[This is the Part III post of the Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis series. Read Part I and Part II]
No, I’m not going to tell you all of the reasons why your situation right now could help you conquer binge eating. I’m not going to tell you that because of the pandemic and isolation, you’ll have more time at home, and therefore you can focus on self-care and that will make quitting easier. I’m not going to tell you that because you’re eating in your house in most cases, you can be more mindful during your meals and learn to listen to your body. I’m not going to tell you that a lack of social engagements will lead to less pressure to look a certain way, which will help you let go of dieting. I’m not going to say that because you won’t be taking vacations, or having celebrations, or eating at restaurants, you will have less temptation and it will be easier to avoid binges. I’m not going to say that because you may have less money and less ability to shop, you will have less of an opportunity to buy binge food.
Even if some of what I just said feels like it might be true for you, and even if you think it will be easier to work on recovery during this time of isolation, the purpose of this blog post is not to tell you that isolation is an ideal time to quit binge eating. I do not believe that recovery depends on your circumstances—whether we are talking about a worldwide crisis or personal events in your life.
I believe that every day is an opportunity to recover, and I want to help you learn how to conquer binge eating no matter what situation you are in.
Of course, it absolutely makes sense to take advantage of whatever uniquely works for you, so if there are aspects of self-isolation that seem to help you feel more capable of recovery, then there is nothing wrong with using the circumstances to support yourself in ending the habit. However, even if that’s not the case for you, and even if you feel like this time of self-isolation is making recovery more challenging, it is still an opportunity to overcome this habit for good.
The “Right” Time to Recover is Illusive
The reality is that there will never be a perfect time to conquer binge eating disorder or end bulimia. You can go back to Part I of this blog series, and see that no matter what is going on in your life, your lower brain will always produce reasons to binge. It’s important to accept that whenever you attempt to quit, you will have thoughts saying why “now” is not a good time—whether “now” is during the holidays, on a vacation, while you are trying to meet a work deadline or study for an exam, when you are going through a breakup, while you are trying to make a big decision, or when you are just dealing with everyday stress (*for more, listen to Episode 13: How to Stop Binge Eating Under Stress).
You may be thinking, “But, this is different! It’s a global crisis! I’m filled with anxiety and uncertainty and stress and financial hardship and new responsibilities that I can’t manage!”
That is true, and you should have an abundance of compassion for yourself because this isn’t easy; but I also want you to understand that anxiety, uncertainty, stress, financial hardship, responsibilities, and even global pandemics do not cause binges. If you follow my blog or podcast (or you’ve read my books), you know that I believe recovery becomes much more simple and practical if you separate your life’s problems from your binge eating problems. (If you are new to this approach to recovery, you can download my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics.)
A Chance to Experience Your Power to Conquer Binge Eating Under Any Circumstance
Perhaps the greatest benefit of recovering now is that it gives you a clear opportunity to separate your life’s problems (and world problems) from binge eating. It also gives you the opportunity to recover in the midst of imperfect eating, which I wrote about in Part II: Accept Imperfection & Avoid Binge Eating During Quarantine. If you can recover now, despite everything that’s going on, just imagine how confident you’ll feel moving forward and remaining binge-free after this crisis. You’ll know that no matter what life throws your way, you never have to binge.
Right now, you may be telling yourself that you’ll recover “when things get back to normal”.
But, I want you to take a moment and think back to before this pandemic…were you binge-free then?
If you were binge-free and you started to binge again during this crisis, then I hope this blog series will help you get back on track, and help you be more prepared to stay binge-free in the future, even through major stress. If you were not binge-free before the coronavirus crisis, then remind yourself that normalcy did not equal freedom from binge eating then, and normalcy will not equal freedom from binge eating after this crisis.
If you think you can only recover when life is going a certain way, it’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain recovery over time—because life will not always go that way. I’m going to draw an analogy here that I hope will help you see this more clearly.
Don’t Tie your Recovery to Specific Conditions
As a parent, I’ve watched a lot of kids’ movies over the years, and this image from the end of Finding Nemo popped into my mind this week—in relation to social distancing, and in relation to binge eating (as I’ll explain later). If you haven’t seen the movie, the fish in the image above create an elaborate plan to escape from a dentist’s office aquarium so that they can be free in the open water. After many challenges, they are finally successful and land in the open water. They celebrate and cheer that they are free, but then they’re hit with the realization that they are all still tied in their clear plastic bags. They look at each other and one of the fish says, “Now what?”. It’s meant to be funny and the movie simply ends there, leaving the audience to assume that they’ll eventually find their way out and into complete freedom.
Right now, during this crisis, we’re kind of like these fish—separated from each other in isolation. Our figurative plastic bags are necessary to keep us safe from the virus, and to prevent us from infecting the people around us. But, as time goes by and hopefully the virus starts to affect less and less people (which will certainly be a reason to celebrate!), we’re all going to have the question of, “now what?”.
A virus is not like a storm that simply passes and gives way to a clear blue sky, allowing us all to come out safely and worry-free. Without proof that most of us have already been exposed and are now immune, or without some kind of cure, or without a vaccine, or without some evidence that the virus won’t just pick right back up once we are together again—it’s a collective now what moment. We can only hope that the best minds in the world will put together a comprehensive answer to that question, because we can’t stay isolated forever. For us to truly conquer the virus, the virus must remain under control even after we get back to our normal lives.
In the same way, if you overcome binge eating under certain circumstances, you will only experience complete freedom if you can remain recovered when circumstances change.
I want you to know that stopping binge eating is always a reason to celebrate, and you should always be proud of your success—regardless of the circumstances. Don’t feel like you did something wrong if you changed a part of your life, or took advantage of specific conditions to support yourself in recovery (remember I said you should definitely use what works for you). However, if you think you need those conditions or need things to remain a certain way in your life in order to be binge-free, you may end up feeling like the fish trapped in the middle of the open water—wondering “now what?”.
Your freedom won’t really feel free, because you’ll be constantly trying to arrange your life to keep yourself protected from binge eating, and this can become exhausting (we all know how exhausting it’s been to try to stay protected from the virus). For example, you may feel like you always have to watch out for triggers, or eat only certain foods, or have a required amount of time for self-care, or keep yourself under a certain level of stress, or have places that you can and cannot go for fear of bingeing, or think you need to avoid some people in your life because of how they eat or comments they make about weight.
No matter where you are in recovery, or what you previously thought you needed to do to stay binge-free—this is an opportunity to move closer to complete freedom, without conditions, and even through hard times. (If you want to dive deeper into this idea, you can read my post Freedom: Reframing Your Motivation to Stop Binge Eating.)
Ending the Habit Now and For Good
Your circumstances have undoubtedly changed in recent weeks, and they will undoubtedly change even more before this crisis wanes, and they will change again as we start to move back toward normalcy. This is a chance to experience the freedom of going through these changes, and even feel like your life is being turned upside down, and still avoid binges.
Additionally, on the other side of this crisis, you’ll have a chance to experience the freedom of going back into the world—and revisiting all of your former stressors and temptations—and to still avoid binges. The past several weeks and the next several weeks might bring the most change in your daily activities that you’ll ever experience. If you can remain binge-free, or make any amount of progress in weakening this habit, you will feel your own power and potential to conquer binge eating under any circumstance.
You might be having thoughts saying, “But what’s the point? Doesn’t it make sense to just wait to recover until this crisis has passed?”
You do not have to give value to thoughts like that—just like you don’t have to give value to thoughts that encourage you to binge. In fact, any thought that discourages recovery IS a binge-encouraging thought, and should be dismissed. You know there is always a reason to recover, and you know you want freedom even in challenging and difficult times. There are certainly things that have to wait until this crisis is over—like having a party or going to an amusement park—but recovery is not something that has to wait (even though your lower brain will tell you it’s not the “right” time). Binge eating is not helping you in any way during this crisis; it’s only making the whole situation harder and harming your health in the process. There is no reason to keep hanging on to the habit right now, or ever.
Once you stop binge eating, you’ll realize that the “benefits” your lower brain told you the habit was giving you—like distraction, or pleasure, or an escape from reality—were not benefits after all, and the idea of binge eating to feel better in any way will no longer make sense. And, it usually doesn’t take much time to realize this. To encourage you, I want to end this blog series with a short message I received from a woman who recently recovered using this approach, and now fully realizes that binge eating is not a viable coping strategy:
“I have been 90 days binge free and even during this crisis I haven’t even thought about going back to handling life like that, makes no sense to me now. I was sick for 20 years.”
I hope that one day, the idea of binge eating in response to any circumstance does not make sense to you either. I also hope this 3-part blog series has helped you in some way during this difficult time. Remember that you can’t always change your circumstances, but every day can be an opportunity to learn how to conquer binge eating and change the pathways in your brain to erase the habit for good.
P.S. I hope you and your family are safe and healthy, and continue to stay well. I want to mention here that I got a lot of emails asking for advice with specific aspects of recovering during this crisis. I wrote this 3-part series to address as many questions as I could, as thoroughly as I could; but I apologize if I did not cover all of the questions. I want to thank you for reaching out, but please know I’m not able to respond to every email, in order to focus on my family. Thank you for understanding and for reading my blog!
This is the first part of a 3-part series that I’m going to complete over the next several weeks, and I hope it will help you in some way during this difficult time of dealing with the direct and indirect effects of the coronavirus crisis. Even if the virus itself hasn’t impacted you or your family, the physical, mental, and emotional stress of this crisis is likely reaching every area of your life.
You may also be concerned about how all of this is going to impact your recovery, and you may worry about how you’ll stay binge-free during this time. In this 3-part series, I’ll try to provide some ideas and insights that you can use to keep moving toward freedom from binge eating, despite everything else you are dealing with. The posts will center around the idea of opportunity, in a few different ways. In this post, I’m going to talk about how your lower brain (the part of the brain that drives binge eating) might sense this difficult time as an opportunity to binge, and how you can overcome that.
I’ve received several emails from people saying that they are struggling with increased binge eating during this crisis, and especially while they are in isolation. If you are someone whose binge urges are strongly linked to being alone, or to anxiety, or to sadness, or to having a lot of food in the house, it only makes sense that your lower brain would produce more urges right now. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. You may be someone who experiences more urges during times of work travel or when you have a packed schedule, and you may find yourself having less urges to binge now that you aren’t busy.
It’s important to see that it’s not the events or the emotions that cause the binge eating. A situation that frequently leads to a binge for one person might never lead to a binge for another person. The cause of a binge is always the urge to binge, and if you are new to the Brain over Binge approach and you want to learn more about this, you can get my free eBook.
It’s also important to see that, even if you do have some relatively consistent patterns to when your binge urges appear, the lower brain is opportunistic. It’s job is to maintain your habit, and it will provide compelling reasons to binge in a variety of situations and in response to a variety of feelings. If your normal day-to-day life suddenly changes, your lower brain doesn’t just give up on urging you to binge; it will find opportunities to maintain your habit.
Below, I’m going to run through some of the binge-encouraging thoughts that your lower brain may have produced before this crisis, and then some of the binge-encouraging thoughts you may be experiencing now. I hope this gives you some insight into how the lower brain works, and how it can create binge opportunities from different situations. I also hope it helps you see that any binge-encouraging thought is a faulty brain message that you don’t need to give any value, meaning, or attention.
Binge-encouraging thoughts during normal life and during this crisis:
Normal life: “You have so much to do, you can’t possibly keep up. [You need to binge to relax.]”
Crisis: “You have too much down time. [There is nothing to do but binge.]”
Normal life: “Work is too stressful. [You deserve a binge when you get home.]”
Crisis: “Trying to work from home (or having time off) is too stressful. [You deserve a binge.]”
Normal life: “You can’t possibly deal with seeing the junk food people keep bringing into the office, or passing the bakery on the way home from work, or driving by the fast food restaurants. [You should just give up and binge.]”
Crisis: “You can’t possibly deal with all of the food in the house that’s supposed to last for weeks. [You might as well give up and binge.]”
Normal life: “Social situations produce so much anxiety and self-criticism. [You should binge to distract yourself.]”
Crisis: “Social distancing creates so much loneliness. [You should binge to distract yourself.]”
Normal life: “Eating in restaurants is too tempting and too difficult. [You should binge afterward.]”
Crisis: “Eating the same boring foods at home is unsatisfying. [You should binge for excitement and pleasure.]”
Normal life: “You have too many places to go when all you really want to do is stay home and rest. [You should binge and cancel all of your plans].”
Crisis: “You can’t leave the house, you can’t do anything you want to do. [You should binge to cope with boredom.]”
Normal life: “Eating with friends and extended family is frustrating and leads to a lot of self-judgement. [You should binge to punish yourself.]”
Crisis: “It’s too hard to stay in control when you are eating alone. [You might as give up any control and binge.]”
Normal life: “Working out with others at the gym makes you feel out of shape and bad about yourself.” [You should binge because you’ll never be in shape anyway.]
Crisis: “It’s too hard to get motivated to work out alone at home. [You should give up on health and binge, and start over with a diet when the crisis ends.]
Normal life:“You are worried about work, health, family, relationships…etc. [You should binge to numb yourself].”
Crisis: “You are worried about the coronavirus. [You should binge to numb yourself].”
You don’t truly believe that any of these situations, feelings, or thoughts justifies a binge (whether that’s during a crisis or during more normal days). The automatic, binge-encouraging thoughts from the lower brain are just a product of the habit. You can notice, observe, devalue, and dismiss these thoughts.
You don’t need to criticize yourself for having these thoughts. There is nothing wrong with you. People across the globe are having all sorts of thoughts right now, and that’s expected. Some thoughts during this crisis will be filled with anxiety, some will provide a sense of security or peace, some will produce panic, some will give you a strong sense of compassion, some will make you feel helpless and hopeless, and some will allow you to experiencing love and connection like never before.
…and if you have a binge eating habit, some thoughts will undoubtedly encourage you to binge, but you don’t have to follow those thoughts.
You don’t have to follow a binge-encouraging thought during this crisis any more than you have to follow a thought that says to throw a big party with everyone you know. You don’t want to harm yourself with a binge any more than you want to harm yourself (or anyone else) with a virus. We will get through this difficult time, but don’t believe any thoughts that tell you binge eating will help you cope or somehow make things easier for you. It won’t. It will only lead to more problems.
[Go to Part II]
If you are like most people struggling with binge eating, you probably have questions. The women and men I’ve spoken with over the years—who have read my books or been in my course, or who are new to the brain over binge approach—find it comforting to know that they aren’t the only ones with a certain issue or concern. I’ve noticed common themes in what people have asked me, and I decided that it would be practical and useful to compile and record detailed answers to all of these questions.
This task took me over a year, but when it was complete, I had created 85 Q&A tracks that are now a central part of the newest version of my course, which you can start anytime. I’m adding a new track monthly to continue answering questions, but the course currently has 117 total tracks – plus other resources – to help you stop bingeing. (In total, there is over 1,000 minutes of guidance, tips, information, suggestions, and ideas).
I wanted course users to be able to simply click on a question they have, at any time of day or night, and listen to a thorough response from me. I’ve received extremely positive feedback about these Q&A recordings, but people who are struggling with binge eating disorder or bulimia—and aren’t sure whether or not to sign up for the course—have frequently asked me questions about the questions, wanting to know which topics are discussed.
So, in this blog post, I want to share the entire list of questions that are in the Brain over Binge course (see below). But first, I want to tell you a little more about why I took the time to create the Q&A’ tracks…
I was previously answering these questions frequently in group coaching for binge eating or one-on-one coaching, but I saw room for improvement. I found that I would sometimes inadvertently leave out something I wanted to say, or I found it difficult to give a detailed answer in a short message on a forum or on a time-limited group call when there were many more questions to address. I also realized that a coach’s, counselor’s, or mentor’s time is extremely valuable, and because of that, it’s not financially feasible for everyone to have a personal coach.
I decided that answering these questions in a recorded format could be the next best thing to having a personal coach, and could be much more affordable for people who need guidance.
You definitely can’t put a price on freedom from bulimia and binge eating disorder because it’s worth any amount of money; but the reality is that binge eaters are often also students, parents, or caregivers, and recovery shouldn’t have to be expensive. I wanted to make coaching more accessible in the new version of my course. (The course also includes 15 coaching tracks for encouragement, reinforcement, and motivation. You can listen to a free coaching track at the bottom of the course information page.)
With that being said, here is a list of the questions you’ll receive detailed answers to in the course. Each Q&A track is about 7 or 8 minutes long on average (some are longer, some are shorter).
You can also listen to a free Q&A track (that answers the following question) at the bottom of the course information page:
*Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating*
How much focus should I put on recovery?
Can you explain more about the word “dismiss”? Is it the same as willpower?
What does “don’t diet” mean?
Should I exercise during recovery?
What if I’m taking medication to try to help me stop binge eating?
I’m having a hard time defining my binges. How can I decide what is a binge and what is not?
I don’t feel like I get urges. My binges feel automatic. How can I dismiss urges if I don’t experience them?
I feel like there are deeper emotional reasons for my urges. What does that mean for recovery?
What do I do about all or nothing thoughts that seem to lead to binge eating?
What if I’m unhappy with my weight during recovery?
What is the purpose of journaling in the Brain over Binge approach?
What is the role of alcohol in binge eating? Should I drink alcohol while trying to recover?
Should I continue therapy?
How do I deal with others who are dieting?
Can you talk more about the lower brain and why it’s not really me, and how to separate from it?
I don’t seem to be able to eat sugar in moderation. Should I give up sugar?
I’m overeating in a way that feels very similar to binge eating. I feel like my overeating is almost as problematic as my binge eating, and it makes me feel out of control.
How can others that I’ve confided in about my binge eating best help me?
How long will it take for my binge urges to go away once I stop acting on them?
Is it okay to do something else during urges or should I avoid distracting myself?
Is it okay to eat or drink while I’m having an urge to binge?
My urge thoughts are compelling and I often end up believing them and acting on them.
What do I do if my urges keep coming back after I dismiss them?
I feel like I can’t allow myself to get excited about dismissing an urge or having another success in recovery.
I’m planning binges in my mind long before I’ll have an opportunity to binge. What do I do about thoughts that come well in advance of a binge?
I’m still reacting strongly to binge urges. The urges make me feel panicked and stressed, and it seems like a binge is the only thing that will calm me down.
Should incorporate mindfulness or meditation into recovery?
I’m having trouble getting past the idea that my binges are enjoyable. Even if I did not have urges, I think I would still choose to binge, if there were no consequences.
My urges get worse when I’m stressed. I know the urges cause the binge eating, but the stress seems to make it so much harder.
I binge more at night more than I do during the day. How do I deal with nighttime urges to binge?
How are binge urges different from the binge triggers that I learned about in traditional therapy?
I only feel good when I’m a certain weight or when I look a certain way.
I’m grazing throughout the day and that’s leading to guilt, and binges.
How can I avoid a fear of relapse?
I do well on days that my life is relatively calm, but when I have a demanding work and family schedule, I find it so hard to dismiss urges.
How do I know if I’m having an urge to binge or if I’m just hungry?
I am working on ending the binge eating habit, but I need to lose weight. How can I lose weight without triggering my survival instincts?
My desire to restrict food feels very strong. How can I overcome this so that I can eat adequately?
I’ll eat dinner or another meal and then I just keep getting more and more food and I often end up bingeing. How do I find a stopping point when I eat?
Is it okay to eat healthy and avoid junk foods during recovery?
I’m having trouble stopping my purging behaviors. How do I deal with urges to purge?
Thoughts of compensating for the binge (by restricting or purging) are encouraging me to binge. How can I deal with these thoughts?
I’ll have a few good days, but then I seem to automatically slip back into restriction and binge eating. How can I have continued success?
How can I handle events where there is a lot of food?
I’m having a lot of trouble recognizing and deciphering my body’s signals of hunger and fullness. What should I do about this?
Fullness makes me feel anxiety and it also seems to triggers urges to binge, or binge and purge. How can I learn to deal with feelings of fullness?
I want to eat based on my hunger, but it often does not fit with my schedule or when my family is eating.
I don’t go into binges with the intention of bingeing. I tell myself I’m just going to have one bite, but then I find myself bingeing.
I fear my hunger. I worry that when I’m hungry, I’ll binge.
Should I incorporate former binge foods into my diet, and how do I go about doing this?
Late in the day, I want the immediate gratification of a binge, and I don’t even care about the consequences. How do I stay motivated at the end of the day?
Can I use a diet like keto, weight watchers, paleo, or intermittent fasting to guide my eating?
I’m bingeing or just eating in the middle of the night. How do I dismiss urges at this time?
I have a lot of anxiety about my weight.
I have a lot of black and white thinking, so I feel like when I don’t restrict, I binge.
I’m mindlessly overeating. How do I stop myself? Should I consider this behavior a type of binge?
I resist the work of recovery. Is it possible that I don’t actually want to quit binge eating?
Should I dismiss my desires to eat emotionally? How does emotional eating affect recovery from binge eating?
I feel like as I try to quit bingeing, my urges get stronger. What can I do about this?
I’ve heard that food addictions can stem from problems with my neurotransmitters. How can I overcome this?
How do I quickly overcome a setback?
How do highly processed foods affect binge eating and recovery?
What if I’m gaining weight during recovery?
How can I learn to accept my body?
I feel like my rational self wants to binge. What do I do when I feel like I’m choosing to binge?
Should I make a big resolution to never binge again? Or, should I just aim to reduce or delay binges and accept that slips are part of recovery?
I get more urges during PMS or when I’m feeling off hormonally or physically. What can I do about this?
My most convincing thought says it won’t hurt to binge “one last time.” How can I get past this thought?
Can I dismiss any thought that’s harmful to my recovery?
After stopping the binge eating habit, I’m having other obsessive thoughts and also regrets about the time I lost to binge eating problems.
I clear my plate every time, even if I feel full. How do I learn to put the fork down when I’m full?
I’m eating less than the calorie recommendation of the Brain over Binge approach. Is this okay provided I’m not feeling restricted? Also, if I’m counting my calories to make sure I’m eating adequately, how long do I need to do this?
I stopped bingeing and purging (in the form of vomiting). I thought I would feel great and healthy, but I feel less energetic, fuzzy, and bloated. Will I feel better over time, or is this the new normal I should expect?
I feel in control and successful when I restrict, and I feel guilty and fat when I try to eat adequately, which usually leads me to just giving up and bingeing.
Will there be a point when I can consider myself healed, or do I need to constantly work on recovery? What are my chances of relapsing?
When I binge, I feel like I might be subconsciously self-sabotaging my recovery. Is it possible that I’m continuing to binge because I think I don’t deserve recovery?
Can I do a gentle diet for health reasons? For example, a weight loss eating plan crafted by a nutritionist to make sure I’m not hungry.
When I want a dessert or sweets or to snack when I’m not hungry, I don’t know if it’s me or my lower brain that wants it. How can I tell which cravings to follow and which ones not to follow?
How do I deal with others who are giving me bad advice, eating in front of me in ways that are not helpful, or constantly offering me food?
During the urge to binge, I’m telling myself “No, I don’t want to binge, “ or I’m telling myself “This is just an urge from my lower brain,” or “A binge is not an option,” or “The urge has no power to make me act.” Is it wrong to do this? When I tell myself things like this, does it mean I’m fighting the urge?
I’m having trouble finding things to do instead of binge. What are some ideas of alternative activities?
I know that dieting can lead to the initial development of binge eating, but can problematic cravings also lead to the development of bingeing?
What if I need to gain weight after stopping the habit?
If you are ready to stop binge eating, you can check out the new course subscription, which gives you access to the entire course for only $10.99 per month.
This will be a short and simple blog post, and the message is just what is stated in the title. January 1st is coming soon, and you’ll of course see that people are going on diets; you’ll see weight loss heavily marketed as a goal you “should” have.
I’m here to tell you that it should not be your goal as you welcome the new year.
Having goals of becoming healthier by nourishing yourself well, or goals of becoming stronger or more energetic by incorporating enjoyable activity into your life are fine goals to work toward at any time of year. But please do not fall into the temptation of trying to lose weight fast with restrictive, calorie-deprivation diets.
Whether you are trying to recover from binge eating or you are newly recovered, going on a restrictive diet is a risk not worth taking. The body and brain have survival mechanisms that kick into gear when you deprive yourself of enough food, which will harm your efforts to stopping binge eating for good, and prevent you from developing a healthy relationship with food. A deprivation diet will make it extremely difficult to dismiss urges to binge and prevent those urges from going away.
Even if you haven’t binged in a very long time and you are confident in your recovery, weight loss through restrictive dieting should still not be your focus. Recovery opens up your time and energy, and you can use that time and energy to do so much good. Why use it to focus on your weight and dieting? There is simply no need to turn your attention there when you now have freedom from bingeing and freedom to focus on much more important things.
If you aren’t happy with your body, or you think weight loss would benefit your health, restrictive dieting is still not a solution. I’ve talked in previous blog posts and podcast episodes about healthy ways to think about weight and approach weight regulation. I’ve compiled all of my weight-related discussions into one blog post titled “Addressing Weight Issues in Binge Eating Recovery,” which I hope can be a helpful guide for you if you feel like weight issues are a challenge.
I realize that going on a restrictive diet and trying to get fast results can be tempting at this time of year, but ask yourself: Even if you could somehow manage to get fast results…then what? No one can maintain restrictive diets for long, which is why dieting has such a high failure rate. Attempting to start your New Year with a diet is extremely short-sighted. It’s following the crowd without considering the bigger picture of the rest of the year, or the rest of this decade, or the rest of your life. Even if you could lose weight temporarily, you’d have a slower metabolism and stronger hunger at the end of the process (two factors that make long-term healthy weight maintenance nearly impossible); and if you are a binge eater, a restrictive diet will only fuel your destructive habit.
Dieting is not a solution; it’s a path to more problems. Don’t fall for a “quick fix” that may last for the first three weeks of the year and then cause much more harm than good. Learning to stop binge eating, nourish your body, honor your hunger and fullness, and accept your natural weight is giving yourself a gift that will last a lifetime.
If you want to put binge eating behind you for good in the coming year, the Brain over Binge Course offers powerful and practical guidance to help you toward your goal.
You can now subscribe to the course on a monthly basis for only $10.99/month. Learn more.
It’s difficult to deal with binge eating at any time of year, but the holidays can bring extra challenges. One of those challenges is dealing with holiday events where people frequently talk about food, weight, and diets. These seem to be favorite topics of conversation for some people, and when I was a binge eater, hearing friends and relatives talk about their diet plans, weight loss strategies, and workout programs often made me anxious. You probably know people who can’t seem to participate in a holiday meal—or any meal for that matter—without talking about how fattening they think certain foods are, or what foods they are or are not eating because of their diet, or how guilty they feel for eating this or that. You probably also know people who comment on or criticize their own body or others’ bodies, or give unwanted weight loss advice, or think that it somehow makes sense to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be eating.
Because the holidays bring more temptation surrounding food and more concerns about weight gain, these conversations seem to ramp up. I want to give you some ideas for dealing with this, so that you can stay on track in binge eating recovery during the holidays—and in many situations where you encounter food and weight talk. Know that holiday food and weight talk does not cause holiday binge eating, but it’s helpful to learn to manage your own reactions and responses.
Dismissing Food and Weight Talk and Urges To Binge
Giving up dieting and weight obsession is very important in recovery from bulimia and binge eating disorder, because it allows you to nourish your body and get out of the survival state that drives bingeing. When you are letting go of dieting, learning to eat normally, and trying to accept your weight, it can be unsettling to hear about people doing the very things you are making an effort to avoid. For example, let’s say you are at a holiday meal and you are trying to enjoy eating everything in moderation and not feel guilty about eating certain indulgent foods, and then a friend or family member says they aren’t eating those same indulgent foods because it’s not compliant with their “diet”—this can make you question yourself and feel shaken or even ashamed.
The most simple solution for this is to treat the food or weight comment you hear like you treat the binge urges: Just dismiss it.
[If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can learn about dismissing binge urges by downloading the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF.]
Dismissing a thought or feeling is to view it as unimportant, meaningless, and not worth your attention. You can dismiss any thought or feeling encouraging you to binge or to engage in other harmful behaviors—like dieting or being overly focused on weight. These thoughts arise inside of you, but you can use the same strategy to disregard comments from others. You don’t have to give the other person’s diet comment any value or consideration. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude to that person, but you can politely ignore the comment or kindly change the subject, and move on. This sounds easy, but I know that sometimes it may not feel easy in the moment, so I’m going to dive a little deeper to help you remain unaffected by food and weight talk, and avoid holiday binge eating.
Be Mindful of Your Own Reactions
The reason why dismissing someone’s food or weight comment may feel difficult is because that comment may immediately lead to an emotional, mental, or physical reaction in you. You may find your own food thoughts increasing in that moment; you may have feelings of anxiety arise; you may feel angry at the person for bringing up the topic; you may feel guilty if you are eating something that goes against the person’s weight or food advice.
You may even begin questioning your recovery or wondering if it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with food, when even people without eating disorders are dieting and making weight a big focus of their lives. You may start to have some food cravings when you hear dieting talk, because the thought of dieting may be strongly associated in your brain with overeating or binge eating.
In other words, what may seem like a mundane comment to the person saying it can lead to some unwanted, obsessive, anxious, or impulsive thoughts in you. It’s not usually what the person says that bothers you the most, it’s your own reactions.
[If you are someone who struggles with incessant food thoughts on a daily basis, you can listen to this free Q&A audio from the Brain over Binge course: “Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating.”]
Like I said in the beginning of this post, it’s important to know that food and weight comments do not cause binge eating, and you remain in control regardless of what someone else says. I also want you to know that a person’s food or weight comment is not the direct cause of your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and I’ll explain what I mean by this…
If other relatives or friends heard that same comment, they would be left with different feelings and reactions, or they would be completely unaffected. In the past, that same comment could have lead to a different reaction in you, and in the future, it will give rise to a different reaction in you. But at a specific point in time, when the comment hits your ears—and is processed by your particular belief system and experiences—your thoughts can start to race in a way that feels unwanted and intrusive, and goes against the peaceful relationship that you want to have with food. You don’t have to spend time trying to figure out why this is the case, because that can lead to you feeling like something is wrong with you, and it’s not the most efficient way forward. It’s simply that your brain is temporarily conditioned to react this way to food comments, but you have the ability to change it.
You Don’t Need to Avoid Holiday Food Talk to Avoid Holiday Binge Eating
Whether it’s during the holidays or at any time of year, avoiding all food and weight talk is not really an option. Even if you could somehow avoid every person that might say something unhelpful, I do not think this would benefit you. Food and weight talk is extremely common, and not only would it be impractical and probably impossible to avoid it altogether, it would severely limit your choices of what to do, where to go, and who to see.
Furthermore, thinking that you need to avoid food talk in order to recover from binge eating disorder or bulimia encourages a mindset of powerlessness. When you tell yourself you are not capable of dealing with food talk, then food talk will be much more upsetting to you, and the conditioned reactions you have to it will be become stronger. Furthermore, if you think that food and weight talk will lead you into harmful behaviors, then it probably will. On the other hand, if you can learn to dismiss harmful food talk when it occurs, you can become confident that you can handle any comment in any situation—and that you can avoid holiday binge eating and any behavior that would hinder your recovery.
Have Compassion for the Other Person
In order to get in a better mindset to deal with food and weight comments, you must first understand that everyone has their own thoughts driving what they say or do. Most people do mean well; but what they say about food and weight comes from what is making sense in their own mind in that moment, based on a multitude of their own experiences, emotions, and opinions. It’s unlikely that the person is saying something about food or weight to intentionally hurt you; they are simply making a comment, or just trying to make conversation.
When food is the center of an event, it can seem to make sense to talk about it, so that’s what people often do, and you don’t need to make it more meaningful than that. If the event didn’t include food, but instead took place around a big table of flower arrangements, people would likely feel compelled to start conversations about flowers. The problem is that food is often an emotionally charged topic, so the conversations about it don’t always feel as positive or pleasant as conversations about flowers might feel.
We are all guilty of sometimes not considering how our words may affect others, or saying something without really thinking, so try to have compassion for the person making the food or weight comment. It could be that they’ve simply gotten into the habit of talking about diets and weight during meals, so those thoughts automatically come up for them and they don’t filter their thoughts before they speak. Whatever the case, being upset with the person isn’t practical or helpful. Keeping an attitude of compassion for that person keeps your emotions from running high and makes it easier to dismiss their words.
It’s Not About You
Regardless of the exact reason the comment was made, know that it’s not about you. Someone saying that he or she is not eating sugar this Christmas does not mean you should also consider avoiding sugar this Christmas. Someone saying that they need to lose weight after the holidays does not mean you should consider that as your goal as well. Someone else criticizing their body size does not mean you need to turn attention to your own appearance. For help with body image issues, you can listen to Episode 40: Body Image and Binge Eating.
I’m going to add a helpful little disclaimer to any holiday food talk that you might hear: What people say about food and weight is often not accurate, and doesn’t always line up with what they actually do. The person who says sugar is off limits may have had cookies the day before, or may decide to have a delicious dessert later at the party. The person who says she is going to lose weight may never change one eating habit.
It’s common for people to claim to eat healthier or less than they really do. They aren’t intentionally lying about their eating habits or weight loss plans, but people often express what they aspire to, as if it’s fact. If you are someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, you’ve likely learned how harmful diets are, and you know that the percentage of people who actually stick to them is very low. It’s very unlikely that the people who are making dieting comments at a party are the exceptions to diet failure.
Even if the person making the food comment is really dieting and losing weight exactly like they say they are, it still doesn’t have to affect you. It’s simply the path that person is on right now—a path that may change tomorrow or in the future, but it’s not your path.
In addition to compassion, try viewing food and weight comments with curiosity as well. This can help reduce any anxiety you feel. If, in a moment of holiday food talk, you can think, “hmm, I wonder why they feel that way?” or… “I wonder what that’s about?” it can make a big difference in your mindset. You don’t need to say these words out loud, and you don’t need to actually answer these questions; it’s simply about switching from an anxiety-filled reaction to a curious one.
You can also use curiosity to help you with your own emotional, physical, and mental reactions. Being a curious observer of your own mind helps you get some distance from your thoughts and reactions and not take them so seriously. You don’t need to try to figure anything out; you don’t need to know exactly why your reactions are what they are; but being curious about your own thoughts and feelings is a much better way to manage them than being fearful of those thoughts and feelings or criticizing yourself for having them.
Don’t Engage the Food Talk
I find that in most cases, it’s best to avoid engaging this type of food, weight, and diet talk in any way. During recovery, it’s helpful to take the focus off of these things, and talking about someone else’s diet and weight is contradictory to that. It’s not that you can’t talk about it, but it typically doesn’t serve a useful purpose and it’s a distraction from your goal of having a healthy relationship with food.
If you strongly feel the other person’s diet is ill-advised, then you might consider addressing the topic with them at another time in a private setting. But in the context of a holiday event or meal, just try to kindly bring the focus back to something other than food. It gently sends the message that you aren’t really interested in diving deeper into that conversation, without you needing to be critical of the other person. Ask about the person’s family, their job, their house, their hobbies, or anything that is important to them.
Let Your Reactions Subside, and Get Back to Enjoying Yourself
Many emotional, mental, and physical reactions are automatic, which means you can’t necessarily control what comes up inside of you in response to food and weight talk. But, you’ll find that the reactions subside on their own, without you having to do anything. You can allow any uncomfortable feelings and thoughts to be present, without giving them a lot of attention or meaning, and this helps the thoughts and feelings to simply run their course and fade away. This is the same process you can use to deal with urges to binge. Learn more about not reacting to binge urges in Episode 6: Dismiss Urges to Binge: Component 3 (Stop Reacting to Urges to Binge.
As your reactions subside, you’ll find yourself naturally coming back to a less-anxious and more-peaceful mindset, where the other person’s words and your own feelings and thoughts are no longer bothering you. Then, you are free to continue enjoying the holiday event or having other conversations that don’t involve food or weight.
Keep this in mind as you attend holiday events and aim to avoid binge eating during the holidays: Comments from others or harmful thoughts that arise in your own mind are messages that you can choose to take or leave. Just because someone says something about food, weight, or dieting does not mean you have to believe it or give it any significance in your life. You can simply let comments and your own reactions come and go, and move on. Other people’s words do not hold the power to get you off track in recovery. You can stay connected to what you need to do to end the binge eating habit for good.
If you need some extra help avoiding binge eating during the holidays or any day of the year, you can subscribe to the Brain over Binge course for only $10.99 per month.
My goal is to make recovery resources available to anyone who wants to be free of binge eating. Learn more about the course.
If you are newly binge-free, or trying to stop binge eating, you may be wondering how to avoid holiday binges. First, I want you to know that you can avoid binge eating regardless of the date on the calendar. There actually isn’t anything special you need to do or not do during the holidays. The path to recovery is the same every day: You need to dismiss urges to binge whenever they come up, and you need eat adequately. If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, and you want to learn more about these two recovery goals, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics.
Even though avoiding a holiday binge is fundamentally the same as avoiding a binge at any other time, it’s helpful to be aware of issues that may come up. The holidays may bring some additional or different challenges in binge eating recovery, and this post will give you guidance on challenges relating to holiday decision-making.
Before I get into today’s topic, I want to mention briefly what I think is the most important thing to be aware of during the holidays:
Don’t Fall for “Binge Now During the Holidays, and Quit in the New Year” Thoughts
At some point before the end of the year, your lower brain may produce a thought like this: “Well, it’s so close to the end of the year, you can just binge now and then quit for good on January 1st.” This is neurological junk. This thought doesn’t speak your truth. You want to be binge-free now, this year, this holiday season. If you are aware that a resolution thought like this will likely come up, you’ll be more prepared to recognize it when it does—and most importantly, you’ll be prepared to dismiss it. The lower brain will always try to encourage you to binge “one last time” and come up with a justification for it. The holiday might be some of your lower brain’s favorite justifications for binges. If you want more help with this, you can listen to Episode 14: Overcome “One Last Time” Thoughts to Quit Binge Eating.
Saying Yes or No During the Holidays
Now, I’m going to move on to the topic of the blog post, which is stop letting holiday choices lead to holiday binges. Basically, I want to tell you that you can keep your yes’s and no’s to holiday events, obligations, responsibilities, and holiday foods separate from your yes’s and no’s to binge eating. I know this may sound a little confusing, but as I explain what I mean, I hope you will find this advice helpful.
It is a time of year when there are ample opportunities to put many more items on your To Do list—both at work and at home. There is usually pressure to be more closely involved in your community, with your co-workers, and with your family and friends. All of this involvement and connection can be wonderful, but as everyone knows, it can bring a fair amount of stress as well.
Binge Eating Can Become Connected with Holiday Stress
For those who binge, there can sometimes be a strong association between stress and binge eating, so that an increase in events and obligations on the calendar also leads to an increase in urges to binge. In addition, other factors such as social anxiety, the presence of certain foods at holiday events, and conversations about dieting at holiday meals may have become connected to the binge eating habit over time; so that now, binge urges automatically arise in those situations.
How those associations and connections developed varies from person to person; but knowing why certain stressors, events, people, foods, conversations, and feelings lead to binge urges is usually not very important to your recovery. What you need to know is that you’ve simply developed some habitual patterns, but binge eating does not help you cope in any way with the stress, events, foods, feelings, or obligations.
You always feel worse after the binges—it doesn’t do anything to solve your holiday problems or fulfill your responsibilities. When you binge, you either have to make yourself keep your obligations anyway—dragging yourself through the day with the binge eating making everything more difficult—or alternately, the binge makes you feel so badly that you have to cancel your plans, usually by making up an excuse.
On the surface, some people think that this second scenario of cancelling plans because of binge eating is the deeper reason for the binge, as if the binge was a subconscious way to get relief from responsibilities or avoid something they didn’t want to do. It is very important to see that this is not true. If you look deeper, you know that there are countless ways to get relief from responsibilities or avoid events without having to harm your health. All the binge does is give you temporary relief from the urge to binge, not from your responsibilities, obligations, or stress.
Keep Your Holiday Problems Separate from Your Binge Problems
If you’ve been exposed to what I’ll call the trigger theory in eating disorder recovery—the idea that you need to learn to handle triggers, or avoid them, in order to avoid binge eating—the holidays might seem like a dangerous time that is full of triggers for binge eating. Triggers can be things like a feeling, a negative comment from someone, eating a certain food, or being in a specific situation.
The trigger theory creates a scenario where your yes’s and no’s to holiday events, responsibilities, and even holiday food are what determines whether or not you will binge. For example, let’s say that you say yes to organizing a holiday party for your child’s class, and that creates a lot of stress the night before the party. During that stressful night, you have an urge to binge and act on it. In the trigger theory, the take-away lesson would be that you need to say no to organizing parties or similar events in the future, because you need to keep your stress level low to avoid a binge.
There are several problems with this theory. You might really want to organize parties for your child’s class, even if it brings extra stress, and you don’t want to have to base your life decisions around avoiding binges. Another flaw of this theory is that—even if you do say no to obligations—something else could create stress, and you could still have an urge to binge and still binge. Also, you could have a binge urge and binge even without any stress at all.
You Can Have Urges with Holiday Yes’s or No’s. Say No to the Holiday Binges
Here are some additional examples of how yes’s and no’s can create confusion when you use the trigger theory:
You say yes to eating some chocolates at a family holiday party and that leads to an urge to binge, and you act on it; so you decide that you must now say no to trigger foods at parties. Alternately, you say no to some chocolates at a family holiday party, then later that night you have a binge urge and eat a lot of chocolates as part of the binge; so you conclude that you should have said yes to the chocolates at the party—to avoid feeling deprived and then binge eating at home.
You say no to a holiday event because you don’t want to go, then when you are home alone, you have an urge to binge and act on it; so you decide that you need to say yes to social events in the future—in order to avoid being alone and binge eating.
Alternately, you say yes to a social event, but you feel anxious while you are there, and when you leave you have an urge to binge and act on it; so you decide that you need say no to those type of social events in the future to avoid binges.
As you can see, this trigger theory can make your decision-making feel very significant to your recovery, and very confusing as well. Even if you can somehow make what you feel are all the “right” decisions, you could still have binge urges. So, instead of all of this complexity, I want to tell you that saying yes or no to a holiday event, responsibility, or food has nothing to do with your ability to say no to a holiday binge. Your yes’s and no’s to things you want to do or don’t want to do during the holidays (or at any time in your life) are different from your yes’s or no’s when urges to binge arise. One decision doesn’t cause the other.
The binge urge is an urge to binge. It is not a hidden desire to avoid a responsibility or a social event; it is not an urge to calm yourself under holiday stress; it is not an indication of whether or not you should have eaten dessert. It is a primal and habitual urge to eat an abnormally large amount of food. You can learn to dismiss it in any situation or after eating any food, or after experiencing any “trigger.”
Knowing that you have the capacity to dismiss binge urges whenever they arise gives you the freedom to say yes when you want to say yes and no when you want to say no, while always say no to binge eating.
If you want extra help learning to say no to binges during the holidays and at any time of year, you can get over 100 audios and other resources to guide you in the Brain over Binge Course.
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