughts that tell you binge eating will help you cope or somehow make things easier for you. It won’t. It will only lead to more problems.
[Go to Part II]

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More help:

If you want extra guidance, here are some resources for additional support:

Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, 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.

Binge eating course questions

Questions in Binge Eating Recovery (Course Q&A’s)

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*

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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?

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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.

 

 

Letting go of binge eating

Brain over Binky: Childhood Habits, and Letting Go of Harmful Behaviors without Drama

*Originally posted on May 1 , 2011. Updated and re-published on July 23, 2019 (My little boy I wrote about here is almost 13!)

My four-year-old son gave up sucking his “binky” (pacifier) a couple weeks ago. We had already reduced his use of it during the day, but he was still very attached to it at naptime and bedtime. We decided to offer him a reward to quit. We let him pick out a toy in exchange for his pacifiers, and he’s been thoroughly enjoying the airplane set he chose, and he’s seemingly forgotten about his pacifiers.

This is a kid who I could have never pictured without his pacifiers. When I think back to his baby years, the main image in my mind is him looking at me with big blue eyes and sucking away on his pacifier. When he was very young, we couldn’t leave the house without a binky, and when I kissed him goodnight, I had to always make sure he had one for his mouth, and a couple extra in his bed so he’d be sure to find one if he woke up in the middle of the night. He loved his binkies, they were his favorite way to self-soothe.

An Lesson in Simply Letting Go 

I didn’t think it would be as simple as it was for him to give up the pacifiers. He had a few nights where he slept less and fussed more, but now, he acts like he never had them in the first place. My husband and I were prepared to give him lots of extra comfort during the initial “withdrawal” phase; but it turned out that he was fine without them. He stopped performing the habit, and in turn, the desire for the habit seems to have gone away already. I can’t be absolutely sure because I haven’t talked about the pacifiers in over a week, as I don’t want him turning attention to them unnecessarily. I told myself I’d only talk about them if he started the conversation; but he hasn’t, and because he’s a very talkative kid, I think this is good evidence that he’s not thinking about the pacifiers.

Observing my son simply let go of this habit that he was so attached to just weeks ago has me thinking about how people – young and old – have the ability to give up bad habits without much drama. I’ve been drawing parallels between a child giving up a pacifier and adults giving up their harmful behaviors and addictions. I believe that if adults who struggle with destructive habits could model the example of young children, then giving up those habits would be much less complicated.

Adult Habits are Treated with More Complexity  

Why are adults told they are diseased or psychologically unwell because they have a bad habit or because they repeatedly overuse a substance? Why are they often excused from simply quitting, and told they are powerless?  We do not tell our children they are powerless over their habits (otherwise, there would be widespread adult pacifier use).

Was my son “addicted” to his pacifier? I realize that the word “addiction” can be charged and has different meanings to different people, but I think I could argue that yes, he was addicted to his pacifier, even though there was not a chemically-addicting substance involved. But, did being “addicted” mean he was flawed or broken or had underlying emotional issues he needed to resolve? Absolutely not. Did being “addicted” mean he was not capable of simply stopping the behavior moving on with his life? No. And, I want to encourage binge eaters to believe that they are also capable of simply letting go.

The way I quit binge eating was indeed very similar to the way my son quit using his pacifiers. I stopped letting a binge be an option. I decided that I didn’t do it anymore, no matter what, and the urges to binge faded when I no longer acted on them. It did take longer for my urges to binge to go away than it seemed to take for my son to lose his desire to suck his pacifiers; and this is possibly because a child’s brain is more plastic and more easily changed than an adult’s. Nevertheless, my brain moved on and developed new neural pathways; and I developed new interests and things to think about; and the feeling of wanting to binge became merely a memory.

Your Lower Brain May Act Like a Child, but Your Higher Brain Can Guide You to Freedom

A difference between my son and me was that my son wouldn’t have chosen to stop sucking his pacifiers on his own, at least not anytime in the near future. He needed my husband and I to tell him when it was time to stop, and take the pacifiers away. Likewise, the more primitive part of a binge eater’s brain (which I call the lower brain) is “addicted” to binge eating and wants to continue the habit indefinitely, receiving whatever temporary pleasure and comfort it brings. The lower brain needs a higher authority to say “it’s time to stop,” and in adults, that voice of reason is the prefrontal cortex (which I call the higher brain). The higher brain is the part of you that knows binge eating is not what you truly want, and it is the part of you that is capable of dismissing the urges to binge. *For help learning how to dismiss the urges to binge, you can get my free eBook.

Ending Binge Eating Can be as Straightforward as Quitting Your Childhood Habits

If, right now, you believe your binge eating brings you comfort and pleasure that you can’t live without, just think of all the children who bravely hand over their binkies, or stop sucking their thumb, or stop carrying their favorite blanket everywhere they go. I know that not all children give up their habits as easily as my son did, but even if there is a difficult phase in the beginning, the child eventually stops and it just isn’t that big of a deal.

I am not trying to minimize the problem of adult addictions by comparing them to childhood habits, but I am trying to help you see that quitting a harmful behavior does not have to be so complicated. It also does not have to involve a major personal transformation or solving your life’s problems. Deciding to give up a harmful habit does take courage, but it’s well worth it, and it may not be as difficult as you think. After a couple of weeks binge-free, you may be surprised to feel your desire to binge fading quickly. You’ll feel confident when you realize you didn’t truly need the habit after all, and you’ll feel free when you realize you are so much better off without binge eating in your life.

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The Brain over Binge Course will help you let go of ideas that are making habit change more complicated than it needs to be, and help you tap into your own power to end binge eating without drama.

Audio coaching for binge eating Alen Standish

Episode 50: Audio Coaching to Overcome Binge Eating, Emotional Eating, and Night Eating (Interview with Alen Standish)