Confusion in binge eating recovery

Episode 43: Q&A: Binge Urges are Too Persistent / Confusion about How to Finally Recover

What makes binge eating recovery work

What Makes Recovery “Work”? Part III (You Don’t Need to Work so Hard)

This is the 3rd and final post in my blog series, “What Makes Recovery Work?”.  In Part I, I talked about expectations surrounding what it means for a recovery method to work.  In Part II, I discussed the work you personally need to do in recovery, which is to dismiss each urge to binge (and also eat enough food).  Now in Part III, I want to talk about eliminating unnecessary work in recovery.

When I was in therapy for binge eating, it felt like I had a lifelong journey of work ahead of me in order to stop the harmful behavior and then to maintain my recovery.  But, since then, I’ve seen that it’s not necessary to work so hard to put aside the binge eating habit.

I know you aren’t afraid of doing work; I know you aren’t expecting recovery to be effortless; and I know you are willing to do what it takes to stop your binge eating. Working hard is certainly not a bad thing, but if right now, you feel that your hard work hasn’t gotten you closer to freedom from binge eating, you may be doing work that isn’t actually targeting the binge eating problem.

Commonly, in traditional eating disorder therapy, the work that is required has to do with managing emotions, healing pain from your past, and learning to cope better with daily stress. This is meaningful work that can help improve your life, but if it isn’t helping you avoid acting on the binge urges, it’s not helping with the binge eating specifically.

It can be baffling when you feel you are doing all of the hard work that therapy requires and you are still binge eating.  If you find yourself in this situation, you may understandably start to look for something else to work on, and then something else after that.  This can lead to a constant state of trying to find another problem to solve, or something else within yourself to fix, hoping it will eventually put an end to your binge eating.

You may also be working on improving and fixing the way you are eating, thinking that will get rid of the binge episodes.  You may be trying to create the perfect meal plan, or trying to adhere to strict eating guidelines, so you may be working hard every day measuring, counting, and weighing your food intake.  Additionally, you could be going through a lot of trouble to avoid certain foods that you believe are problematic or addicting, or you may be trying to research nutrition and take all of the right supplements.

Although improving your eating in ways that feel good to you is a positive thing, and although it’s certainly important to make sure you eat adequately, it’s possible you are putting a lot of unnecessary time and energy into your eating plan, without it making much of a difference in your binge eating.  It can feel like a never-ending quest when you are always looking for something else to fix or change about your diet, hoping that will put a stop to the binges.

If you think a lot of hard work is required for recovery, it only makes sense that you would keep looking for something else to solve or fix, whether that’s in your life, your relationships, your personality, your emotions, or the way you are eating. It’s admirable, and shows determination and resilience.  But, I know how frustrating it feels when it seems like no matter what you work on, you still end up binge eating.

What if working harder in recovery is not the answer?

It is my belief that no matter how much you improve your life, your emotional state, your relationships, your ability to cope, or the way you are eating, binge urges will still inevitably come up.  Even if you work very hard in all of those areas, you’ll still be left with the fundamental work of recovery: not acting on the binge urges.

To stop acting on the binge urges, what if less work is actually more effective?

I had a conversation with Dr. Amy Johnson on my podcast last week, and part of what we talked about was how just seeing your binge eating habit differently can allow change to occur without the struggle or without needing to work so hard. When you have a fundamental shift in the way you view your urges and respond to them, it suddenly seems unnecessary to sort out and deal with all of your other problems or have a perfect eating plan in order to stop binge eating.

So, instead of thinking “what other problems and difficult emotions can I work on in recovery?”, you can change your mindset and think, “how can I work on developing a new perspective about the urges and respond to them differently?”

Ending binge eating doesn’t need to feel like intense, complicated, or tedious work. The work can simply be you deeply seeing that the urges do not express your true wants and needs, and then learning to connect with your own power to avoid acting on them.

If you want help in increasing your ability not to act on binge urges, and you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get started with my free eBook.

If you want extra help in making recovery work for you, the Brain over Binge Course is composed of over 125 audios to guide you and encourage you, including one audio you can listen to when you are having an urge to binge—to help you avoid acting on it. You can get access to the complete course for only $18.99 per month.  

What works in binge eating recovery

What Makes Recovery “Work”? Part II (The Work You Need to Do)

In last month’s blog post What Makes Recovery “Work?”, I talked about how an effective recovery method or strategy is not defined by its ability to take away your binge urges, but by its ability to help you stop acting on them.  So, when you try an approach to recovery and hope that it will “work,” try not to have the expectation that it will take away your binge urges, but instead that it will help you better manage them and better avoid acting on them.

Last month’s post got me thinking more deeply about this topic, and I decided to write a Part II and a Part III post, addressing different angles of the idea of recovery “working,” as well as the “work” you do in recovery.  Today, in Part II, I want to talk about the work that you personally put in to overcoming binge eating.

If you expect that talking to a therapist or coach, or reading a book, or joining a support group or online program will “work” by taking the urges away, then it can automatically put you in a more passive role, where you may be expecting recovery to just happen–ie: the urges to disappear.  When the urges don’t disappear, it’s possible for you to assume that the therapist, support group, book…etc. didn’t work, without fully considering the work you need to put in to have success.

That’s not to say when recovery doesn’t work, it’s your fault.  Not at all.  There are many factors at play, and different approaches are better suited for different people. But, once you know that no recovery method will make your urges suddenly disappear, you can see clearly that there is work for you to do.

I’m not talking about work in a “nose to the grindstone” or “tough it out” sort of way.  But, when you use recovery methods and resources as ways to help you stop acting on your urges, it automatically puts you in a more empowered, active role in recovery.  You fully realize the work you need to do: avoid acting on every binge urge, until the binge urges stop coming.  When you deeply know that is the work of recovery, your focus can shift to finding and applying what works to help you do that.

No matter what strategy for recovery you are using, you are the only one who can choose (or learn to choose) not to act on binge urges.  Even if you have a lot of support, there will be moments when it’s just you and the urge. Recovery strategies and support can certainly help prepare you for those moments, but during binge urges is when you do the brain-changing work of recovery.

To think of having to avoid acting on every urge to binge may feel overwhelming to you right now, but once you can shift your perspective and achieve some separation from your urges, it will start to feel more natural to avoid acting on them. It won’t always feel comfortable, but even the most meaningful work can be unpleasant at times.

While writing this, I looked up the definition of work, which is this:  An activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.  Not acting on your binge urges day after day definitely fits that description.  It does require mental effort and requires you to stay connected to your higher brain, and it is certainly aimed at a result that you absolutely want: to be free of binge eating.

At times, it may feel easier not to do the work of dismissing urges. It sometimes may feel easier to slip back into old habits, just as it often feels easier to get back in bed in the morning instead of going to work at your job or care for your family. But, I’m sure that you rarely get back in bed, because your sense of responsibility is too strong.  The work of your recovery deserves the same sense of responsibility from you.  That doesn’t mean you will do it perfectly, and never slip, but if you keep trying day after day, you will find what works for you.

Go to What Makes Recovery “Work”? Part III


If you want help in increasing your ability not to act on binge urges, and you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get started with my free eBook.

If you want extra help in making recovery work for you, the Brain over Binge Course is composed of over 125 audios to guide you and encourage you, including one audio you can listen to when you are having an urge to binge—to help you avoid acting on it. You can get access to the complete course for only $18.99 per month (no commitment required).  

What works to end binge eating

What Makes Recovery “Work”?

I know a life free of binge eating is completely possible for you, but if you are like many binge eaters who I’ve spoken to over the years, you may have a hard time believing that right now.  You may have searched for years for a cure, for something to “work,” for it all to just click so that you will no longer binge.  You may feel exhausted and frustrated by the search.

You may be someone who has already read my books, and you could be thinking that the method I used “worked” for me rather quickly, so it should be the same for you.  You may believe that if the concepts from my books do not work right away, then you need to look for a new approach that will work.  It is certainly possible that another approach may be a better fit, but if you are someone who has jumped around from one approach to another, I want you to take a minute to think about what you believe makes a recovery method “work.”

If you are holding the common belief that a recovery method only works if it gets rid of your binge urges right away, or at least very quickly, this could create some problems for you in recovery.  If ‘getting rid of the urges right away’  was the measure of a successful recovery method, then the Brain over Binge approach actually didn’t work for me either.

Seeing my binge urges as meaningless, powerless, and harmless neurological junk from my lower brain didn’t make those urges go away right away, or even all that quickly. The new mindset I had changed how I perceived my urges, and it rather dramatically made me feel my own ability not to act on them.  But, the urges were still there for a while.

I had to avoid acting on every binge urge until they did completely go away – about 9 months from the time I adopted my new approach.  Not once during those 9 months did I think “this isn’t working.” The reason for this was that I defined success not by whether or not I had urges, but by my ability not to act on them.

In the beginning of recovery, the binge urges came frequently…and I wasn’t perfect.  There were two times when I did act on the urge. The first time, I heard those familiar, lower brain reasons why I should binge, I felt the familiar craving, and I mistakenly thought it was the real “me” who wanted to binge, and I acted on it.  The second time I binged, I had much more awareness of what I was doing, but ultimately, I did still act on the urge.

When I acted on those two urges, I didn’t proceed to throw out the principles that I’d learned, because they didn’t “work.” I realized that in those specific instances, I had not applied what I’d learned, and I had simply followed the urges.  I did not think that I’d failed or that I needed a new approach.  I recognized that I had the power to avoid acting on the very next urge and to keep my recovery going.

During those 9 months of having urges but not acting on them, I never wished the urges away or took their presence to mean something was wrong.  I believe this was a big component of what allowed the approach to be effective.

My own recovery and my experience helping others has led me to believe this:

What makes recovery “work” is not what works to take your urges away.  It’s what works to help you not act on them.

No matter what approach you use, the crux of recovery comes when you have a thought, feeling, or impulse encouraging you to binge, but you don’t.

When you are able to do that over and over, your brain changes, the urges gradually do go away, and your binge eating habit is erased.

Go to What Makes Recovery Work, Part II


If you want help in increasing your ability not to act on binge urges, and you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get started with my free eBook.

If you want extra help in making recovery work for you, the Brain over Binge Course is composed of over 125 audios to guide you and encourage you, including one audio you can listen to when you are having an urge to binge—to help you avoid acting on it. You can get access to the complete course for only $18.99 per month.  

Thoughts of purging encourage binge eating

Don’t Let Thoughts of Purging Encourage You to Binge

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.

How to overcome binge urges Richard Kerr

Simple Technique to Resist Urges and Overcome Binge Eating

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.

Richard Kerr

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.