Dieting and binge eating

Don’t Start the New Year with a Diet

*Originally posted on Jan. 1, 2017. Updated and republished Jan. 1, 2020
This will be a short and simple blog post, and the message is just what is stated in the title. It’s the New Year, and you’ll of course see that people are going on diets; you’ll see weight loss heavily marketed as a goal you “should” have.

I’m here to tell you that it should not be your goal as you welcome 2020.

Having goals of becoming healthier by nourishing yourself well, or goals of becoming stronger or more energetic by incorporating enjoyable activity into your life are fine goals to work toward at any time of year. But please do not fall into the temptation of trying to lose weight fast with restrictive, calorie-deprivation diets.

Whether you are trying to recover from binge eating or you are newly recovered, going on a restrictive diet is a risk not worth taking. The body and brain have survival mechanisms that kick into gear when you deprive yourself of enough food, which will harm your efforts to stopping binge eating for good, and prevent you from developing a healthy relationship with food. A deprivation diet will make it extremely difficult to dismiss urges to binge and prevent those urges from going away.

Even if you haven’t binged in a very long time and you are confident in your recovery, weight loss through restrictive dieting should still not be your focus. Recovery opens up your time and energy, and you can use that time and energy to do so much good. Why use it to focus on your weight and dieting? There is simply no need to turn your attention there when you now have freedom from bingeing and freedom to focus on much more important things.

If you aren’t happy with your body, or you think weight loss would benefit your health, restrictive dieting is still not a solution. I’ve talked in previous blog posts and podcast episodes about healthy ways to think about weight and approach weight regulation. I’ve compiled all of my weight-related discussions into one blog post titled “So, How do I Lose Weight?” , which I hope can be a helpful guide for you if you feel like weight issues are a challenge.

I realize that going on a restrictive diet and trying to get fast results can be tempting at this time of year, but ask yourself: Even if you could somehow manage to get fast results…then what? No one can maintain restrictive diets for long, which is why dieting has such a high failure rate. Attempting to start your New Year with a diet is extremely short-sighted. It’s following the crowd without considering the bigger picture of the rest of the year, or the rest of this decade, or the rest of your life. Even if you could lose weight temporarily, you’d have a slower metabolism and stronger hunger at the end of the process (two factors that make long-term healthy weight maintenance nearly impossible); and if you are a binge eater, a restrictive diet will only fuel your destructive habit.

Dieting is not a solution; it’s a path to more problems. Don’t fall for a “quick fix” that may last for the first three weeks of the year and then cause much more harm than good. Learning to stop binge eating, nourish your body, honor your hunger and fullness, and accept your natural weight is giving yourself a gift that will last a lifetime.

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If you want to put binge eating behind you for good in 2020, the Brain over Binge Course offers powerful and practical guidance to help you toward your goal.

Stop binge eating during the holidays podcast

Ep 60 Daily Motivation to Stay Binge-Free During the Holidays

Holidays binge eating recovery

Holiday Food Talk, and How to (Not) React to it

*Originally published on December 1, 2016.  Revised and re-published Dec 1, 2019
Today, I want to share something that I hope will not only help you stay on track in binge eating recovery during the holidays, but in many situations where you encounter “food talk.”

I’m sure we all have those friends or relatives who can’t seem to participate in a meal or be around food without talking about how fattening they think certain foods are, or their weight loss goals or plans, or what foods they are or are not eating because of their diet. Then, there are those people who comment about or criticize the size of their own body or others’ bodies. You may also have friends or family members who like to give unsolicited food or weight loss advice, thinking that it somehow makes sense to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be eating.

If you are attending a holiday event while you are recovering from binge eating, and you are trying to enjoy yourself while also trying to dismiss your own harmful thoughts about food and weight, and then someone makes a diet or weight comment, you may feel shaken. Before the comment, you were probably doing your best to try to be normal around food; you were probably trying not to focus on your weight or calories or your urges to binge; and it may feel very frustrating to be unexpectedly hit with unhelpful food talk.

“Dismissing” Food and Weight Talk

The most simple solution for this is to treat the comment you hear like you would treat any unhealthy food or weight thought that arises inside of your own head: just dismiss it.
(*If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach and want to know more about “dismissing” harmful thoughts and urges, you can download my free eBook.)

You don’t have to give the other person’s food comment attention or value. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude to that person, but you can politely ignore the comment or kindly change the subject, and move on. This sounds easy, but I know that sometimes it may not feel easy in the moment, so I’m going to dive a little deeper to help you remain unaffected by food and weight talk.

Be Mindful of Your Own Reactions

The reason why dismissing someone’s food comment may feel difficult is because that comment may immediately lead to an emotional, mental, or physical reaction in you. You may find your own food thoughts increasing in that moment; you may have feelings of anxiety arise; you may feel angry at the person for bringing up the topic; you may feel guilty if you are eating something that goes against the person’s weight or food advice.

You may even begin questioning your recovery or wondering if it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with food, when even people without eating disorders are dieting and making weight a big focus of their lives. You may start to have some food cravings when you hear dieting talk, because the thought of dieting may be strongly associated in your brain with overeating or binge eating.

In other words, what may seem like a mundane comment to the person saying it, can lead to some unwanted, obsessive, anxious, or impulsive thoughts in you. It’s not usually what the person says that bothers you the most, it’s your own reactions.

It’s important to know that the person’s comment is not the direct cause of your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, because if other relatives or friends heard that same comment, they would be left with different reactions or would be completely unaffected. But when the comment hits your ears, and your particular belief system and experiences, your thoughts may start to race in a way that feels unwanted and intrusive, and goes against the peaceful relationship with food that you want.

So, what should you do about it?

You Don’t Need to Avoid Food Talk:

First of all, avoiding all food talk is not really an option. Even if you could somehow avoid every person that might say something unhelpful, I do not think this would benefit you. Food and weight talk is very common. Not only would it be impractical and probably impossible to avoid it altogether, it would severely limit your choices of what to do, where to go, and who to see – not only during the holidays, but every day.

Furthermore, thinking that you need to avoid food talk in order to recover from an eating disorder encourages a mindset of powerlessness. When you tell yourself you are not capable of dealing with food talk, then food talk will be much more upsetting to you, and the conditioned reactions you have to it will be become stronger. On the other hand, if you can learn to dismiss harmful food talk when it occurs, you can become confident that you can handle any comment in any situation.

Have Compassion for the Other Person

In order to get in a better mindset to deal with food and weight comments, you must first understand that everyone has their own thoughts driving what they say or do. Most people do mean well; but what they say about food and weight comes from what is making sense in their own mind in that moment, based on a multitude of their own experiences, emotions, and opinions. It’s unlikely that the person is saying something about food or weight to intentionally hurt you; they are simply making a comment, or just trying to make conversation.

When food is the center of an event, it can seem to make sense to talk about it, so that’s what people often do, and you don’t need to make it more meaningful than that. If the event didn’t include food, but instead took place around a big table of flower arrangements, people would feel compelled to start conversations about flowers. The problem is that food is often a charged topic, so the conversations about it don’t always feel as positive or pleasant as a conversation about flowers might feel.

We are all guilty of sometimes not considering how our words may affect others, or saying something without really thinking; so try to have compassion for the person making the food or weight comment. It could be that they’ve simply gotten into the habit of talking about diets and weight during meals, so those thoughts automatically come up for them and they don’t filter their thoughts before they speak. Whatever the case, being upset with the person isn’t practical or helpful. Keeping an attitude of compassion for that person keeps your emotions from running high and makes it easier to dismiss their words.

It’s Not About You

Regardless of the exact reason the comment was made, it’s not about you. Someone saying that he or she is not eating sugar this Christmas does not mean you should also consider avoiding sugar this Christmas. Someone saying that they need to lose weight after the holidays does not mean you should consider that as your goal as well. Someone else criticizing their body size does not mean you need to turn attention to your own appearance.

I’m going to add a little helpful disclaimer to any holiday food talk that you might hear:  What people say about food and weight is often not accurate. The person who says sugar is off limits may have had cookies the day before, or may decide to have a delicious dessert later at the party. The person who says she is going to lose weight may never change one eating habit.

It’s common for people to say they eat healthier or less than they really do. They aren’t intentionally lying about their eating habits or weight loss plans, but people often express what they aspire to, as if it’s fact. If you are someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, you’ve likely learned how harmful diets are, and you know that the percentage of people who actually stick to them is very low. It’s highly unlikely that the people who are making dieting comments at a party are the exceptions.

Even if the person making the food comment is really dieting and/or losing weight exactly like they say they are, it still doesn’t have to affect you. It’s simply the path that person is on right now – a path that may change tomorrow or in the future, but it’s not your path.

Be Curious

In addition to compassion, try viewing food and weight comments with curiosity as well. This can help reduce any anxiety you feel. If, in a moment of holiday food talk, you can think, “hmm, I wonder why they feel that way,” or… “I wonder what that’s about,” it can make a big difference in your mindset. You don’t need to say these words out loud, and you don’t need to actually answer these questions; it’s simply about switching from an anxiety-filled reaction to a curious one.

You can also use curiosity to help you with your own emotional, physical, and mental reactions. Being a curious observer of your own mind helps you get some distance from your thoughts and reactions and not take them so seriously. You don’t need to try to figure anything out; you don’t need to know exactly why your reactions are what they are, but being curious about your own thoughts and feelings is a much better way to manage them than being fearful of those thoughts and feelings or criticizing yourself for having them.

Don’t Engage the Food Talk

I find that in most cases, it’s best to avoid engaging this type of food, weight, and diet talk. During recovery, it’s helpful to take the focus off of these things, and talking about someone else’s diet and weight is contradictory to that. It’s not that you can’t talk about it, but it typically doesn’t serve a useful purpose and it’s a distraction from your goal of having a healthy relationship with food.

If you strongly feel the other person’s diet is ill-advised, then you might consider addressing the topic with them at another time in a private setting. But in the context of a holiday event, just try to kindly bring the focus back to something other than food. It gently sends the message that you aren’t really interested in diving deeper into that conversation, without you needing to be critical of the other person. Ask about the person’s family, their job, their house, their hobbies, or anything that is important to them.

Let Your Reactions Subside, and Get Back to Enjoying Yourself

Many emotional, mental, and physical reactions are automatic, which means you can’t necessarily control what comes up inside of you in response to food and weight talk. But, you’ll find that the reactions subside on their own, without you having to do anything. You can allow any uncomfortable feelings and thoughts to be present, without giving them a lot of attention or meaning, and this helps the thoughts and feelings to simply run their course and fade away.

You’ll find yourself naturally coming back to a less-anxious and more-peaceful mindset, where the other person’s words and your own reactions are no longer bothering you. Then, you are free to continue enjoying the event or having other conversations that don’t involve food or weight.

Keep this in mind as you attend holiday events: Comments from others or harmful thoughts that arise in your own head are messages that you can choose to take or leave. Just because someone says something about food, weight, or dieting does not mean you have to believe it or give it any significance in your life. You can simply let comments and your own reactions come and go, and move on. Other people’s words do not hold the power to get you off track in recovery. You can stay connected to what you know is best for you.

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If you want extra help staying on track in recovery, I’m offering a $10 discount on my coaching audios through the month of December 2019. Although the 15 audios do not address the holidays specifically, they can give you the reminders and the motivation you need to remain binge free.

Holiday binge eating

Holiday Yes’s and No’s are Separate from Binge Yes’s and No’s

*Originally published Nov. 1, 2016.  Revised and re-published Dec. 1, 2019
If you are newly binge-free, or trying to stop binge eating, you may be wondering how to manage the holidays. First, I want you to know that you can avoid binge eating regardless of the date on the calendar. There actually isn’t anything special you need to do or not do during the holidays. The path to recovery is the same every day: You need to dismiss urges to binge whenever they come up, and you need eat adequately (avoid restrictive dieting).
*If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, and you want to learn more about these two recovery goals, you can download my free eBook.

Even though recovering during the holidays is fundamentally the same as recovering during any other time, being aware of some issues that may come up during the holidays can be helpful.

Before I get into the topic of this post, I want to mention briefly what I think is the most important thing to be aware of during the holidays:

Don’t Fall for “Binge Now, Quit in the New Year” Thoughts  

At some point before the end of the year, your lower brain may produce a thought like this: “well, it’s so close to the end of the year, you can just binge now and then quit on January 1st.” This is neurological junk. This thought doesn’t speak your truth. YOU want to be binge-free now, this year, this holiday season. If you are aware that a resolution thought like this will likely come up, you’ll be more prepared to recognize it when it does, and most importantly, you’ll be prepared to dismiss it. If you want to read a little more about this, I wrote a short blog post in 2010 about resolution thoughts.

Saying Yes or No During the Holidays

Now, on to the topic of today’s blog post, which is: keeping your yes’s and no’s to holiday events, obligations, responsibilities, and holiday foods separate from your yes’s and no’s to binge eating. I know this may sound a little confusing, but as I explain what I mean, I hope you will find this advice helpful.

It is a time of year when there are ample opportunities to put many more items on your To Do list – both at work and at home. There is usually pressure to be more closely involved in your community, with your co-workers, and with your family and friends. All of this involvement and connection can be wonderful, but as everyone knows, it can bring a fair amount of stress as well.

Binge Eating Can Become Connected with Holiday Stress

For those who binge, there can sometimes be a strong association between stress and binge eating, so that an increase in events and obligations on the calendar also leads to an increase in urges to binge. In addition, other factors such as social anxiety, and the presence of certain foods at holiday events may have become connected to the binge eating habit over time; so that now, binge urges automatically arise in those situations.

How those associations and connections developed varies from person to person; but knowing why certain stressors, events, people, foods, and feelings lead to binge urges is usually not important to your recovery. What you need to know is that you’ve simply developed some habitual patterns; but binge eating does not help you cope in any way with the stress, events, foods, feelings, or obligations.

You always feel worse after the binge; it doesn’t do anything to solve your holiday problems or fulfill your responsibilities. When you binge, you either have to make yourself keep your obligations anyway, dragging yourself through the day with the binge eating making everything more difficult. Or alternately, the binge makes you feel so badly that you have to cancel your plans, usually by making up an excuse.

On the surface, some people think that this second scenario (cancelling plans because of binge eating) is the deeper reason for the binge, as if the binge was a subconscious way to get relief from responsibilities or avoid something they didn’t want to do. It is very important to see that this is not true. If you look deeper, you know that there are countless ways to get relief from responsibilities or avoid events without having to harm your health. All the binge does is give you temporary relief from the urge to binge, not from your responsibilities, obligations, or stress.

Keep Your Holiday Problems Separate from Your Binge Problems 

That brings us back to holiday yes’s and no’s. If you’ve been exposed to what I’ll call the trigger theory in eating disorder recovery (the idea that you need to learn to handle triggers, or avoid them, in order to avoid binge eating), the holidays might seem like a dangerous time that is full of triggers.

The trigger theory creates a situation where your yes’s and no’s to holiday events, responsibilities, and even holiday food are what determines whether or not you will binge. For example, let’s say that you say yes to organizing a holiday party for your child’s class, and that creates a lot of stress the night before the party. During that stressful night, you have an urge to binge and act on it. In the trigger theory, the take-away lesson would be that you need to say no to organizing parties or similar events in the future, because you need to keep your stress level low to avoid a binge.

There are several problems with this theory. You might really want to organize parties for your child’s class, even if it brings extra stress, and you don’t want to have to base your life decisions around avoiding binges. Another flaw of this theory is that, even if you do say no to obligations, something else could create stress, and you could still have an urge to binge and still binge.  Also, you could have a binge urge and binge even without any stress at all.

You Can Have Urges with Yes’s or No’s.  Say No to the Binge. 

Here are some additional examples of how yes’s and no’s can create confusion when you use the trigger theory:

You say yes to eating some chocolates at a family holiday party and that leads to an urge to binge, and you act on it; so you decide that you must now say no to trigger foods at parties.  Alternately, you say no to some chocolates at a family holiday party, then later that night you have a binge urge and eat a lot of chocolates as part of the binge; so you conclude that you should have said yes to the chocolates at the party, to avoid feeling deprived and then binge eating at home.

You say no to a holiday event because you don’t want to go, then when you are home alone, you have an urge to binge and act on it; so you decide that you need to say yes to social events in the future, in order to avoid being alone and binge eating.
Alternately, you say yes to a social event, but you feel anxious while you are there, and when you leave you have an urge to binge and act on it; so you decide that you need say no to those type of social events in the future to avoid binges.

As you can see, this trigger theory can make your decision making feel very significant to your recovery. Even if you can somehow make what you feel are all the “right” decisions, you could still have binge urges. So, instead of all of this confusion, I want to tell you that saying yes or no to a holiday event, responsibility, or food has nothing to do with your ability to say no to a binge. Your yes’s and no’s to things you want to do or don’t want to do during the holidays (or at any time in your life) are different from your yes’s or no’s when urges to binge arise. One decision doesn’t cause the other.

The binge urge is an urge to binge. It is not a hidden desire to avoid a responsibility or a social event; it is not an urge to calm yourself under holiday stress; it is not an indication of whether or not you should have eaten dessert. It is a primal and habitual urge to eat an abnormally large amount of food. You can learn to dismiss it in any situation or after eating any food – effectively saying no to the binge.

Knowing that you have the capacity to dismiss binge urges whenever they arise gives you the freedom to say yes when you want to say yes during the holidays (and at any time), and no when you want to say no, while knowing that you can always say no to binge eating.

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If you want extra help staying on track in recovery, I’m offering a $10 discount on my coaching audios through the month of December 2019. Although the 15 audios do not address the holidays specifically, they can give you the reminders and the motivation you need to remain binge free.