Here you’ll find some quick inspiration and practical advice about a variety of issues that may come up for you in binge eating recovery.
Overeating & snacking: Is it ok during and after recovery?
It is absolutely normal to have times when you overeat or snack too much.
Even 16 years after I quit bingeing, I still choose to do things like have seconds at dinner or snack in a way that may be more than my body needs. The difference now is that there are no binge urges before, during, or after those experiences.
Wanting seconds at dinner is just wanting seconds—there isn’t that underlying urge keep going into a binge. I either decide to have more food or not, and either way is fine. Same with snacking—I can choose to snack or not, but I no longer have any desire to stuff myself, which now seems like the opposite of pleasure.
Once you consistently dismiss urges to binge after indulging, you’ll feel in control, and the desire to follow overeating or snacking with bingeing will fade away.
If I’ll still feel pain, why recover?
Being binge-free never means being pain-free.
Life is challenging, and when you stop bingeing, that doesn’t change. In some ways, life may feel even more difficult right after recovery. This is because your brain was used to focusing on your eating problems, and it can take some time to get used to focusing on other things, especially painful things.
Stopping the habit allows you to step into a whole new way of living, and that takes courage. It can feel both exciting (celebrate that!) and in some ways unsettling (be accepting of that); but always remember that binge eating is not the better option.
The lower brain may send thoughts like, “you still have pain in your life, so you might as well go back the pain of bingeing.” This is pure neurological junk and doesn’t speak your truth or indicate what you actually want.
If you can stay binge-free during the time when your brain is getting used to experiencing normal life, with all of its ups and downs, you can stay binge free for good!
Are you doubting your success?
If you’re doing well, you may be surprised to feel not only pride and excitement but doubt as well.
This is especially true if you thought recovery would be very complicated. It can feel unsettling to simply stop the habit using the power of your brain, and have the rest of your life be basically the same.
After spending years thinking I needed to fix my other problems and learn to cope with emotions to recover, it felt strange to just not binge anymore. Of course, it felt amazing too, but I wondered if I was doing enough to claim a full recovery.
If you feel this way, remind yourself that some of the most powerful solutions are the most simple ones.
Also know that your brain would likely produce doubting thoughts regardless of the path you took to success, and even if your solution to binge eating had been complicated. Instead of wondering, “Is this too simple?” you’d be wondering, “What if there’s more to solve?”
Know that doubt is normal, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of your success!
Not mindful during meals?
Not a problem! Life is busy and challenging, and mindfulness during meals isn’t a requirement for recovery.
You may have received the idea somewhere that you “should” be present while you are eating, and chew slowly, and pay close attention to the sensations of your body.
Mindfulness can certainly be helpful, especially if you are re-learning normal eating and re-establishing your hunger and fullness cues.
But…I want you to know that if you find yourself not being mindful, you are not doing anything wrong, and you are not destined to binge!
Your lower brain might send thoughts like, “you weren’t present enough and you didn’t really enjoy your food, so now you need the ‘pleasure’ of a binge.” This is neurological junk. The reality is that sometimes you just have to eat and move on, and you simply don’t have time to sit down and savor your food.
You’ll find the level of mindfulness that you want (depending on each situation), but always remember that you can dismiss binge urges no matter what.
Your imperfect binge-free self
You are learning to live as a person who does not binge, and never will again…but, never expect your binge-free self to be your “ideal” self.
Your binge-free self may not always be at peace with your body or relaxed around food—especially early in recovery—and that is okay. Having a perfect body image, or being an ideal weight, or being totally comfortable with your eating habits is not required for ending the destructive binge eating behavior.
Use any struggles you have to prove to yourself that you can remain binge-free despite other problems (even food and weight problems). This is a lesson you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
Sometimes stopping binge eating feels like the more clear-cut goal. It’s an incredible accomplishment and gives you so much of your life back. However, there’s often more work to do to fully let go of the dieting mindset and negative body thoughts.
So, celebrate your success in ending binge eating, then get to work on whatever you believe will help you improve your life and be the best (imperfect) version of yourself.
How to be consistent
“Part of courage is simple consistency” – Peggy Noonan
At a basic level, habit change is courage + consistency. The consistency part can be tricky, and you might find yourself recommitting to recovery again and again, and that can challenge your feelings of integrity.
It’s frustrating to feel like you know what to do, but you can’t get yourself to do that on a regular basis. Consistency commonly breaks down when the binge urges make false promises of pleasure, or when you give in to “one last time” thoughts, or when you feel like dismissing urges is too uncomfortable.
You can learn to handle any discomfort that comes up, and you’ll realize that the discomfort of dismissing urges is so much less than the discomfort of binge eating, and it’s so much less than the discomfort of living out of your integrity.
Remind yourself that it’s uncomfortable either way (bingeing or not bingeing), and that you are courageously choosing the productive discomfort of extinguishing a habit.
This recovery advice is taken from weekly emails I’ve sent in the past several months. If you’d like to receive my emails going forward, all you need to do is enter your email address into this sign-up form.
When you sign up, you also get my free PDF (“The Brain over Binge Basics”) and a free course track (“Manage Your Mindset After a Binge”).
If you want extra guidance as you learn to give up binge eating, 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, 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.
I’ve heard from many people who aren’t sure if they binge or not. They know they are doing something with food that doesn’t feel good, and they know they are eating too much at times, but…
Is it binge eating?
Is it compulsive overeating?
Is it emotional eating?
There is some subjectivity in labeling problematic eating behaviors, and there is often overlap between behaviors. However, it’s valuable to determine what you are specifically struggling with, because when you know what your problem is, you can better apply targeted solutions.
I’ve recently talked to my friend and colleague Cookie Rosenblum about this, and we have decided to host a free online class to help you determine if you are binge eating, compulsively overeating, or engaging in habitual pattern of emotional eating. We want to help you understand how to overcome each of these issues!
The class will be on Wednesday, November 18th at 12pmET, and you can register now.
Cookie is an expert at helping people overcome problematic overeating and emotional eating, and of course, I help people stop binge eating.
Because the term binge has become mainstream (think of “binge-watching” shows), it is sometimes applied to any behavior that seems excessive, including eating behaviors. However, binge eating is not the same as overeating, and overeating isn’t always a problem. Everyone overeats from time to time, but when it feels compulsive and too frequent, it’s definitely something to work on.
If you aren’t sure what type of eating issue you are dealing with, but you want to be free of your struggle with food, I hope you will find the upcoming online class with Cookie very helpful.
This is a one-time class and space is limited, so I encourage you to register today.
If you’re a binge eater trying to recover, you’ve likely come across the term “intuitive eating.” It has become a common term that refers to tuning in to your own body and hunger signals to guide your food choices. The philosophy of intuitive eating was originally developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and detailed in their book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works (1995). I began struggling with binge eating in 1999, and definitely remember hearing about intuitive eating as a potential cure or remedy for binge eating. I didn’t specifically read the Intuitive Eating book at the time, but I found information saying that if I learned to tune into my own body, then I would no longer need to question what I needed or eat or how much I needed to eat, and my desire to binge would also go away.
It’s important for you to know that Tribole and Resch do not present Intuitive Eating as the cure for binge eating. However, intuitive eating is talked about so much in the eating disorder community, and it’s easy to get that message from other sources. I remember thinking that if I could just get better at listening to my body, then surely it would not tell me to binge. Unfortunately, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried to become an intuitive eater, it wasn’t useful for stopping my binge eating.
Can Intuitive Eating Help in Binge Eating Recovery?
This is not to say that intuitive eating isn’t useful, but I think it’s extremely difficult to tune into your body and decipher it’s signals when it’s signals are so mixed up by binge eating—and possibly restrictive dieting and purging as well. It was so frustrating to try to listen to my body when my body and brain seemed determined to drive me toward massive amounts of junk food. I often wondered if binge eating was what my body intuitively wanted. (I wrote an entire post about feeling like you want to binge)
In the basic theory of eating intuitively, your body knows what foods are best for you, and how much you need to eat; and if you can just learn to follow that inner guidance, you’ll be able to eat in a natural way and effortlessly maintain a healthy weight for your unique body. Intuitive eating is basically about trusting your body’s innate wisdom. It involves following your tastes and cravings, but it’s not just about eating what you desire in the moment. It’s also about being connected to how certain foods make you feel, and making food choices based on how you want to feel. The result of intuitive eating should be a healthy diet that fits your lifestyle and fuels your body in the best way possible.
Intuitive eating does work for some people, even binge eaters—especially in the area of giving up the dieting mentality and food rules. There is certainly value in the philosophy of using your body’s innate wisdom rather than following a strict food plan.
Intuitive eating can be helpful—not as the cure for binge eating—but as a way to guide you in learning to eat enough and nourish yourself, provided the philosophy is understood properly. It’s mistaken to simply think of intuitive eating as an “eat whatever you want, whenever you want, for the rest of your life,” which it is often (wrongly) interpreted to be.
Intuitive Eating Presents Unique Challenges for Binge Eaters
It’s also important to be aware of some challenges that you may face as a binge eater trying to learn to eat intuitively. As I’ve alluded to based on my own experience—hunger and fullness, as well as food preferences and cravings, aren’t usually very reliable after prolonged periods of binge eating, overeating, dieting, and/or purging. Stomach stretching from large food quantities, “addiction” to certain foods, digestive problems, and other physiological imbalances caused from harmful eating behaviors can seem to dim your intuition, or make you feel out of touch with any sort of innate wisdom surrounding food.
For example, you may feel like you never truly feel full after eating—unless you binge. Or you may try to follow your taste preferences, but you only seem to crave the sugary and processed food that you binge on. Or you may fear your body’s signals of hunger because you’ve lost trust in your ability to control yourself around food (for more on this, you can listen to Episode 62: Fear of Hunger in Binge Eating Recovery).
In today’s food environment, intuitive eating can be a challenge even for non-binge eaters. Many of our modern processed and convenience foods can make the body’s natural hunger and satiety mechanisms less effective. I don’t think the appetite is 100 percent reliable for most people, which is why we also need to use our higher brain when making food choices, and you can read this post for more: Listen to Your Body?.
If you want to continue exploring this topic, and understand the challenges of using intuitive eating as you recover from bulimia and binge eating disorder, here are a few resources for you:
Gillian Riley, who wrote a guest post on my blog and did an interview on my podcast, has a free e-book: What is Wrong with Intuitive Eating? on her website. The e-book is a great summary of some of the challenges of using your intuition to guide food choices.