5 Tips for a Healthy Relationship with Exercise
I want to give you 5 tips for incorporating exercise in a healthy way during binge eating recovery and beyond. If you have a history of using exercise to purge or to try to control your weight in a way that is harmful to your body, you may feel confused about how to exercise now that you are focused on being free of the struggle with food. My goal is to help you learn to exercise in a way that benefits you, and doesn’t cause any physical, mental, or emotional harm.
[Before reading this, know that you should get your doctor’s approval for any exercise routines that you’re incorporating into your life.]
Tip 1: Ask yourself: Is my exercise an unhealthy compulsion or a healthy habit?
It’s important to make this distinction because even healthy habits have some similarities to unhealthy compulsions. When you develop a healthy habitual behavior, you will have urges to perform that behavior (for example, you feel compelled to brush your teeth). It’s okay to feel driven toward something that’s healthy for you, and this includes feeling driven toward exercise. I want you to look at your desire to exercise and ask yourself: Is my brain encouraging me toward something beneficial (as a healthy habit) or something harmful (as an unhealthy compulsion)?
You may find it difficult not to exercise, but that doesn’t always mean it’s an unhealthy compulsion. However, if you feel you absolutely have to exercise even when you are extremely tired, sick, or injured for example, then this is clearly in the territory of an unhealthy compulsion. Just do some self-observation and self-reflection and see if you can sense the difference when it comes to your own exercise. Here are some additional questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity:
Are my exercise patterns taking over my life?
Do my exercise patterns prevent me from doing other things that I want to do?
Does my exercise take up too much time that I’d rather be spending elsewhere?
Does my exercise take me away from my relationships or my family and friends too much?
Does thinking about exercise take up too much of my mental space?
If you feel like your exercise is an unhealthy compulsion, it doesn’t mean you have to completely give it up. It means you need to alter your routines and mindset to bring it back into the healthy-habit category.
Tip 2: Use exercise as just one tool in managing your health.
Exercise is just one single aspect of your overall health, and there are so many other things to consider. This is not to overwhelm you, but to help you reduce any overemphasis you may be putting on exercise. When you think about the other factors that can affect health and weight (for example: stress, sleep, relationships, career, eating, mood, environment), it makes you realize that you don’t need to obsess about any one factor, but instead work toward a balance.
There has been a pervasive cultural idea that weight results from an overly simplistic equation of calories in – calories out. When you operate on this assumption, it can make exercise seem vitally important as half of that equation. But it’s been proven by now that our bodies, weight, and metabolism are much more complex than that. Nevertheless, when you try to use exercise as a way to “burn calories” to try to control weight, you can get in a mental rut of calculating calories in/calories out, and this obsessive mindset takes any joy and stress-relief out of exercise.
However, when you stop using exercise to “offset” your eating, you can return it to its proper place in your life—as just one factor in maintaining overall health. And a healthy body can much more easily arrive at and maintain a weight that is natural and normal, and that weight is unique to each person.
Tip 3: Don’t use exercise to “compensate”
You may be in the habit of overexercising after binge eating or after eating what you think is too much. I don’t want you to criticize yourself for that, but it’s important to move away from using exercise as a compensatory behavior. Sometimes our bodies may naturally compensate, meaning that when we eat more, we may end up with some extra energy and a desire to move more, and that’s okay. But, when we’re not listening to our bodies, but instead to a harsh mindset that says we must “undo the damage of eating,” then we are going down a dangerous path.
You’ve likely trained yourself to have an urge to overexercise after overeating or binge eating, but you no longer have to follow that unhealthy urge. You can take a step back and realize you don’t have to be driven by those old habitual patterns.
Tip 4: Eat enough to support your exercise
You don’t need to do any obsessive tracking of your food intake, but if you are exercising, you can’t eat as if you’re not exercising. Exercise naturally increases hunger and our fuel requirements, and you never want to ignore that.
Don’t try to get by with as little food as possible; instead, give yourself plentiful proteins, healthy fats, and goods quality carbohydrates, as well as any other foods you enjoy. Do your best to nourish yourself to support whatever exercise routine you’re doing. Eating adequately is a big part of the Brain over Binge approach, and when you consider what eating adequately means to you, it’s important to take your exercise routine into account.
Tip 5: Don’t compare yourself to others
Try to find your own balance and what works for you. There is not only one right way when it comes to exercise, and the amount that works for you will depend on factors like age and lifestyle. Think about how different exercises, in different amounts and intensities, make you feel—without worrying about what other people are doing or promoting. It’s about tuning in to your own body and also knowing your own unique circumstances.
That being said, I think there are also some objective and common-sense standards of what is “too much” exercise. For example, in Brain over Binge, when I talk about how I exercised for three to seven hours on the days after binges, anyone would look at that and agree that is unhealthy and out of the range of normal. If your exercise amount is more of a gray area, try thinking about it as if someone you love was doing that amount of exercise. Would you think it is too much? Would you tell them that you believe it is unhealthy? While avoiding comparison, try to start treating yourself with the same compassion and kindness you would give to someone else. Engage in some honest self-observation and self-reflection when deciding what works for you, knowing that you can always adjust if necessary.
I hope these 5 tips will give the simple guidance you need to start using exercise as self-care, and not self-punishment.
If you want extra guidance as you learn to develop a healthy relationship with exercise, food, and weight, here are some resources for additional support:
Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $18.99/month. Includes over 125 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.
Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, weekly group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.
One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private session with coach Julie. She will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.
Best of the Brain over Binge Podcast [Transcript]
In episode 100, I did a “Best of the Podcast” episode where I put together audio clips that I thought would best summarize the Brain over Binge concepts and would be the most useful for you to keep in mind as you work on recovery. I thought this would be helpful for you to have in writing as well, so I’ve turned the “Best of the Podcast” episode into a blog post here. I hope this post provides an additional source of inspiration and practical advice to apply while you stop binge eating.
Today is Episode 100 and I feel like it’s a big milestone. I’m very happy to have been able to produce 100 episodes! I want to thank everyone who has listened to the podcast along the way, whether you’ve listened to one episode or all 100 episodes.
I wanted to do something special for the 100th episode so I decided to compile a Best of the Podcast episode. What I did is just went through and picked out some of my favorite parts that I felt like would be the most useful for you to review and to keep in mind as you work on ending the binge eating habit.
I found it to be a fun project to go through all of the episodes and revisit a lot of the topics that we’ve covered so far, and also to hear a lot of the guests that I’ve had on the show. I’ve had some really amazing guests, and I want to thank everyone who has been on the show and shared their ideas. Although I wasn’t able to include everyone, just know that I’m so thankful for all of the insights and information that my guests have shared over the years.
I’m also very thankful for everyone who has subscribed to the podcast, and for those of you who have not subscribed already, I would encourage you to subscribe because I plan to keep this podcast going for as long as I can, and I would love for you to be here listening.
So now I’ll go ahead and share the best of the Brain over Binge podcast…
“The Brain over Binge approach is about learning to see your binge eating in light of the brain, and then using that information to empower yourself. It’s about changing your perspective to see yourself as fundamentally healthy, and not broken, and not diseased. In the Brain over Binge philosophy, binge eating is a natural (but also very primitive) brain response to restrictive dieting, which becomes a habit over time. Or, binge eating can also develop as a primitive response to repeated overeating of highly stimulating foods, which increases over time and then forms the same binge eating habit. Either way, it’s a primitive brain response that makes you feel out of control, and what we’re going to teach you is to take control back.”
“In conventional treatment, it’s common to hear that the urges to binge are symptoms—that they are symptoms of underlying emotional problems or psychological problems. This is a very popular and mainstream idea. The theory is that you have urges to binge because you’re not able to cope with those problems or with difficult emotions in your life in an effective way. Because binge eating is seen as a coping mechanism, then the urges are viewed in a more symbolic way—like a signal that you need to learn to cope better. This is what I was taught, but to me, the urges never felt like a need to cope. They always felt like a need to eat massive quantities of food. At a very basic level, it didn’t seem any more complicated than that, and it wasn’t.”
“One of the things that’s important for you to know very early in learning about this approach is that it may improve your life if you learn how to deal with moods, it may improve your life if you learn how to solve problems and live a better life, but the most important thing is to separate improving yourself/improving your life from stopping binge eating. It is not necessary to be the best that you can be in order to stop this problem. You may be interested in that anyway, but it’s really important to know that you can stop binging and not perfect all these different areas of your life, because we see the urges themselves as the problem. And when you look at it that way, the answer is to stop responding to the urges, and eventually they will fade away.” -Cookie Rosenblum
“All the lower brain can do is send impulses and encourage you to act. But when you feel these urges, know that you have complete power to choose not to act. When you know you’re separate from the urges, it allows you to have access to the self-control functions in your higher brain. In other words, when you absolutely believe you have this power over the urges and that these urges can’t control you, then it’s much easier to choose not to act on them.”
“It’s possible that you’ve learned the information that we’ve shared so far about dismissing the urges to binge, and (either because you have a strong desire to lose weight or you’re just still in that habit of food restriction) you’ve taken the strategy of dismissing urges too far. Maybe you’ve been thinking that you should dismiss every desire for unhealthy food or every desire to eat more than a very strict calorie limit that you’ve set for yourself. This is not the intention of the Brain over Binge approach. Dismissing urges is not a way to become a better dieter—it’s a way to stop binge eating.”
“It’s not that you truly want to binge one last time, it’s that this “one last time” mentality is just something that our lower brains automatically produce when we have a destructive habit. I want you to think about all the times you’ve thought “just one last time”…you truly believed it in the moment, but then the next time you had a urge to binge, the thought came up again and you believed it again. What if you stopped believing this thought? What if you instead realized that the “one last time” mentality is a reaction of the primitive part of your brain with the goal of getting what it wants right now. The lower brain is not concerned with your long term goals or even what you’ll do tomorrow. It’s job is only to get you to binge right now, and the one last time thought is an extremely effective way that it does that.”
“It’s very important not to put too many conditions on your ability to recover. However, if there is truly an area that you feel, if you worked on it would help you either better dismiss urges or eat adequately, then please work on it. Looking at it this way, you aren’t endlessly trying to work on other problems in hopes that it will take your urges to binge away or that it will make recovery effortless. You’re approaching it in a much more targeted and practical way. If you’re having trouble dismissing the urges to binge, think “what can I do that will help me better dismiss them?”… then work on it, and you will be ready for recovery. If you’re having trouble eating adequately, think “what can I do or what can I work on that will help me eat enough food?”…and then work on it and you’ll be ready for recovery. In other words, please do what you need to do so that you can start to feel more capable of eating adequately and dismissing binge urges. Don’t just say you “aren’t ready,” for whatever reason, and then not do anything about it. You deserve a binge free life, so try to remove any issues that you feel are truly holding you back.”
“My personal opinion is that relying on your intuition is a good thing. However, you always need to know that you have your higher brain to oversee your actions and your choices, and you can use your higher brain to steer yourself toward better choices if your intuition seems not to be leading you in a good direction. If you find yourself only eating highly processed, highly stimulating food, every time you’re hungry, it may be time to insert some rational, higher brain choices as well. Highly processed, modern food doesn’t quite interact with our body in a way that always leads to completely clear and reliable hunger and fullness signals or completely reliable cravings, and people with or without eating disorders have to deal with the effects that modern foods can sometimes have on us. It’s important to know that your higher brain always has the ability to veto harmful cravings and exert self-control to guide your choices. Using your higher brain and your intuition in conjunction can provide you with the balance that you need.”
“Thoughts that encourage purging will often give you the message that a purge or some form of compensation for the binge will undo the damage of a binge. But when you’re not feeling tempted to binge, you can see how false this thought is, because of course a purge does not undo any damage. It actually does the opposite. It causes severe damage to your health and to your life. A purge does not rectify a wrong. A purge is an additional wrong. It’s an additional source of suffering. During binge urges, thoughts about purging can make it seem like repeating this binge-purge cycle one more time will be harmless, but you know that it’s not harmless. You know it’s causing damage in your life, and you know it’s not what you truly want to be doing. Like any thought that makes binge eating seem appealing, thoughts that use purging as a reason to binge need to be dismissed.”
“We’re experiencing life through our moment to moment thinking, and that moment to moment thinking, it comes up and it looks so real to us. So again, if you’re a binge eater and you’re having an urge, or you’re just really caught up in “should I eat this, should I not eat this,” you know, you’re in that. You are in it, and it is absolutely real, and it feels true, and it feels important to you, but that’s just the nature of thought. That’s the same if you’re considering like, “should I buy this house or that house,” you know, “should I wear these shoes or those shoes.” Now, those might feel like they have a different level of urgency to them or a different level of importance, but it’s all the exact same when we look level deeper. It’s all thought coming to life within us. And it’s not who we are and it’s not permanent, and it’s nothing we need to try to fix and figure out and sort through because it does that on its own. It moves through us. So I’ll pause, but I’ll just say that’s sort of the cornerstone of it—helping people see how all human experience works—because when we aren’t afraid of our experience, when we aren’t afraid of feeling fat or an urge or the next diet or whatever, when we aren’t caught up in our heads, we’re kind of back to life being really easy (like before we found ourselves in this issue).” –Dr. Amy Johnson
“If binge eating has been clouding your life for a long time, you may not be able to fully see what your life could be like after recovery. But no matter what life brings, that opportunity to have the freedom from food issues is so worth it. You’ll be free from the shame, the physical discomfort, and the feeling of being out of control of your own life. If you can experience even a moment of that freedom from the consequences of bingeing, and you can get excited about that, it can solidify your desire to keep going and to keep moving toward recovery, despite any uncertainty about what your life might be like afterward. I encourage you to keep focusing on all of your motivations to recover, but remember that underneath those reasons lies a desire to be free to live all of your life—the good and the bad—without the pain of binge eating”
“Behavior happens through action, and the actions taken consistently time and time again—small actions—not only do they build up new behaviors, but they actually create optimism, and they actually generate motivation. And so if somebody’s not feeling motivated, a lot of times they want inspiration, they want motivation. I remember feeling this way all the time…where’s it going to come from? What new book can I download? What new piece of wisdom can I find? And all of that can be useful, but until you start taking constructive action, the motivation’s going to hit a ceiling. It’s the general building up of behaviors that creates energy, that creates momentum, and that helps a person’s self-esteem.” –Katherine Thomson, Ph.D.
“Learning to deal with emotions better is fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that. I’m just saying you don’t need to solve all your emotional problems to stop bingeing. I’m not saying you have to learn to deal with emotions perfectly before you can quit—because if that were true, recovery would be elusive because no one deals with emotions well all the time. You know, all of us get overwhelmed sometimes, but bingeing just needs to become something that’s not an option, and when bingeing is not an option, then you have so many options available to you for helping you get through tough emotions, and these options don’t lead to consequences. You need to realize that bingeing never actually helped you cope with any of these emotions. If it provided the secondary benefit of distraction, you know now that it’s not worth it, that it’s much better to dismiss that urge. And then, if you continue to have distressing emotions, and you aren’t able to kind of learn to see them in a new way, you’re not able to let them pass or find ways to deal with them, then it’s something you can address in a more healthy way once the bingeing is done. If you have emotions that feel unmanageable, bingeing is never the solution.”
“Mindfulness points you towards your inner power. It really, really shows you who you truly are and that you are not your thoughts, that you were never your thoughts, that you are the one who is observing your thoughts.”
“The first tip I have for you is to ask yourself: Is my exercise an unhealthy compulsion? Or is it a healthy habit? It’s important to make this distinction because healthy habits, you can also feel compelled to do them. For example, you’ll feel compelled to brush your teeth at night, and it’s a compulsion (you could call it a compulsion) because you feel that drive to do it, but it’s healthy. So that’s a healthy habit. So even though there could be some compulsion and you feel driven towards something, it can still be a healthy habit. So I think it’s useful to look at your exercise like that and think, “okay, yes, I do feel driven toward it, but is my brain driving me towards something healthy? Or is this something unhealthy?”
“What I teach is specifically for binge eating, and it can be applied I think also to other problematic eating habits that feel really compulsive—like excessive overeating, or compulsive overeating, or whatever you want to call it. But what I really want to get across today is that the intent of my approach is not to use it as a strategy to try to stick to strict diets or to use it as a strategy to try to follow really rigid weight loss plans, or to try to get yourself to eat less than you physically need. In fact, a big part of my approach is about making sure that you are eating enough—that you’re allowing yourself all types of foods…and I realize that not everyone can eat all types of foods, so another way of saying that might be to learn to eat in the least restrictive way that’s possible for you personally. And then also in addition to eating enough comes the dismissing urges piece—learning to not act on those thoughts that encourage you to binge. The only way that dismissing binge urges works to get rid of the binge eating for good is if you’re also eating enough—if you’re eating adequately as I call it in my approach. Now I realize that some creators of diet plans or weight loss strategies could argue that the plans are adequate and they’re not overly restrictive, and I completely understand that point of view, and some of these plans may certainly be adequate, but that’s not the issue I’m raising today. What I’m talking about today is clarifying the intention of the brain over binge approach, which is to dismiss the urges to binge. My approach is not meant to be used to dismiss every urge to veer from your diet or your eating plan, whatever that may be—even if you could argue that your eating plan is technically adequate.”
“I’ve seen research that if you’re in that food deprived state and you are, you know, starving yourself trying to lose weight that it does make you feel like you’re addicted to food. It’s kind of a natural survival instinct. And once you start nourishing yourself, once you start eating enough, I think a lot of that can rebalance. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that’s very true. When you’re starved, you are seeking food, you’re needing it, and you’re also going to be more sensitive to the effect. So if you’ve been under eating for a period of time, or maybe haven’t eaten in several hours, whatever you do eat is going to hit you harder. So I think that it does kind of create this increased sensitivity to certain foods, and it does perpetuate the whole cycle.” – Katherine Thomson, Ph.D.
“It’s not so much that you care about your weight or you want to be kind of your best version of yourself, it’s when you try to be a version of yourself that’s not possible, that’s unrealistic, that’s a weight that your body cannot physically be unless you do harmful things. So, you know, if you’re wanting to, like I said, kind of make the most of your own body and to feel good in it, it’s not a problem, as long as you’re not obsessed. But when you try to sort of go outside of your natural range (which you might not quite know what that is yet, and that’s okay), but when you try to go outside of that, that’s when things become harmful.”
“Okay, I want to dive deeper into one thing you said—you mentioned the fact that purging is not a form of weight control, it’s a very ineffective form of weight control. And I find that talking to people, you know, they know the health risks of purging, they know that it’s ruining their life, but they have this fear that if they stop, they’re going to gain all this weight. So can you kind of speak to that, maybe from your own experience of what happened to your weight in recovery and also your clients as well—just to kind of alleviate that fear that people have that stopping purging means that their weight will skyrocket.
Sure, absolutely. This is something that terrified me as well, you know—thinking, oh, I’m going to have to recover and recovery was going to be gaining lots of weight. Because in my eyes, at that time, to me normal eating was chaotic eating, and my body wanted to eat a lot. So I thought in general, that was what had to be done—I was going to eat lots and lots of food all the time and to take away the purging was scary. However, that’s not the case. So yes, purging is not an effective form of weight loss, not at all. Purging, you know, there is science behind it as well, there are experiments where they show that through self-induced vomiting, I think the body retains around 50% of the calories, depending on whatever the measurement of that binge during that experiment was. And, you know, because digestion starts in the mouth. Also as well, I think your body is really highly, highly, so clever. When you’re doing all these self-destructive habits, your body’s like really getting clever at retaining more calories as well—it’s trying to save your life.” –Ali Kerr
“One of my main goals is to empower you to believe that you absolutely can stop this habit and move on with your life, and that it does not have to be overly complicated, but I want to be clear that I’m not telling you to “just stop the habit and move on with your life.” I think that’s where some people misinterpret the simplicity of my approach. They think I’m saying the solution to binge eating is to “just stop the binge eating.” And of course, in any approach to stopping binge eating, the goal is ultimately to stop the binge eating, but it understandably makes people upset if they think someone is telling them “well, if you’re having a problem with bingeing, just stop bingeing.” I would’ve been upset too—when I was in the depths of my problem—if someone would have said to “just stop.” That would’ve made me very angry because I was of course trying to stop, of course I did not want to be binging. If I could have just stopped, I would have. So, when you hear me say in these episodes or in my books that you have the power to stop binging, I fully realize that there’s much more to this than “just stopping.” I do believe that in many approaches, recovery is too overcomplicated, especially if you’ve learned through other approaches that you’re flawed or broken or diseased, or you need to fundamentally transform yourself in order to recover. I strongly believe you should keep your recovery from binge eating as simple as possible. I don’t think you need to change so many parts of your life or change your personality or your relationships, or think you need to eat perfectly, or love your body all the time, or have amazing self-esteem in order to stop this habit. In the brain over binge approach, recovery is fundamentally about stopping a harmful habit that you’ve inadvertently developed. But if I believed that the solution to stopping the binge eating habit was to tell yourself to “just stop” or to have someone else tell you to stop, then my books would not be over 600 pages in total. I believe that you definitely can stop your habit, and like I say, at the end of every show, “you have the power to change your brain and live a binge free life.” But this approach is not just about telling yourself to quit. I’m sure you’ve already done that a thousand times. To use the concepts that I teach, it may take letting go of some old ideas that are no longer serving you, it may take realizing that the binge eating is not doing anything positive for you, it may take a new understanding of how your brain is working to get you to binge. It may take learning to consistently nourish your body, and it will likely take some practice to learn to recognize your binge urges and then to dismiss them. I hope that the brain over binge approach does give you a much more efficient path to ending this habit—by cutting out any unnecessary confusion—but I definitely do not want you to feel like a failure or to feel like you’re doing something wrong if you can’t “just stop.” You’re learning and you will improve, and you will overcome this habit.”
“You will have moments when you feel like a binge is what you want, but that’s the key—you’ll only “feel” like a binge is what you want, in certain moments. Feelings are sensations that rise and fall and change and are constantly in flux. Your feelings of wanting to binge have nothing to do with what you actually want—which is to be free of this habit.”
“…something that brings up just a lot of anxiety, so an important starting point when it comes to making peace with your hunger is realizing that the sensations of hunger are not the problem. The problem is these negative associations that you’ve developed surrounding hunger. And you can start trying to separate that out and starting to dismiss some of those negative thoughts you have around hunger and dismiss some of those self-judgments, and start gravitating back toward feeling hunger as a more pure experience—as you probably did when you were a child. And to decondition any of the fear you have around hunger—as it relates to fearing that you’ll binge in response to hunger—as you get more and more confident that you won’t, then this fear naturally subsides. So in order to break this association, it’s going to take many times of being hungry and satisfying that hunger, but then dismissing the urges to go on to binge. Once you’re confident that you can eat in response to hunger, and that it won’t spiral into a binge, then hunger is going to feel like much less of a threat. Eating adequately will also help make hunger feel like less of a threat, because remember some of your anxiety about hunger came from the fact that hunger seemed like the enemy when you were dieting. As you give up dieting, and as you learn to nourish your body, you start viewing hunger simply as a signal that you need to eat, and you stop viewing it as an enemy.”
“At what point am I going to accept this reality, and just realize I can accept me for where I’m at. So, it’s kind of owning your suffering. It’s going “okay I didn’t cause it, but I own it,” and this sort of idea I think really helps to free you because you can now move forward in your life. You’re able to accept your suffering, but at the same time, you can still work on changing it. And I think the most powerful thing about that is rather than putting all your attention and focus on, you know, “what’s happened? what’s wrong with me? I’ve been dealt a bad hand,” instead, you can just think to yourself, “well, what can I do about it?” – Richard Kerr
“What I want to talk about today is the fact that an eating disorder takes so much from you. And one of the things that it seems to take is the ability to be truly present in your life, and I think this becomes most evident during hard times in your own life, or in the life of your family, or your community, or your country, or the world. Feeling so compelled to binge, and purge, and restrict, and obsess about your weight takes away from you focusing on what’s truly important to you. I know you don’t want this. I know that you’re not intentionally taking your focus away from meaningful matters in order to focus on food. I know this because I’ve been there. I remember when I was stuck in a cycle of binging and purging having really bad things happen in my life and in the world… just as some examples, my best friend passed away, other family members that I was close to also passed away. Natural disasters affected the world. September 11th caused so much suffering, and through these events and many more, I continued to binge and continued to purge and focus on food and weight. I remember feeling like such a bad person, I remember feeling selfish because I so wanted to turn my energy outward to help others and I so wanted to be with others in their suffering and be present with them, and to even just be present with my own suffering with an open heart, but I felt so closed down. I felt stuck, and I really beat myself up over this. I would ask myself, “what kind of person continued to binge when I knew there were people in this world who were in need?” I would ask myself, “what kind of person would continue to spend hours and hours in the gym to try to compensate for binges when I could be using that time to make a difference in a meaningful way.” Looking back, I see that the kind of person who does that is a person that simply stuck in a vicious brain-based habit.”
“I have to just say it—like there’s some really harmful rhetoric out there on social media about, people, you know—with good intentions, for sure—but it damages people who are looking on and trying to learn about intuitive eating. The message is often: when you’re doing this right, you’ll know exactly what you feel like eating, and you’ll know exactly when you’re hungry, and you’ll know what you’re craving…and it just makes it feel like—first of all, it feels really inaccessible even to me to approach food that way. I’m not able to just run out and grab whatever food I want whenever I think about it—like financially, schedule wise, like that’s just “no.” –Paige Smathers, RDN
“What you also have to understand is like, it’s not because you recover from your eating disorder, that you will not have cravings anymore, but you will learn to trust your body. When you have an eating disorder, the cravings are often, as you mentioned, spiraling out of control—binging and purging. But here you start learning that your body is your friend, and because it sends some kind of message, you have to listen to that. And in a way, you have to understand why you have that, but you can also learn to honor the cravings because they are not, you know, spiraling down into a full binge. So sometimes you will want an ice cream and that’s totally fine, but you will eat it with love, you know, and not, “oh, I shouldn’t do that, and I’ve done that, and I failed, and I better binge and purge, right?” It’s like the relationship with your own body and the cravings that it sends to you is totally different.”
“I want to tell you that once you stop acting on these urges, and once you stop following that desire to binge, you’re going to realize that it was never any form of pleasure. Binge eating is going to start to look like the exact opposite of pleasure the further and further you get from that behavior. You’ll wonder why you ever had a desire for that fleeting, primal pleasure. That desire is simply conditioned in your brain right now. But once you extinguish that habit, you’re no longer going to view it as pleasurable. So, it’s not like you’re going to stop the habit and then you’re going to go the rest of your life having this desire inside of you for something that you are no longer doing. You’ll stop having that desire. You’ll start to think that binge eating would be the last thing you would do if you wanted pleasure.”
“Maybe there’s a little bit of time, “oh boy, oh boy, I get to do this thing, I get to have these foods,” but that stops right away when we can’t taste anymore, when we can’t stop, when we’re feeling sick, when we’re disgusted—we can’t seem to break away until we’re just totally worn out. I now hold onto that image so tightly (it’s not even now, it was back then)—when I was able to more strongly hold on to how difficult that really was, how uncomfortable, how unappealing that really was, as opposed to glorifying that binge as “oh boy, oh boy.” That picture and then the end result—how it was going to feel afterwards, and the reality of how it felt afterwards, and the downward spiral, and the physical discomfort—not just immediately afterwards, but the next day—the memories, the physical destruction that happens when we fill ourselves with stuff that is not good for us, and then in any way we happen to purge it, we purge it. It leaves us empty on all levels. That’s what I hold onto.”
“I do not believe that it’s helpful for me to tell you the one right way that you should eat, because that way is going to be different for everyone. I think it’s very important for you to discover how you should eat on your own, because your own personal way of eating that comes from experimentation and seeing what feels good in your body and what works for you—that will be much more powerful and more lasting than any meal plan than I could give you. So, I’m definitely not going to come out here and say that you absolutely must be eating three meals a day, and you must be eating a certain amount of snacks, and it has to be structured, or you need an exact amount of calories. You certainly can have a structured approach to eating, and you can count your calories to make sure you’re getting enough. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. It can be helpful just to ensure that you’re meeting your physical needs, but I do not believe that handing you a way of eating is what will be most helpful to you right now. If you’re like the majority of binge eaters, you may have gone from diet to diet, from meal plan to meal plan, or different eating program to eating program, thinking that would be the cure only to end up binge eating again. I want you to try to take a new approach to this: make your primary focus to be on learning to stop binging, and then just do the best you can to eat enough and eat in a way that works for you. Start to let go of dieting, in whatever form that takes in your life, and in doing that, you’ll already be on a path to discovering your own authentic eating habits.”
“Binge eating disorder, dieting, food and body obsession is what I think of as a life thief. I lost the majority of 40 years of my life and so much of my daughter’s life that I can never get back. It’s really unfathomable when I think about this. It makes me think of a line from a Mary Oliver poem that I love: “are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” And to everyone listening, who can relate to the years lost to this, I want to add that it’s never too late to heal, and that on the other side, you’re going to see that all that matters is now.” –Julie Mann (Brain over Binge coach)
“I encourage you to start dropping the pressure that you’re putting on yourself and to start thinking that you should be eating in exactly the way that you are eating, or in exactly the way that you just ate. And here I’m talking about eating habits that are not binging. It gives you a ton of freedom to think, “maybe I ate exactly as I should have, and this is not about tricking yourself into thinking that you ate healthy when you clearly didn’t, or that you ate the perfect amount when you feel like you’ve overeaten a little, but it is about accepting the way that you ate in that moment, and maybe there’s something to learn from that; but either way, you can simply move on without all of the overthinking. Consider that you can just eat and let it be what it is, consider that you can make a decision about food in the moment that you think is best for you—for whatever reason—and eat the food, and then let go of all of the overthinking afterward, and simply go on with your life.”
“I love to teach my clients that a huge and fun part of recovery is to generate desire for life. It’s time to start daydreaming about all the things that you really enjoy in life, as in things that give you true pleasure—while you’re thinking about it, while you do it, and after it’s done. I’d also love for everyone listening to think right now about what those true pleasures are for you. For me, it’s hugs from my daughter and conversations with her about what’s going on in her life, it’s also about reading great novels, looking at the view of Manhattan from my apartment window as the sun sets. I also love taking photos of flowers up close, and then sharing them with people I love. And what’s amazing about these things is that even talking about them now gives me a hit of pleasure—not the numbing out kind of hit from a binge, but the kind of gentle and heart-nourishing pleasure that leaves no net negative consequence. So again, to everyone listening, here are some great questions to consider: “If this moment isn’t about food, what do you want it to be about? What areas of your life would you like to generate desire on purpose for? What do you desire way more than food? What is your bigger and truer want? I think it’s so exciting to know that you can create desire for life and what you want for yourself on purpose.” –Julie Mann
“In the same way that dealing with stage fright as a pro musician helped me to understand the principles of moving through urges to binge, the skillset that we develop (I think you’ve mentioned this before and I was like, yes, absolutely!) …the skillset that we develop from learning to manage these urges and kind of move through them is something that we can then use moving forward when we want to look at other things.” –Marcus Kain
“So what are some ways people can say focused on those non-weight motivations, because I think the brain will habitually pull (and I’ve seen that the brain habitually pulls) people back to focusing on weight simply because that’s what it’s used to. So how do we change that pathway?
Yeah. I mean, it is a practice. So first of all, you start to engage in ways to remind yourself of it. So for me, it was journaling every single day—because I kept my promises to myself, because I didn’t binge today, I get these benefits immediately and I would write them down every single day. And I would tell them to people, and I would celebrate them because that was solidifying that new pathway for me. And, you know, another thing is: every time you find yourself going to weight, you can remind yourself, “and I’m feeling so much better in these ways.” – Julie Mann
“What’s your mission for Brain over Binge?
I just want to keep sharing my story as long as I can…I mean, part of me is like, “nobody wants to hear this story again,” but I think there is power in hearing someone’s story rather than just, “okay, this is what you have to do.” There’s a difference in just getting a bunch of advice, or really reading about someone’s journey and being there with them, and then sort of adjusting it to apply to your own life. So I just want to keep sharing my story, and then keep providing the additional help people may need to, you know, create their own story.”
I hope you enjoyed that compilation, and I hope it gave you some useful insights and information that you can use going forward as you end the binge eating habit. Thank you again for your support over the years, and thank you for being here for the 100th episode. If a lot of the clips in this episode resonated with you and you want to learn more, you can head over to BrainoverBinge.com and there you can get started with a free ebook (The Brain over Binge Basics) that I have available. When you get that free ebook, you also get a free track from the Brain over Binge Course called Manage Your Mindset After a Binge, and this is a track that will guide you in overcoming any slips that you may have during recovery. If you need more personalized support and accountability during recovery, you can learn more about coaching. One of the voices you heard toward the end of this episode was our wonderful Brain over Binge coach, Julie Mann, who offers one-on-one coaching and also group coaching.
I look forward to many more episodes and I hope you’ll join me. And as always, I want to encourage you and remind you that you have the power to change your brain and live a binge free life.