Eat Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want

Eat Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want?

The idea of eating “whatever you want, whenever you want” is an often-discussed topic in the eating disorder recovery space. Some use this directive to encourage people to give up food restriction and food rules, and others speak out against the idea of eating “whatever you want, whenever you want,” saying that it’s unrealistic or will lead to overeating and poor food choices.

This phrase is also (incorrectly) used to describe the popular Intuitive Eating approach, which is much more nuanced than simply “eating whatever you want, whenever you want.” The original philosophy of Intuitive Eating was developed by Evelyn Tripoli and Elise Resh, and the basic premise is that your body knows what foods are best for you and how much you need to eat. So, if you can learn to follow that inner guidance, you’ll eventually be able to eat in a natural way and your body will be at the unique size that’s right for you. Intuitive eating involves tuning in to taste preferences and to how foods make you feel; it’s not just about following every food desire that you have.

If you are unsure if an intuitive approach to eating is right for you, you can listen to Episode 16: Eating Intuitively: Is it Right for You in Recovery from Binge Eating? or read this blog post: Is Intuitive Eating a Remedy for Binge Eating?. Also know that what I talk about in the rest of this post is not meant to be a reflection of the Intuitive Eating philosophy. I only wanted to mention it up front because it’s so strongly linked in many people’s minds to the idea of “eating whatever you want, whenever you want.”

Rethinking the Idea of Eating “Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want.”

Taken at face value, “eating whatever you want, whenever you want” seems to lack sound judgement and wisdom, but I’m going to turn the tables a bit here and say that maybe we should all be eating “whatever we want, whenever we want”…but only if we reinterpret this phrase.

Admittedly, throughout my years of working with binge eaters, I’ve been more on the side of people who say that “eating whatever you want, whenever you want” is unrealistic and can lead to eating an overabundance of highly stimulating, processed food. However, I’ve recently had new insights about this, realizing that I was interpreting this phrase in an overly simplistic way, and realizing it holds more truth than I’ve thought in the past.

Re-Examining the Meaning of “Wants”

As humans, we naturally have many desires and wants, and this is an absolutely normal part of our existence. Much of this wanting is fueled by our primitive brain and its reward/pleasure center, which naturally drives us toward behaviors that are going to keep us alive, help us experience pleasure, and allow us to avoid pain. Eating is a behavior that does all of the above.

Whether or not we struggle with a binge eating habit, we are going to want often and we’re going to want food often, and especially tasty food. It’s simply in our nature, and if we didn’t have this strong desire for food, we might not have survived as a species. Add to that the abundance of highly stimulating foods available to many of us today, and it’s easy to see why our normal cravings for food can get amplified. Some of us have stronger desires than others when it comes to food or other pleasures, and binge eaters have a glitch in this primitive reward system that makes them want massive amounts of food.

Primitive Wanting vs. Truly Wanting

What’s important to know is that having the experience of wanting something in the moment (because of our primitive drives) does not have much to do with what we actually, truly want for our lives.

Wanting is a feeling, a sensation, a type of energy that moves through us…but it is not us.

If we take another look at the phrase, “eat whatever you want, whenever you want,” you can see how this philosophy could potentially be harmful—because we do “want” often and we “want” food often. This can create a dilemma if we are fortunate enough to have access to food often, because even if we’re not actively eating—we may be smelling food, passing by it, seeing others eating it, and viewing advertising for it.

Normal eaters experience this too, but most people aren’t out there eating whatever they see, smell, or think about, or whenever their body creates the sensation of wanting around food. What normal eaters get good at is distinguishing what they actually, truly want from what they feel like they want in the moment.

Basically, a normal eater decides what “wants” to follow and what “wants” not to follow based on balancing their momentary desire for pleasure with their desire to feel good and to be able to function well in the world. A normal eater will certainly choose to eat just for pleasure sometimes and even do this more often than is ideal for health, especially in our modern food environment. But even when they eat purely for pleasure, it does not feel vastly out of line with their true self and the choices they want to be making.

I want or I want

Someone who is not making those conscious choices with food and instead feels driven by their momentary desires and cravings may say: “I eat whatever I want whenever I want.”

But someone who is making those conscious food choices would instead say, “I eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”

The difference is in what word is emphasized. If we emphasize the word I, it changes the whole experience and puts you back in control.

If you are instead focusing on the word want, and you are therefore eating every time you feel “wanting” around food, you are not allowing your true self to choose how you really want to be eating.

For example, your lower brain may want to constantly graze all day, but that doesn’t make you feel good. You realize that you actually feel better and more in touch with your appetite cues when you eat a few nourishing meals plus a couple snacks during the day, at generally the same times. That’s what you want to eat and when you want to eat, so when you eat in that way, you are in fact eating “whatever you want, whenever you want.” You’re making wise choices for yourself, and your additional, excessive wants and primitive brain desires are just along for the ride.

How Do You Handle “Wants” in the Rest of Your Life? 

Think about all of the other things you don’t do (or don’t do exactly when you want to) because your higher brain has greater goals—goals not to go broke, or ruin your relationships, or lose your job. We all disregard momentary desires sometimes for more important wants, and honestly, sometimes we do the opposite in that we disregard our greater goals for some guilty pleasure…and that’s okay too! But it’s about choosing that balance for yourself—by connecting to what you actually want for your life and for your eating, and leaving room for enjoyment too.

This is never about banishing food pleasure, and conversely, it’s also never about trying to convince yourself that you really want to be on a strict eating plan that deprives your body of enough food. If you struggle with wanting to be too restrictive, listen to Episode 49: Can I Use the Brain over Binge Approach to Stick to Strict Eating Plans?

How Much Space Are You Giving Your “Wants”?

As I was thinking about this topic, I ran across an insightful and relevant post—part of which I’m going to share here—from one of my favorite authors and podcast creators, Forrest Hansen. He said…

Much like dishes, laundry, and email, our wants never end. They expand to fill the space they’re allowed. We can never get to the bottom of dishes, laundry, or email. Doing email simply leaves us with more email to do as sending email means receiving more in return. Doing dishes today still means more tomorrow, and unfortunately, I never seem to run out of dirty clothing.

Our wants work the same way. Most people carry around this sense that if they could just get to the bottom of their wants, they’d finally be happy, but the truth is that our wants expand to fill the space they’re allowed. As we satisfy old wants, new ones appear to take their place and even when we’re currently enjoying that thing that we wanted, we can notice ourselves teleporting into the future, anticipating, planning, and desiring some new and slightly better version.

The problem isn’t just that our wants are never ending and constantly expanding, it’s that we can’t solve this problem by abandoning wants altogether. Important boxes must be checked for us to feel fulfilled. There is space for our wants, but the trick is to be thoughtful, not just about what wants we’re filling that space with, but how much space we’re allowing our wants to have. Are they in the passenger’s seat of the car or the driver’s seat?”

I hope that these words from Forrest Hansen and my discussion helps you see that you no longer have to be driven by your wants—in relation to food or anything else in your life—but you can get skilled at determining what you truly desire. You can learn to give yourself ample pleasure when it comes to food, while still not following the endless wants that are part of the human condition.

________________

If you want more help as you navigate this and as you create a way of eating that works for you, you can utilize the following Brain over Binge resources:

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private and highly personalized session with Kathryn or Coach Julie. You will learn to change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

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.

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.

Ep. 140: Understanding and Mastering High-Functioning Anxiety

Steve Warwick

Ep. 138: Finding True Pleasure in Food (with Steve Warwick)

binge eating holiday resources

Brain over Binge Holiday Resources

I wanted to put together a collection of blog posts, podcast episodes, and other resources to help you overcome challenges that may come up during the holidays.  I hope what I’ve included below will guide you to have a binge-free holiday season (if you celebrate), or simply help you end the year with progress toward recovery.

Below you’ll find an image link to each post/episode/resource along with a short description. You can refer back to this post whenever you need some extra help.

Whether it’s a big holiday meal, or a simple dinner at home, you may find yourself struggling to end the eating. It can be tempting to keep going back for more, and before long, you may find yourself spiraling into a binge. This free track from the Brain over Binge course will give you ideas and strategies to approach holiday meals or everyday meals with more confidence.

_______________

T️his blog post addresses dealing with challenging conversations about food and weight that often come up during this time of year. You can learn to react differently and not let what people say interfere with what you know is best for you.

_______________

T️his podcast episode addresses the tendency to delay recovery to a future date, which is extremely common leading up to the new year. You’ll learn why “I’ll start tomorrow…or next week…or next year” thoughts are so tempting and how you can overcome them. 

_______________

This episode addresses the tendency to link your ability to binge or not binge to the choices that you make. I want to encourage you to believe that you can choose not to binge regardless of your other holiday decisions.

_______________

This blog post addresses the same topic as Episode 32 of the podcast (above). I wanted to include it here for those of you who would rather read than listen, and there are also a few new ideas in the blog post. The holidays are a great opportunity to teach your brain that binge eating is not an option in any situation.

_______________

The holidays also provide many opportunities to drink alcohol, and you may wonder how that factors into recovery. In this episode, I talk about the effect that alcohol has on the higher and lower brain, and why drinking may make it more difficult to dismiss binge urges.  You will learn how to make a good individual decision about whether or not to have alcohol. 

_______________

In this post, I address the tendency to give up on recovery in December and make a resolution to stop binge eating in January. I’ll help you change this harmful pattern, so that you can make progress toward freedom from binge eating now, rather than telling yourself you will start over in the new year. 

_______________

In this episode, I talk about motivation, and I also give you one of my coaching sessions that focuses on staying motivated to dismiss binge urges each day. You can use this coaching session during holidays or any day that you want to remind yourself why you want to avoid binge eating.

_______________

This episode will help you stay on track to a binge-free life as we approach the new year. If you are going to end binge eating for good, you can’t turn back to restrictive behaviors come January. You can still focus on being healthier and improving yourself, but ensuring that you eat enough is a fundamental part of recovery.

_______________

This blog post addresses a topic similar to what I discussed in podcast Episode 30 (above). The more reminders that dieting is not a healthy path, the better! I hope this post helps you realize that restricting your food will only lead to more problems.

_______________

Join this interactive virtual retreat on 12/27 to end 2023 with success and prepare for a binge-free 2024. Brain over Binge Coach Julie will teach you practical and powerful mindfulness-based strategies tailored specifically toward freeing yourself from binge eating, plus provide personalized coaching!

_______________

You can have help at your fingertips through the holidays (and beyond) with my online course. This course is self-paced and includes an app for only $18.99/month with no commitment. You’ll be able to access 8 lessons and over 120 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.

_______________

 

During the holidays, and whenever you need it, you can get support from Brain over Binge coach Julie and from others who are overcoming this habit. The Brain over Binge group includes a forum for daily coaching and encouragement, weekly group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.

_______________

You can also work on your holiday challenges (and other recovery issues) privately with Kathryn or Coach Julie. You can book a 45-minute Zoom session where you will receive help changing your thinking, uncovering what is holding you back, and getting on a path to complete freedom from binge eating.

Stop Believing There Is Ever a Reason to Binge

Do you try to come up with complex reasons for why you binge? You are not alone, and this is a common tendency in all bad habits. In this post, I want to help you shift your perspective in a useful way surrounding your reasons for binge eating, and also help you let go of those reasons.

To stop binge eating, you need to stop believing there is ever a reason to binge.

The brain will provide endless rationalizations for continuing the binge eating habit…until you realize it’s not telling the truth. Justifying habits is part of a universal pattern of the lower brain, and it’s important to know that as long as you are engaging in binge eating, the brain will never stop pointing to emotions, problems, or circumstances as reasons for your behavior.

This is not to diminish anything you’re struggling with, because we are all complex individuals, and no one’s life is simple. You have your own unique tendencies, personality, and history. There are likely some factors that led you into the binge eating habit in the first place, but once you realize it’s hurting you, trying to figure out all of the theoretical reasons is not an efficient use of time. Even if you solve for one reason, the brain will provide another and another, because its job is to maintain the habit. Instead, you can learn to dismiss any and all reasons, and take back control. (If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get my free eBook to help you get started). 

What if my reasons for binge eating are valid?

Until this point, you may think I’m telling you to simply ignore your reasons, and to a large extent, that’s exactly what you need to do. But you may feel that there are certain issues which make it impossible for you to stop binge eating. For example, what if you believe you are acting compulsively because of another issue like ADHD or trauma?

There are definitely factors that can affect your ability to access self-control at times, and I always want you to be compassionate toward yourself for what you are facing. However, I want to challenge you to stop seeing any other issue as a “reason to binge,” and instead start seeing it as a “reason to get additional help in order to stop binge eating.” There are zero conditions that I’m aware of where binge eating is the recommended solution. So, even if you have another condition, get help for that condition, and don’t point to it as a reason to resign to binge eating.

In other words, believing that there is never a reason to binge includes solving for any reason you think is holding you back. Because the truth is, no matter what you are dealing with, binge eating is harming and not helping.

What if it’s helping me emotionally?

You may struggle to let go of emotional reasons for binge eating. Mainstream therapy and also the culture as a whole perpetuates the idea that binge eating is about meeting emotional needs or coping. It’s appealing to believe this, because when we are engaging in a behavior that feels so out of line with our true self, we naturally want to feel like that behavior “makes sense” in some way. Emotions are easy to blame because they are readily available; we are full of difficult emotions daily, and even on our good days, it’s always possible to point to an emotion as the reason.

This is not specific to binge eating. We all want to feel like we have deeper reasons for doing things that we know are destructive, and there’s certainly a place for self-analysis. But when you want to quit binge eating, it’s time to stop analyzing and to start believing that you can avoid the behavior no matter what. The reality is that binge eating does not actually help with emotions, it makes them worse in the long run, and gives you additional negative emotions. Binge eating increases shame, anxiety, depression, loneliness, despair, and fear. It also makes us less able to deal with the other problems in our lives. Even if binge eating brings some temporary distraction or escape from feelings in the moment of bingeing, it isn’t worth it.

Letting go of reasons for binge eating means letting go of the illusion that binge eating is doing anything truly helpful for you.

________________

I understand that this can be a challenging mindset shift to make, and we’re here to help you along the way as you recover.  You can use the resources below to get the support you need to free yourself from this source of pain.

One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private and highly personalized session with Kathryn or Coach Julie. You will learn to change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.

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.

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.

Ep. 135: Eat Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want?

Ep. 133: Self-Sabotage and Life Disruptions (with Heather Robertson of Half Size Me)