I Rarely Eat Sugary Cereal, and I Never Feel Restricted: Healthy Changes after Recovery, Part II

*Originally published in May 2018

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I don’t have a rule against eating sugary cereal, and I actually do eat cereal sometimes, but the vast majority of the time, it’s not the kind I used to crave when I was dieting (and the kind I’d binge on too). Greatly reducing my cereal intake – and almost completely eliminating sugary varieties – is one example of a healthy change I’ve made since I stopped binge eating. If you’ve read Brain over Binge, you know how much trouble I had with cereal during my dieting and binge eating days; so I want to share more about this change with you, in hopes that it gives you some insight and ideas for how similar healthy changes may come about in your own life.

This post is the second part of a 2-part series about Healthy Changes after Recovery. You can read Part I here, which talks about the role of eating everything in moderation, making choices about what’s best for your unique body and lifestyle, and being patient with yourself as you create your own way of eating. This blog series is primarily for those who are now binge-free, or who do not actually struggle with binge eating, and instead have other problematic eating habits like overeating, grazing, or feeling addicted to certain foods.

My Personal Example of a Healthy Change: Sugary Cereal

I used to eat sugary cereal often for breakfast as a kid and teen. My mom, like any good 80’s/90’s mom, used to buy the “fun” brands like Lucky Charms, but she also tried to balance it out with varieties that were viewed as “healthier” at the time, like Raisin Bran (the kind with the sugar-coated raisins!). I ate various types of cereal in normal amounts; I always stopped when I was full; and I never thought much about it. It wasn’t until I started restricting my food intake in order to try to control my weight that I learned to label sugary cereal as “bad,” and tried to avoid it…and ended up eating more of it than I ever thought possible.

At the time I started dieting (1997), dietary fat was mostly considered the villain, and because cereal was generally low-fat, my reason for thinking it was “bad” didn’t have much to do with its nutritional content or high sugar. I thought it was bad because, when I started restricting my food, I suddenly craved it and I had trouble controlling myself around it. I seemed to want so much of it, which I’d never experienced before and which scared me. I worried that eating too much of it would give me too many calories, and hence, make me gain weight; so, I tried not to eat it, which made me crave it even more.

As I shared in Brain over Binge, my first binge was on sugary cereal – 8 full bowls of it.  In hindsight, it’s easy to see exactly what happened, and what turned me from a normal-cereal-eater to someone who could eat 8 bowls.  The short version is that I was starving. I wasn’t eating enough, and because of that, the appeal of the cereal skyrocketed. Calorie deprivation increases the reward value of food, especially food that is highly palatable (which usually means it’s high in sugar and/or fat).* This makes sense from a survival perspective – my brain was just trying to make me eat foods it sensed would help me survive the “famine” I’d created for myself by dieting.

Before I was in a calorie-deficit, I could forget we had cereal in the house, and in my life today, it’s the same. But, when I was in that calorie-deprived state, I would often wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about the cereal in the pantry. Then, once I binged on cereal once, it quickly became a habit. Eating bowl after bowl became a regular part of my binges, and during binge urges and binge episodes, it felt like my body truly needed that much cereal.

At certain times during my binge eating years, I read information about foods being addictive or people being powerless, so I tried to give up cereal (and other foods) from time to time. To me, it seems like such a baffling approach to tell someone who feels out of control around a food to simply never eat that food. Maybe that approach would make sense if the problematic food suddenly no longer existed on earth, but in my world of living in a college town, with roommates, there was no getting away from cereal.

I also tried moderation approaches with sugary cereal, which made more sense to me, but proved to be frustrating as well, because I actually did learn to eat sugary cereal in moderation…and I still binged on it. At the time, I didn’t understand that it was the binge urges that caused the binges, not the sugary cereal.  Looking back, it makes sense that I could only eat sugary cereal in moderation when I didn’t have binge urges before, during, or after eating it.

Once I stopped acting on my binge urges, those urges went away, even when I was eating my former binge foods, like sugary cereal. Then, I could eat sugary cereal in moderation again – every time! It was great.

I resumed my normal life and simply ate cereal when I wanted. It was a common breakfast food for me after recovery, although I’d try to mostly buy the kinds that were a little “healthier.” (I put that in quotes, because today, most processed cereals you buy from a grocery store are not generally considered healthy). I still ate high-sugar varieties now and then as well, but primarily as a night snack. After binge eating ended and my appetite stabilized, I quickly realized that eating too much sugar in the morning didn’t make me feel good. Choosing the low-sugar varieties if I was eating cereal in the morning, and then sometimes having a high-sugar treat at night was a change that came naturally, and not something that I forced myself into.

As the months and years went by, there was a gradual increase in nutrition research and news pointing to the idea that sugar and processed grains cause harm to health. My carefree cereal-eating days seemed to be in question. Although I had never been under the impression that cereal was super-healthy, I didn’t think it was causing harm. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the idea that I could absolutely have anything I wanted in moderation, but also that some foods are – without a doubt – not healthy.

At this point, my binge eating days were long gone, but I was also firmly set in the anti-diet mentality. I knew dieting caused harm; I knew I never wanted to go down that path again, but would not eating sugary-cereal be “dieting”?

The short answer is no, it would not be dieting, but it took me a little while to truly see it that way. I gradually came to believe that making healthy changes in a gentle, non-stressful way, while making sure you are nourished and eating enough, is not dieting. It’s simply trading out foods that are no longer serving you, with foods that serve you better, and it never has to mean banning foods completely.

Fast forward to today, I can’t even remember the last time I ate the types of cereal I used to binge on. I sometimes eat more natural types of cereal such as granola – still typically as a night snack – but it’s not very often. I may eat it for a couple of nights, and then forget I have the box for weeks or months, or I simply won’t want it.

How is it that I’m not craving sugary cereal like I used to?  How can I (mostly) not eat sugary cereal, but also not feel restricted at all? How can I basically never eat the brands of cereal I thought about morning and night as a dieter, and no longer think about them?

Here’s a short rundown on why I think it was possible for me, and hopefully that will help you see how it can be possible for you too:

1. Because I know I can have sugary cereal if I want it.  I can absolutely go buy a box of Lucky Charms right now and have a bowl and enjoy it, no big deal. It’s not forbidden in my mind. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure (in moderation) is not always a bad thing. It’s fun, it’s delicious..and we all have to find that balance in our own lives between pleasure and focusing on our health.

2. Because I’m no longer calorie restricted. Sugar doesn’t hold that high appeal that it did when I was starving and it was so attractive to my survival instincts. It’s amazing what eating enough will do to help your cravings!

3. Because the decision to reduce my cereal intake came gradually and naturally. My choice came from information I read, but also from my own insight about how the cereal was making me feel, and also from learning to expand my tastes to other, more nourishing foods. I never felt like I was fighting against myself, or holding myself back from something I truly wanted. Also, the decision came when I was ready to make that decision, not because someone else told me that’s what I should do.

4. Because I don’t believe I’m powerless against cereal, or any other food. I know I can eat a normal amount of cereal without a problem, so there’s no fear around eating it. Conversely, there’s no fear that not eating it will lead me to crave it more. When I tried to give up cereal during my binge eating years, it was out of a sense of fear – because I thought that one bite would lead to 8 bowls. Fearing a food tends to keeps it on your mind, and keeps your attention focused on that food. Now, there is relaxation around cereal, and I rarely think about it.

5. Because “not having sugary cereal” is not a restrictive rule. This is similar to reason #1, but I want to expand on it by saying that when you make a genuine choice to eat in a healthier way and it feels good, you feel in alignment. You don’t feel restricted. You don’t fantasize about the unhealthy foods that you’re not eating. You simply choose (most of the time) to have other things, and don’t really miss what you aren’t having.

6. Because I’m simply older…and I don’t think many adults are still eating Lucky Charms for breakfast. It’s okay to walk away from childhood foods that aren’t benefiting you in adulthood. This is not dieting. You could simply call it “growing up,” or learning to take care of yourself.

I don’t want to give the impression that my eating is perfectly healthy. There are many other unhealthy foods that I still choose to eat!  But, I wanted to share this personal story to let you know that giving up binge eating and giving up dieting does not at all mean giving up on health. After binge eating ends, you are free to make (or not make) any healthy changes you want, in a way that works for you, and on a timeline that works for you.

Making those healthy changes is not part of binge eating recovery, it’s simply part of life. However, as a former binge eater, you will want to make sure you make changes in a healthy way that doesn’t involve putting yourself in a calorie deficit or becoming obsessive or overly restrictive about foods. You will want to be cautious not to develop a dieting mentality.

If you are someone who has ended your binge eating habit and wants help in making healthy changes, you can get more information in Episode 31 of my podcast, in which I interviewed Daniel Thomas Hind about this topic. If you resonate with what he talks about, you can also get more information about his coaching by filling out this questionnaire to get a free call that he offers. I am not an expert in helping people make healthy changes to the way they eat, but I know that many of you are interested in that area. So, if you want greater health, but healthy changes don’t seem to be coming naturally and gradually for you after you stop binge eating, it makes sense that you may want some outside help. I hope Daniel’s coaching gives you an option for getting that type of support.

Reference:

*One example of research demonstrating this: Stice, E., K. Burger, and S. Yokum. “Calorie Deprivation Increases Responsivity of Attention and Reward Brain Regions to Intake, Anticipated Intake, and Images of Palatable Foods.”  NeuroImage 67 (2013): 322-330

Paleo binge eating

My Recovery Diet & Thoughts on Paleo as a Binge Eating Cure

I understand what it’s like to be confused about what to eat, and to feel like maybe if you just have the right meal plan, or if you eat all of the right foods, you can finally stop binge eating. Many people have asked what I ate at the time that I recovered, and today I’m going to share those details.

Since this post will address my diet and paleo eating, I want to say right away that I did not eat paleo when I stopped binge eating, and in fact, my diet was quite the opposite of paleo. Paleo is becoming a popular way to eat to pursue better health, weight loss, and even binge eating recovery. But, for reasons I’ll explain in this post, I do not believe paleo eating is a cure for binge eating disorder, bulimia, or any form of binge eating.

What I Ate During Binge Eating Recovery

I didn’t share exact details in my book, because I didn’t want people to feel like they should follow my way of eating. Everyone has different needs, and I certainly didn’t recover because of my specific diet. I am using the word diet in this sense to mean way of eating, and not a form of restriction.

My diet at the time I recovered in 2005 was not very healthy compared to today’s standards, especially if you believe that paleo eating is the healthiest. For example, when I recovered, whole wheat and whole grain food items were mostly considered healthy, and now some experts think they are at the root of many health problems and diseases. Also, low-fat dairy seemed to be considered healthier than full-fat dairy, and now many experts claim the opposite, or that dairy isn’t healthy in any form.

What I considered a pretty good diet then isn’t what I consider healthy today; and sometimes I am not even sure what I consider healthy (you can see my What is Healthy? post for a discussion about this). Nevertheless, I want to share what I ate in hopes that it will help you realize that you don’t have to eat perfectly, and that it’s important to eat enough.

Most of the time, I ate 3 meals plus 3 or 4 snacks per day, likely averaging about 2300 calories per day. I usually stayed in the range of 2000-2500 calories, sometimes slightly more, sometimes less. I didn’t count calories at the time, nor do I today; but I was pretty knowledgeable about calories, as most people with a history of eating disorders are, so I knew generally how much I was getting. I was very active at the time, because I was on my feet all day working in a special education classroom with kids who had severe and profound disabilities, and I exercised about 5-6 times a week for 20-30 min.

Even though I ate pretty regular meals and snacks, the meal/snack times and what I ate were very flexible. Sometimes I’d inadvertently miss a meal, sometimes I’d eat more that usual at a meal, and sometimes not as much. Below, I’ve included a small sample of some of the meals/snacks that I ate, and if you want to learn more about my overall thoughts on food intake, you can read my post, How Much Should I Eat?. Note that any measurement I give in this sample is just an average because I didn’t measure my food.

Breakfast:

  • Bowl of cereal (about 1 ½ cups dry cereal and 1 cup of 1% or 2% milk) and fruit. The cereal was usually something low-sugar/whole grain like Bran Flakes, but sometimes I’d chose a more sugary option.  or…
  • 2 whole grain waffles with about 2 tbsp peanut butter, and fruit. or….
  • Whole grain bagel with about 2 tbsp Cream cheese, and fruit. or….
  • 2 eggs (scrambled, fried, or hard-boiled) with 1 or 2 pieces of whole grain toast and butter, plus some fruit. or….
  • Bowl of oatmeal (2 servings based on the label) with a little low-fat milk and some fruit.

*The fruit that I ate with my breakfast was something like an apple, banana, grapes (maybe 15 or so), or an orange.

Snack #1:

  • 8 oz container of flavored yogurt or….
  • Granola bar or….
  • Protein bar or….
  • Low-fat cookies (about 4) or….
  • Cheese or peanut butter-filled cracker sandwiches (I believe 6 came in a pack)

Lunch:

  • Turkey and cheese sandwich (2 pieces whole grain bread, about 1 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 piece of cheese, a few slices of deli turkey), with chips (about 15) and a vegetable (usually a small can of green beans; or fresh celery or carrot sticks) or…
  • 1 can of soup (lentil, chicken noodle, black bean, tomato) with wheat crackers (about 8) or 1 or 2 pieces of whole grain toast, fruit- Lean pocket (usually 1, sometimes 2), vegetable, wheat crackers (5-10) or chips.

Snack #2: Generally the same choices as snack #1 above.

Dinner:

  • Whole wheat pasta and meatballs (about 1 1/2 cup cooked pasta, 2 medium meatballs, marinara sauce), with a serving of vegetables like corn or green peas, and a roll with butter.
  • Pork chops with gravy, brown Rice (1 1/2 cup cooked), a serving of vegetables, and a piece of garlic bread.
  • Tuna salad sandwich (2 slices of wheat bread, 3/4 can of tuna, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, with chips (about 10-15).

Snack #3:

  • My late night snack was usually a bowl of cereal (about the same serving size as when I had it for breakfast). It was usually a cereal I thought was pretty healthy at the time; but I’d have a sugary option probably once every couple of weeks.

Desserts:

  • I had dessert an average of 2 times a week (usually after dinner). Desserts were something like 1 cup of ice cream, 1-5 cookies, an average size piece of cake, ½ of a chocolate bar, or just a couple of hard candies after a meal.

Eating out:

  • My husband and I were not the greatest cooks, and we did eat out a lot. We ordered pizza about once every two weeks for dinner, and I would usually eat 2 to 3 slices, depending on the size of the slices. We got fast food at least once per week for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I ordered either a breakfast sandwich, or hamburger or fish sandwich with fries (usually small, but sometimes a bigger size if I was more hungry).

Drinks:

  • I drank mostly water at the time, but I’d often have a cup of orange, grape, or apple juice sometime during the day, and I drank a diet soda a couple times a week. I also drank coffee each day with 1% or 2% milk in it. I had one or two alcoholic drinks (beer or wine) a couple times per month.

The Opposite of Paleo

Considering that I thought whole grains/whole wheat were healthy, this seemed like a decent diet to me. It allowed me flexibility, foods that I liked, and variety. But, as it turned out, my diet was nearly the antithesis of the way of eating that many experts now claim is healthy, and that’s paleo eating.

The paleo diet has been popularized especially in the past couple years by books like The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf (2010), and The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain (2010). The paleo theory basically argues against consumption of all wheat, grains, legumes, dairy products, sugar, and processed oils. In the rest of this post, I’m going to talk about this way of eating, and the implications for binge eaters.

When I first heard the theory that whole grains and whole wheat are not healthy, it honestly caught me off guard, because I’d spent so much time believing they were good for me. I could completely understand why someone would say that sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods were unhealthy, but whole grains? It also shocked me that legumes and dairy (foods I assumed were healthy for many years) are excluded from the paleo diet. I did some research, and realized there is compelling evidence behind the idea that these foods are not the best choices for our health.

Is Paleo a Healthy Way to Eat?

The basic theory is that humans are not genetically adapted to digest grains, dairy, legumes, and the other foods that the paleo diet eliminates, and these foods act like toxins to our systems. There is still a lot of controversy about this theory, and I’m not saying I’m 100 percent sold on the idea. There are studies and experts who refute it, and some say it’s just another fad diet.

Personally, I still eat grains and beans, albeit less and especially less wheat; and I’ve been eating more meat, eggs, fresh veggies, and a lot more fat (in the form of coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.) I still eat dairy as well; but now I always buy full-fat dairy.

If grains are a culprit in a lot of health problems in our society; I find this news pretty hard to take. One walk through the grocery store shows that most food manufactures promote “whole grain” food as a healthy option, or as a positive addition to any food. It’s one thing when you eat sugar or processed food and you know it’s not the best for you, but also okay in moderation; but it’s quite another when you eat something for years and years thinking it’s healthy, and you find out it probably wasn’t healthy after all.

A more bothersome part about this is that I’ve fed a lot of whole grains and beans to my children, basically since they started eating solid food, thinking I was doing something good for them. I bought a book about preparing healthy and natural baby food when my first born began eating solids. The book was more vegetarian in nature, and it recommended starting a baby’s day with a breakfast of homemade porridge, consisting of whole grains and beans blended together. When I think of all the whole grains and beans I bought in bulk from the health food store, and all of the nights I stayed up late cooking beans and grains for my babies, and how I went through a lot of extra trouble to lovingly feed them something I thought was healthy; I feel terrible to think all of it may have been in vain, or even toxic to their systems.

Again, it’s one thing to give your kid a cookie or candy knowing it’s primarily for pleasure and that they aren’t getting nutrition from it; but it’s quite another when you find out the majority of the “healthy” food you’ve fed your kids might not have been healthy at all. But enough of me venting about my personal feelings on this matter; now I want to turn to talking about how paleo eating relates to recovery from bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Paleo as a Fix for Binge Eating?

Special diets as cures for binge eating and bulimia are nothing new. In Brain over Binge, I talked about the addiction model of treating binge eating. Addiction treatment is based on the idea that the foods a binge eater typically binges on, which are usually foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, are physically addictive; and to recover, the binge eater must abstain from those addictive foods, often indefinitely.

One of the pioneers in the addiction model of treating binge eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction was Anne Katherine, author of Anatomy of a Food Addiction. In her book, Katherine recommends avoiding what she believes are the culprits of a food addiction – sugar and refined carbohydrates. She recommends “converting to whole wheat eating,” and says that “nearly every beloved flour product can be replaced with a sugar-free, 100 percent whole-wheat product.” This book also recommends converting to other whole grains, like eating brown rice instead of white rice.[i]

Now, some are taking it one huge step further, by making a paleo diet a requirement, or at least an important step in recovery. While paleo eating might be helpful to some people in some ways, I would hate to see a situation where binge eaters are told they must give up many food groups in order to live free of binge eating. To make these types of sweeping changes in the way you eat is very difficult. I know several extremely health conscious people, and none of them follow a perfect paleo diet. Quite simply, asking binge eaters to only eat paleo foods in order to fix binge eating is asking too much, when even normal eaters can struggle greatly with eliminating foods from their diets.

The Problem with Paleo as a Potential Solution to Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder

The reality is, grains are everywhere and we have learn to live with them. If we choose not to eat them, I believe it has to be just that – a choice – not a requirement for recovery. Avoiding certain foods for health reasons might be a beneficial choice for certain people, as long as the person is making sure they are eating enough calories and getting enough nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. However, as far as being helpful in recovery from bulimia and binge eating disorder, I think there are several reasons why a paleo diet is not the answer, and I’ve explained those reasons below:

  1. Avoiding certain foods with the belief that one bite of those foods will spiral into a binge can be self-fulfilling. What happens if the former binge eater decides to eat grains again one day? Does this mean she or he is destined to relapse? Feeling like you can control yourself around any food seems to be the safer option.
  2. Binge eaters can binge on anything. Even though carbohydrates are the most common binge foods, the reality is that binge eaters can and do binge on all types of foods. If you don’t break the binge eating habit, the primal brain will continue looking for opportunities to binge, and will find them on any eating regimen, including the paleo diet.
  3. A paleo diet does not take away the desire for the temporary pleasure of a binge. Binge eating alters the reward system in the brain and it becomes a habit of pleasure (which ultimately leads to pain). Just because the paleo diet says to eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates does not shut off the urges to binge on those foods. If a paleo diet is going to alter body and brain chemistry to eventually reduce cravings for certain “addicting” foods, it still doesn’t guarantee that the desire to binge will go away.
  4. Telling a binge eater to eat a paleo diet fails to address behavioral conditioning. The habit becomes wired into the brain so that the brain can produce cravings for binges automatically, regardless of what the person is eating.
  5. A paleo diet does not address the lack of self-control binge eaters feel.  A sense of lack of control over eating is fundamental to all cases of bulimia and binge eating disorder; so telling a binge eater that the solution to their problem is to use a ton of self control to avoid many foods simply doesn’t make sense.

Can Paleo at Least Help Eliminate Some Cravings and Urges?

Getting past these problems, if binge eaters could manage to eat a paleo-type diet for a long time, would it eliminate urges to binge?

If the person did not binge during this time, then I believe the urges would lessen or go away, but not due to the paleo diet itself. Not acting on the binge urges weakens the habit in the brain, and the urges fade, whether or not you are eating paleo. So, it’s not the paleo diet that eliminates the binge eating habit; it’s not binge eating that eliminates the binge eating habit.

If a person eats paleo, and binges on paleo foods, then they still have a binge eating habit. If a person eats a diet including all foods, and binges on none of those foods, then they do not have a binge eating habit. I realize this is obvious, but I think it’s important to point out that a certain way of eating is not the cure; the cure is to stop acting on the binge urges. (If you are new here and want to learn how to avoid following your urges to binge, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics.)

Then the question becomes: Is it easier to stop acting on urges to binge if you are eating paleo? I think the answer is possibly, for some people. If eating grains, sugar, and carbs typically leads to binge urges for you, then eating a paleo diet could potentially create a situation where you have less urges to deal with. That’s assuming you can stick to a paleo diet, but based on the problems I discussed above, it’s very difficult.

On the other hand, feelings of deprivation and restriction are some of the main drivers of urges to binge, so the elimination of certain foods may have the opposite effect of giving you more urges to deal with. Additionally, given that many binge eaters claim that stress brings on their urges to binge, it’s possible that the time, effort, and money it requires to eat a paleo diet might end up leading to more frequent urges. This is not to say that you need to eliminate stress or that you can’t try to eat healthy.  I’m just pointing out that binge urges arise in many different situations and in response to eating many different foods, and it’s not always predictable.  That’s why I believe it’s important to view the urges as the problem, not the situations or foods.

I didn’t eat a paleo diet, and neither have many others who have recovered; yet we managed to end the binge eating habit for food. Maybe if I would have eaten no sugar, dairy, wheat, grains, or legumes, I would have had less urges to deal with…or maybe more? Either way, looking back, I’m glad I recovered the way that I did; because now no food is dangerous to me. I can eat whatever I want without having to worry about it leading to urges to binge or to relapse. Furthermore, I don’t have to worry if and when science makes new discoveries that change what we currently know about nutrition, and gives us a whole new set of guidelines to be healthy or remain food-addiction free.

Brain over Binge is Not a Way to Stick to Diets

I want to end this post by telling you that the Brain over Binge approach is for ending binge eating, not for resisting every urge to eat something unhealthy or something that’s not paleo.  When you recover, you are saying no to urges to binge; you are not saying no to hunger signals, or all cravings, or all desires to eat in a way that may not be ideal. (I’ve talked about this thoroughly in Episode 12: Dismissing Urges to Binge is Not a Dieting Strategy, and Episode 49: Can I Use the Brain over Binge Approach to Stick to Strict Eating Plans?).

 

[i] Katherine, Anne. Anatomy of a Food Addiction: The Brain Chemistry of Overeating. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books, 1991. P. 189-190

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For more help with ending binge eating, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF, or learn more about my Coaching Audios or Course.

What is Healthy Eating?

In this post, I’m going to address the topic of what “healthy” eating means. This a big topic that one post could not possibly cover, but I’m going to give you some ideas that I hope will help you as you overcome binge eating. Before I begin, you need to know that I am not a nutrition expert, and I do not claim to have the answers on what to eat to maintain optimal health. I’ve been recovered from binge eating for a very long time, but that does not mean I eat a perfectly healthy diet.

Eating in a healthy way and stopping binge eating are two different objectives. You can be completely free of binge eating without eating healthy foods; and on the other hand, you can eat only healthy foods and still binge.

In other words, you don’t have to eat healthy to recover from bulimia or binge eating disorder. Thinking that healthy eating is a requirement for recovery can actually make recovery much more difficult, because healthy eating can be a difficult endeavor even for someone who does not have an eating disorder. Try to start viewing healthy eating as a life improvement goal that is not specific to eating disorder recovery.

I’ve definitely made improvements to my eating habits since I let go of the harmful binge eating habit. Those improvements came rather naturally once I was no longer sabotaging my health with binge eating. I don’t eat as many processed foods as I used to, and I try to cook more and eat more “real” foods. I still would like to make more improvements in my family’s eating habits; but lately, I’ve come upon a stumbling block of trying to sort out what is healthy and what is not.

It seems like if you name any food, there is some expert who could label it unhealthy. We’ve all heard that sugar and processed foods aren’t good for us; however, more and more foods are being villainized based on some scientific study, popular theory, or anecdotal evidence. (On a side note: I don’t think it’s helpful to label foods as “bad” or “forbidden”, and I think that everything in moderation is okay, provided there are no major health problems.)

There are nutritional experts claiming that dairy, wheat, soy, meat, eggs, starches, fruit, anything that isn’t organic, certain oils, coffee, and even all whole grains and legumes are detrimental to our health. To make matters even more confusing, there are usually experts on the other side saying those same foods are fine, or even very healthy for us. Then, expert opinions can change over time and new research can prove previous advice wrong.

I personally can get a bit overwhelmed by this, and I know I’m not alone. I think ultimately, we all have to decide what foods/eating habits work for us, regardless of what the popular consensus is, or what the latest nutritional research claims to prove. I think it can be great to learn about nutrition, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that nutrition is highly individual. What might be healthy for one person might not be for another, because of food sensitivities, allergies, health conditions, various physiological factors, or simply preferences.

If you are someone who wants to focus on healthy eating, I would suggest for you to be open to what “healthy” may mean for your personally. Don’t get locked in to what one expert or theory says. Just make the best choices you can based on your own knowledge, common sense, and feedback from your body, and know that it will never be perfect. Experiment with what you like and don’t like, aim to nourish yourself well, and know that once you stop binge eating, it will be much easier to make other eating improvements.

It’s important to remember that nutrition is not the only factor in good health, and it can be very helpful to focus on the other factors so that you don’t become obsessive about food. Turning your attention to improving relaxation, recreation, sleep, and hydration are all great ways to take care of yourself without getting overly concerned about what you are eating. For many people, going through all of the extra trouble (and spending the extra money) in order to ensure a perfectly healthy diet can cause so much stress that it offsets any benefits of the healthy eating. It’s okay if you can’t manage to always eat organic, gluten/dairy/soy-free everything; because there are other ways you can improve your health.

I think an ideal way to approach healthy eating is to keep it simple, allow for imperfections, and eat in a way that you think is healthy for you personally (without worrying much about constantly changing nutritional advice). Also, don’t let the goal of improving your health lead to unhealthy stress in your life.

To end this post, I want to share a quote from my wonderful friend who went back to school to get a master’s degree in health education and who always has great advice on this topic. She told me recently that she believes in balancing nutrition with sanity”. I think that’s a great perspective, and can help you as you make any healthy changes to your eating.

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I typically recommend for binge eaters to end the binge eating habit first before putting too much emphasis on making other healthy eating changes. If you want help in stopping the binge eating habit, you can download my free eBook The Brain over Binge Basics when you sign up for my newsletter.