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.]”
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.]”
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.]”
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.]”
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.]”
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]
*Originally published in May 2018
This is the first part of a 2-part blog series on creating healthy changes for yourself after you end binge eating…that is, if you want healthy changes. There are certainly no requirements, and there’s nothing you have to do. You don’t need to eat healthily to achieve or maintain freedom from binge eating, but I know that so many binge eaters and former binge eaters are health conscious and want to improve their health.
I frequently promote the idea of eating all foods in moderation or allowing all foods (provided there are no allergies/sensitivities). Health-conscious binge eaters can be skeptical about this advice, because they may imagine that allowing all foods involves eating Lucky Charms for breakfast (more on cereal in part 2!), McDonald’s for lunch, take-out pizza for dinner, then maybe some candy for snacks, and being totally okay with eating like that every day. Eating all foods in moderation can involve eating that way sometimes, and I’ve had days since I stopped binge eating when my eating closely resembled what I just wrote; but if any of us ate like that for more than a few days or weeks in a row, we’d feel awful, and set ourselves up for health problems. This is not new information.
Where “everything in moderation” meets recovery…and good health
All of us living in this time of increasing nutrition knowledge need to come to terms with the reality that what we eat is important to our longevity and vitality. Even though you know this, you’ve likely experienced how difficult it is to try to make healthy changes while caught up in the binge eating habit. Binge eating typically sabotages efforts to make healthy changes; and also, trying to make a lot of healthy changes can take the focus off of the most important healthy change you need to make: stopping the binges.
I’ve worked with many people who are trying their best to eat as healthy as possible. They aren’t eating much sugar or processed foods, for example, as part of their normal daily intake. But privately, and with a lot of guilt, they are bingeing on large amounts of those very same foods. For some of these individuals, the only time they eat unhealthy food is when they are binge eating. They often believe they are powerless to eat unhealthy foods in moderation, or believe that eating those foods in moderation will make them gain weight. However, the cycle of trying to restrict the foods and then bingeing on the “restricted” foods is actually leading them to eat much more of those “restricted” foods than a moderation approach would.
This is why learning to allow foods is important.
If you can learn that you aren’t powerless against any food, you will build confidence that you can eat anything and not binge. If you instead continue to think one bite of sugar or wheat or fast food will cause you to be out of control, then you will never be totally free of the binge eating habit. This is the reasoning and purpose behind the everything in moderation approach in recovery…to empower you to realize that no food can make you binge. The purpose is not to convince you to be unhealthy.
So, when you hear me or anyone else recommend eating everything in moderation or allowing all foods, it doesn’t mean I don’t understand nutrition; it doesn’t I haven’t read the latest research on the keto diet, or whatever the popular “healthy” eating approach of the day happens to be. It means I want you to stop thinking you are powerless; it means I want you to have freedom from food rules; it means I want you to be realistic about the world we live in and the foods you will encounter, and the fact that no one follows a healthy eating plan 100 percent of the time. But, primarily, it means that – first and foremost – I want to you to be free of binge eating.
Becoming binge-free is a massively healthy change, and other healthy changes often naturally and effortlessly flow from there. Furthermore, allowing all foods, over time, usually leads to you eating less of those foods, because it breaks the diet mentality that gives those foods such a strong appeal. Of course, ending binge eating itself also vastly reduces the amount of unhealthy foods you consume.
What if you want more health improvements than stopping the binges provides?
You need to know that, although it’s life-changing and amazing, becoming binge-free does not automatically equal becoming healthy. It does not automatically equal you eating in way that makes you feel nourished day after day. It does not automatically equal sharp mental clarity and high energy. It certainly helps in a big way, but after binge eating recovery, you may indeed want to make more healthy changes.
The rest of this 2-part blog series is for those of you who are now binge-free, but feel a pull toward improving your health. It’s possible that you feel confused about how to improve your health if you are supposed to be allowing all foods, and eating everything in moderation, and of course – not dieting. In this post and the next, I’m going to discuss some issues related to this challenge. I hope you’ll come away from reading this series with some ideas and insights to help lead you into a healthier lifestyle (if that’s what you want), without feeling restricted.
You never have to stop eating everything in moderation…but make sure to”allow” a lot of nourishing foods
There is not a point after recovery where you say, “ok, I’m done with binge eating, so now it’s time to stop allowing all foods.” Eating everything in moderation isn’t only a strategy for recovery, it’s a lifelong strategy. You always have the freedom to eat what you want to eat, without fear of being out of control. But, again, that doesn’t mean you’ll be eating junk food at every meal. That, in fact, would not be “allowing” all foods, because you would not be allowing the truly nourishing foods that are natural and simple and good for your body.
The more you can allow foods that nourish you, the more satisfied you’ll feel, the more nutritionally balanced you’ll be, and the less you’ll tend to want the foods that aren’t serving you. You never have to put unhealthy food “off limits,” but adding and allowing and welcoming nourishment – without a restrictive mindset – can naturally help you move away from unhealthy foods. And, that choice won’t feel like it’s coming from a place of deprivation.
As you work to improve health, you get to make your own food choices on your own timeline
There are so many options when it comes to how to improve your eating and your health. You are the expert on your own body and it’s important to empower yourself to make choices that are in your best interest. If your friend is vegan and swears that makes her feel amazing, but you try eating that way and it doesn’t feel good, then trust that it’s not for you. If your co-workers are all trying to eat low-carb, but you feel unbalanced when you eat that way, then listen to your own body. Last year, I studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and a big concept was what they called “bioindividuality.” The term means that everyone’s biology and physiology are different, and what’s healthy for one person may not be healthy for another, based on countless factors. Some people do better with more carbs, or more protein, or less protein, or more fat, or less carbs…or with or without dairy, or soy, or wheat…or with more or less fruit or starch…and the list could go on and on. These are your decisions to make.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek advice from nutritionists or health experts, or do research on what may be healthy for you; but you have to sort through it and see what makes sense to you personally, and fits with the lifestyle you want to create for yourself. You also get to decide the timeline for implementing any healthy changes you want to make. There is no rush, there are no rules, and there is no pressure. You are crafting a way of eating and a lifestyle that works for you, and there is no end point. You will be on this ever-changing journey for the rest of your life.
In the next post (Part 2), I’m going to share a personal story of making a healthy change after recovery. I’ll talk about my relationship to sugary cereal – the food I most craved when I was dieting, and the food that made up my first binge and countless more after that. I’ll explain how I no longer eat it much at all, and how that change came about.
Before I end today, I want to also direct you to a podcast episode and a resource that fits with this topic. In Episode 31: Making Healthy Changes After Binge Eating Recovery, I interviewed Daniel Thomas Hind (*listen to this important message prior to the episode), who helps people improve their health through a process of learning new skills and habits around food. Although Daniel does work on helping people with weight loss, he always comes from a place of making sure his clients are well nourished and not feeling deprived. If you’ve stopped binge eating, and you want to make improvements to your health, it’s important to have options that don’t send you down the path of dieting. This is why I’m bringing Daniel’s ideas to you – as one possible resource you can use on your journey to better health.
I am not an expert in helping people make healthy changes to the way they eat (my main focus is on helping people end the binge eating habit), but Daniel provides a free call to help propel you into creating whatever healthy changes you want to make, and also to determine if his coaching program may be a fit for you. This is especially useful if you don’t actually struggle with binge eating, but instead tend to overeat frequently or have other eating habits you feel are problematic (like emotional eating, constant grazing, or food “addictions”). If you are someone who is still binge eating, keep your focus on ending that habit – by learning to dismiss binge urges, learning to eat enough, and practicing eating all foods in moderation, in whatever way works for you.
One final thing I want to mention about Daniel’s work relates to what I said in this post about choosing how you want to eat, based on your own unique body and lifestyle. It’s important for you to know that, although Daniel personally subscribes to a paleo-type lifestyle and does teach about that, he wants clients to choose and craft their own way of eating. Here is an excerpt from Daniel:
“It’s important to note that my stance on diet and nutrition is philosophically-rooted in an ethic of what’s natural and simple. As far as your actual diet goes, I do not claim to be a guru, and you are a unique human being. My teachings are a guideline, and are meant to serve as a foundational template, an example that’s worked for many. I provide all of these tools, foundations, teachings, and my approach in order for you to feel empowered to choose the diet that best expresses who you are in the world and the life you’d love to live.”
You can learn more about Daniel’s work and program by filling out this questionnaire.
Go to part 2 of this blog series.