If you’ve read my books or blog, you’ll know that I did not purge through self-induced vomiting (instead, I purged with excessive exercise and also with restrictive eating). I fully realize that those of you who purge through self-induced vomiting face a different set of challenges in recovery.
Many of you have told me that the physical effects of stopping purging (such as bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms) make you want to binge and purge just to get “relief.” Even though you know rationally that binge eating and purging is not a real solution for those symptoms and that it causes further damage to your health, when you feel so uncomfortable, it may seem tempting to get that temporary reprieve from bloating or other physical symptoms. You may even be someone who has developed the habit of purging normal meals, and you are finding it difficult to stop, or you are concerned with what may happen to your weight if you stop.
To address this issue I’ve reached out to Ali Kerr of Binge Code Coaching, who has personal experience with overcoming self-induced vomiting, and who has guided many others to do the same. Below is a guest post from Ali!
Are you ready to stop purging your food but find yourself worried about what will happen to your body when you do? Perhaps you’ve recently stopped or reduced purging episodes only to find that your body is swelling up, bloating, and gaining weight as a result?
As the founder of Binge Code Coaching, author of the bestselling books The Bulimia Help Method and The Binge Code, and a qualified Nutritional Therapist, I have coached hundreds of clients over the years who have experienced this same fear and resistance when it comes to giving up purging. Not only that, I have experienced this challenge first hand myself.
It takes an incredible amount of bravery to stop purging your food and to trust your body to adapt through this process. When we first stop purging we tend to experience overwhelming and intense “side-effects” which include:
Bloating of the stomach
Swollen hands and feet
An uncomfortable feeling of heaviness right through the body, and
A temporary increase in weight
These changes often leave us feeling defeated, confused and convinced that we will never recover without our weight rapidly spiraling out of control.
I remember believing that my body could not handle food anymore. I was also certain that I would end up becoming very overweight and regularly thought about purging again just to gain some relief. Yet despite these impulses to purge “just one last time,” I persevered with recovery, I stayed strong, and I did not purge. I found that within a month the bloating and other symptoms had significantly reduced. The same is true for my clients today, with most them noticing a significant reduction in bloating and other associated symptoms within the first 4-6 weeks of stopping purging.
Through my research I came to discover that the bloating and other challenging “side-effects” that we associate with the cessation of purging largely occur due to our bodies being in a state of chronic dehydration at the start of recovery. This means it’s important to give your body time (and permission) to go through these healing changes.
Here are my top five tips to help you through the initial stages of quitting purging:
1. Keep your body well hydrated
As strange as it sounds, ensuring that you drink at least 2-3 litres of fluid each day will help to reduce water retention. So, get into the habit of sipping water regularly through the day, take a bottle of water with you wherever you go, drink soothing herbal teas to aid digestion after meals, and try to incorporate lots of fresh fruits and vegetables into your meal plans as they are naturally hydrating.
2. Stop checking your weight
The majority of weight fluctuations that occur when we stop purging are the result of water weight and this can equate to rapid weight fluctuations. Seeing big changes on your scale early on in recovery may derail your recovery efforts. It would be such a shame for you to give up all hope because of a little temporary water weight, wouldn’t it?! So, see if you can make a pact with yourself to avoid stepping on the scale for the time being. It can help to move it out of your bathroom completely or to take out the batteries. If this feels intimidating, challenge yourself to go without checking the number one week at a time.
3. Commit to stopping purging no matter what
To overcome bloating and the other associated symptoms you may be experiencing right now you absolutely, 100%, must learn to stop purging completely. Tell yourself that even if you overeat, binge, or feel incredibly bloated, purging is no longer an option.
4. Avoid seeking out quick fixes for your bloating
There is tons of advice out there on how to reduce bloating. Generally, it involves imposing new strict food rules or trying diets that eliminate whole food groups at a time. Not only is this not recovery-friendly but it simply will not work. Understand that your body is bloating because you are beginning to heal from the effects of purging, you must give it the time it needs to do this. There are no quick fixes. It’s important to understand that while this bloating may feel uncomfortable or even painful, it’s not dangerous because all you are doing is re-learning how to do something that is completely natural and safe, which is eating and digesting food. However if you do experience intense, prolonged pain, discomfort or bloating that becomes worrying you should always consult your doctor.
5. Let go of any misconceptions you hold about “the benefits” of purging (hint: there aren’t any!)
While purging your food may have caused some temporary initial weight loss when you first developed your eating disorder, purging does not help you to lose weight in the long run. In fact, prolonged periods of purging cause metabolic changes that prompt your body to store more fat. Purging also increases the likelihood that you will binge and research proves the number of calories absorbed from a binge, even after purging, is greater than the number that would have been absorbed on a binge-free day. If anything, purging contributes to weight gain NOT weight loss!
Really, this boils down to trust. You need to trust that your body can handle the food, you need to trust that the bloating will not turn to fat, you need to trust that the discomfort will pass. Give your body time to heal (at least 4-6 weeks). Please, please, please be patient with your body and give it time to heal. A lifetime free from bulimia far outweighs a couple of weeks worth of feeling bloated.
If you would like some extra support and guidance on stopping purging, you can read our step-by-step guide to stopping purging.
Alison Kerr (BA, Nutritional Therapist) is at the forefront of a groundbreaking revolution in eating disorder recovery. She is the founder and CEO of Binge Code Coaching (formerly called HealED), a wellness company that specializes in coaching people to break free from their food issues.
Alison is a best selling author of several books on overcoming binge eating and bulimia. A native of Scotland, her first book The Bulimia Help Method was published in 2014 and has become a best seller in its field. Her latest book The Binge Code is the culmination of ten years working with people who suffer from binge eating and emotional eating. Alison’s approach is unorthodox, engaging, fun and most importantly, effective. Learn more and get one-on-one support
It is my belief that the urges to binge are the only direct cause of binge eating. An urge to binge is: any thought, feeling, or physical sensation that encourages a binge.
For those with bulimia, the thought of, “I can just purge afterward” often strongly encourages binge eating. To avoid a binge, it is necessary to avoid giving thoughts like this value. In this post, I’m going to help you stop letting thoughts of purging encourage you to binge.
The thoughts of purging may have started off as conscious thoughts, likely at a time when the urges to binge were first appearing in your life. When you began feeling such a strong compulsion to binge (typically following a period of dieting), it was likely so uncomfortable that it made sense for you to try to come up with reasons to give in to the urges. You may have rationalized by saying, “okay, I’ll give in now, and then I’ll do something to compensate for it later.” You may have compensated by exercising excessively, taking laxatives, restricting food intake, or inducing vomiting.
As your binge/purge cycle repeated, thoughts about purging, which started out as conscious thoughts, likely became habitual and began automatically appearing each time you had a binge urge. I remember when I was bulimic, the thought of “I can just do a bunch of exercise tomorrow to make up for it” was often a tipping point where I’d decide to act on the urge and begin a binge. I’d sometimes even go so far as to mentally plan the next day’s exercise before I followed the urge. Promising myself that I’d purge often seemed to give me the green light to binge. But, afterward, I’d always, always regret it. I hated exercising excessively, I always wished I hadn’t binged in the first place, the purge did not erase the pain or shame. The illusion that purging would erase the pain was just that – an illusion.
Even if you know your purging behaviors are unhealthy and want to stop them, during a binge urge, the purge thoughts will still automatically come up. The key is being able to recognize them and dismiss them in the moment of an urge. Thoughts encouraging purging will often tell you that a purge will “undo the damage” of a binge. When you are not feeling tempted to binge, you can see how false this thoughts is; because of course a purge does not “undo” any damage, it does the opposite – it’s causes severe damage to your health and your life. A purge does not rectify a wrong. It is an additional wrong, an additional (and often worse) source of suffering.
During binge urges, thoughts about purging can make it seem like repeating the binge/purge cycle one more time will be harmless, but you know it’s not harmless. You know it’s causing damage in your life, you know it’s dangerous, you know it’s not what you truly want to be doing. Like any thought that makes binge eating seem appealing, thoughts encouraging a post-binge purge need to be dismissed.
If you struggle with binge eating, you may also have obsessive thoughts about eating healthy. Extreme or excessive preoccupation with healthy eating that results in unhealthy consequences is called orthorexia.
Like other forms of restrictive dieting, orthorexia can lead to binge eating, and orthorexic tendencies can fuel the binge and purge cycle. Trying to eat well to nourish the body is a good thing, and I’ve addressed how you can approach this in my post, What is Healthy Eating? However, when healthy eating becomes a stressful obsession, it is no longer healthy for the mind and body.
I have a guest blog post to share with you today, from Elisa Oras, on the topic of orthorexia and binge eating. Elisa is the author of the new book, BrainwashED: Diet-Induced Eating Disorders. How You Got Sucked In and How to Recover. I asked her to talk about this because I do not have personal experience with orthorexia, and I think you will benefit from hearing her story. If your healthy eating has gotten out of hand and is harming your life, I hope you will find inspiration in this post from Elisa.
When Eating Healthy Becomes Unhealthy – by Elisa Oras
When I was 21 years old, I went through a very hard time in my life and developed depression that lasted for three years. With that, my health got worse. Suddenly, I had to deal with severe acne, hair falling out in chunks and a lot of terrible digestion issues.
I started to search the internet for solutions and found out that leaving out some foods from my diet could improve my health. The advice I received was to skip eating processed and junk foods and move towards a plant-based diet with an abundance of raw foods, and to start doing occasional water fasts and raw food cleanses.
Of course, now I see that all these health issues were mostly just the side-effects of the stress and depression I had, but then I did not see it that way and opted for a complete diet change instead.
I didn’t want to simply take drugs for my physical or mental health but wanted to heal naturally. I believed I was capable of healing my body and mind inside out if I just made an effort.
As you can see, I had good intentions. I wanted my body to be able to support its healing and not simply mask the symptoms by taking some drugs with serious side-effects. Eating more fruits and veggies and leaving out junk foods can definitely improve health, but at the same time, I didn’t know that healthy diet could be taken too far.
In 2011, I went to Australia with a work and holiday visa. I started to eat even more raw foods, and a few times, I went 30 days completely raw. I saw improvements in my skin, my energy levels, and my weight. I started a raw food blog and gained some following. There were people looking up to me who were inspired by my journey. I felt empowered and motivated to continue.
During that time, I also noticed it had become more difficult to digest some foods I had previously eaten, and I became very sensitive to a lot of stuff. I thought this was the proof that cooked food was indeed toxic to my body and I had to limit or avoid it even more. My ultimate goal was to be 100% raw for optimal health.
But my body did not seem to have the same goal as me. The more raw, clean and pure was my diet, the stronger food cravings I got. The healthy eating became more and more extreme as I was following the low-fat raw vegan diet. The “healthy” eating had to be free from salt, oils, very low fat, no grains or legumes, nothing artificial or man-made and of course, no processed or junk foods. Basically eating only raw fruits and veggies. I became more rigid and obsessed about foods than ever!
This “lifestyle” did not recommend restricting calories (which was good) so I was still eating above 2000 calories a day, often about 2500-3000 calories (and way more if you include the bingeing sessions). So I wasn’t simply dieting for weight loss at that point, but I just wanted to be healthy.
The more you let yourself be pulled into one specific way of eating, only interact with the people in the same boat, read the same books, websites, and recommendations, the more “right” it seems to you. You start to think that this is the only way to be healthy and happy and it is the sole answer to everything that is wrong in your life at the moment. Your mindset becomes brainwashed. You can’t even separate the fact from fiction or where to draw the line.
A rigid diet led to cravings and binges
I had to deal with constant cravings. I craved more fatty and salty foods, cooked food and even junk foods. The last one was particularly worrying for me because previously I had never been a big junk food eater. I wasn’t raised like that and never had such strong cravings for it. But the interesting thing is that the more I tried to eat super clean and pure, to eat only raw fruits and veggies, the more unhealthy junk food cravings I had.
As I was the raw food “inspiration” for many people or at least I thought I was, I felt very anxious and guilty to have those cravings. Like I was about to commit a serious crime. Like I was about to abandon my religion. I felt so conflicted. What I believed in my head and what my body craved did not match. I felt like I was living two separate lives where one was the good way to live and the other was bad.
Of course, the willpower only takes you so far and I could not resist my cravings for too long. I started to buy all the foods I craved and secretly binged on them. After I came out of my food coma I started eating healthy again and promised to never repeat this kind of bad and destructive behavior. I believed I just needed more willpower and more resistance. I still believed that if I only stayed raw long enough, my cravings would disappear and my taste buds would change.
A miserable cycle of orthorexia and binge eating
But every time I went back to my clean healthy eating I somehow ended up bingeing on the “unhealthy” foods I truly craved. Every time I binged, I promised myself that I would be back to 100% raw the next day. “This is the last time!” I would tell myself. But it never was because the harder I tried to restrict the foods I craved, the more I ended up bingeing.
Then one day I decided to do another 30-day raw food challenge. I had done them before but this time, I really believed I needed it to end all my junk food cravings and to be healthy once and for all!
I still had cravings on a daily basis this time, but I was able to stick with the challenge somehow. I did, however, have a never-ending craving for a burrito that sometimes kept me up all night.
After the 30-day challenge was over, I still had the burrito craving and decided to have one: “Just to get it out of my mind and get over it,” as I told myself. I thought this way my body will get what it wants, get over it, and I can just continue with my perfect raw food diet.
But that first bite turned into a two-month junk food binge and purge episode. I felt so sick, guilty and disgusting and I knew the purging to be the only way to “undo it” or to relieve some of the guilt and the uncomfortable sensation I felt with a stomach full of junk foods.
I felt miserable, stuck, and bloated. I felt like my own worst enemy. Someone who I had no control over. I had turned into this food smashing monster who was greedy and did not care about her own health. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to eat the most nutritious foods on the planet, foods we are supposedly biologically designed for as taught in the raw food books.
To fight this binge-purge situation I was in, I decided to do a three-day water fast. I thought that maybe I just needed to clean my system and my taste buds, and then my body would naturally start to crave healthy foods again. I could start fresh. At this point, I was just so desperate to end this unhealthy bingeing and purging.
Before the first day of my water fast, I planned one “final” binge, promising myself that from tomorrow I will never eat junk again. I bought all of my usual binge foods, ate them all, felt disgusting and bloated, and then vomited. Now I was truly “motivated” to start over with my three-day water fast.
I fasted those three days and felt great afterward. I felt clean and pure, and I lost weight. When I decided to eat again, I first started with some raw juicy fruits. I knew that for the first days after a fast it is not good to eat overly much, but gradually increase the food volume. It was all good in theory, but in practice, it was somewhat different.
I felt my digestion working again and true hunger signals kick in. By the next day, I felt so ravenous that I went to the shop, bought all of my usual binge foods and binged again!
The cycle had just continued. My eating disorder was worse than ever. I purged till the blood vessels in both of my eyes broke, and I walked around with completely red, bloody eyes for about a month.
I was in shock. I was crying and felt the worst I ever felt. I realized I was totally out of control and lost.
After that, I gained weight. I usually NEVER gained too much weight because previously I did not do any calorie restriction. But after the three-day period of no food whatsoever, with reduced metabolism, with the binge and purge session that followed it, I gained about thirteen pounds. I was at my heaviest at that point, and I felt so uncomfortable.
After that, I started to eat cooked foods again without any will to be 100% raw anymore. I just realized it wouldn’t work.
However, my eating disorder was not cured, it was just the beginning. I continued with the high carb low fat vegan diet – the cooked food version. I was still eating a lot of raw foods but included cooked foods too. This was a little bit more sustainable, but I still could not stop the bingeing on junk foods or eating until I felt sick.
I was still trying to eat clean, and I still felt guilty about certain foods, but since I wasn’t doing any calorie restriction or fasting, I slowly lost the extra weight. It took me a whole year to lose that weight by not restricting calories. I also stopped purging for a good while that year, so that helped with normalizing my weight.
But my mentality was still eating disordered, I still wanted to eat as clean as possible – I was not recovered. I was still overeating for most meals. The bulimia came back later on because I did not understand that by restricting the foods I craved, I couldn’t recover. This continued until the start of my recovery in 2013.
Letting go of strict food rules to gain control of bulimia
In September 2013, I was still planning to eventually return to raw foods one day. This was simply what I believed to be the only answer for me. I did not see any other way. I was too focused on eating only healthy foods and limiting all unhealthy foods.
I remember planning to start another 30-day raw food challenge from October 1st. But as usual, this meant going on a “last and final binge” so I could start “fresh” from tomorrow. So I did it, and felt incredibly sick afterward and purged.
I remember crying and suddenly I started seeing how sick it was what I was doing. How stuck I really was. And based on my numerous attempts to be fully raw previously I KNEW this 30-day raw food challenge would just lead to another binge and purge. I had simply seen it happen so many times.
I started to wake up and see the vicious battle that I was in. For the first time, I started to realize that maybe the bingeing and purging was not the thing that had to be stopped. Maybe it was the RESTRICTION that had to be stopped first.
So, from that realization, instead of doing another 30-day raw food challenge, I started my recovery. From then on, I wrote in my diary (where I always wrote down my restriction goals) to “eat what I truly crave.” I was just so tired of fighting against my body at that point. I was willing to try a different approach.
Finding balance and freedom from orthorexia, binge eating, purging, and food obsessions
It was a process of one year during which I totally re-evaluated my food choices, learned about my body signals, how to not restrict and eat what I craved and returned back to intuitive eating. It was a process of trial and error to find out how to recover. But one year after my final binge and purge session I was fully recovered from my bulimia and orthorexia.
I do not believe that eating fruits and veggies and trying to improve one’s diet to be healthy directly causes eating disorders. But when your healthy eating makes you binge-prone, obsessed with foods, fearful of foods, causes you to have too much stress over foods and eating, it overrides the health benefits and replaces it with more damage to your health and well-being instead. We have to know where to draw the line because there is a point where eating healthy can become unhealthy.
Now I am completely recovered from my eating disorder. I am able to eat when hungry and stop when full. I eat what I want when I want and how much I want. I have clear skin, good digestion, normal healthy weight, and no more cravings or junk food binges. I lost the ability to overeat and do not have a “good or bad” foods mindset. My health and eating are way more balanced now by listening and trusting my body than when I tried to actively control everything.
Even now, I still sometimes look back at my journey and am so thankful and amazed how the body is able to recover and find balance again with food and eating, if only given the right tools and conditions to do so. By not fighting against it but working with it.
Find out more about Elisa:
Read more posts related to this topic:
For more help ending binge eating, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF. It is a 30-page guide to help you understand why you binge and how you can take control back.
In my last post, Am I Ready for Recovery From Binge Eating?, I talked about staying focused on the two recovery goals of the brain over binge approach: dismissing binge urges and learning to eat adequately. You can use what best helps you reach those goals. There are many ideas out there about how to overcome binge urges and how to eat in a normal way—some very different than mine, and some similar. I’ve added a list of books I recommend on the FAQ page, and in these books, you can find ideas that are compatible with what you are learning here in my blog, or in the Brain over Binge books or podcast. It can be very helpful to gather unique perspectives, tools, and advice from a variety of authors.
Two of the books I’ve included are The Binge Code and The Bulimia Help Method, written by Richard and Ali Kerr. I’m happy that Richard has offered to share his ideas here in a guest post. The technique that he explains will help you learn how to overcome binge urges, and you can also use his advice to resist urges to purge.
Resist Bingeing on Food with This Simple 4 Step Technique
My name is Richard Kerr, and my wife Ali and I are the founders of Binge Code Coaching. I want to share with you a powerful technique to help you stop bingeing on food.
Many of the people whom we coach, regularly use this exercise to successfully overcome binge urges. I absolutely love Kathryn Hansen’s book Brain over Binge and this technique compliments her ideas and principles.
I call it the Accept, Delay and Distract technique and it’s a 4-step process you can apply when the binge urge strikes. With practice, this technique will help to weaken the binge urge conditioning and in time the binge urges will gradually fade away.
I must stress this technique will only work if you are also feeding your body the appropriate amount of calories and nutrition it needs. If your binge urge is due to physical hunger, then you need to eat more calorie-dense, nutrient-rich food in your meals or your binge urges will never go away. If you need more help in this area, our coaches can help guide you.
Ok, with that said, lets get into the technique…
For many bulimics in recovery, whenever they first notice an urge to binge on food, their reaction is usually fear, panic and a deep desire to get rid of the urge as fast as possible. They may fight and argue against the binge urge in an attempt to throttle it out of existence. Unfortunately trying to wrangle or eliminate the binge urge often worsens it. We become frustrated that our attempts to control the urge are not working. We panic because the urge is not going away or because it is becoming more intense. We judge ourselves harshly and we begin to feel more crazed and out of control.
In reality we have very little control over how the urge to binge makes us feel, how long it stays, or how intense it is. We could try to argue against the binge urge with logic and reasoning but this isn’t very effective. As Kathryn states in her book, the urge to binge comes from the lower brain and it’s too primitive to understand rational arguments. You could have the most compelling arguments in the world not to binge, but it still isn’t going to help you overcome the urge to binge. It doesn’t respond to logic, it operates at a subconscious level. Any attempts to control it are usually futile and perpetuate the idea that the binge urge is intolerable and that there is something wrong with you.
If you think about it, you don’t binge because of your emotions or feelings. The only reason you binge is to remove your uncomfortable “urges to binge.” If you could learn to be more accepting of your binge urges, they wouldn’t cause you as much bother and then you would be in a better position to ignore them rather than act on them.
The psychology works likes this…
Binge urge + panic and fear for having a binge urge = more uncomfortable emotions + stronger binge urges.
Binge urge + acceptance that it’s okay to feel this way for now = less uncomfortable emotions + less intense binge urges.
An attitude of acceptance can work wonders to diffuse the intensity of the binge urge. Acceptance is a skill and like all skills it can be learned and strengthened through continual practice.
What you need to do:
Step 1. Accept the binge urge
Although we have no control over our binge urges, we do have full control over how we react to them. Instead of fruitlessly attempting to control the binge urge, it is more effective to accept its presence and let the urge flow through you and do as it pleases. Remind yourself that the binge urge is just a feeling, it is not dangerous and does not need to be fought. Allow the urge to rise and fall again. Acceptance feels like a softening, a feeling that it’s okay to be like this.
Two statements that you might want to say to yourself to reinforce your acceptance are: “It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now.” and “I can handle these feelings.”
No matter how strong the feelings are, remind yourself that you do not want to binge. The real you does not want to binge. Allow the feelings to be, but keep resisting what the feelings are telling you to do. You can just tell the binge urge “I don’t have to listen to you”.
Try not to think of the binge urge as meaningful or compelling. Don’t give it any more weight than it deserves. As long as you have stopped restricting and are providing your body food regularly then you can be certain that the binge urge means nothing.
See that you’re OK. There is nothing to fear. These feelings and sensations cannot harm or hurt you. It is OK to feel this way. We tend to want to act on our urges right away or we panic. I’m not sure what we think will happen if we don’t act on the urge, but it becomes very urgent. Instead, sit and watch the urge and realize that you’re OK even if you don’t act on it. The world doesn’t end.
When you experience strong feelings, there is a tendency to respond as though you are powerless against the feelings. The truth is, even at its strongest, the binge urge is just one aspect of your experience. As such, it is something separate from the “You” that is experiencing it. As the experiencer, you are “bigger” than your experience. The binge urge is just a feeling and an experience, like any other feeling or experience. It doesn’t have the power to control you.
For example, should you find yourself going towards the fridge for a binge, the very moment you notice your body reacting with movement… stop moving. Stand completely still. Realize that your thoughts cannot make you move. Realize your body is totally unaffected. The urge to binge is powerless unless you act on it. You may feel waves or a compulsion to binge, but they cannot make you move.
I am not asking you to like the binge urge. I am sure you would rather the feeling wasn’t there. That’s understandable. But you don’t have to struggle and fight it, that would just be adding suffering to suffering. The bottom line is that the feeling of a binge urge is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.
There is no need to judge yourself harshly or feel guilty or ashamed for experiencing a binge urge. The binge urge has nothing to do with you, your upbringing, your emotions or your self-esteem. It is not a reflection on who you are as a person. It’s just the unthinking part of the brain that reacts automatically because of instincts and habit. You can dismiss it.
Step 2: Delay bingeing for 10 minutes
When you tell yourself that you have to make it through the rest of the night (or the rest of your life) without bingeing, the emotional burden of that commitment can become overwhelming, so instead, challenge yourself to resist bingeing for just 10 minutes at a time. This way you are far more likely to succeed.
As much as the binge urge may try to consume you, try to accept any sensations with a sense of calm. Tell yourself that if you still want to binge after ten minutes has passed then that’s okay. Use a watch, or your phone to make a note of the time and try to wait a full 10 minutes before making any decisions as to whether or not you will binge.
Step 3: Distract yourself
A binge urge does a great job of claiming your attention and your focus. Psychologists know that concentrating on two things at the same time is very hard. Therefore, if your mind is flooded with binge thoughts, do something else to distract yourself. Don’t just stare at the clock waiting for 10 minutes to pass. Allow the urge to come and go as it pleases, stop struggling and move your attention and focus on something else.
If you are looking for ideas for something to distract yourself I would suggest something that involves physical movement and also takes you away from any possible binge foods. Something as simple as going for a walk can be extremely effective.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Go for a short jog.
- Go for a drive.
- Have a bath.
- Surf the web.
- Talk to a friend.
- Work or play on your computer.
- Immerse yourself in a project or hobby.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Work in the garden.
- If you have children, play some games with them.
Distraction exercises may not take your mind off bingeing completely, but they should lesson the intensity of those urges. Remain interested in what you are doing and just let the binge urge be. Try not to get emotionally involved with the binge urge and accept its existence. Remind yourself that “It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now” and “I can handle these feelings.”
Step 4: Delay for a further 10 minutes if possible
Then, when the ten minutes is up, congratulate yourself for resisting the binge urge for a full 10 minutes. Well done! Even small steps like this can go a long way to weakening your urges, and helping you stop the binge and purge cycle for good.
After 10 minutes you may find the urge to binge is still quite strong. Challenge yourself to accept these sensations and feelings for another 10 minutes. Remind yourself that the binge urge is just a feeling. It cannot harm you. It cannot control you. You are more than your urge to binge. Encourage an attitude of acceptance to any sensations and feelings.
Alternatively, if after 10 minutes you are no longer able to hold off any longer then give yourself permission to binge. But remember that you are in control and it was your choice to choose to binge.
If you continue to resist long enough eventually the binge urge will pass. It might take 5 minutes, 20 minutes or longer, but it will pass.
Repeat this process as many times as the urge arises. As you continue to practice this technique you will notice the length of time you are able to resist a binge urge increasing. Your binge urges will become less intense and frequent, until they eventually disappear altogether.
It takes practice to resist bingeing
Overcoming urges to binge and purge takes time and practice, so it’s quite normal to find yourself continuing to binge on food, especially in the first few months of your recovery. Please do not beat yourself up if you do end up bingeing. Remember that you are not expected to just stop bingeing in recovery. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “never binge again.” We are all human, no one is perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be any different.
You can find this technique and many more helpful strategies in The Bulimia Help Method and The Binge Code, and if you want one-on-one support in bulimia and binge eating disorder recovery, you can check out our coaching program.
If you want even more help overcoming binge urges, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF.
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.
*Leibel RL et al. Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. N Eng J Med. 1995 Mar 9;332(10):621-8