Alcohol binge eating

Should I Drink Alcohol While Trying to Quit Binge Eating?

When I struggled with binge eating, it seemed like alcohol often ruined my progress in recovery. I’d have days when I felt like I was doing pretty well—my eating was relatively normal and I felt like maybe I would make it through the day without a binge. Then, I’d get invited out to have drinks, and it seemed like my desire for recovery faded, so that by the time I got home, I didn’t hesitate to follow my urge to binge.

To avoid acting on the urge to binge, you have to use your prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain responsible for self-control and rational decision-making. The problem is: Alcohol directly affects the prefrontal cortex and reduces your ability to make sound decisions.

Does This Mean Everyone Trying to Quit Binge Eating Should Abstain From Alcohol?

Not necessarily, but I think it’s an important decision that each person in recovery from bulimia or binge eating disorder needs to make. I hope some information in this post will help you decide how you want to handle alcohol as you are breaking the binge eating habit, and you can also listen to my podcast episode on this same topic of alcohol and binge eating.

I want to first share my personal story of alcohol use during binge eating recovery, and then give you some advice to help you decide what is right for you.

When alcohol seemed to interfere with my progress, I had not yet discovered the brain-based information that I shared in my books. I still had the mindset that I was diseased or powerless over my desire to binge, and that I needed to solve my underlying emotional issues and learn to cope with problems more effectively before I could say no to binges each and every time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to resist urges to binge, but it usually felt like a losing battle, and that was especially the case when I drank alcohol.

At the time, the things I thought I needed to do to avoid a binge—like journaling about my feelings, or engaging in healthy self care, or reducing my anxiety, or trying to get my emotional needs met —- just didn’t feel doable when I was drinking. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to engage with any of those activities, which rarely helped me avoid a binge anyway. Under the influence of alcohol, I was much more likely to say screw it, and go right into the harmful binge eating behavior without even trying to avoid it.

Once I changed my approach to recovery, and realized I had the power to stop acting on my urges regardless of my mental or emotional state, then avoiding binges while drinking suddenly became possible. (If you are new here and want to learn about the Brain over Binge approach, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics.) Because of this new and empowering mindset, I felt confident that I wouldn’t binge, even after drinking.

However, I was not a frequent or heavy drinker. At the time I recovered in 2005, I was only having one or two beers or glasses of wine a couple times per month. Since it only took a few months for my binge urges to decrease significantly, this only gave me about six times to experience the effects of alcohol on my binge urges and my ability to avoid acting on them. So, I do not have significant personal experience with the combination of alcohol and binge urges when using this brain-based approach; but looking back, I do not remember it being any harder to avoid binges when I was drinking.

I believe this was due to the simplicity of my new approach to recovery. I no longer felt like I needed to deal with my emotional issues, or stress level, or problems to avoid a binge.  I only needed to see the binge urges for what they were — automatic, faulty messages from my lower brain that no longer meant anything to me — and then just move on with my life. I had the mental capacity to do this even when under the influence of alcohol. I saw those binge-promoting thoughts in the same way that I saw other outrageous thoughts that popped up when I was drinking. Alcohol only reduces self-control functioning in the brain, it does not eliminate self-control completely. I knew there were many things I could trust myself not to do even while drinking, and binge eating became one of those things.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Ability to Avoid Binges?

In talking to others who have more experience with alcohol while trying to stop bulimia or binge eating disorder, I’ve found that alcohol can cloud thinking and reduce self-control so much that the binge urges feel very compelling. This only makes sense due to the way alcohol inhibits the prefrontal cortex, which I also call the higher brain.

With each drink, the prefrontal cortex is impaired a little more until you feel like you have little control over your voluntary actions. This can make you more likely to act in habitual and survival-oriented ways. Since binge eating is a habit and a survival response, this means that alcohol primes you to use the neural pathways in the lower brain that drive the binge eating habit, instead of the newly developing pathways in the higher brain that are working on recovery.

You may also feel less motivated toward recovery when you are drinking.  This is because the prefrontal cortex also gives you your identity and allows you to think about long term goals and plans. When this more sophisticated part of the brain isn’t at full strength, you tend to act in ways that are out of character, and you tend to focus more on immediate gratification, and you temporarily don’t care about the consequences of your behaviors. You put what you truly want (recovery) aside and fall into a screw it mindset when you are being driven by the more primitive part of your brain.

Furthermore, alcohol strengthens those primitive parts of the brain that drive habitual behaviors.  In other words, it has the opposite effect on the lower brain and the higher brain.  Drinking causes a release in dopamine, which arouses pleasure and reward circuitry in the lower brain. It basically makes you more pleasure-seeking, and since the lower brain senses that binge eating is a form of pleasure, this could mean an increase in your urges to binge. However, this is not the case for everyone who struggles with bulimia or binge eating disorder. You may find that alcohol and the feelings it gives you are pleasurable on their own, without triggering a desire for the temporary and harmful pleasure of a binge (which always results in pain).

How Should You Deal with Alcohol as You Recover from Binge Eating?

Even if you know you have power over your urges, even if you understand that you don’t have to act on them (listen to Episode 4 for more on how to stop acting on urges to binge), drinking may tip the balance in favor of your lower brain so much that you find yourself binge eating. In the moment, you may feel like you don’t even care about recovery, and you may believe the thoughts that say, just one last time, and you can quit tomorrow. Drinking may even take away the sting of regret you usually feel right after the binge; but, when you wake up the next day, your rational brain will return and you’ll remember your desire for recovery and wish you had not binged.

On the other hand, you may be someone who can avoid the I don’t care mindset that sometimes gets drunk people to do things they regret. This could be due to a difference in personality types or a difference in the way alcohol affects each person physiologically. You may be someone who feels confident in your ability to say no to binge urges, no matter how many drinks you have.  Or, you may be somewhere in between, and find that you only feel in control up to a certain point. After 2 drinks, you might feel like you can easily avoid the harmful lower-brain-driven behaviors, but after 4 drinks, a binge starts to seems much more compelling.

Even though I personally felt like I could avoid a binge even if I was drinking, I didn’t put it to the test with larger amounts of alcohol. Not drinking a lot wasn’t something I resolved to do to help recovery —- I just wasn’t into drinking very much at the time. There were previous times, in college, when I did have more than a couple drinks, and can’t say for sure whether the new brain-based perspective that eventually helped me recover would have prevented binges during those times or not. I’d like to think that binge eating was so off limits in my mind that I still would have been able to say no, just like I always said no to driving after drinking.

I encourage you to think about the experiences you’ve had with alcohol and binge eating, and decide on a plan that works for you. Think about the way alcohol makes you feel in relation to your urges to binge, and your motivation toward recovery. Considering how alcohol affects the brain, it’s best to proceed with caution when you drink. You may even decide to give up alcohol completely until you’ve significantly weakened the binge eating habit or ended it altogether. Alternately, you may decide to simply limit your alcohol intake until you feel much more confident in your recovery. You can always make changes over time as you make progress in stopping the binge eating habit.

*This post is for recovering binge eaters whose drinking is already within reasonable limits. This post is not for people who feel like they have a problem with alcohol. If your drinking feels out of control, please seek appropriate help.

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To get started with recovery, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF.

For more help:

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.

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.

Ditch Diets (Eliminating foods in binge eating recovery)

Ditch Diets & Focus on Nourishing and Enjoyable Foods

I’ve been talking about eliminating foods for those who need to, and for those want to lead a healthier lifestyle (see Eliminating Foods Part I and Part II).  In this post, I’ll discuss the importance of ditching diets, and replacing foods you are trying to eliminate with nourishing and enjoyable options. I’ll also share information and insights with from a helpful book called Ditching Diets by Gillian Riley, which will help you understand how you can avoid letting healthy changes turn into restriction or deprivation. But first, I’m going to talk briefly about my own experience with needing to eliminate foods—which is something I addressed in Brain over Binge—and I hope it helps you see how it’s possible to give up certain foods without dieting.

An Example of Giving Up Foods and Giving Up Dieting

Since I recovered in 2005, I’ve gone through 4 extended periods of time that I’ve had to completely eliminate certain foods. My first child developed allergic colitis only several weeks after birth (which is a condition where the baby’s immune system overreacts to food proteins in the mother’s milk, which leads to irritation/inflammation, ulcerations, and even some bleeding in the colon). To treat this, I had to give up all dairy, beef, wheat, soy, eggs, and nuts for several months. When I had my second child, I hoped it wouldn’t happen again; but sure enough, when my daughter was a few weeks old she began developing the same symptoms. This time, I knew exactly what to do to help her, so I eliminated the foods again; and within a couple weeks, her symptoms disappeared. For my 3rd and 4th babies, I tried to prevent the issue by giving up all dairy—which was seemingly the biggest culprit—one month prior giving birth. My 3rd child did fine, but with my 4th (who is 8 months old at the time I’m writing this), there was about a 6-week period when I had to eat nothing but potatoes, turkey, chicken, olive oil, almonds, and some mild vegetables and fruits (and vitamins) in order to clear up his digestive tract. All my children are okay now. This was a temporary protein sensitivity in infancy, not a true food allergy or ongoing digestive condition.

Changing my eating in this way and giving up foods to help my babies didn’t cause any problem for me.  It never felt like a “diet,” or like I was depriving myself. There were certainly times that I wished I could eat the foods I was eliminating, and I did feel a little sorry for myself sometimes as I watched the rest of my family munch down a pizza, for example, and I was eating my 3rd meal of sweet potatoes and chicken for the day. Although it was inconvenient to have a lack of freedom around food, and it’s not something I’d want to continue for a long period of time; it wasn’t a bad experience at all. There was always a choice to put my babies on hypoallergenic formula, but that would have been costly and not as healthy for them. I chose to change my diet, and I felt like I was doing the right thing for them.

In the same way, people who lead healthy lifestyles and nourish their bodies well with real food don’t feel “deprived” when they eliminate certain foods. They know they are doing right for their bodies, and they feel good doing it; and in all likelihood, they would actually feel deprived if they were forced to eat a diet consisting of a lot of processed, low-quality, low-nutrient food. Wanting to nourish yourself well, and therefore avoiding foods that have no benefit to you, is much different than trying to force yourself to follow a bunch of food rules and starving yourself just so that you can lose weight.

Ditching Diets, and Letting Go of Restriction While Eliminating Foods

It is possible to make healthy changes, or even eliminate a certain food completely because it creates an adverse reaction, without it turning into a rigid diet—and sometimes the difference is simply in your mindset. I recently came across a book that does a wonderful job of explaining why there is no need to think in terms of rules, restrictions, and prohibitions when it comes to taking on a healthier lifestyle. It’s called Ditching Diets, by Gillian Riley. I’ve had a few of my own readers tell me that this book is helpful to read along with Brain over Binge, especially if a healthy lifestyle is desired. Ditching Diets discusses some of the same concepts that my book does, but with a greater focus on helping you let go of the dieting mindset, and addressing addictive overeating—that gray area that doesn’t feel like a binge, but also does not feel like the way you want to be eating.

[Update: I’ve interviewed the author of Ditching Diets on my podcast: Episode 64:  Stop Yo-Yo Dieting and Take Control of Overeating (Video Interview with Gillian Riley), and she has also written a guest blog post: Fasting & Binge Eating: Not So Fast (Post from Gillian Riley)

What I liked best about Ditching Diets was how Gillian drove home the idea that we all have free choice about what and how we eat, and everyone is capable of achieving freedom and peace with food—without solving emotional problems first. But, she also makes it clear that having freedom with food doesn’t mean we’ll just be eating a bunch of junk all the time because we are “free” to do so. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—once we feel our free choice and give up dieting, we will be more likely to make better and healthier choices.

I could relate to so much of what this book talked about, because I’ve experienced it. When I was dieting, I indeed felt deprived when I created a lot of food rules and avoided certain “fattening” foods. My restriction led me to eat much more of the foods I was trying to avoid and led me down the path of binge eating. However, now, I don’t have the same reaction when I choose to avoid an unhealthy food, or when I gave up so many foods while breastfeeding. Without the dieting mindset, passing up a certain type of food doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out on something great, and doesn’t create powerful cravings. (For more about letting go of the dieting mindset, listen to Episode 48: How Do I Let Go of the Dieting Mentality in Binge Eating Recovery?)

Nourishing and Enjoyable Replacement Foods—Not Perfect Foods

As you may know from my books and other blog posts, I’m far from being a “perfect” eater. Perfect eating doesn’t even exist because nutrition science is constantly expanding and changing. I eat unhealthy foods sometimes, but as Ditching Diets does such a good job of explaining—when there is a strong sense of free choice about how you eat, and you don’t feel out of control—choosing to eat less-than-ideal foods isn’t a problem. It’s simply a choice with certain outcomes you have to be prepared to accept. Yes, I choose convenience over nutrition when my life is busy, and I accept that when I do that, my body isn’t being optimally nourished.  I do strive to nourish my body well as much as I can, but it is a balancing act. Everyone must create their own balance, and it never has to be all or nothing. It never has to be perfection or binge. (If you struggle with perfectionism, read my blog post on accepting imperfection in your eating.)

If you are taking on a healthy lifestyle, I think it’s very important to make sure you have enjoyable and nourishing replacements for the foods you are not eating. When you give up a food, you also want to feel like you are giving yourself a food in it’s place—a food (or foods) that you actually like and look forward to eating. Sometimes people forget the “enjoyable” part, and then get trapped in the dieting and deprivation mindset. The goal should be to find foods you take pleasure in eating, and that make you feel good as well. This can take some experimenting. To illustrate this, I’m going to give one example from my own life of a food my family has been trying to eliminate, and how we’ve replaced it:

My kids love waffles (they like peanut butter and maple syrup on them, which I think is a bit odd:-)), and I slowly got into the habit of giving them processed, pre-packaged waffles too often. At the end of my 4th pregnancy and after my son was born, the older 3 kids ate the pre-packaged waffles every single day. I was so exhausted and sleep-deprived that I couldn’t find time or energy for anything better first thing in the morning, and it was the only easy breakfast that all of them liked. Around the end of 2012, my husband and I decided that we’d find a way to make healthy, homemade waffles so our kids could get a better start to their day. We experimented with some recipes and finally found something that worked—using eggs, coconut milk, coconut flour, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, and honey.  The waffles are delicious!  I’ve been making a big batch each week and I freeze them, so that the mornings are just as easy as when we bought the frozen waffles from the store. If you asked my kids, I’m sure they would still say they like the “waffles from the store” better, but they eat up the ones I make too. I know this is a simple example, but I want you to see that there are enjoyable, nourishing, healthier replacements for foods that you want to avoid or need to avoid.

Finally, as a reminder from my last post, try to keep making healthy changes to your eating separate from quitting binge eating. That way, if you choose to eat something like processed waffles one morning, you won’t pay any attention to any thoughts that say, “you’ve already failed, you might as well binge.”  When you realize that you can avoid binges no matter what foods you decide to eat, you set yourself up for a lifetime of complete freedom from binge eating.

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To jump start your recovery from bulimia or binge eating disorder, you can download my free PDF, The Brain over Binge Basics.  

If you want more help in ending the binge eating habit, and more information on issues like the one discussed here, you can learn about the Brain over Binge Course.

Want to recover from binge eating

Do You Want to Recover from Binge Eating?

After my first binge, I wanted to stop. I did not want to eat so much food again in such an out-of-control way. I continued wanting to recover through all my years of being a binge eater. However, my desire for recovery didn’t always feel so clear. In the moments before a binge, I temporarily stopped wanting recovery; I temporarily didn’t care about all of the reasons I desired freedom from the consequences of binge eating; I temporarily wanted nothing more than large amounts of food. This left me confused and doubting whether or not I truly wanted to recover.

When you can’t seem to stop the harmful behaviors, it’s easy to question whether or not you actually want to recover from binge eating. You may think that if you truly wanted to recover, then you would have overcome the problem by now. In fact, I’ve noticed that one of the most common reasons people give for continuing to binge is that aren’t sure they really want to stop.

In my book, I wrote that the first step in recovery is wanting to recover, and I think most therapists, counselors, and coaches would agree. Nothing can help you until you have a desire to move away from the behaviors that are causing you pain. Others can educate you about the risks of what you are doing, they can help support you, they can give you tools to use for when you are ready; but until you decide that you no longer want binge eating in your life, you’ll continue down the same path. You have to want to take a new path, and no one can make that decision for you.

What Does Wanting to Recover Mean?

Wanting to recover doesn’t mean you will feel absolutely certain about it in every moment, especially when you first decide to stop binge eating, and especially when you are experiencing urges to binge. Wanting to recover doesn’t mean you’ll know what your life will be like after you end the habit, or that you’ll know exactly what goals you want to pursue, or that you’re sure you’ll enjoy every moment of your binge-free life. Wanting to recover simply means that you realize, on some level, that you can’t continue down your current destructive path and you want to move on to living free of the pain of binge eating.

If you are reading this blog post, it’s almost certain that you do want to recover. I believe that anyone who is seeking recovery advice, or reading recovery material, or engaging in any form of treatment or coaching does indeed have a desire to end the habit. Again, you won’t feel certain about it all of the time, and I’ll talk about that more later in this post; but you are definitely showing a desire to get the binge eating out of your life.

If you unquestionably believed that you wanted to keep up your behavior, why would you even bother reading this?  It’s helpful to see that and then move forward with what you need to do to stop binge eating, instead of overthinking whether or not you really, truly want to recover. Getting stuck in trying to feel completely certain before taking action can be unproductive and delay recovery indefinitely.

Binge eating produces harmful, uncomfortable, and shameful effects so that the fundamental and necessary desire to end the habit usually comes naturally.  But, what often gets in the way, which I’ll address now, are those moments when you temporarily believe you don’t want to recover.

The Lower Brain Makes You Doubt Your Desire For Recovery

In the moments (or the days, weeks, months or even years) when you feel like you don’t want to quit, it’s most likely because your lower brain—the part of your brain in charge of maintaining the habit—is driving your thought processes.  Because the lower brain senses you need to binge, it will only remind you of positive aspects of your behavior, and point out the reasons why you should continue to do it.

A good test to see that the wanting to binge thoughts are from the lower brain is to ask yourself how you feel after a binge. Do you regret it? Do you wish you could go back and make a different choice? Do you feel ashamed of your behavior? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it was never you that wanted to binge. If you truly wanted to binge, you wouldn’t have regret afterward; you would simply do it, enjoy it, and move on without being affected much at all.

The problem is not that you don’t want to recover, it’s that sometimes the temptation of a binge takes over, and the lower brain temporarily convinces you that you don’t. Nothing is wrong with you because of this. It doesn’t mean you are weak or that you don’t have the ability to quit. It only means the lower brain and it’s motivational machinery and pleasure center are influencing your decisions, and you need to learn to put your higher brain back in charge.

In the moments before a binge, you likely experience thoughts that provide logical reasons for binge eating and make it seem appealing. For me, I think the most intriguing reason my lower brain gave me to binge was that it didn’t matter what part of my brain generated the urges, because I wanted to binge nonetheless. That was a challenging reason to separate myself from, because if I slipped back into believing I truly wanted binge eating in my life, acting on the urges would have been soon to follow.

That’s why I think it’s so important to be able to dismiss any thought or feeling encouraging binge eating as the neurological junk that it is. You can learn more about this in Episode 4: Dismiss Urges to Binge, Component 1: View Urges to Binge as Neurological Junk. You probably have thoughts that say binge eating is worth it, or that it is really you that wants to binge, or that you don’t actually want to recover. You don’t have to believe those thoughts or give them any attention.

The lower brain has been conditioned to react as if the binge eating habit is necessary for your survival, and when you don’t do it, it senses that you are threatened. It will use what thoughts have worked in the past to get you to repeat the behavior, and many of these thoughts may make you doubt your desire for recovery. Thoughts like “you don’t know what you’d do without the habit” or “this has been a part of your life for so long, you’d be lost without it” or “you don’t truly want to quit” are just some examples of common lower-brain driven, binge-promoting thoughts.

The lower brain won’t remind you of the regret, remorse, guilt, uncomfortable fullness, or the health risks of binge eating (and purging); and trying to think about those things when you are experiencing an urge is usually not effective at deterring your lower brain. Your job is only to experience the tempting thoughts and feelings with detachment and without acting on those thoughts and feelings. After the urge subsides, you’ll again realize that you certainly don’t want to binge, and you’ll remember all of the reasons why; and you’ll be so glad you didn’t temporarily believe your lower brain.

You Can Stop Binge Eating Before Fully Wanting to Recover

Someone asked me a great question recently, which was: “Do you believe in stopping acting on the binge urges before you fully want to recover?” Simply put, yes—because it’s unlikely that anyone pursuing recovery wants to recover 100 percent of the time. Everyone who ends a habit needs to deal with the resistance of the lower brain as it’s re-conditioned, and as I’ve discussed, this causes doubt in your desire to quit during urges. And, because it takes some time for the urges to go away after you stop acting on them, you’ll get plenty of practice disregarding the brain messages that say you don’t want recovery. Just don’t take those brain messages seriously, and you’ll keep returning to feeling like your true self who wants nothing to do with binge eating. This will happen over and over until the urges fade, and when they do, that nagging doubt about your desire for recovery will go away too.

One of the implications of this is that you probably won’t fully want to recover (in every moment) until after your binge urges go away. So, ultimately, it’s a matter of taking that leap to stop acting on the urges, and knowing that your desire for recovery will grow as your binge urges fade.

For me, the excitement and amazement I felt at finally being able to control my behavior seemed to quickly override those nagging desires to continue doing it. I was able to experience any feeling of not wanting to quit as part of the lower-brain driven habit. I knew that those feelings did not indicate my true feelings, so I didn’t give them attention or significance. So, it wasn’t that I didn’t have doubts pop up from time to time, it’s that I dismissed them when I did.

An important thing to remember is that no matter how much you think you want to quit, there are going to be times when binge eating seems appealing. But, you will get stronger and more sure of yourself over time, and with each conquered urge. Your desire to put this habit behind you will start to eclipse any temporary desire to binge, leaving you wondering why you ever thought you wanted it in the first place.

What if You Don’t Want to Quit Between Binge Urges?

What I’ve described so far is a typical scenario of you truly wanting to recover, but in moments of urges, you temporarily thinking that you don’t. But, what if you feel like this doesn’t apply to you? What if you experience a lack of desire for recovery even when you’re not having an urge to binge?  What if you don’t have much regret about your behavior or any real longing to live habit-free? What if, in moments of clarity, you think that continuing to binge makes sense?

If this is the case for you, I have three suggestions. First, you could try to take a big leap and quit anyway, and let me explain what I mean by this. Even though you may feel like your true self wants to binge, you could still avoid acting on that desire, knowing that it will eventually fade. No matter how much you want to continue the habit, you still have the ability to control whether or not you perform the voluntary muscle movements it takes to carry out a binge.

You can acknowledge your desire to continue binge eating, but tell yourself that it’s simply not in your best interest. Feel sorry for yourself for a while if you need to. It’s hard to realize that we can’t have what we want, whether we are talking about binge eating or other aspects of our lives. It’s human nature to have desires, but those desires can’t always be realized, and shouldn’t always be realized. This might seem like a depressing thought to you, but I believe that once some time goes by, the desire to recover that you didn’t have can appear. You’ll realize how much time and money you wasted by being caught up in the habit, and as the urges fade, you’ll realize that the pleasure you got from it was never worth it anyway. It’s like walking away from a bad relationship even though you truly love the person. It takes courage, strength, and it hurts; but you soon realize you are better off without that person in your life.

My second suggestion is to seek outside help to try to find and grow that desire to recover within yourself. Brain over Binge is intended for people who realize they have a problem and want to recover from it. If you do not feel any pull toward recovery, or if you are complacent in your behavior, then the Brain over Binge approach will not be the right fit, at least until you find that spark of your true self who wants to recover.  I’m not talking about “finding your true self” in the sense of becoming emotionally fulfilled or figuring out your life’s purpose prior to stopping binge eating, because that could delay recovery for a very long time. I’m talking about doing what you need to do to catch a glimpse of the part of yourself that wants to move on from this habit.

Know that therapy isn’t the only avenue to help you achieve a desire for recovery. Other things that can help are finding things you enjoy that are incompatible with binge eating, volunteering to help those less fortunate than you, and creating goals for the future so that you can focus your energy toward something other than the habit.  To develop a desire for recovery, you have to be open to it, you have find opportunities to see what your life could be like if you were free of your eating disorder. It takes courage to do this even in the face of doubts.

My last suggestion is to realize you do have free choice, and embrace whatever choice you decide to make. I would never recommend that someone continue to binge, but I do not agree with labeling someone as diseased or disordered when they are fully deciding that they want to keep up their habit. As Jack Trimpey says in Rational Recovery (when talking about alcohol), “self-intoxication is a basic freedom, an individual liberty.” [pg. 59].

Those of you who have read Brain over Binge know that Rational Recovery helped me stop binge eating, and I think part of the reason why was because Trimpey’s book takes a more hard-hitting approach toward those who don’t want to quit, which I needed at the time I read it. I needed someone to tell me that I could certainly keep up my behavior if I wanted to, but that I could no longer hide behind a disease label or the idea that I needed to sort out a lot of other problems before I could quit. If I were to continue to binge because I felt like I wanted to, then that would be my choice, and I would have to own it.

There were countless binge eating recovery resources that told me otherwise—that told me it wasn’t a choice and that I was justified to continue binge eating because it was serving some sort of purpose in my life, helping me cope with problems, or fulfilling my unmet emotional needs. When I believed those things, it did make me feel a little better about myself for continuing to binge, but it didn’t lead to recovery. Thinking that I was justified to continue my behavior didn’t make the behavior any less harmful. Even though it wasn’t my fault that I had developed the binge eating habit, it was my responsibility to end it, even if there were times when I felt like I didn’t want to recover.

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If you have a desire for recovery and want to stop acting on your urges to binge, you can download my free PDF.

If you want even more guidance as you stop binge eating, you can learn about the Brain over Binge Course that is now available for only $18.99 per month

kathryn hansen books

My Book’s Journey: A Mission to Help Binge Eaters (Brain over Binge)

I want to introduce myself:  I’m Kathryn Hansen and I stopped binge eating in 2005. Now, I am awaiting two exciting deliveries—the delivery of the Brain over Binge books to my doorstep, and the delivery of my new baby girl. The baby should arrive in about a week (and we have yet to decide on a name!), and the shipment of newly printed books should arrive in a little more than two weeks.

Writing this book has been a long journey for me. I began taking notes and writing rudimentary chapters in early 2006, slowly documenting my experiences and ideas. Considering this was less than a year after my recovery, it may have seemed bold.  How did I know my recovery would last?

I just knew. My bulimia was over for good, and I was fully convinced that I had a powerful story to share.  Writing that story was a great challenge, and a great joy. Some months brought much productivity; but other months brought lulls, indecision, frustration, and simply a lack of time. When my son was born, I took a six-month break from writing, and I did the same when my daughter arrived. This is why, when we found out we were expecting baby #3, I knew I absolutely had to finish before my due date.

I’ve worked hard these past nine months to make this a reality, spending many weekends writing at coffee shops while my husband watched the kids, and staying up way too late most nights. The months seemed to fly by, but I’m proud to say it is finished.

My perfectionism tells me the book could be better, that there is more I can say and better ways I can say it, but it’s time to let my words stand as they are. I had a mission in mind when I set out to write Brain over Binge, and I believe I’ve fulfilled it. More importantly, I think the book holds great promise for helping others.

As for how the book will be received…Who knows?  Who cares?  It could cause only the tiniest of ripples in the field of eating disorders, or it could create a big splash. Either way, that’s not what my mission was about. It was about telling my story – embarrassing parts and all – to other bulimics/binge eaters who may want to listen and learn from my hard-learned lessons.

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Update (2018):  It’s hard to believe that this post was so many years ago, and I’ve now written a second book, (The Brain over Binge Recovery Guide), created an online course, a podcast, and had a 4th child! It’s been an amazing journey and every time someone shares their story of recovery with me, it makes all of the long nights worth it, and fuels my continuing commitment to my original mission. You can read reviews on Amazon to see what others have thought about Brain over Binge since I wrote this post.

If you are looking for somewhere to begin, you can start with my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics. It will teach you the fundamentals of the approach that helped me and many others end the binge eating habit for good.