Episode 63: Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis

Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis, Part III: Opportunity to Overcome the Habit

[ Here is Part I and Part II ]

No, I’m not going to tell you all of the reasons why your situation right now could be conducive to recovery. I’m not going to tell you that because you may have more time at home, you can focus on self-care and that will make quitting easier. I’m not going to tell you that because you’re eating in your house in most cases, you can be more mindful during your meals and learn to listen to your body. I’m not going to tell you that a lack of social engagements will lead to less pressure to look a certain way, which will help you let go of dieting. I’m not going to say that because you won’t be taking vacations, or having celebrations, or eating at restaurants, you will have less temptation and it will be easier to avoid binges. I’m not going to say that because you may have less money and less ability to shop, you will have less of an opportunity to buy binge food.

Even if some of what I just said feels like it might be true for you, and even if you think it will be easier to work on recovery during this time of isolation, the purpose of this blog post is not to tell you that isolation is an ideal time to quit binge eating. I do not believe that recovery depends on your circumstances—whether we are talking about a worldwide crisis or personal events in your life.

I believe that every day is an opportunity to stop binge eating.

Of course, it absolutely makes sense to take advantage of whatever uniquely works for you, so if there are aspects of self-isolation that seem to help you feel more capable of recovery, then there is nothing wrong with using the circumstances to support yourself in ending the habit. However, even if that’s not the case for you, and even if you feel like this time of self-isolation is making recovery more challenging, it is still an opportunity to overcome this habit for good.

The “right” time to recover is illusive

The reality is that there will never be a perfect time to recover. You can go back to Part I of this blog series, and see that no matter what is going on in your life, your lower brain will always produce reasons to binge. It’s important to accept that whenever you attempt to quit, you will have thoughts saying why “now” is not a good time—whether “now” is during the holidays, on a vacation, while you are trying to meet a work deadline or study for an exam, when you are going through a breakup, while you are trying to make a big decision, or when you are just dealing with everyday stress.

You may be thinking, “But, this is different!  It’s a global crisis! I’m filled with anxiety and uncertainty and stress and financial hardship and new responsibilities that I can’t manage!”

That is true, and you should have an abundance of compassion for yourself because this isn’t easy; but I also want you to understand that anxiety, uncertainty, stress, financial hardship, responsibilities, and even global pandemics do not cause binges. If you follow my blog or podcast (or you’ve read my books), you know that I believe recovery becomes much more simple and practical if you separate your life’s problems from your binge eating problems. (To learn more about this approach to recovery, you can get my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics).

An chance to experience your power to avoid binges under any circumstance 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of recovering now is that it gives you a clear opportunity to separate your life’s problems (and world problems) from binge eating. It also gives you the opportunity to recover in the midst of imperfect eating, which I wrote about in Part II.  If you can recover now, despite everything that’s going on, just imagine how confident you’ll feel moving forward and remaining binge-free after this crisis. You’ll know that no matter what life throws your way, you never have to binge.

Right now, you may be telling yourself that you’ll recover “when things get back to normal”.

But, I want you to take a moment and think back to before this pandemic…were you binge-free then?

If you were binge-free and you started to binge again during this crisis, then I hope these posts will help you get back on track, and help you be more prepared to stay binge-free in the future, even through major stress. If you were not binge-free before the coronavirus crisis, then remind yourself that normalcy did not equal freedom from binge eating then, and normalcy will not equal freedom from binge eating after this crisis.

If you think you can only recover when life is going a certain way, it’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain recovery over time—because life will not always go that way. I’m going to draw an analogy here that I hope will help you see this more clearly.

Don’t tie your recovery to specific conditions

As a parent, I’ve watched a lot of kids’ movies over the years, and this image from the end of Finding Nemo popped into my mind this week—in relation to social distancing, and in relation to binge eating (as I’ll explain later). If you haven’t seen the movie, these fish create an elaborate plan to escape from a dentist’s office aquarium so that they can be free in the open water. After many challenges, they are finally successful and land in the open water. They celebrate and cheer that they are free, but then they’re hit with the realization that they are all still tied in their clear plastic bags. They look at each other and one of the fish says, “Now what?”.  It’s meant to be funny and the movie simply ends there, leaving the audience to assume that they’ll eventually find their way out and into complete freedom.

Right now, during this crisis, we’re kind of like these fish—separated from each other in isolation. Our figurative plastic bags are necessary to keep us safe from the virus, and to prevent us from infecting the people around us. But, as time goes by and hopefully the virus starts to affect less and less people (which will certainly be a reason to celebrate!), we’re all going to have the question of, “now what?”.

A virus is not like a storm that simply passes and gives way to a clear blue sky, allowing us all to come out safely and worry-free. Without proof that most of us have already been exposed and are now immune, or without some kind of cure, or without a vaccine, or without some evidence that the virus won’t just pick right back up once we are together again—it’s a collective now what moment. We can only hope that the best minds in the world will put together a comprehensive answer to that question, because we can’t stay isolated forever. For us to truly conquer the virus, the virus must remain under control even after we get back to our normal lives.

In the same way, if you overcome binge eating under certain circumstances, you will only experience complete freedom if you can remain recovered when circumstances change.

I want you to know that stopping binge eating is always a reason to celebrate, and you should always be proud of your success—regardless of the circumstances. Don’t feel like you did something wrong if you changed a part of your life, or took advantage of specific conditions to support yourself in recovery (remember I said you should definitely use what works for you). However, if you think you need those conditions or need things to remain a certain way in your life in order to be binge-free, you may end up feeling like the fish trapped in the middle of the open water—wondering “now what?”.

Your freedom won’t really feel free, because you’ll be constantly trying to arrange your life to keep yourself protected from binge eating, and this can become exhausting (we all know how exhausting it’s been to try to stay protected from the virus). For example, you may feel like you always have to watch out for triggers, or eat only certain foods, or have a required amount of time for self-care, or keep yourself under a certain level of stress, or have places that you can and cannot go for fear of bingeing, or think you need to avoid some people in your life because of how they eat or comments they make about weight.

No matter where you are in recovery, or what you previously thought you needed to do to stay binge-free—this is an opportunity to move closer to complete freedom, without conditions.

Ending the habit now and for good

Your circumstances have undoubtedly changed in recent weeks, and they will undoubtedly change even more before this crisis wanes, and they will change again as we start to move back toward normalcy. This is a chance to experience the freedom of going through these changes, and even feeling like your life is being turned upside down, and still avoiding binges. 

Additionally, on the other side of this crisis, you’ll have a chance to experience the freedom of going back into the world—and revisiting all of your former stressors and temptations—and to still avoid binge eating. The past several weeks and the next several weeks might bring the most change in your daily activities that you’ll ever experience. If you can remain binge-free, or make any amount of progress in weakening this habit, you will feel your own power and potential to be free under any circumstance.

You might be having thoughts saying, “But what’s the point? Doesn’t it make sense to just wait to recover until this crisis has passed?”

You do not have to give value to thoughts like that—just like you don’t have to give value to thoughts that encourage you to binge. In fact, any thought that discourages recovery IS a binge-encouraging thought, and should be dismissed. You know there is always a reason to recover, and you know you want freedom even in challenging and difficult times. There are certainly things that have to wait until this crisis is over—like having a party or going to an amusement park—but recovery is not something that has to wait (even though your lower brain will tell you it’s not the “right” time). Binge eating is not helping you in any way during this crisis; it’s only making the whole situation harder and harming your health in the process. There is no reason to keep hanging on to the habit right now, or ever.

Once you stop binge eating, you’ll realize that the “benefits” your lower brain told you the habit was giving you—like distraction, or pleasure, or an escape from reality—were not benefits after all, and the idea of binge eating to feel better in any way will no longer make sense. And, it usually doesn’t take much time to realize this. To encourage you, I want to end this blog series with a short message I received from a woman who recently recovered using this approach, and now fully realizes that binge eating is not a viable coping strategy:

“I have been 90 days binge free and even during this crisis I haven’t even thought about going back to handling life like that, makes no sense to me now. I was sick for 20 years.”

I hope that one day, the idea of binge eating in response to any circumstance does not make sense to you either. I also hope this 3-part blog series has helped you in some way during this difficult time. Remember that you can’t always change your circumstances, but every day can be an opportunity to change the pathways in your brain to erase the binge eating habit.

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If you want more guidance as you stop binge eating, you can get my free e-book, or check out my podcast, course, or books. 

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P.S. I hope you and your family are safe and healthy, and continue to stay well. I want to mention here that I got a lot of emails asking for advice with specific aspects of recovering during this crisis. I wrote this 3-part series to address as many questions as I could, as thoroughly as I could; but I apologize if I did not cover all of the questions. I want to thank you for reaching out, but please know I’m not able to respond to every email, in order to focus on my family. Thank you for understanding and for reading my blog!       

 

 

 

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 here.

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.]”

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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 here. I also have a podcast and course where you can find more guidance.

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

If you are like most binge eaters trying to end the habit, you likely have questions. Most people find it comforting to know that they aren’t the only one with a certain issue or concern. Over my years of helping binge eaters, I noticed common themes in what people 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 84 Q&A audios that are now a central part of the newest version of my course, which you can start anytime. (The course also includes 30 additional audios, and in total, there is about 1,000 minutes or 17 hours 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 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 course (see below). But first, I want to tell you a little more about why I took the time to create the Q&A’ audios…

I was previously answering these questions frequently in group coaching 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. (The introductory price for the new version of the course is $134, through March 1, 2020).

You definitely can’t put a price on freedom from an eating disorder because it’s worth any amount of money; but the reality is that binge eaters are often also struggling students, parents, caregivers, and people just trying to make it in this world, and I wanted to make coaching more accessible. (The course also includes my coaching audios for encouragement, reinforcement, and motivation).

With that being said, here is a list of the questions you’ll receive detailed answers to in the course. Each Q&A audio is about 7 or 8 minutes long on average (some are longer, some are shorter). You also can learn more about the course features and sign up here, and get answers to questions you may have about the course here.

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?

Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating.

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?

 

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

Dealing with PMS as a Recovering Binge Eater

Has this happened to you?… You feel like your eating is going pretty well, and you are feeling relatively good in your life, and then suddenly, you start to feel down, and everything seems a little darker and more difficult? At the same time, do you experience an increase in appetite and food cravings?

Whether you have recently stopped binge eating or you are trying to stop, when you experience the above scenario, it might seem worrisome to you. You may think you are falling back into old patterns, or that your urges to binge are going to come back. You may be concerned that feeding an increase in appetite or satisfying cravings will condition you to eat that much all of the time, or worse, send you back into binge eating.

You may start considering that your low mood coupled with a heightened interest in food means that you actually do need food to cope in some way (even though you’ve seen over and over that it only makes problems worse). You might start to think that binge eating seems appealing, when just a few days prior, you felt completely separate from binge urges.

If this happens to you, relax a little and then go check your calendar!

There could be one simple explanation for all of it, an explanation that doesn’t involved you being on the verge of relapse, or flawed in some way; an explanation that doesn’t involve you believing that binge eating is a coping mechanism.

It could simply be PMS.

Most women experience an increase in appetite in the week leading up to menstruation, and some mood swings as well, especially low moods. That’s normal, which is not to say you can’t do certain things to help yourself feel better, but just that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you; and it doesn’t mean you are on a slippery slope back to binge eating or that your binge problem is getting worse.

Even though it’s “normal,” you may wander how to handle PMS as a recovering or newly-recovered binge eater. In this post, I’ll give you some ideas and tips…

Awareness and Acceptance

My first piece of advice is to be aware of your cycle, so that you can make the connection between low moods/increased appetite and PMS. Most women report that the symptoms start about a week before their period and resolve after menstruation begins, but PMS can last longer or be more brief in some women. If you know the cause of what you are experiencing, then it makes the temporary phase much easier to manage. Otherwise, your symptoms can catch you off guard and make you confused and frustrated.

You may experience lethargy, depression and irritability very strongly during PMS, and if you don’t make the connection to the calendar, you may think that suddenly your life’s energy has been drained. You’re likely to get upset with yourself for feeling like staying home and eating ice cream more than you feel like doing anything else…when just last week you were out in the world pursuing goals and activities you enjoyed.

Added to all of that, bloating can occur before menstruation as well, which can exacerbate negative feelings, because not only do you suddenly feel low and want to eat more, you also feel like you may be gaining weight too.  But, if you are aware of your cycle, you will know why you are bloated. You’ll be better able to prevent self-criticism, and relax in knowing that the physical and emotional symptoms will pass.

You’ll know that you’ll soon feel like your normal self again, so you can simply accept the temporary PMS phase without trying to fight it or worry that it’s a permanent state.

Listen to Your Hunger (and use your mind to help guide choices)

Your body uses more calories during the time right before your period, and although there is no clear consensus on exactly how much more energy it uses, evidence suggests that women’s bodies can require up to 15 percent more calories in the few days prior to their period. So, of course you will get hungrier and food will start to look more appealing! Don’t feel guilty about eating more during a time when your body is needing more calories.

That being said, sometimes the food that seems the most appealing during PMS are the highly-rewarding, highly-processed junk foods. While it’s of course okay to choose to have some, if you find yourself only eating those types of foods, it’s going to make you feel worse. If you can instead steer yourself in a more nourishing direction some or most of the time, and eat foods that you think will better fuel your increase in appetite, it will make you feel better physically (or at least not worse!) and even help your mood. Blood sugar fluctuations from too much sugary junk food can make mood swings more severe and make hunger more erratic. So, even if you are craving more junk food than usual during PMS, you can still use your mind to help yourself make better choices. Most people find that adding some protein and healthy fats helps them to feel more satiated and stabilizes blood sugar.

Another benefit of choosing some decent fuel for your increased appetite is that it will prevent your PMS eating from feeling similar to your binge eating. Eating more when you are hungrier should feel good, but when you’re primarily choosing junk food, it can lead your lower brain to send the message that “you’ve already failed, so you might as well binge.” You can of course dismiss that thought if it does come up, but avoiding behaviors that feel very similar to your binges is helpful.

Manage Your Moods/Physical Symptoms with Some Activity

Your body is priming you to take it easy during a time of changing hormones and increased demand on your physiology. It’s good to listen to your body and relax when you can; but also know that exercise can help elevate your mood and relieve some of your physical and emotional symptoms. Try balancing rest with physical activity (even if you don’t feel like being active in the moment) because it can shift your mindset in a powerful way.

Separate PMS Problems from Binge Eating Problems (Dismiss Binge Urges)

Having increased cravings during PMS does not mean you are on a slippery slope back to binge eating. That would mean that the vast majority of women are on a slippery slope to binge eating during a week out of every month, and we know that’s simply not true. PMS and binge eating are two separate problems, although it’s possible that over time, through your repeated behaviors, you’ve conditioned a link between the two.  It’s possible that you do have increased urges to binge prior to your period, whether that’s because you’ve made it a habit to binge during times of low moods or increased appetite and/or when you are feeling bloated. Now, when you experience those triggers, you may automatically have the urges to binge.

You may have habitual thoughts that say you are failure for eating more during PMS so you “might as well binge,” or that because you are bloated, you must be gaining weight, and then use that to illogically justify a binge. You may feel low, and then have thoughts telling you a binge will “make you feel better” (even though you know it won’t.).

The great thing about dismissing binge urges is that you don’t have to give any of these thoughts any special attention or value. Any and all thoughts/feelings that encourage binge eating are false messages from the lower brain; they don’t represent what you truly want–during PMS or on any other day of the month. When the brain sends the message that binge eating is a “solution” for anything, you know right away that’s the lower-brain’s primitive response, aimed at maintaining the habit. You know that a binge during a time of bloating, increased appetite, and/or low moods will only make all of those problems worse. Regardless of why or how the urges surface, you can learn to see all thoughts that try to justify a binge as neurological junk that you don’t need to take seriously or act upon.

*A word of caution: If your PMS feels extreme, or you have seemingly out-of-control moods swings or alarmingly depressive thoughts, please seek professional medical help for hormone issues.