My experience of overeating (binge eating recovery)

Overeating, Part I: My Experience

I want to spend three blog posts talking about overeating – why do we do it? is it normal? how much is okay? how is it connected to binge eating?

In this post, I’m going to briefly describe my experience with overeating, if I should even call it that. I consider all of my eating to be normal, even if I sometimes eat past a perfect ideal of satiety. I think the term overeating can have a negative quality, and may possibly be connected in your mind to eating disorders and compulsive actions. I call it overeating for lack of a better word, but maybe there should be a better word, because I’ve found that explaining to people that some overeating is normal can leave them them feeling a little uneasy.  If this is the case for you, I hope this blog series will help ease your mind. 

The overeating I’m speaking of in my experience is fully chosen, in balance, and infrequent. It is not something I feel compulsively driven to do, or feel guilty about doing. I haven’t been extremely full since I stopped binge eating in 2005, nor would I have any desire to be. But, I have been a little uncomfortable after big holiday dinners; I’ve felt my stomach stretched more than might be ideal after eating my favorite meals at restaurants; I’ve eaten desserts even after being fully satisfied from meals; I have chosen to have a few more bites of delicious foods even after my physical needs were met; I’ve eaten snacks or treats without any hunger at all, just to be social or just because the foods looked too good to pass up. 

Overeating is subjective because there is no perfect blueprint on what amount is exactly right for anyone. We all have to make educated guesses for ourselves based on our body’s signals and what we know to be reasonable portions. In the situations I described above, it’s possible that my body actually did need the energy from the foods that I perceived to be more than I needed. Being a little too full or eating when not hungry is not necessary overeating. Sometimes it’s just what we need for a variety of reasons. Getting overly analytical and vigilant about the exact amount you should eat, and being overly critical of yourself if you eat beyond a perfect satisfaction level is not helpful. It can lead to some unhealthy obsessions and can drain your valuable energy. 

When I eat in the ways that I described above, I don’t label it overeating in the moment. I just feel the sensation of being a little too full or eating when not physically hungry, and move on with my life. Then, my body gets hungry again, and I eat again. Judging every eating decision you make, including when you choose to overeat (or eat more than you may physically need, or eat past the point of ideal fullness, or whatever you’d like to call that type of eating) will only make eating much more difficult. Throughout this blog series, I’ll continue to call this type of eating overeating for simplicity, but know that there is no one exact definition, and know that some overeating is certainly normal.  If you are a recovering binge eater, the most important thing you need to know about overeating is that it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you’ve “blown it,” and it certainly doesn’t mean you are destined to follow it with a binge.

I look forward to continuing to talk about this topic in the next two blog posts!  (go to Part II and Part III)

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*This blog series is about overeating, but if you are still struggling with binge eating, you can get my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics by signing up for my newsletter. It will help you understand why you binge and what you can do to take control back!

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.

eliminating foods binge eating

Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part II

Continuing on the topic of eliminating foods (see Eliminating Foods, Part I), I want to discuss a possible obstacle you might encounter if you are trying to eliminate unhealthy foods while also attempting to quit binge eating. The reason I want to address this topic is because I’ve heard from many people who truly desire to have a very healthy diet, and don’t want any processed/”junk” foods in their life; and while this can be a worthwhile goal to have, it ends up complicating recovery for some people.

Here’s why I think that happens:

The binge eater merges the part of themselves that wants to binge with the part of themselves that wants the foods they are trying to eliminate. They begin to apply the lower brain/higher brain idea to the consumption of any junk food, by viewing their lower brain as their “unhealthy eating” brain, and their higher brain as their “healthy/clean eating brain.”  I don’t think this is useful, especially when first trying to quit binge eating, because it can lead to an “all or nothing” trap.

Everyone has food cravings, but when you start trying to view all of your cravings for anything unhealthy as neurological junk, it can be overwhelming.  It can lead you to believe that if you follow a desire for a dessert, or some processed/fast food that your lower brain has already won.  “See, you can’t control yourself,” your addicted brain will say, “you might as well binge.”  And, you might be primed to believe it because in your mind you have hard proof that you are weak – after all, you ate unhealthy food when you were committed to a good diet.

Try not to think that you have a “good brain” and a “bad brain.”  This is not the case at all.  Your primal brain with it’s pleasure centers might indeed be behind your cravings for some junk food, but everyone has this, and has to decide to what extent to follow those cravings. Craving some french fries doesn’t make you abnormal or weak, and it certainly doesn’t mean your animal brain controls you.  If you choose to have the fries, great…enjoy them!  If you choose not to, then that’s great too…have some carrot sticks with almond butter instead:-)  Don’t think that if you choose the french fries you are giving into a binge urge.  Likewise, don’t think that if you decide on the carrot sticks, that depriving yourself of the fries will lead you to binge.  It won’t.  There will be other opportunities for fries.  Try to keep this simple – make your food choices and move on, knowing that it’s only the binge urges that you are trying to correct right now.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I personally don’t think that eliminating all unhealthy foods while trying to quit binge eating is the best course of action; but I understand the reasons for it, and I appreciate that people want to be healthy.  If you truly want to eliminate a certain food group or all processed foods for health reasons, try to keep that endeavor separate from quitting binge eating. Then, even if you aren’t able to eliminate the foods you don’t want in your diet, you can still completely recover from bulimia or BED.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the importance of replacing foods you are trying to eliminate and not letting your attempts to eat healthy turn into restrictive dieting.

Go to Part III.

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, “The Brain over Binge Basics”

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

giving up foods binge eating

Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part I

This is the first of a 3-part series on eliminating foods from our diets (for health reasons). In this post, I will simply share a Q&A from an interview I did with Rande McDaniel at the Vegetable Centric Kitchen.  This gives my basic opinions on the topic, and in the next 2 posts, I’ll elaborate some more.

6. Before your book I read in many eating-disorder style books that we should never restrict anything, or omit any food from our diets or we’re guaranteed to binge on it. On some level I believed this so yes, it lead to bingeing. What are your thoughts on someone who wants to take on a healthy diet/lifestyle that may omit certain foods (processed foods, etc)?

I certainly don’t believe that omitting something from your diet guarantees that you will binge on it. There seems to be a divide in the eating disorder community with the majority of eating disorder experts saying that we should not omit any foods, but other treatment groups – like Food Addicts Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous – saying that eliminating problematic foods is necessary for recovery. Quite simply, I don’t believe that the types of food you eat or don’t eat cause binge eating – the urges to binge cause binge eating.

Might eliminating a certain food – or on the flip side, eating a certain food – lead to an urge to binge? Absolutely. But, we always remain in control of what we do when we experience an urge to binge. So, whether you chose to eliminate certain foods for health reasons or not, it doesn’t have to affect recovery. I personally believe that, when recovering from binge eating, it’s most helpful to allow all types of foods in moderation so that you can de-condition associations between eating certain foods and binge eating. The good news is: when you feel you can control yourself around any food, you are free to make any dietary changes you see fit.

I am trying to keep a narrow focus on using my own experience to help people stop binge eating, not necessarily to have a perfect diet or maintain a perfect weight, because I am not an expert in those areas. However, I will mention a few things I personally believe are important to remember if someone wants to implement healthy dietary changes. First, I think it’s very important to make sure to eat enough. It’s easy to become overzealous about a healthy diet, and in so doing, deprive the body of necessary calories, which can lead to strong survival-driven cravings and even urges to binge. Second, I think it’s helpful to remember that the body and brain will likely protest even a healthy change in diet. We become accustomed to eating certain types of food, and even though avoiding them might be beneficial, the body/brain may still react with strong cravings for the foods we are used to. However, if we can stick with it, healthier eating habits will become the norm, and cravings for the unhealthy habits will subside.

The third thing I think is important to remember is that maintaining an extremely healthy diet is difficult, so I think it’s important to cut yourself some slack if you can’t always eat perfectly. I think having the mindset that you can never “break” your healthy diet can cause some people unwanted stress, and it can also lead to a tendency to overindulge when they do eat something that’s not healthy. Sure, you might chose to have some processed food now and then even while trying to lead a healthy lifestyle; but it doesn’t have to lead to overeating or binge eating.
See Part II and Part III of this series for more.

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, “The Brain over Binge Basics”

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

Enjoy food binge eating

Enjoy Your Food: Giving up binge eating does not mean giving up food pleasure

I want to share a blog post from my good friend Emily, who is a health writer, called The Food Enjoyment Equation (copied below as it is no longer available online). It describes such a simple, but powerful idea about enjoying our food.

To a binge eater, the idea of enjoying food in normal amounts can seem foreign. When I was bulimic, I often feared eating meals and snacks because there were so many foods I thought might trigger binge eating, and many more foods that I labeled “too fattening” to eat as a part of my regular diet. At the time, I probably would have taken the advice to “enjoy your food” as a justification to binge, because I felt that the only time that I enjoyed eating was when I let go of all inhibition, and secretly ate whatever I wanted in huge quantities. Although binges felt unsettling and out of control, there was always an experience of temporary pleasure.

But as the article below explains, enjoying your food is the opposite of the fruitless and fleeting pleasure of binge eating. Thinking back, my binges brought no true enjoyment, but only a temporary high that faded fast and led to shame and pain. Even before the binge was over, any sense of pleasure was long gone, and even in those initial moments of eating pleasure, there was always a part of me that realized it wasn’t what I actually wanted.

You already know that binge eating leaves you feeling awful – physically and emotionally.  Even so, the thought of giving it up can bring a sense of fear of losing that “enjoyment” that you think you feel during binges.

It’s important to realize that binge eating is not real enjoyment or true pleasure, but only short-lived gratification that brings very harmful consequences. Once you realize this, you are on the road to letting go of the destructive behavior. However, you may not know how to enjoy food otherwise, and you may think that once you quit binge eating, you’ll have to view food as fuel only and no longer take pleasure in eating. This is simply not true!

It’s important to start looking at “enjoying food” with a new perspective. I want you to know that, when you give up binge eating, you will open yourself up to learning how to truly enjoy your food. You’ll stop getting that fleeting pleasure of a binge that’s only leading to pain, and you’ll begin learning to take real, satisfying pleasure in food in normal portions. You’ll stop letting go of all inhibition because you tell yourself that “tomorrow starts a new diet;” you’ll end the shame of hiding your eating habits; you’ll stop obsessing about weight and calories; you’ll end the guilt that comes after binges; and instead, you’ll start learning to enjoy the way you feel during and after a good meal, snack, or dessert.

As you read the article below, think about how you can start applying it in your own life, and how you can balance the two aspects of enjoyment that are discussed:

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“The Food Enjoyment Equation”

You may wonder how I can espouse a view of no-rules, enjoy-your-food freedom, and subsequently launch into the world of nutrition science to examine optimal diets.

The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Enjoying your food is of the utmost importance. Nutrition is hugely important as well. But the big-picture view of health includes so many factors, in varying degrees of importance, that it’s not an easily defined black-and-white issue. Add to that that health is a highly individual matter, and it gets more complicated.

My simplified take is this:  Enjoy your food.  And that means looking at what that actually means.  I define the notion of enjoying food as follows:

food enjoyment = how does it taste? + how does it make me feel?

This is my way of accounting for food quality when discussing the principle idea of food enjoyment. Many people would say they “enjoy” regularly eating fast food and candy bars, but if they assessed how they felt afterward, would they say eating low-quality foods on a regular basis actually made them feel good?
Conversely, someone adhering to a strict diet of high-nutrients foods might feel good physically, but are they stressed and anxious all the time?  If so, it’s not an enjoyable way of eating.

Balancing these two aspects of enjoyment is key. If you’re in a social situation and being served a type of food you’d prefer to avoid, sometimes it’s more enjoyable to focus on having a nice dinner with friends than to worry about the food that’s being served (barring any serious food allergies, of course).

By the same token, if eating a certain item will make you feel ill, it’s probably worth it to speak up. I tend to think that the healthiest option is the one that maximizes enjoyment by making me feel good mentally (low stress) & physically, and that tastes good.

Food should be one of the greatest joys, not a technical breakdown of “Should I or shouldn’t I eat this.”

It highlights one of the most fundamental aspects of eating: That food is meant to be enjoyed, not fretted over.

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics by signing up for my monthly newsletter and updates.

You can also learn about the Brain over Binge Course and how to get additional support.

Lose weight after binge eating recovery?

Are You Hoping to Lose Weight After Binge Eating Recovery?

Are you wondering how to lose weight after binge eating disorder? 

Are you hoping you can stop bulimia without gaining weight, or even shed some weight after recovery?

You are not alone if you have these questions and more—weight is a common concern for recovering binge eaters.  In this post, I want to help you with your questions and give you healthy ways to think about weight as you recover and after recovery. I want you to start trusting your body and stop worrying about weight gain, or about how to lose weight after binge eating disorder and bulimia.

Before I go further, I want to say that I’m not a nutritionist, a personal trainer, or an MD.  This post is not to be taken as medical advice about how to lose weight or gain weight after binge eating recovery (or at any time), or how to have an ideal diet. Please know that these are my own opinions about the issue of weight as it relates to stopping bulimia and binge eating disorder, and this does not substitute for nutritional advice. Also know that weight is a big topic, and if you want to dive deeper, you can read my post—Addressing Weight Issues in Binge Eating Recovery.

Recovery from Binge Eating is Not About Weight Loss

When it comes to weight, the reality is—everyone is different, and binge eaters come in all shapes and sizes. In the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, I explained that even if I never would have lost a single pound, recovery still would have been 100 percent worth it. Binge eating brought so much misery to my life, and the weight gain was only a small portion of that misery. Sure, it was good to eventually get back to my regular size after recovery, but that was by far not the greatest benefit.

Although the issue of weight will affect everyone differently, I think that wanting to lose weight and actively trying to do that while also trying to stop binge eating can prevent any progress in recovery. Also, if you are focused on trying to stop bulimia or binge eating disorder without gaining any weight, it can have the same effect of harming your recovery efforts. If you struggle with bulimia/purging, it’s possible you may fear recovery because you think that giving up purging will inevitably lead to weight gain, so you may feel tempted to tightly control your food intake during recovery.  This is going to make recovery more difficult, and make it harder for your body to heal and eventually find it’s natural and healthy weight.

I strongly feel that anyone who wants to quit binge eating—regardless of how much they weigh or how much they desire to weigh— should try not to focus on weight loss or on preventing weight gain during recovery.

There are two primary reasons why I feel this way:

1. Weight Can Take Care of Itself After Binge Eating Stops

For me personally, and so many others, stopping the binge eating is all that’s needed in order to lose weight after recovery and return to a weight that’s normal and natural for the person’s unique body. When binge eating, food restriction, and purging stops, metabolism can start working the way it should and therefore, there is no need to try to shed the extra pounds. Weight is only higher than normal because of the binge eating, and when you take the binge eating away, your body adjusts. I believe this is the case for the vast majority of people with BED and non-purging bulimia, and even most bulimics who self-induce vomiting—because a large percentage of the calorie consumed during a binge are still absorbed.

Some people seem to think that extra weight from binge eating just stays there until you do something (diet/exercise) to make it come off, but that’s usually not true. Some patience may be needed while the body regulates itself, but if weight is elevated over your natural range due to binge eating, pounds should come off by stopping binge eating alone—and here is an explanation for why that happens:

Caloric expenditure increases with body weight (people with larger bodies typically burn more calories per day than people with smaller bodies, when controlling for activity level). The reason is because it requires more energy to carry extra weight as you go through your daily activities, and extra surface area on the body also means more energy lost as heat. For example, one study showed that slender people used 2,481 calories per day, and obese people used 3,162.*  This fact can help you understand why weight gained from binge eating can naturally come off after recovery, and let me explain that using myself as an example:

I was about 20 pounds above my natural weight when I stopped binge eating. My normal diet at the time was about 2,300 calories, but with the binges added (approximately 4 binges per week, around 8,000 calories each), it upped my weekly caloric intake by 32,000 calories. If I spread that out over 7 days for this example, my daily average food intake was around 6,870 calories. Exercise was my form of purging, and I was putting in many hours at the gym to try to compensate for the binges, but my purging didn’t come anywhere close to burning all of those calories. Even if I would have been dieting restrictively between binges—which I was doing in the earlier years of my bulimia—eating let’s say, only 1,000 non-binge calories each day, the daily average with the binges added would still be 5,570 calories.  It’s important to see that restriction and purging aren’t erasing the binge eating problem from a calorie standpoint, and the dangerous behaviors are harming your health.

To sum up what I’ve been talking about: binge eating increases daily calorie intake, and quitting binge eating reduces calorie intake, and the difference is usually significant.  I realize this is common sense to an extent, but what I want to address now is how this leads to weight loss.

Going back to myself as an example, I probably still eat somewhere around 2,300 calories per day now (I don’t count anymore), and my weight stays the same; so why did that same amount of food lead to about 20 pounds of weight loss after bulimia recovery?  It was because of the fact I mentioned previously—more body weight means more calories burned.  When I stopped binge eating and was still above my natural weight, I may have been using around 2,600 calories during a normal day’s activities, but I was eating less than that (2,300 calories), which lead to gradual weight loss. I want to say here that I realize using simple calorie math is oversimplifying things because weight loss is not a simple calories-in/calories-out equation, which I’ll explain more later in the post. However, I still think it’s important for you to see that eating normally after you stop binge eating can allow your body to release the binge weight. This is not the same as putting yourself in a purposeful calorie deficit to try to lose weight after recovery; this is just how people naturally lose weight after consuming too many calories for too long. The body can gravitate back to it’s normal size, because the larger size can only be maintained with an overabundance of calories.

So, while there is something you need to do (binge) to maintain a larger size, there is often nothing you need to do to slowly gravitate back to normal. The extra binge weight is not permanently stuck there until you diet it away, and trying to diet it away would have the adverse effects of slowing your metabolism and increasing your urges to binge. No, the binge weight won’t come off overnight, but it’s healthier in the long run to lose it naturally and gradually, and it will help you avoid repeating the diet and binge cycle in the future.

I want to say a little more to people who purge because you may think you are “getting rid” of those binge calories by self-induced vomiting. You may be even more focused on trying to stop bulimia without gaining any weight, or you may have hard time believing that recovery could lead to gradual weight loss (if you are above your normal, healthy weight). *If you are currently below your normal weight range or think weight gain is inevitable after recovery for another reason, then please see my post Weight Gain from Binge Eating Recovery?  Like I’ve already mentioned, a majority of the binge calories are still absorbed even if purging occurs, and studies have shown that calorie absorption may begin much earlier in the bulimic’s body and metabolism is suppressed so that the body becomes more effective at storing the calories—which are the body’s natural ways of protecting itself. Your daily calorie intake with bulimia is likely still much greater than the number of calories you’d consume through a normal diet—with no binge eating or purging. For more on how to stop purging, you can listen to Episode 54: Stop Purging in Binge Eating Recovery: Interview with Ali Kerr.

2. If Weight Doesn’t Take Care of Itself, You’ll Be in a Much Better Position to Tackle the Problem.

As I said earlier in this post, weight loss is not a simple calories-in/calories-out equation, so it’s possible that the binge weight doesn’t come off in a predictable way after recovery.  If you are over your natural weight and don’t gradually lose weight after binge eating disorder or bulimia—even after you are very patient about it—I still feel it’s very important to avoid focusing on weight loss during and after recovery. In Episode 53 of my podcast, What Can Hold You Back in Bulimia Recovery, Part 2: Weight Obsession, Katherine Thomson does a great job of explaining why this is the case. Letting go of a focus on weight does not mean you will be ignoring the problem or giving up on your health; it means you will be focusing on your healing and on allowing your body to regulate. Once you are confident in your ability to avoid binges, there may be some healthy changes you want to make to help your body reach it’s natural weight; but this never has to involve a diet or food restriction. You can address any weight issue you have in a way that shows compassion for your body and honors it.

If you are someone who does not gradually lose weight after binge eating stops, I want you to be aware that your lower brain might use a lack of weight loss as fuel for the binge urges. If you don’t see the scale dropping (and I wouldn’t even recommend getting on one during this time), you may hear thoughts like, “you are not losing weight so you might as well binge.” Rationally, you know how ridiculous that sounds, because obviously binge eating will only bring you further away from ever finding a solution to your weight issues; but in the moment, it can seem like a convincing thought. Always remember that you can stop binge eating for good even if you are not the weight you want to be.

We all come in all different shapes and sizes, and what’s a healthy weight for one person might not be a healthy weight for another, even if those two people are the same height. It’s possible to be fit and healthy even if you technically overweight, and BMI isn’t the best indicator of health. However, if you are well above the weight your body is naturally inclined to be due to a harmful and painful habit (binge eating), weight loss after recovery would be a welcome, healthy change.

I am not against healthy and gradual weight loss without dieting, but I feel strongly that advice to simply restrict calories or entire food groups is completely misguided and does more harm than good—especially in those susceptible to binge eating—and just doesn’t work in the long run. For example, I think the typical 1200-1400 cal/day weight loss diet for a woman is starvation. Low-calorie diets lead to a slower metabolism, malnourishment (which some claim is one of the causes of obesity), and more weight gain in the long run. It’s also simply unrealistic to think you can maintain a 1,200 calorie per day diet to lose weight and then keep that weight off for life.

So how does someone lose weight after binge eating disorder or bulimia without restricting calories, if that weight loss doesn’t occur naturally?

First of all, when I say “don’t restrict,” I don’t mean eat whatever you want whenever you want in an excessive manner. I mean eat adequately, eat to nourish yourself well, eat what your body needs. Of course, overeating happens from time to time even in normal people, and that’s completely fine, but overall daily intake should be within a normal range. *If you are someone who has trouble figuring out how to eat, know that my course includes ample information and guidance to help you determine a way of eating that works for you.

That being said, I know that excessive eating and overindulging isn’t always to blame, and I definitely think there are a myriad of other problems that can contribute to not losing weight after binge eating recovery or in general (for example: hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, food allergies/sensitivities, thyroid problems, not enough activity, not enough water, not enough sleep, too much stress…etc).

If you go from binge eating to eating in a normal way, and you don’t eventually lose weight; then I believe it makes sense to look into what might be preventing that from happening. Reasons for not losing weight can be multifaceted, and science currently has an incomplete understanding of why some people can lose weight easily and for others, it’s a struggle; but I don’t think the complexity should prevent us from looking for answers.

I believe that making some reasonable and healthy changes to food choices (without letting it become an obsession and still allowing for flexibility) can be helpful, and is a much better approach than simply slashing calories. Focusing on eating a lot of nutrient dense, nourishing foods can lead to more weight loss in the long run without ever putting the body in “starvation mode.”  Some people might find that changing diet composition to add more protein and fat helps them feel better and lose extra weight, while others find that adding more plant-based foods and high quality carbs help them achieve the same results. I am also a big advocate of healthy, enjoyable, non-stressful exercise as a way to move the body toward a healthy weight.

In my opinion, the goal for anyone trying to lose weight, whether they have a history of an eating disorder or not, should be to gain better health, not to simply see a number go down on a scale. I think when people are truly focused on becoming healthier, it becomes an effort to nourish the body well, to feel better, to gain energy for living, and to prevent disease. It ceases to be about how many pounds they can lose or what size jeans they can fit into. And usually, if you focus on becoming healthier (and you are above the weight range that’s right for your own body), the weight will come off naturally.

Focusing on health can also help you let go of weight obsessions if you are someone who desperately want to be super-thin, because it helps you realize that trying to maintain an unnaturally low weight is harmful. Focusing on health can also allow you to appreciate food for it’s nourishing qualities, without worrying about how many calories the food contains or if the food may possibly lead to weight gain.

But making these gentle, healthy, nourishing shifts that can lead to gradual weight loss is not possible when binge eating is still occurring—because when you fundamentally feel like you don’t have control of what or how much you eat at times, it’s hard to implement and be consistent with any positive eating changes. So, the best strategy is to focus on stopping the binge eating habit first and allow your body plenty of time to heal, and then address weight issues that remain after recovery. Improvements in health, weight, and your attitude toward your weight are just some of the positive changes that recovery can free you up to make.

To help you end the binge eating habit I’ve created a downloadable guide that gives you the basics of the Brain over Binge approach. You can also learn more about my course for more answers to your questions about weight (the course contains 84 Q&A audios and 115 total audios to guide you). 

*Leibel RL et al.  Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. N Eng J Med. 1995 Mar 9;332(10):621-8

Healthy eating and binge eating recovery

What is Healthy Eating?

In this post, I’m going to address the topic of what “healthy” eating means. This a big topic that one post could not possibly cover, but I’m going to give you some ideas that I hope will help you as you overcome binge eating. Before I begin, you need to know that I am not a nutrition expert, and I do not claim to have the answers on what to eat to maintain optimal health. I’ve been recovered from binge eating for a very long time, but that does not mean I eat a perfectly healthy diet.

Eating in a healthy way and stopping binge eating are two different objectives. You can be completely free of binge eating without eating healthy foods; and on the other hand, you can eat only healthy foods and still binge.

In other words, you don’t have to eat healthy to recover from bulimia or binge eating disorder. Thinking that healthy eating is a requirement for recovery can actually make recovery much more difficult, because healthy eating can be a difficult endeavor even for someone who does not have an eating disorder. Try to start viewing healthy eating as a life improvement goal that is not specific to eating disorder recovery.

I’ve definitely made improvements to my eating habits since I let go of the harmful binge eating habit. Those improvements came rather naturally once I was no longer sabotaging my health with binge eating. I don’t eat as many processed foods as I used to, and I try to cook more and eat more “real” foods. I still would like to make more improvements in my family’s eating habits; but lately, I’ve come upon a stumbling block of trying to sort out what is healthy and what is not.

It seems like if you name any food, there is some expert who could label it unhealthy. We’ve all heard that sugar and processed foods aren’t good for us; however, more and more foods are being villainized based on some scientific study, popular theory, or anecdotal evidence. (On a side note: I don’t think it’s helpful to label foods as “bad” or “forbidden”, and I think that everything in moderation is okay, provided there are no major health problems.)

There are nutritional experts claiming that dairy, wheat, soy, meat, eggs, starches, fruit, anything that isn’t organic, certain oils, coffee, and even all whole grains and legumes are detrimental to our health. To make matters even more confusing, there are usually experts on the other side saying those same foods are fine, or even very healthy for us. Then, expert opinions can change over time and new research can prove previous advice wrong.

I personally can get a bit overwhelmed by this, and I know I’m not alone. I think ultimately, we all have to decide what foods/eating habits work for us, regardless of what the popular consensus is, or what the latest nutritional research claims to prove. I think it can be great to learn about nutrition, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that nutrition is highly individual. What might be healthy for one person might not be for another, because of food sensitivities, allergies, health conditions, various physiological factors, or simply preferences.

If you are someone who wants to focus on healthy eating, I would suggest for you to be open to what “healthy” may mean for your personally. Don’t get locked in to what one expert or theory says. Just make the best choices you can based on your own knowledge, common sense, and feedback from your body, and know that it will never be perfect. Experiment with what you like and don’t like, aim to nourish yourself well, and know that once you stop binge eating, it will be much easier to make other eating improvements.

It’s important to remember that nutrition is not the only factor in good health, and it can be very helpful to focus on the other factors so that you don’t become obsessive about food. Turning your attention to improving relaxation, recreation, sleep, and hydration are all great ways to take care of yourself without getting overly concerned about what you are eating. For many people, going through all of the extra trouble (and spending the extra money) in order to ensure a perfectly healthy diet can cause so much stress that it offsets any benefits of the healthy eating. It’s okay if you can’t manage to always eat organic, gluten/dairy/soy-free everything; because there are other ways you can improve your health.

I think an ideal way to approach healthy eating is to keep it simple, allow for imperfections, and eat in a way that you think is healthy for you personally (without worrying much about constantly changing nutritional advice). Also, don’t let the goal of improving your health lead to unhealthy stress in your life.

To end this post, I want to share a quote from my wonderful friend who went back to school to get a master’s degree in health education and who always has great advice on this topic. She told me recently that she believes in balancing nutrition with sanity”. I think that’s a great perspective, and can help you as you make any healthy changes to your eating.

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I typically recommend for binge eaters to end the binge eating habit first before putting too much emphasis on making other healthy eating changes. If you want help in stopping the binge eating habit, you can download my free eBook The Brain over Binge Basics when you sign up for my newsletter.

Non-Hungry Cravings

A huge topic that is beyond the scope of this blog and my book is what I’ll call “non-hungry cravings.” Most people experience at least some cravings for pleasurable foods even when they are not hungry. Those of you who have read my book or followed my blog know that I believe choosing to give in to some “non-hungry” cravings every now and then is perfectly normal. In order to recover from bulimia/BED, of course you must deny the body/brain the binges it’s been conditioned to crave; however, I don’t think denying it of pleasure completely is necessary.

The fact that most people have food cravings, even when they are not truly hungry should come as no surprise. We are wired to enjoy food.Food is good; it’s meant to be pleasurable – after all, it’s how we survive. I don’t think there is a species on earth that views eating as a chore. The pleasure of eating is one mechanism that motivates us to stay alive. Unlike some nutritional experts, I don’t fully blame non-hungry cravings on an overabundance of “junk food” in society or a less than ideal diet; because even if you have perfectly healthy diet, you probably enjoy certain foods in particular and crave them sometimes when you are not truly hungry- even if they are the healthiest of foods.

When you stop binge eating and your urges to binge fade away, that doesn’t mean every food craving will disappear.I think keeping this in mind is very important, as is realizing that not every craving for pleasurable food is a craving to binge. Just because “non-hungry cravings” might feel similar in some ways to binge cravings, remember that “non-hungry” cravings are not eating-disorder specific.

However, it’s also important to realize you aren’t a slave to those “non-hungry” cravings either.If you have been successful in refraining from binge urges; I believe you can use some of the same techniques to refrain from any food cravings that are bothersome to you.However, I think learning to resist all “non-hungry” cravings is over-reaching and not necessary. I think it can even be harmful in some cases if it leads to a “dieting” mindset (having very rigid, restrictive eating habits; denying your body of sufficient calories), which as you know, can lead to more urges to binge.

If you are bothered by what you think are too frequent food cravings when you aren’t truly hungry, I would suggest first making sure you are eating enough.Even though you may have just had a meal when you find yourself craving a little more, maybe you simply didn’t eat enough. In other words, maybe your “non-hungry” cravings really aren’t that at all, maybe they are a signal that you aren’t feeding your body sufficiently.In this case, you may want to consider adding more calories to your diet; because if your body/brain gets the message that you are food deprived, the food cravings and even the binge urges may persist.

But, what if you are eating enough but find yourself having too many annoying non-hungry cravings? Like I said, addressing all the possible causes is beyond the scope of this blog and my book, and I am certainly not a nutritional expert; but I will attempt to address some aspects of this broad topic here.

Food cravings definitely have a physiological basis. Hormone imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, insulin resistance, food allergies, hypoglycemia, adrenal imbalances, and even something as simple as thirst can cause an overabundance of food cravings. In order to break these food cravings, some nutritional/medical experts recommend not only avoiding the foods you crave, but also addressing the physiological factors that may be involved (by doing such things as taking nutritional supplements, changing the composition of your diet to include more protein and fat, getting more healthy exercise, drinking more water…etc). Of course, many therapists apply the “emotional eating” perspective here, asserting that you crave pleasurable foods in an effort to cope with/stuff down/avoid feelings. If you’ve read my previous blogs or my book, you’ll know that I don’t think that perspective is useful for a lot of people. But the physiological basis of your non-hungry cravings might be worth exploring if you feel like those cravings are not in the range of normal.

There are three things I think are important to keep in mind, however, if you do attempt to address the physiological causes of food cravings.

First: The pleasure problem. Some experts believe that if you crave a certain food too often, like chocolate for example, that food has a nutrient in it that your body is deficient in.Following this example…chocolate is high in magnesium, so in theory, if you take magnesium supplements, it should make your craving for chocolate go away.To illustrate, the following quote is from a book on adrenal fatigue – a condition resulting from stress that can make one crave “pick me up” foods like sugar/caffeine.

“…it is much better to use your cravings for chocolate as a reminder to get your magnesium from some other source. The easiest solution is to supplement your diet with 400mg of magnesium per day.That physical craving for chocolate should decrease rapidly, often within one to two weeks after beginning the magnesium supplement.”(Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndromeby James L .Wilson, pg. 157-158)

To me, this logic sounds a bit similar to the logic that says to use a binge craving as a reminder that you have an unmet emotional need that you should address.While this nutritional deficiency theory is valuable, it fails to address the pleasure issue. Does 400 mg of magnesium in supplement form taste as good as chocolate? Does it provide whatever pleasurable benefits the individual receives from chewing and swallowing it and allowing it to alter their brain chemistry? Whatever the reason someone starts eating chocolate too often in the first place, I can guarantee that the reward system in the brain becomes involved and lights up every time the individual takes a bite.Even if you correct the nutritional deficiencies or other theoretical physiological causes, your primitive brain might still send urges for the rewarding nature of the foods you crave. Addressing physiological causes also fails to address behavioral conditioning, which is the second thing you should keep in mind. Following too many food cravings can become a habit.

All the thoughts/situations/feelings that make you feel compelled to reach for pleasurable foods when you aren’t truly hungry become wired into your brain, and correcting nutritional deficiencies or other theoretical physiological causes of cravings won’t necessarily turn off those automatic thoughts.

The third thing that is important to consider is the issue of self-control.The book I referenced above was one of the many books I purchased during my eating disorder that I thought would help with the binge eating. I self-diagnosed myself with adrenal fatigue (I did have most of the symptoms) and thought if the book claimed to help people overcome cravings for sugar/carbs, then it could help me with my binge eating.One sentence from it typifies why it didn’t help me much…on page 226, the author says,“Do not eat foods that adversely affect you in any way, no matter how good they taste or how much you crave them.” The lack of control I felt over my binge eating at the time made following the author’s advice impossible.This is why I believe telling binge eaters to eat a specific diet, or eat/don’t eat certain foods in order to address theoretical physiological causes of binge cravings often fails.It fails to address the fact that binge eaters often don’t feel like they have a choice.

This is why I believe it’s so important to know (and experience) that you fundamentally have control over your eating behavior (whether we are talking about binge eating or non-hungry cravings), regardless of what is going on in your body and brain at the time; and even if there are surely some physiological factors involved.