Binge eating during a crisis

Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis, Part 1: Opportunity to Binge

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]

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If you want more help learning to dismiss your binge-encouraging thoughts (no matter when they occur), you can get my free e-book. I also offer a course with over 120 audios to guide you in recovery, for only $10.99 per month.

Additionally, you can get personalized support with one-on-one coaching or group coaching.

 

Binge eating course questions

Questions in Binge Eating Recovery (Course Q&A’s)

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?

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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.

 

Holiday binge

Don’t Let a Holiday Choice Lead to a Holiday Binge

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.

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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

You can now get the course for only $10.99 per month with no commitment. 

I hope this new subscription makes the course doable for anyone who wants to end binge eating.

binge eating recovery PMS (podcast)

Episode 21: Dealing with PMS, or with Feeling “Off,” as a Recovering Binge Eater

Improve Self-Control and Stop Binge Eating Under Stress

Improve Self-Control and Stop Binge Eating Under Stress

I received a request for a blog post about how to improve self-control and dismiss binge urges when you are under stress. Stress can deplete the self-control functions in your higher brain, especially if you have stressful responsibilities that seem to require heroic self-control—like caring for an aging parent, nursing a sick spouse, being with young children all day, a highly demanding career, or dealing with difficult co-workers. At the end of the day, or whenever you tend to binge, you may not feel like you have the energy left to say no when the binge urges arise.

It may seem like you automatically and mindlessly follow the urges, so that you begin to wonder if you actually have any self-control in the moments when you need to avoid a binge. The prefrontal cortex—the part of the higher brain that gives you the capacity to overcome habitual and instinctual drives form the more primitive part of your brain (the lower brain)—can become weaker in times of stress.  This doesn’t mean you don’t have any self-control. You can work to improve self-control so that it’s available to you when you have urges, and you can learn to stop binge eating under stress.

In this post, I’m going to give you two suggestions to help, which I also included in the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide. The goal of both of these suggestions is to help give your higher brain the ability to do it’s job, so that you can use self-control when you need it to overcome urges to binge—even when you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or exhausted.

1. Use Basic Self-Care (not Self-Indulgence) to Improve Self-Control

Having demands on your life and your time, and having a strong desire or unavoidable need to help others, does not have to affect your ability to recover. However, if you are currently struggling to say no to urges, it could be that your higher brain/prefrontal cortex is drained of energy. Research shows that self-control is like a muscle and can get tired when we are under stress or under-nourished; so that in these situations, the brain is primed to let survival mechanisms and habits—good or bad—run the show. [1]  This does not mean you have to get nine hours of sleep per night, take a vacation, or buy expensive vitamin supplements in order to avoid binges. It only means this:

If you are currently unable to dismiss the urges, make sure you are not sabotaging your higher brain by neglecting your most basic needs—a decent amount of sleep, a little relaxation, and adequate food intake.

Being tired, overwhelmed, and exhausted won’t be a problem for you (as it pertains to recovery) in the future when your new habit is to not binge. Even though you may not be at your best if you don’t sleep well or have worked a long, stressful week, binge eating won’t cross your mind. Since recovery, I’ve had long stretches of time where I got vastly insufficient sleep—mostly due to my four babies who were terrible sleepers. For many months at a time, I got about 2-4 non-continuous hours of sleep per night, and not once did binge eating cross my mind. There are times in life when self-sacrifice is necessary and something you gladly accept, and that won’t change just because you have a history of binge eating.

What I’m suggesting here is a focus on basic self-care as a short-term tool (of course, taking care of yourself is always a good idea), in order to help your higher brain during the time when dismissing urges is a new skill and therefore takes up more energy reserves in the higher brain. Once you get better at dismissing the urges, it won’t be as demanding on the higher brain, so even if you don’t sleep, or your kids or boss drive you absolutely crazy that day—you’ll still have the energy reserves to easily avoid binges under stress. Then your urges will gradually fade, and won’t come up even if you do choose to devote all of your time and energy to others, and even if circumstances temporarily prevent you from meeting your basic needs.

If you are going through a time in your life right now that you feel is depleting your self-control, my advice for you would be to analyze the situation and try to find areas of opportunity for sleep, rest, and nutritional improvements. Even if you can carve out an extra half-hour for sleep each night or a ten-minute nap during the day, and try to make sure you don’t skip meals—that will benefit your prefrontal cortex. Remind yourself what you are still capable of dismissing urges, no matter the situation or stress level, but forgive yourself if you don’t avoid binges every time. Be patient and congratulate yourself on the times you are successful and build from there. Try to find small moments of self-awareness in the midst of the difficulty of your life, and that will help you feel more centered and connected to your higher brain when urges arise. (This podcast episode may also help you: Episode 42: The Power of Mindfulness in Binge Eating Recovery).  

2.   Short Meditation Sessions to Boost Your Ability to Stop Binge Eating Under Stress

Another way to help you feel more grounded and able to use your higher brain is adding very short meditation sessions to your day. Even five minutes of meditation every day will give you increased self-control and self-awareness—important benefits for someone trying to quit a bad habit. There are many ways to meditate, so you can find something that works for you, and I’ve included a short description of a useful meditation technique below, which you can use as a starting point. I am not suggesting meditation as a form of relaxation or feeling better, although it can certainly serve that purpose as well. I am suggesting that you meditate as a form of strength training for the higher brain—so that it will be more resistant to stress-induced energy depletion.

Your goal during meditation will be notice when your mind wonders and bring it back to a focal point—the breath is an easy focal point, but you can also focus on something physical like the feeling of your feet or hands, or focus on a certain word or phrase that you repeat over and over. This act of drawing the mind back from distraction and habitual thought activates the higher brain. Something I wish I would have known when I was a binge eater is that you aren’t meditating “wrong” if your mind keeps wondering. When unwanted thoughts pop up, that’s your opportunity to put your higher brain to use, redirecting your focus, and therefore changing your brain.

You may have to refocus 100 times during a short meditation when you first start, but if you keep practicing, you will get better—both at meditating, and at awareness of automatic thoughts in general, which will carry over through the day. Meditation increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, and builds stronger connections in the area of the brain responsible for self-control, which will benefit you in times when your life is demanding. Research indicates that self-control and ability to focus increases after just three hours (not all at one time) of meditation, and one can see visible brain changes after eleven hours. [2]  Just 5 minutes once or twice per day will add up quickly, and you may start experiencing positive benefits and increased awareness right away. I realize if you are busy or exhausted, taking 5 minutes to meditate is going to seem like a waste of time, but if you can get over that mental barrier and just do it, you will start to see the benefits.

If you need a little guidance getting started, try the following simple meditation, adapted from The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., an expert in the science of self-control. [3]

  1. Sit still and stay still. You can choose to sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground or you can sit on the floor with your legs crossed. During the meditation, try to resist any impulses to move (for example, see if you can ignore itches and urges to change your position). Sitting still is important because it teaches you not to follow your impulses automatically.
  2. Turn your attention to your breath. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. In your mind, say “inhale” when you breathe in, and “exhale” when you breathe out. Whenever you notice that your thoughts are wandering, bring your mind back to focusing on your breathing. This activates the prefrontal cortex and quiets the stress and craving centers of your brain.
  3. Notice how it feels to breathe and how thoughts wander. After a few minutes, stop mentally reciting the words “inhale” and “exhale,” and focus only on the sensation of breathing. Your thoughts might wander a bit more without these words. When you notice that you are thinking about something else, just bring your attention back to breathing. If you find it very hard to focus, you can say “inhale” and “exhale” for few rounds.  This part helps to train both self-awareness and self-control.

I hope that using these two simple suggestions will help you start to feel more in control and able to avoid binges.  If you want even more help with binge eating recovery, you can check out my Course.

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[1] The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal (pg. 57)

[2] The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal (pg. 25)

[3] The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal (pg. 25)

Problems prevent recovery from binge eating

“My Case is Different”: When You Feel Your Unique Problems Prevent Recovery from Binge Eating

Do you find yourself thinking that quitting the binge eating habit may work for others, but not for you? Do you think your life is more complicated than others who have recovered? Do you think your binge eating may have developed for deeper reasons, or that you have too many struggles in your life to recover? Do you have an underlying belief that your case is different, and that you can’t just stop the binge eating habit?

If you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone, and many who feel stuck in recovery share your same feelings. You are not alone in thinking that your case is different…and of course it is. No one’s life, or circumstances, or problems, or even behaviors with food are exactly the same, but you can learn to move forward in recovery despite whatever may be different about you.

It’s important that you know that you don’t have to put pressure on yourself to “just stop” the habit today, if you don’t feel like you want to or if you feel like something is holding you back. You are free to work on whatever problems you feel are necessary for you to be ready for recovery.

But, don’t get stuck in trying to get “ready” for recovery for very long. The truth is that everyone, at every moment in time, can find at least one unique problem in their life that they think may prevent recovery, but every day there are people who end this destructive habit.

We are all guilty of thinking we are somehow different and have a tougher road, even in other parts of our lives. One example where I am guilty of this in my own life is in trying to be a more patient mother. I sometimes read inspirational blog posts/books about motherhood, which address how to be more understanding with your kids, enjoy them more, put their misbehavior in perspective, and stay calm. While these writings are great and helpful to read, I often have a voice in my head telling me that most of these posts or books are or must be written by women who have less children, or older children, or a nanny, or more support in their lives from their spouse or family, or who aren’t working as well, or who have a naturally less-anxious personality. Then I’ll have thoughts telling me that my case is different, and I’m simply doomed to be anxious and stressed every day.

This “my case is different” voice is not truth. There are many moms in my exact situation, and moms who have more kids and taking on much more than me, without any support, who handle it with a much greater sense of calm than I do.  And, even if an inspirational mothering blog post is written by a mom of one or two older children who are in school most of the day, it doesn’t make it any less meaningful because that mom, or any parent, certainly has some reasons that she feels uniquely taxed beyond her means, or challenges in her life that she could easily let hold her back. That mom could without a doubt find many justifications in her own life for becoming impatient or unhappy in her role as a mother.

The point as it relates to binge eating recovery is: even if a recovered person’s life looks better than yours on the surface, you have no idea what that person is going through or has gone through in her/his life. I realize that in Brain over Binge, it may have seemed like my life was going relatively well at the time I quit binge eating. I didn’t have major trauma going on, I was married, and I was enjoying my job for the most part. But, there were still many problems and challenges under the surface, and my life was far from being easy. The truth is, we all can find an excuse. We all can find a reason that we can’t do what someone else has done.  We can all find a reason to remain stagnant, to keep analyzing without acting, to keep saying “my case is different,” and to attribute other people’s success to their circumstances or their easy lives.

There are things that make you different, that is true; and that is why not everyone will recover on the same timeline and in exactly the same way; but whatever you are facing, you can make recovery work despite that. There are definitely reasons that some people stop binge eating right away and others take longer, just like there are reasons that some people have an easier time being patient with their kids! Just because your case is different doesn’t mean recovery is out of your reach, or that you should ever give up.

If you feel like you can’t stop acting on binge urges right now, and you think there are some issues holding you back, then get to work on those issues if you feel it will help; but know that the “my case is different” thoughts will likely still be there afterward–and at any time you attempt to quit.

I think the best course of action is to treat the “my case is different” thoughts as neurological junk. They are automatic, habitual thoughts that you’ve believed in the past, so now they keep coming up and perpetuating your habit. You can choose to dismiss these thoughts, and any other thought that encourages you to stay stuck.  You can realize that everyone’s case IS different, but everyone, including you, can find a way to recovery.

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If you are new here, you can get started with the Brain over Binge approach by subscribing to my newsletter and updates, and as my gift to you, you’ll also receive my free eBook, “The Brain over Binge Basics (This eBook is a 30-page guide that will teach you how you can stop acting on binge urges).

If you want more help in ending binge eating, you can also learn about the Brain over Binge Course