Holiday binge eating

Holiday Binge Eating: Learn to Deal with Weight & Food Talk

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.

Be Curious

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.

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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

How I Stopped Binge Eating Cereal and Craving It Too

If you’ve read Brain over Binge, you know how much trouble I had with cereal during my dieting and binge eating days. But now, many years after recovery, I don’t eat much cereal at all, and it’s not a struggle to avoid it. I never would have believed that was possible when I was a binge eater, because cereal seemed to control me. It often consumed my thoughts until I ate bowl after bowl of it during binges. I never thought it would be possible to simply walk away from cereal without feeling extremely deprived; but to my surprise, it happened quite naturally. I want to share more about this healthy change with you, in hopes that it gives you some insight and ideas for how similar healthy changes may occur in your own life after binge eating recovery.

I don’t have a rule against eating cereal, but cereal has mostly lost it’s appeal, and my days of binge eating cereal are long gone. I actually do eat cereal sometimes, but the vast majority of the time, it’s not the kind I used to crave when I was dieting—sugary cereal—which eventually became the kind of cereal I binged on frequently.

Before I dive deeper into talking about how I stopped bingeing on cereal and craving it, I want to mention that this post is the second part of a two-part series about healthy changes after recovery. You can read Part I: Moderation, Choice, and Creating Your Way of Eating to learn more about feeling in control around all types of food, deciding what’s best for your unique body and lifestyle, and being patient with yourself as you make healthy improvements to your eating habits. Both Part I and this Part II post are primarily for people who are now binge-free, or who do not actually struggle with binge eating, and instead have other problematic eating habits like overeating, grazing, or feeling addicted to certain foods.

My Healthy Change: From Cereal Binges to Not Even Thinking About Cereal

I used to eat sugary cereal often for breakfast as a kid and teen. My mother—like most 80’s/90’s moms—used to buy the “fun” cereal brands like Lucky Charms, but she also tried to balance it out with varieties that were viewed as healthier at the time, like Raisin Bran (the kind with sugar-coated raisins, which of course is far from what is considered healthy today). I ate various types of cereal in normal amounts, and I always stopped when I was comfortably satisfied without thinking about it at all. It wasn’t until I started restricting my food intake (in order to try to control my weight) that I began labeling sugary cereal as “bad,” and began trying to avoid it…and then ended up eating more of it than I ever thought possible.

At the time I started dieting (1997), dietary fat was mostly considered the villain, and because cereal was generally low-fat, my reason for thinking it was “bad” didn’t have much to do with its nutritional content or high sugar. I thought it was bad because of the way I started feeling around it. When I was restricting my food, I suddenly craved cereal and I had trouble controlling myself around it, and had trouble stopping once I started eating it. I seemed to want so much cereal, which I’d never experienced before and which scared me. I feared that eating too much of it would give me too many calories and make me gain weight, so I decided to try avoiding it altogether, which made me crave it even more.

I shared in Brain over Binge that my first binge was on sugary cereal—8 full bowls of it. In hindsight, it’s easy to see exactly what happened, and what turned me from a normal-cereal-eater to someone who could binge on 8 bowls of cereal. The short version is that I was starving. I wasn’t eating enough, and because of that, the appeal of the cereal skyrocketed. Calorie deprivation increases the reward value of food*, especially food that is highly palatable (which usually means it’s high in sugar and carbs and/or fat). My strong cravings for cereal made sense from a survival perspective—my brain was just trying to make me eat large amounts of the foods it sensed would help me survive the “famine” I’d created for myself by dieting.

Before I was in a calorie-deficit, I could totally forget we had cereal in the house, and in my life today, it’s the same. But, when I was in that calorie-deprived state, I would often wake up in the morning and go to bed at night obsessively thinking about the cereal in the pantry. Then, once I binged on cereal once, it quickly became a habit. Eating bowl after bowl of cereal became a regular part of my binges, and during binge urges and binge episodes, it felt like my body truly needed that much cereal.

At certain times during my binge eating years, I read information about foods being addictive or people being powerless, so I tried to give up cereal (and other foods) from time to time. However, this never worked, and seemed like such a baffling approach to tell someone who feels so out of control around a food to simply never eat that food. If I couldn’t stop my cereal binges, how was I supposed to give up cereal altogether? Maybe that approach would have worked for me if cereal suddenly no longer existed on earth; but in my world of living in a college town with roommates, there was no way to fully escape cereal.

I also tried moderation approaches with sugary cereal, which made more sense to me, but proved to be frustrating as well—because I actually did learn to eat sugary cereal in moderation…and I still binged on it. At the time, I didn’t understand that it was the binge urges that caused the binges, not the sugary cereal. (If you are new to this approach and want to learn more about binge urges and how you can avoid giving in to them, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics).

Looking back, it makes sense that I could only eat sugary cereal in moderation when I did not have binge urges.  But, if I had an urge to binge before, during, or after eating the cereal, it was very likely that I’d follow that urge and binge on the cereal.

I Stopped Bingeing on Cereal When I Stopped Acting on My Urges to Binge on Cereal

Once I learned how to stop acting on my urges to binge, which I talk about thoroughly in Episode 7: Dismiss Urges to Binge: Component 4 (Stop Acting on Urges to Binge), those urges went away—even when I was eating my former binge foods, like sugary cereal. Then, I could eat sugary cereal in moderation again—every time—without it being difficult.

I resumed my normal life and simply ate cereal when I wanted. It was a common breakfast food for me after recovery, although I’d try to mostly buy the kinds that were a little “healthier.” (I put that in quotes, because today, processed cereals of all types are generally not considered healthy). I still ate high-sugar varieties now and then as well, primarily as a night snack. After binge eating ended and my appetite stabilized, I quickly realized that eating too much sugar in the morning didn’t make me feel good. Choosing the low-sugar varieties if I was eating cereal in the morning, and then sometimes having a high-sugar treat at night was what seemed to work for my body, and not something that I forced myself into.

As the months and years went by, nutrition research pointed more and more to the idea that sugar and processed grains cause harm to health. My carefree cereal-eating days seemed to be in question. Although I had never been under the impression that cereal was super-healthy, I didn’t think it was causing harm.

I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the idea that I could absolutely have anything I wanted in moderation, but also that some foods are— without a doubt—not healthy.  At the time, my binge eating days were long gone, but I was also firmly set in an anti-diet mentality. I knew dieting caused harm; I knew I never wanted to go down that path again, but would not eating sugary-cereal be “dieting”?

The short answer is no, it would not be dieting, but it took me a little while to truly see it that way. I gradually came to believe that making healthy changes in a gentle, non-stressful way—while making sure you are nourished and eating enough—is not dieting. It’s simply trading out foods that are no longer serving you, with foods that serve you better, and it never has to mean banning foods completely.

What Helped Change My Relationship to Cereal After Binge Eating Recovery?

Fast forward to today, I can’t even remember the last time I ate the types of cereal I used to binge on. I sometimes eat types of cereal that are more natural, such as granola—still typically as a night snack—but it’s not very often. I may eat it for a couple of nights, and then forget I have the box for weeks or months, or I simply won’t want it.

How is it that I’m not craving sugary cereal like I used to? How can I (mostly) not eat sugary cereal, but also not feel restricted at all? How can I basically never eat the brands of cereal I thought about morning and night as a dieter, and no longer think about them?

Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, my past self would have never believed this to be possible. So, I want to share some practical tips and ideas to help you if you feel like you don’t have control around certain foods, and you want to make healthy changes.

Here’s a rundown on what helped me change my relationship with cereal, and hopefully it will help you see how healthy changes can be possible for you too.

I no longer feel out of control around cereal because…

1. I know I can have cereal if I want it.  I can absolutely go buy a box of cereal right now—even a very unhealthy kind like Lucky Charms—and have a bowl and enjoy it, no big deal. It’s not forbidden in my mind. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure (in moderation) is not always a bad thing. It’s fun, it’s delicious, and we all have to find that balance in our own lives between pleasure and focusing on our health.

2. I’m no longer calorie restricted. Sugar doesn’t hold that high appeal that it did when I was starving and it was so attractive to my survival instincts. It’s amazing what eating enough will do to help your cravings!  It’s so important that half of my 8-lesson online course focuses on helping you learn to eat adequately, so that you have the ability to stop binge eating.

3. My decision to reduce my cereal intake came gradually and naturally. My slow shift away from cereal came partially from nutritional information I read, but also from my own insight about how the cereal was making me feel, as well as from learning to expand my tastes to other, more nourishing foods. I never felt like I was fighting against myself, or holding myself back from something I truly wanted. Also, the changes came when I was ready to make the changes, not because someone else told me that’s what I should do.

4. I don’t believe I’m powerless against cereal, or any other food. I know I can eat a normal amount of cereal without a problem, so there’s no fear around eating it. Conversely, there’s no fear that not eating it will lead me to crave it more. When I tried to give up cereal during my binge eating years, it was out of a sense of fear—because I thought that one bite would lead to 8 bowls. Fearing a food tends to keeps it on your mind, and keeps your attention focused on that food. Now, there is relaxation around cereal, and I rarely think about it.  (To learn more about why giving up certain foods isn’t a cure for binge eating, and what to do if you need to avoid certain foods for medical reasons, you can read my 3-part blog series on Eliminating Foods). 

5. I do not have a restrictive rule to “not eat sugary cereal.” This is similar to reason #1, but I want to expand on it by saying that when you make a genuine choice to eat in a healthier way and it feels good, you feel in alignment. You don’t feel restricted. You don’t fantasize about the unhealthy foods that you’re not eating. You simply choose (most of the time) to have other things, and don’t really miss what you aren’t having.

6. I’m simply older…and I don’t think many adults are still eating Lucky Charms for breakfast. It’s okay to walk away from childhood foods that aren’t benefiting you in adulthood. This is not dieting. You could simply call it “growing up,” or learning to take care of yourself.

I don’t want to give the impression that my eating is perfectly healthy. There are many other unhealthy foods that I still choose to eat!  But, I wanted to share this personal story to let you know that giving up binge eating and giving up dieting does not at all mean giving up on health. After binge eating ends, you are free to make (or not make) any healthy changes you want, in a way that works for you, and on a timeline that works for you.

Making those healthy changes is not part of binge eating recovery, it’s simply part of life. However, as a former binge eater, you will want to make sure you make changes in a healthy way that doesn’t involve putting yourself in a calorie deficit or becoming obsessive or overly restrictive about foods.

If you want more guidance in learning to eat normally, and ending the binge eating habit, you can get the Brain over Binge Course for $10.99 a month. 

You can also get personalized support and accountability with one-on-one coaching or group coaching.

 

 

Reference:

*One example of research demonstrating this: Stice, E., K. Burger, and S. Yokum. “Calorie Deprivation Increases Responsivity of Attention and Reward Brain Regions to Intake, Anticipated Intake, and Images of Palatable Foods.”  NeuroImage 67 (2013): 322-330

eat everything in moderation

Can I Recover & be Healthy if I Eat Everything in Moderation?

The idea of eating all foods in moderation or allowing all foods (provided there are no allergies, sensitivities, or medical conditions) is common in the eating disorder recovery community, and I’ve also promoted this idea in my blog, books, and podcast. Health-conscious people can often be skeptical about this advice, because they may imagine that allowing all foods involves eating Lucky Charms for breakfast (more on cereal in Part 2!), McDonald’s for lunch, take-out pizza for dinner, then maybe some candy for snacks, and being totally okay with eating like that every day. Eating everything in moderation can involve eating that way sometimes, and I’ve had days since I stopped binge eating when my eating closely resembled what I just wrote; but if any of us ate like that for more than a few days or weeks in a row, we’d feel awful, and set ourselves up for health problems.

This post is the first of a 2-part blog series on creating healthy changes for yourself after binge eating recovery, without ever dieting again or feeling like you are deprived or restricted. Even if you’ve never binged, you’ll learn the benefits of eating everything in moderation and how you can make eating improvements in a healthy way.

As it relates to binge eating recovery, there are no requirements when it comes to creating better health. Ending bulimia/binge eating disorder comes down to stopping the bingeing (and purging), and eating enough to nourish your body.  You don’t need to achieve a certain level of health or fitness to be considered recovered or to maintain your recovery. You simply have to not binge, not purge, and eat adequately. (If you are currently still struggling with binge eating, you can get more help in my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics.)

Even though you don’t have to achieve optimal health to recover and stay binge-free, I know that so many binge eaters and former binge eaters are health conscious and want to improve their health. I hope this Part 1 post and then Part 2 (How I Stopped Binge Eating Cereal and Craving it Too) will help you see that healthy changes are possible—without it feeling like a struggle, and without food rules and diets.

Where “Eat Everything in Moderation” Meets Recovery…and Good Health

All of us living in this time of increasing nutrition knowledge need to come to terms with the reality that what we eat is important to our longevity and vitality. Even though you know this, you’ve likely experienced how difficult it is to try to make healthy changes while caught up in the binge eating habit. Binge eating typically sabotages efforts to make healthy changes; and in addition, trying to make a lot of healthy changes can take the focus off of the most important healthy change you need to make—stopping the binges.

I’ve worked with many people who are trying their best to eat as healthy as possible. For example, they aren’t eating much sugar or processed foods as part of their normal daily intake. But—privately, and with a lot of guilt—they are bingeing on large amounts of those very same foods. For some of these women and men, the only time they eat unhealthy food is when they are binge eating. They often believe they are powerless to eat unhealthy foods in moderation, or believe that eating those foods in moderation will make them gain weight. However, the cycle of trying to restrict the unhealthy foods and then bingeing on the “restricted” foods is actually leading them to eat much more of those unhealthy foods than a moderation approach would.

This is why learning to allow foods is important.

If you can learn that you aren’t powerless against any food, you will build confidence that you can eat anything and not binge. If you instead continue to think one bite of sugar or wheat or fast food will cause you to be out of control, then you will never be totally free of the binge eating habit. This is the reasoning and purpose behind the eat everything in moderation approach in recovery—to empower you to realize that no food can make you binge. The purpose is not to convince you to be unhealthy.

So, when you hear me or anyone else recommend eating everything in moderation or allowing all foods, it doesn’t mean I don’t understand nutrition; it doesn’t mean I haven’t read the latest research on the keto diet, or paleo eating, or whatever the popular “healthy” eating approach of the day happens to be. It doesn’t mean I don’t understand the possibility of food addiction and that eating certain foods is more difficult for some people than it is for others. It simply means that I want you to stop thinking you are powerless. I want you to have freedom from food rules, and I want you to be realistic about the world we live in and the foods you will encounter, and the fact that no one eats perfectly.

When I encourage you to learn to eat everything in moderation, it also means that—first and foremost—I want to you to be free of binge eating. Becoming binge-free is a massively healthy change and vastly reduces the amount of unhealthy foods you consume, and other healthy changes often naturally and effortlessly flow from there. Furthermore, allowing all foods, over time, usually leads to you eating less of those foods, because it breaks the diet mentality that gives those foods such a strong appeal.

What if You Want More Health Improvements than Stopping the Binges Provides? 

You need to know that, although recovery is life-changing and amazing, becoming binge-free does not automatically equal becoming “healthy”. It does not automatically equal you eating in way that makes you feel nourished day after day. It does not automatically equal sharp mental clarity, high physical energy, and the elimination of all cravings. Recovery certainly helps in a big way, but you may indeed want to make more healthy changes after you stop binge eating.

The rest of this blog post and the next is primarily for those of you who are now binge-free, but feel a pull toward improving your health. It’s possible that you feel confused about how to improve your health if you are supposed to be allowing all foods, and eating everything in moderation, and of course—not dieting. I hope the ideas I’ll share will help give you some clarity about how to create a healthier lifestyle for yourself (if that’s what you want), without feeling restricted. *Please know that these are my opinions from my personal experience and from helping other binge eaters/former binge eating, and I’m not a doctor or nutritional expert. 

You Never Have to Stop Eating Everything in Moderation, but Make Sure to “Allow” a Lot of Nourishing Foods

There is not a point after eating disorder recovery where you say, “ok, I’m done with binge eating and purging, so now it’s time to stop allowing all foods.” Eating everything in moderation isn’t only a strategy for recovery from bulimia and binge eating disorder—it’s a lifelong strategy. Know that you always have the freedom to eat what you want to eat, without fear of being out of control. Like I said in the beginning of this post, if you have a medical condition, or food allergies/sensitivities, you may absolutely need to avoid certain foods; and even without a specific health issue, there may be times when you choose not to eat certain foods for different reasons—but again, that doesn’t mean you are powerless. (If you are someone who needs to avoid certain foods, you can see my blog series on eliminating foods in binge eating recovery for more help).

When people think of eating everything in moderation, they often think of this in terms of allowing junk foods. But, it’s helpful to think about it in terms of allowing an abundance of healthy food too. If you were to eat junk food at every meal, then you aren’t truly allowing all foods, because you aren’t allowing the foods that truly nourish you. When you allow too much junk food, you aren’t leaving space for the foods that are natural and simple and good for your body.

The more you can allow foods that nourish you, the more satisfied you’ll feel, the more nutritionally balanced you’ll be, and the less you’ll tend to want the foods that aren’t serving you. You never have to put unhealthy food “off limits,” but adding and allowing and welcoming nourishment—without a restrictive mindset—can naturally help you move away from the unhealthy foods; and that choice won’t feel like it’s coming from a place of deprivation. You won’t feel like you are frequently saying “no” to unhealthy foods, you’ll feel like you are frequently saying “yes” to foods that make you feel good. This is often talked about in intuition-based eating approaches, and I discuss it extensively in Episode 16: Eating Intuitively: Is it Right for You in Recovery from Binge Eating.

As You Work to Improve Health, You Get to Make Your Own Food Choices on Your Own Timeline

There are so many options when it comes to how to improve your eating and your health. You are the expert on your own body and it’s important to empower yourself to make choices that are in your best interest—taking into account any medical advice or nutritional advice that you personally need to follow. If your friend is vegan and swears that makes her feel amazing, but you try eating that way and it doesn’t feel good, then trust that it’s not for you. If your co-workers are all trying to eat low-carb, or paleo, or keto, or are fasting, but you feel unbalanced when you eat that way, then listen to your own body.

Last year, I completed the health coaching program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and a big concept was what they called bioindividuality. The term means that everyone’s biology and physiology are different, and what’s healthy for one person may not be healthy for another, based on countless factors. Some people do better with more carbs, or more protein, or less protein, or more fat, or less carbs…or with or without dairy, or soy, or wheat…or with more or less fruit or starch…and the list could go on and on. These are your decisions to make.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek advice from nutritionists or health experts, or do research on what may be healthy for you; but you have to sort through it and see what makes sense to you personally, and fits with the lifestyle you want to create for yourself. You also get to decide the timeline for implementing any healthy changes you want to make. There is no rush, there are no rules, and there is no pressure. You are crafting a way of eating and a lifestyle that works for you, and there is no end point to this process in your lifetime. You will be on this ever-changing journey for as long as you are here.

In the next post (Part 2), I’m going to share a personal story of making a healthy change after recovery. I’ll talk about my relationship to sugary cereal—the food I most craved when I was dieting, and the food that made up my first binge and countless more after that. I’ll explain how I no longer eat it much at all, and how that change came about.

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If you need extra help, check out these Brain over Binge resources:

The Brain over Binge Course:
My course has ample advice and information about learning to eat adequately and learning to make food choices that feel good to you.  Four of the eight lessons in the course focus on adequate eating, so you’ll get plenty of guidance in this area. If you are still struggling with binge eating, you can get learn more about the course.

One-on-one coaching with Julie
If you need more extensive personalized help, our Brain over Binge coach (Julie), can help you create a way of eating that works for you. She can help you uncover your own unique formula that feels nourishing, satisfying, and supports your physical needs.  Learn more about one-on-one coaching.

Group coaching with Julie:
Includes 3 live group calls per month, a forum for support and coaching, access to the Brain over Binge course, plus additional mindfulness resources. You can join anytime and stay for as many months as you need. In group coaching, everyone learns from each other’s questions, and everyone can see that they are not alone and that no one is broken or incapable of a full recovery. Learn more about group coaching.

Go to Part 2 of this blog series.

Food addiction and binge eating Katherine Thomson (podcast)

Episode 52: What Can Hold You Back in Binge Eating Recovery, Part 1: Food Addiction (Interview with Katherine Thomson, Ph.D.)

Binge foods in my house (podcast)

Episode 51: Should I Have Former Binge Foods in My House? (and 2019 Podcast Plans)

Eat healthy lose weight binge eating (podcast)

Episode 41: Q&A: Why Can Other People Eat Healthy and Lose Weight?

Overindulging in food

Indulging in Food, Part 3: Getting over Overindulging

This is the third and final post in my blog series on indulging in food. If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2, I recommend you do that before continuing with this post, which aims to help you stop overindulging in food. In those previous two posts, I talked about what indulging may mean to you, how you can think about indulging, and I reminded you that’s it’s normal and okay to indulge in food.

Is Your Indulging a Problem?

Do you think your particular form of indulging is harmful? Do you feel like your indulging is more frequent than it should be?  Do you worry that you’re eating too much when you indulge?  Do you think it’s possible that you are overindulging in food?

If you are certain that you’re not defining indulging with a restrictive mindset (see Indulging in Food, Part 1: Reality Check), then this may be something to look at and address. I’m going to break down how and why indulging in food could become problematic, and I’ll give you some guidance to help you overcome overindulging. First, I’ll take you through a series of questions that will help you determine if this is an issue for you, and then I’ll explain how you can start gaining control.

Have you very recently stopped binge eating (or are you still binge eating)?

In the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, I described a process that you may go through as you transition from binge eating to eating in a normal way—I called it a bridge to normal eating. I explained that you probably won’t go from binge eating to completely normal eating habits overnight, and that it can take time for you to feel like you are on steady ground with food. When you are a binge eater, you become accustomed to eating large amounts of food; and even when you stop the harmful binge eating behavior, you may find yourself overeating a little more than you’d like, and that includes over-indulging in pleasurable food more than you think you should. (For more on this, you can listen to Episode 47: What if I’m Overeating After I Stop Binge Eating?)

I don’t think you should waste energy worrying about this, and instead you should stay focused on becoming confidently binge-free. Your physiology will gradually stabilize and the size of your stomach can return to normal—so that normal amounts of food and normal-sized indulgences will feel more satisfying. (Please seek any needed medical and nutritional help to support you as your body and appetite regulates). 

The main message here is that—if you are only recently removed from binge eating—and you think you may be overindulging in food, try to give it some time and allow yourself to heal. If the issue does not resolve over time, then you can begin to address it. The same advice applies if you are still binge eating—try not to worry about any overindulging right now and focus instead on ending the binge eating habit and allowing your body to regulate. Then, you’ll be in a better place to work on any problematic eating issues that remain.

Do strong cravings primarily drive your indulgences?

There’s a difference between deciding to go out and indulge in some ice cream with your family, and impulsively driving to the nearest fast food restaurant for a milkshake in response to strong sugar cravings. Neither situation is a binge, but if you feel like you are being overrun by your cravings, then it’s going to feel more problematic than if your decision to indulge feels rather calm and relaxed. Even if the desserts in both scenarios contain a similar amount of sugar and calories, you’ll feel more conscious and in control in the first example of getting ice cream than in the second example—when you feel more like you are being controlled by your desires.

Even though there is certainly food pleasure in both situations, they feel very different. If strong and uncomfortable cravings are the driving force behind most of your indulgent eating, then I believe this is something to work on, and you can start by using the suggestions I’ll give at the end of this post.

Are you obsessing over your indulgences?

If thinking about your food indulgences and looking forward to them takes up too much mental space, that’s another reason indulging could feel like a problem to you. Normal indulgence isn’t something that consumes your thoughts in a bothersome way. It’s something you choose to do, either in the moment or by planning it beforehand; but it doesn’t feel like an absolute priority in your life. If getting your treats feels so important that you can’t focus on anything else, and it causes you to lose sight of what is truly important to you, then you’ll definitely want to bring food indulgence back into it’s proper place in your life.

[If you are someone who struggles with incessant food thoughts on a regular basis—not just related to overindulgence—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.”] 

Are the consequences of indulging too great?

Even if you don’t feel driven by strong cravings, and even if you aren’t obsessing about indulgences beforehand, you may be experiencing problems after indulging. You may be someone whose decision to have ice cream in the first example leads to uncomfortable digestive issues or an exacerbation of certain inflammatory symptoms. You may have a health condition that makes the indulgences you are choosing too physically damaging for you personally.

You can start to find replacements that are equally or nearly as enjoyable, or you may need to let certain indulgences go in the name of better health. (For help with this, you can read my post: Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part III).  Do not take this too far by completely banning anything that is not healthy, but if you have specific symptoms and issues with certain pleasurable foods, then you should take that into account as you approach indulging in food.

Do you find yourself saying “it’s okay to indulge” too much?

Yes, it’s true that indulging in food is okay, but if you hear this thought over and over in your head and it justifies overeating every day, or even at every meal, then it’s going to feel problematic. It’s definitely a good thing to remind yourself that indulging in food is not “bad,” and that you don’t need to be restrictive; but know that you don’t have to eat anything and everything that comes into your mind. Take an honest look at your behavior, and know that you get to decide when it is okay to indulge, and when it may not be the best idea. You get to strike a balance that works for you.

How to Get Over Overindulging in Food:

The simple advice I’m going to give you about dealing with overindulging can be organized into five D’s:

Define (what indulgences are okay to you): Take some time to think about what indulging means to you and how you want it in your life (see Part 1 and Part 2 for help with this).  Your definition of normal indulging will provide guidance when you have opportunities and/or desires for certain foods, and you hear that voice in your head saying “it’s okay to indulge.” If you’ve already determined what’s okay and not okay for your personally, then it becomes clear whether or not you will follow that voice. You do not need to set exact, strict rules, and in fact, I would not recommend that at all (listen to Episode 49: Can I Use the Brain over Binge Approach to Stick to Strict Eating Plans?). It’s best just to have a general idea of what food indulgences you want in your life, and follow that in a flexible way.

Desire (accept food cravings and possibly address some of them): Desire may or may not be present prior to indulging. If it is, it’s not a problem—desire for pleasurable food is a normal part of life. Desires are part of the human experience. I realize that here I could probably insert an entire book about the effects that modern foods and our modern lifestyle have on cravings, and I understand that many theories abound; however, I believe it’s best to keep it simple and realize that desire has always been a part of the human condition. Even if certain modern foods are more “addicting,” we still have a choice about how much to indulge in these foods. If you want to dive deeper into this, you can listen to Episode 52 on food addiction.

It’s important to accept that desire for food is okay, but also to know that it doesn’t mean you are destined to have what you are craving (and if you do decide to have what you are craving, you are never destined to overindulge or binge.)

When you have desires, try to pause and determine the course of action you want to take. That may be to have the indulgence you are craving (and not binge afterward); that may be to have a healthier food option; that may be to do another activity. You may also want to develop an overall strategy for addressing the cravings you feel are out of the range of normal. Cravings can be dismissed like binge urges, but additionally, you may want to get nutritional or medical support with any physiological issue you feel is contributing to problematic cravings, like blood sugar and/or hormone imbalances. You can also look into improving sleep, reducing stress, and improving hydration, which can all help reduce some cravings.

Decide: This is where your power of choice comes in. It’s important to realize that you are the one deciding to eat the food, or indulge in the food, or overindulge in the food. Your cravings and desires do not control your voluntary muscle movements, even if you have some physiological imbalances that are contributing to those cravings. You can start to experience your own power to determine what you indulge in and how much you indulge.

I believe that bringing the power of choice into your eating decisions is how indulging stays in the proper place in your life. When you know you have a choice—even if strong cravings are present, and even if you do decide to have the indulgence you are craving—you can still feel conscious and in control. You have the freedom to decide to indulge anytime, and you also have the freedom to decide against it when it doesn’t feel like the right decision for you.

Deliberately enjoy the indulgence: You don’t have to eat super-slowly, or chew a certain number of times, or be completely mindful, or avoid doing anything else while you are eating; but try to slow down enough to enjoy what you are indulging in. If you are eating rapidly, or eating mindlessly in front of the TV or in the car, it will feel more impulsive and is more likely to lead to overindulging. Eating a little more deliberately goes hand in hand with deciding to indulge—it’s another way of keeping your higher brain engaged, realizing what you are doing, and proving to yourself that you are in control.

Delicious: This is a bonus “D” to remind you that you can and should enjoy eating and indulging in food. When you indulge, it’s perfectly okay to soak in the pleasure (without the guilt!). Then, when you are done, put the food aside and move on with you life.

I hope this series on indulging has been helpful to you. I hope you are able to determine the proper place in your life for indulging in food and put aside any overindulging that feels harmful to you.

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If you are still binge eating, you’ll want to stay focused on ending that harmful habit before working on other problematic eating habits like overindulging in food. For help stopping the binges, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics

indulging in food binge eating recovery

Indulging in Food, Part 2: It’s Okay, You are Okay

This is the second part of a 3-part series on “indulging” in food. In my part 1, I talked about the fact that there is no consensus on what it means to indulge. I gave you two tips for how to think about indulging: First, remember that indulging is not the same as binge eating, and second, avoid overly restrictive definitions of indulging (because a lot of perfectionism and guilt can arise when you define indulging too narrowly).

In this post, I’m going talk about what indulging may mean to you personally; and more importantly, I’m going to try to help you see that it is okay to indulge and it does not mean something is wrong with you.

I don’t think it’s necessary to come up with an exact definition of what indulging means to you. Eating behaviors can’t always be neatly categorized. Eating is a balance; it can change from day to day, and certainly from person to person; and you get to make it work for you. You may already have your own thoughts about what indulging looks like in your life. Maybe you think about a holiday dinner, or having a meal at your favorite restaurant, or being on vacation and eating a variety of delicious foods you don’t normally eat, or maybe you think of having an extra serving of a food you love when you are already rather full. You may automatically think of eating sugary foods, like having a doughnut or two at the office, or a larger than usual piece of cake at a birthday party. It’s possible you think of healthy foods as well, like eating a big serving of your favorite organic vegetables, or a large, juicy grass-fed steak cooked just the way you like it, or succulent seasonal fruits that you love.

As long as you know indulging is not the same as a binge, and is not defined as “any time you eat imperfectly,” that gives you a wide range from which you can view indulgent eating. If you were to check the dictionary, the definitions of “indulge” are varied. Here are just a few: to allow oneself to enjoy the pleasure of….to yield to an inclination or desireto satisfy or gratify. Using only the textbook definitions, you could theoretically indulge in any eating opportunity, because you could think of it being more about the experience of pleasure and satisfaction than the amount or type of food. During any normal meal or even a small snack, you can certainly allow yourself to take pleasure in it, and you can feel satisfied and gratified. Eating is pleasurable and food should be enjoyed.

However, when leaders in the field of eating disorders say, “it’s okay to indulge sometimes,” they typically mean it’s okay to get more-than-normal satisfaction and gratification from eating. So, in the context of promoting recovery from binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, and EDNOS, indulgence usually refers to eating experiences that are at least a little outside of what you’d consider normal food pleasure. And, that’s the general standard I’m using when talking about “indulging” in this blog series.

Using that perspective, if we were to come up with a broad, overarching view of indulgent eating, it would be something like this: Taking more pleasure in food than you normally do, or more pleasure than you’d consider normal (and this description is given with the assumption that it’s okay to take pleasure in your food whenever and whatever you eat.)

If you want to explore what indulging means to you personally, take a look at what you believe normal eating is for you (and if you aren’t eating normally yet, look for examples in other people who you consider to be normal eaters); and then, if you decide to take more pleasure in food than that baseline of “normal,” that’s what you can see as indulging. If “normal” is enjoying most meals and snacks, experiencing pleasure in eating reasonable amounts (of both healthy foods and some unhealthy foods as well); then indulging could be thought of as enjoying too much of  certain foods that are either healthy or unhealthy…but you’ll probably be more likely to think it’s indulgence when the foods are unhealthy.

For example, you might eat one average-sized scoop of ice cream for dessert sometimes and you consider that normal eating pleasure, so indulging might be having a two-scoop serving with toppings, which leaves you a little too full. Normal food pleasure might be going to a restaurant and enjoying every bite of your favorite meal, and indulging might be having an appetizer and wine before the meal, still enjoying your meal, and possibly even having dessert afterward.

I realize words like “too much” or “normal,” and even “healthy” and “unhealthy” are open to interpretation, but that’s okay, because how we eat and how we indulge in food is highly individual, and having the freedom to decide what it means to you is empowering.

But, why does any of this matter to binge eating recovery?

Because I want you to take the advice that “it’s okay to indulge” to heart. I want you to believe it, and to believe it requires understanding it. I want you to know that quitting the binge eating habit never means quitting the pleasure of eating, and it also doesn’t mean giving up indulging in food. If you think it does, it makes recovery seem much more difficult, because it requires you to live up to unrealistic standards and it fosters a rigid mindset around food.

From a purely nutritional perspective, is indulging an ideal form of eating? Probably not. Is indulging optimally healthy when we look at it only from a physiological standpoint?  Again, probably not, because even if you are indulging in healthy foods, too much of anything usually isn’t nutritionally ideal. But might indulging sometimes be good for your mental health and stress level, and benefit you more overall than always having tight control over your portions and the types of foods you allow yourself? Absolutely, especially if you are learning to overcome a “dieting” mindset.

Not only is it okay to indulge, YOU are okay if you indulge. Indulging in food is not a sign that you are off-track in recovery from binge eating. 

Because binge eating activates a more-than-normal pleasure process in your primitive brain, and gives you a temporary reward, in some ways it may seem similar to indulging. So when you are trying to quit binge eating and you find yourself indulging, your inclination may be to think that you are not okay, and that indulging is just another sign that something is wrong with you, and you will never be normal around food. That is not the case.

When you indulge, simply recognize it, be aware of it, label it as “indulging” if that helps you, and then just continue your recovery – always keeping your intention and commitment not to binge. You can even get excited when you avoid following an indulgence with a binge. Turn your mindset from “I didn’t eat perfectly, I indulged…something is wrong with me” to a more empowering thought like, “Yes, I may have indulged…but I’m breaking the connection between normal indulgence and binge eating.”

Another benefit of believing it’s okay to indulge and you are okay when you indulge is that it helps cement the fact that you are not restrictively dieting. It helps your body realize you are going to feed it and food pleasure is allowed. This can reduce the binge urges that are rooted in the survival drives, which are activated by deprivation.

Like I mentioned at the end of the last post, I’m not saying indulging too much is a good thing; I’m not saying you should never try to curb indulgence if it’s causing a problem for you (which I’ll talk about in the next post).  But, I am saying that when you do indulge, it’s very helpful to avoid self-criticism and avoid thinking you are flawed and broken, and instead remember that it’s okay and you are okay.

Go to Indulging in Food, Part III

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If you want to end the binge eating habit, you download my 30-page free eBook, which will teach you all of the basics of the Brain over Binge approach.