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.

Pre-Therapy Journal Entry

I mentioned in a previous post that from time to time, I’d like to include old journal entries from my eating-disordered days. I wrote the following entry a couple months after I turned 18, about a week or two before my first appointment with a therapist regarding my binge eating/bulimia. I had been binge eating for about 7 months at the time of this entry, and the binges had been steadily increasing in frequency and quantity of food. It’s evident that, at the time I wrote this, I had not been introduced to the idea of emotional eating or binge eating as a coping mechanism. However, it seems I had a couple clear ideas of my own about my binge eating: 1.) It’s out of control, and 2.) I think I might like to binge, even thought I hate it’s effects.

At this point in my eating disorder, my strong cravings and urges to binge were the result of my survival instincts – the binges were an adaptive response to my extended and extreme dieting; and those urges were generated by my animal brain. However, all I knew at the time was that I couldn’t seem to control myself around food, and I hated myself for it. I didn’t realize that the part of me that “liked” binge eating wasn’t really me at all, but my lower brain, which was both driving me to protect myself from starvation and steadily becoming more and more addicted to the binges.Each time I binged, I cemented the pattern a bit more until it became habit, and my body and brain became dependent on large amounts of the very foods that were initially so attractive to my survival instincts (the sugar/fat/carbohydrate-laden ones that might be good for short-term survival but are impossible to thrive on long-term).

Oct. 1999,
I don’t know who I’m writing to or why I am writing, but I thought it might help me to get this out. Basically, I’m out of control. I can’t stop eating or thinking about food. I’ve been bingeing almost every other day. Since last night, I have been really really crazy. Before I went to bed, I had 3 bowls of cereal, 3 Nutri-Grain bars, 1 pudding cup, 1 bagel, a half a can of beans, a piece of cheese, a few handfuls of Fruity Pebbles, and 7 pieces of bread with butter. Then, I woke up at 12:30am and ate another pudding cup and a cup of milk, and another Nutri-Grain bar. Then, I woke up at 2:00am and ate another Nutri-Grain bar. Then, I woke up at 5:30am and had 2 more Nutri-Grain bars (totaling 7), a cup of milk, a cup of juice, then a piece of bread, then about 20 crackers, and a protein bar. I finally had to stop because it was time to go. [*I was leaving with my cross-country team to drive to South Carolina for a race, which was to take place the following day.The next part of this entry was written on the road with my team. I was sitting in the back of the team van, where no one could see my writing]

We just stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch on our way to Clemson.I was still so full from last night so I decided to just order a turkey sandwich and a side of green beans. That would have been ok, but then I ate 2 pieces of cornbread & a biscuit as well. I was doing my best to eat slow and be normal, but I really just wanted to dig into everything. I’m like this almost all of the time now, and I don’t know why. Last night it was like I almostwanted to binge. After the first part of the binge that ended about 10:30pm, I actually felt good. But, then when I kept getting up at night and after lunch today, I just feel like a big failure. I spent so much time and energy and used so much self control to get down to this weight. And, now I’m ruining it. I weighed myself yesterday before dinner and I weighed 94, and I weighed myself this morning and I was 99. That’s absolutely ridiculous. 5 pounds in 1 night!

Do you think my body is just trying to tell me something? Or am I just crazy? Sometimes I feel like if I had a choice of what I wanted to do, I would choose to just sit in my room and stuff myself. I’ve actually gotten to the point where I enjoy it. After I binge, I just lay in bed and go to sleep. If I could just learn how to throw up, I could binge and not gain any weight.

I just need to stop being such a baby. It’s sad but sometimes I would rather eat than do anything.Every time I do it, I swear to myself that I’m never going to do it again, but I always do. Right now, I’m feeling so nauseous and sick, but if I were alone in my room, I know I would eat more. I need a babysitter 24/7. My parents and sister know some of what is going on, which is good. But, they don’t know how to help me.I told the sports psychologist about the problem this week and I went home after the appointment and binged. It was like the whole day, I just knew it was going to happen. I went to Wal-mart with [two of my friends] and I bought the Nutri-grain bars knowing I would probably end up eating a ton of them, but not thinking I would eat the whole box in one night.

I feel like no one eats as much as me in the entire world, but I’m skinnier than the majority of people I see. How is that? I know it’s going to catch up with me very soon if I keep this up. I hate myself so much right now.I just want to be normal. I just want to eat and forget about it. I don’t want to think about food all day long. I feel so alone.

I think this entry is very important because of my honesty – admitting that I liked the binges. This type of honesty was extremely rare in my journal entries after therapy, when I became convinced I binged for complicated emotional reasons and it was a coping mechanism for life’s problems. In later entries, I attributed the binges to feelings/stressors/daily events/issues rooted in my past; and rarely said what I said here – which was basically: “My cravings feel out of control, but you know what? … it feels good (temporarily) when I give in.” It only made sense that it felt good – of course there was great pleasure in the relief from self-imposed starvation!

The last paragraph in this entry is also telling in that I say I want to be normal. I didn’t want binge eating in my life, and therefore I was receptive to help – to therapy – which I began shortly after writing this. But, once I began therapy, I didn’t need to learn that all of this was a symptom of underlying emotional issues and spend years digging through and trying to resolve those issues. I needed to learn that I was starving, and my body and brain were reacting to try to protect me. I needed to learn that trying to maintain such a low weight was the cause of all this, and if I stubbornly continued to put my body in a calorie deficit, I’d likely be consumed indefinitely by my desire to binge.

I actually did learn that food restriction was part of the problem from my nutritionist, but even when I normalized my non-binge eating (which wasn’t too difficult because I was motivated to do it), the urges persisted. As I discuss in my book, this was due to the persistent nature of the survival instincts and also due to habit. Simply normalizing my diet wasn’t enough; therefore, I also needed to learn something else – how to resist each and every urge to binge in a way that worked for me.

In other words, I think my therapy – and the therapy for most bulimics/binge eaters – could be made simple, consisting of only 2 components:

1.) Learn to feed your body sufficiently

2.) Learn to resist urges to binge in a way that works for you.

I am not saying the exact same methods that helped me resist urges to binge will cure everyone; but I believe the key is finding what helps you say no to the binges and therefore decondition the habit…without making recovery unnecessarily complicated, time-consuming, and difficult.

*I want to apologize (again) for not keeping up with this blog as well as I would like. Taking care of my 3 young kids is my full time job, and I am definitely far from being a supermom! I’ll do the best I can to post more frequently.

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.

Drug Addict Status

If you are a binge eater, even if you have never seen the research, you know that there are similarities between food addiction and drug addiction. A recent study showing that you can get hooked on food the same way you can get hooked on drugs.

This study found what binge eaters sense – that in the brains of some, certain foods can “elicit cravings and trigger responses similar to those caused by addictive drugs.”

I think binge eaters sometimes find comfort in studies like these which confirm their suspicions that their behavior is indeed addictive. “It’s my crack,” I’ve often heard binge eaters and even non-binge eaters say when talking about their favorite foods; and when studies come out that prove food can really be “like crack” to the body and brain, it validates what they already suspect to be true. I know when I was a binge eater, I certainly found comfort in thinking I was “like a drug addict.”  But, why is this? Why did I find comfort in giving myself drug addict status?

I think likening myself to someone addicted to drugs made my problem more legitimate in my mind. It seemed all to weird, disgusting, and embarrassing to be hooked on enormous amounts of food; but if binge eating were indeed as addictive as shooting heroin, then maybe I wasn’t merely crazy or gluttonous after all. If I were like a drug addict, then maybe I really couldn’t control myself, I thought; and that’s precisely what the study linked above suggests.

The lead author of the study said that food addiction is “a combination of intense wanting coupled with disinhibition.” But, just because we can see “intense wanting” and “disinhibition” light up on a brain scan, does that mean the person has no control? I believe, even if there is some bungled brain circuitry causing someone to crave too much pleasurable food too intensely, and even if there is some under-activity in the executive areas of the brain that can inhibit actions; the person can still find ways to overcome those brain wiring issues. As humans, we can rise above our intense wanting for the greater good, and we can learn to inhibit.

While I think studies like the one above are useful, I think we have to be careful as a society not to give too many negative behaviors addiction status and not let differences in brain scans excuse too many actions. We could run into major problems if we eventually say that “intense wanting coupled with disinhibition” renders people helpless to control themselves. I can think of many wrong actions where this combination of intense wanting and disinhibition is present. Think of criminal offenses as extreme examples – shoplifting, robbery, rape; and moral dilemmas such as affairs, teen promiscuity, and pornography. Also, think of small children – every day they exhibit behaviors indicative of intense wanting coupled with disinhibition. If my daughter’s brain were to be scanned while she is shown a picture of a toy, I’m sure those same “intense wanting” areas would light up in her brain. Does this mean she must have the toy? It’s the same with the subjects in the study above.  It’s not a food addict’s fault they want the pleasurable food more and in greater amounts than others do; but in most cases, despite the brain processes at work, they still remain capable of learning to say no.

To recover from binge eating, I had to believe I could indeed control myself – whether I labeled my problem an “addiction” or not. I had to dismiss the belief that “intense wanting” could make me do anything. Strong desire is nothing in and of itself – it cannot make one act, and I had a choice or whether or not to let it get the best of me.  Once I stopped letting it get the best of me – in other words, once I learned to inhibit – the intense wanting subsided.

Listen to Your Body?

When my son Max (who is now 4) was about 2 years old, he began asking me during mealtime:”can I be done?” At first, I’d just asked him if he’d had enough, and if he said “yes,” I’d let him leave the table. However, he soon began asking “can I be done?” after the first or second bite; and he would get annoyed if I asked him to eat a little more. He later began asking, “how many bites do I have to take before I can be done?” Mealtimes quickly stopped being enjoyable because he only seemed to want to get back to playing instead of taking the time to eat and enjoy his food; and I didn’t feel comfortable insisting that he eat a certain number of bites or offering him more tasty (and usually more unhealthy) food choices as substitutes for what I’d prepared. It didn’t feel natural to me, and went against the philosophy I believed in before he was old enough to eat.

Before I began feeding him solids, I had a picture in my mind of how I wanted him to eat. I wanted him to be able to follow his own hunger and fullness signals, and I wanted to have a relaxed attitude around food – not forcing him to eat things he didn’t like, and also not putting any “unhealthy” foods off limits; but I also wanted to offer him healthy choices for the most part and have structure around his meal and snack times. I quickly learned that teaching a child to rely on his own hunger and fullness signals is more complex than I thought it would be.

When mealtimes became a struggle, I decided to start talking to Max about how to “listen to his body” (my husband jokingly made fun of me for using this phrase, but I thought the phrase brought the concept down to a child’s level). “What is your body telling you, Max?” I would ask when he would ask me how many more bites he had to take. “Does your stomach feel empty, like it has a little food in it, or like it is tight and full?” I tried to teach him to notice sensations that would signal that he still needed to eat more or that he’d had enough, in hopes that he could make a wise choice about how many more bites to take. Quite frankly, this didn’t work, and it became rather comical. Max would say he was full when the foods offered were not his favorites, and he would say he was still hungry even after eating plenty of his favorite foods. A conversation could have gone something like this:

(Max eating soup and crackers)
Max: “How many bites do I have to take before I can be done?”
Me: “Well, Max, why don’t you listen to your body and see what it’s telling you.”
Max: “My body says I’m done.”
Me: “But you’ve only eaten two bites. I think you need to eat some more so that you won’t be hungry at nap time and you will have energy for the rest of the day.”
Max: “My body says ‘stop eating soup! stop eating soup!'”

(Max eating chocolate cake)
Max: “Can I have some more cake?”
Me: “Max, you’ve already had a big piece, why don’t you listen to your body and see what it’s telling you.”
Max: “My body says ‘more cake, more cake!'”

As funny as these statements are coming from a 2-year-old, it actually provides an unfiltered look at our brain’s primitive pleasure center and how it influences food intake.

Palatability usually overrides satiety, so that even if we are physically full, we still want to continue eating a highly pleasurable food (hence, “my body says ‘more cake, more cake!'”). And unless we are famished, lack of palatabilty can override hunger (hence, “my body says ‘stop eating soup!'”) A 2-year-old doesn’t have enough higher brain power to always override these primitive, pleasure-seeking brain signals. Neither does a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old, or a 15-year-old, and even adults with fully developed higher brain centers have trouble resisting tempting food (in the most extreme cases, this takes the form of binge eating).

I think it is highly unfair to kids when their parents keep the house stocked with extremely pleasurable/sugar-laden foods, and let them have free reign of it. They aren’t always going to make a choice to stop when their brains’ say “more sweets, more sweets.” My experience with Max led me to believe that childhood obesity is partially due to parents letting their kids “listen to their bodies” too much in an environment filled with sugary foods. Their bodies are very survival and pleasure oriented, and although they may not binge, they will often reach for the sweets over the healthy choices.

I still want Max to learn to listen to his body, but I also want him to know that he must think too. Now that he is a bit older, I have explained to him that when we eat desert and sugary foods, sometimes our bodies don’t tell us to stop even when we are full (and it’s possible that Max has genes like me that make him susceptible *not destined!* to overeat pleasurable foods). I sometimes set limits on how much desert he can have, and even if he says “my body says more,” I have to tell him no. I try to get him involved in something else so he stops focusing on his desire for more; and sure enough, within a couple minutes he always forgets about the food. I want to teach him that we can’t have everything we desire, and sometimes doing the right thing means temporarily feeling deprived of pleasure (we can’t mistake pleasure for happiness).

One day, when his higher brain centers are developed, I hope this lesson will stick: You don’t always have to listen to your body and brain when you know (with your higher brain centers) that what it’s telling you to do is not right or good for you. This lesson doesn’t only apply to eating pleasurable foods, but to anything that involves a healthy dose of self-control.

On the flip side, I’m also trying to teach him that just because some foods don’t taste great (like vegetables, in his opinion), he still needs to make a good effort to try them. Also, if he is not hungry at a meal, I certainly don’t force him to eat; but I do make sure he eats something to give him energy to last him until the next meal. Food is fuel and even when the appetite is low for one reason or another, that doesn’t mean we can’t put food in our mouths (except, of course, in cases of illness when eating normally would not be advised). I know I tend to lose my appetite in times of stress, but I still eat normally, even though it may not be as enjoyable to do so. Following the appetite is important, but we need to use our higher brains too when making food choices because sometimes the appetite isn’t completely reliable – especially when bombarded with sugary, highly processed, “addicting” foods.

I’m certainly not saying I’m doing everything right in fostering good eating habits in my children, but I do find it interesting how the brain of a child gives us a glimpse into the adult “animal” brain, which I believe plays a huge role in the development and maintenance of binge eating.

Halloween Candy

I eat Halloween candy. I also eat many other types of sweets and deserts in moderation, without it being a problem. I don’t think recovery requires me or anyone to eat sweets in moderation, or avoid them altogether. I think that is a personal choice, one that is not exclusive to eating disorders. Everyone has to decide whether to eat sweets or not and how much sweet food to eat; and every Halloween, we are all faced with the temptation of a few too many pieces of candy. 

When I was a senior in college (and bulimic), I remember buying a large bag of peanut butter cups for trick-or-treaters. I lived alone in a duplex house at the time, so I knew it was a possibility for me to get some kids knocking on my door on Halloween night. Sweets were dangerous to me, and when I bought the peanut butter cups, I knew it was a risk that I’d eat them all before Halloween. Sure enough, I ate all the candy in one sitting during a binge the day before Halloween. So, on Halloween night, I turned off my outside light, and didn’t answer the door.

It’s amazing to me now that we can keep bags of candy or junk food in the house, and I don’t view it as “dangerous” at all. For example, with both my older kids, we used M&M’s as rewards for potty training, so we kept large bags of M&M’s in our pantry for well over a year. I had a few M&M’s here and there, maybe a couple times a week. It’s been the same with Halloween candy since my recovery. Today, my kids trick-or-treating containers are sitting on our kitchen table; I’ve had a few pieces in the past few days that I knew they wouldn’t like, but I don’t feel drawn to it.  

Eating Halloween candy, or any other types of sweets for that matter, no longer triggers urges to binge. Sometimes eating something sweet triggers a desire for a little more of the sweet, but that is just natural.  When faced with an inkling for a little more candy, I have to make the same choice that normal eaters face every day – have a little extra or don’t, but no matter what choice I make, it never leads to binge eating.  

Recovery doesn’t have to mean a life void of simple pleasures from food, like a few pieces of Halloween candy.