I want you to escape the daily pain that bingeing brings. I want you to stop eating in an out-of-control way that makes you feel sick and ashamed. I want you to get your life back, so that you can pursue what is important to you. I also want you to eat in a way that works for you and makes you feel nourished and satisfied.
I do not want you to make it your goal to eat perfectly. I do not want you to think that stopping binge eating also means learning how to stick to a strict eating plan. I do not want you to feel like you have to avoid all unhealthy foods, or say no to yourself every time you want to eat something just for pleasure, or stop acting on all desires for food that is not in line with a certain diet.
My goal is to teach you how to dismiss urges to binge and eat adequately; my goal is not to teach you to how to stick to a diet. This post is inspired by Episode 49 and Episode 12 of my podcast, and I hope it helps clear up the intent of the Brain over Binge approach.
Binge eating recovery includes giving up restrictive dieting
If you are familiar with my blog, podcast, or books, you know about the strategy of dismissing binge urges, which is the practice of separating yourself from the lower brain’s desire to binge (listen to Episode 5), and not acting on the thoughts and feelings that encourage binge eating (listen to Episode 7).
You can also learn more about dismissing urges to binge in my free 30-page guide, the Brain over Binge Basics.
What I teach is for ending binge eating, and although I do believe that similar methods can be used to help with other problematic eating habits, I want to make it clear that the Brain over Binge approach is never about learning how to stick to a restrictive diet. It is never about helping you follow rigid weight-loss plans, or helping you eat less than you physically need—because that would be extremely harmful to your recovery.
A big part of my approach is about helping you give up restrictive dieting and implement nourishing eating habits that work for you. I also believe in learning to allow yourself all types of food in moderation, and avoiding the harmful mindset that can develop when you have “forbidden” foods. (You can learn more about giving up the dieting mentality in Episode 48). I realize that not everyone can eat all types of food due to certain health conditions, so another way of saying this is that I believe in eating in the least restrictive way that’s possible for you.
Dismissing too many eating urges is harmful
Over the years of working with binge eaters, I’ve found that some people want to ignore my advice about eating enough, and only want to focus on dismissing urges—and this does not work and prevents recovery. Some people even want to take it a step further and start dismissing not only binge urges, but urges to eat anything that is not in line with a strict diet plan. When used in this way, dismissing urges becomes a dieting strategy in and of itself, which is the opposite of my intention.
The only way that dismissing binge urges works to get rid of binge eating for good is if you’re also eating adequately. If you are dismissing too many desires to eat, then you’ll remain in a food-deprived, survival-instinct-driven state that fuels binge eating.
Now, I know that creators of some diets or weight loss plans might step in here and argue that their eating plans are adequate and not overly restrictive. It’s possible for that to be true in some cases—meaning that the way of eating required for a certain “diet” actually does meet your physical needs and nourishes you well. But that’s not the type of diet I’m talking about, and it’s also not the issue I’m raising today. This post is about clarifying the intention of the Brain over Binge approach; it’s not about evaluating the merits of each and every diet plan that is out there.
Not sticking to a diet is not binge eating
Even if you could argue that a certain “diet” is technically an adequate and nourishing way to eat, my approach is still not meant to be a way for you to dismiss every urge to veer from that plan. I don’t think it’s necessary to have perfect eating habits, and in many ways, trying to get your eating habits exactly right is counterproductive in recovery. This is why Brain over Binge is not and should not be used as a “how to stick to a diet” strategy—that is contrary to the message I want to send.
Dismissing urges is not a way to avoiding eating any food that’s not “keto,” or “paleo,” or “vegan.” It is not a way to stop eating anything at all when you are fasting, and it is not a way to say no to all processed foods or any foods you think are unhealthy.
Eating sugar is not bingeing, eating carbs is not bingeing, eating meat is not bingeing, eating junk food is not bingeing—unless of course, you are bingeing on these things. Likewise, eating when you think you shouldn’t be eating, or when a diet plan says you shouldn’t be eating is not bingeing—unless of course you are bingeing at those times.
There is certainly value in not acting on all of the food cravings that you have. There are benefits of being able to observe your thoughts about eating and then to choose which thoughts to act on and which to ignore. There are benefits of being able to decide to eat foods that make you feel good. My approach is never about giving up on health. It’s never about eating anything you want, anytime you want, without regard for the effect food has on you. It is absolutely appropriate to not follow your every desire for food.
Furthermore, if there’s a certain way of eating that works well for you and is adequate and satisfying, then it may make sense to dismiss thoughts that cause you to veer too much from that way of eating—and this is especially true if you need to eat a certain way for medical reasons. I realize this may seem like a subtle distinction, but deciding to eat in a specific way to take care of yourself is very different from following a restrictive diet and then trying to dismiss urges to eat anything off of that diet. For example, someone with a dairy sensitivity who chooses to dismiss thoughts of eating dairy is not the same as someone who implements a strict calorie deficit and then tries to dismiss urges to eat any additional calories.
Get rid of the binge problem, don’t aim for perfect eating
To further explain why stopping the binge eating habit does not include learning how to stick to a diet, I’m going to end with an excerpt from the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide (from the Healthy Eating chapter). I hope that reading the following few paragraphs helps you better understand the purpose of the Brain over Binge approach, and the purpose of separating your higher brain from your lower brain—in a way that promotes recovery, not dieting.
“It’s common for binge eaters to mistakenly merge the part of themselves that wants to binge with the part of themselves that wants any unhealthy food. They begin to apply the lower brain/higher brain idea to the consumption of all junk food by viewing their lower brain as their “unhealthy eating” brain and their higher brain as their “healthy eating” brain. I don’t think this is useful, especially when first trying to quit binge eating, because it can lead to an “all or nothing” trap. When you start trying to view all of your cravings for anything unhealthy as neurological junk, it can be overwhelming.
It can lead you to believe that if you follow a desire for a dessert or some processed or convenience food, then your lower brain has already won, so you’ll be primed to believe any thoughts that say you “might as well binge.” You don’t actually have a good brain and a bad brain, because both the lower and the higher brain are necessary for a rich human existence. Your lower brain, with its pleasure centers, is indeed behind most of your junk-food cravings, but everyone has those. The lower brain also causes you to crave and take pleasure in delicious, healthy food as well, as desire for food is rarely a purely rational experience. Recovery is about trying to get rid of the “glitch” in your reward system, not banish the system altogether.
Craving french fries doesn’t make you abnormal or weak, and it certainly doesn’t mean your animal brain controls you. If you choose to follow those brain signals and have the fries, great—enjoy them! If you choose not to, then that’s fine too—have some organic carrot sticks with almond butter instead, and enjoy those! Don’t think that if you choose the french fries, you are giving in to a binge urge. Likewise, don’t think that if you decide on the carrot sticks, depriving yourself of the fries will lead you to binge. It won’t. There will be other opportunities for fries. The methods and advice in this book are for quitting binge eating, not for sticking to very strict, healthy-food-only eating plans and banishing all cravings for anything unhealthy.” (pgs. 262-263)
I encourage you to find a balance in your eating that works for you, but remember, you never have to eat perfectly!
If you want extra guidance in learning how to eat normally, you can get the Brain over Binge Course for $10.99 per month.
It’s been a tough year, and I want to help you end it on a positive note—with progress toward recovery. Even if you’ve previously struggled with increased binge eating in December, this is your chance to do things differently, and have this month be a successful one.
When I was a binge eater, the final weeks before the new year usually included my worst binges. I’d often have thoughts like…
“I can’t stop binge eating now, there is too much tempting food this time of year.”
“I’m too busy with the holidays to even bother with recovery.”
“I will binge all I want through the end of the month, and then quit on January 1st.”
Why December Seems Like a Binge Eating Opportunity
Telling myself I’d quit at the start of the new year seemed to give me a pass in December—to binge as much as my lower brain wanted. That primitive part of my brain seemed to view the days leading up to January 1st as a non-stop binge opportunity. At the time, I didn’t understand how my lower brain worked, and I thought my binge urges were expressing my true desires. I also thought that I was emotionally broken and “needed” to binge to cope with the holidays. So, I went along with my lower brain—all the while telling myself that I’d leave binge eating in the past once January arrived.
What I didn’t know was that my lower brain was repeating a habitual and predictable pattern that’s common in binge eaters (and really in anyone with a destructive habit). I’ll call it the “one last time” rut, and when binge eaters get in this rut, they repeatedly promise that each binge will be their last, and promise to quit afterward. I explain this pattern in detail in Episode 14: Overcome “One Last Time” Thoughts to Quit Binge Eating.
However, in December—instead of telling yourself it’s your “last binge”—you may start telling yourself that it’s your “last year of bingeing.” You tell yourself that after December, you’ll be done for the rest of your life, so these are the final weeks of being caught up in the binge eating habit.
Because you feel committed to quitting on January 1st, you might stop any attempts to curb your binge eating at the end of the year. You may allow your lower brain’s desire for the temporary pleasure of binges to completely run the show. You end up feeling awful from the binges in the December, but when you remember that you’ll quit in January, you see no point in even trying to stop now. You just accept that you’re going to keep bingeing until the clock strikes midnight and marks a new year—and a new you.
January Doesn’t Erase Your Binge Eating Habit
During all of the the years of my binge eating, January 1st always came with a sense of dread. I wondered if I could really quit, and felt confused and frustrated that my desire to binge was still the same on New Year’s Day that it had been on New Year’s Eve. In December, it was comforting to believe that a new year would bring a swift recovery; but looking back, my resolutions usually only served as excuses to binge prior to the resolution’s start date. If I told myself I was quitting tomorrow, next week, next year; it gave me reason to binge today, this week, this year.
On January 1st or shortly thereafter, I began to resent the new year—because of the struggle of trying to avoid binges. I often wished it was December again, when I felt like I could just binge without even considering quitting, even though I knew December had been miserable. Until 2005, nothing I tried to help myself quit had worked, and I always found myself binge eating again by about January 5th.
In Brain over Binge, I talked about that first New Year’s Eve (15 years ago) when I didn’t have to make a resolution to stop binge eating. I wasn’t with family or friends or at a party—I was simply alone with my thoughts, watching others ring in the new year on television (where most of us will be this year as well). It was a wonderful feeling knowing that the next year would be different—that I wouldn’t just binge again a few days, and that I’d never have to resolve to quit binge eating again, because I was already done.
Do December Differently
No matter what your thoughts are saying now in December, your binge eating habit will not suddenly disappear come January 1st. The lower brain has no regard for time, and it will send urges automatically no matter what day or year it is. You will not suddenly gain the ability to avoid binges, unless you support yourself in learning how to do that.
You don’t want to spend another December being miserable, promising yourself you will do better in January. You can do better now. You can learn to recognize all of those faulty brain messages that drive you toward binge eating, and stop believing them. You can stop believing thoughts that say it somehow makes sense to binge through this month. You know that it doesn’t make sense, and you can absolutely break this cycle.
Just think of how amazing you’ll feel if you gain control of your binge eating before the new year, before the start of your typical resolution. Challenge yourself to do something different this year—break the pattern, and stop waiting until later for freedom from binge eating.
You can start ending this terrible habit today, and I want to offer you some support this month for a price that I hope is doable for anyone.
You can now get the Brain over Binge Course for only $10.99/month, with no commitment required.
That means if you feel free of binge eating by January 1st, you can cancel your subscription and you’ll pay nothing else.
The challenging circumstances we’ve been through in 2020 got me thinking about how to help more people. Those of you who have followed my blog, or read my books, or listened to my podcast know that this is a mission for me more than a job…but the reality is that I do need to charge for some of the resources if I want to continue doing this work.
I will still continue to offer no-expiration access for the regular price of $179.
If you think you’ll use the course in some way for more than 16 months, then the no-expiration option is still the best value for you, but I understand that kind of financial commitment may not be possible in these difficult times.
With the monthly subscription option (and the no-expiration option), you get the entire course (116 tracks) right away, plus you get immediate access to the new app we’ve recently set up to make it easy to listen on mobile. You will also get two new resources each month that you are subscribed.
You can use the course for as much time or as little time as you need to support yourself in ending binge eating and getting your life back.
In my last post, Am I Ready for Recovery From Binge Eating?, I talked about staying focused on the two recovery goals of the brain over binge approach: dismissing binge urges and learning to eat adequately. You can use what best helps you reach those goals. There are many ideas out there about how to overcome binge urges and how to eat in a normal way—some very different than mine, and some similar. I’ve added a list of books I recommend on the FAQ page, and in these books, you can find ideas that are compatible with what you are learning here in my blog, or in the Brain over Binge books or podcast. It can be very helpful to gather unique perspectives, tools, and advice from a variety of authors.
Two of the books I’ve included are The Binge Code and The Bulimia Help Method, written by Richard and Ali Kerr. I’m happy that Richard has offered to share his ideas here in a guest post. The technique that he explains will help you learn how to overcome binge urges, and you can also use his advice to resist urges to purge.
Resist Bingeing on Food with This Simple 4 Step Technique
My name is Richard Kerr, and my wife Ali and I are the founders of Binge Code Coaching. I want to share with you a powerful technique to help you stop bingeing on food.
Many of the people whom we coach, regularly use this exercise to successfully overcome binge urges. I absolutely love Kathryn Hansen’s book Brain over Binge and this technique compliments her ideas and principles.
I call it the Accept, Delay and Distract technique and it’s a 4-step process you can apply when the binge urge strikes. With practice, this technique will help to weaken the binge urge conditioning and in time the binge urges will gradually fade away.
I must stress this technique will only work if you are also feeding your body the appropriate amount of calories and nutrition it needs. If your binge urge is due to physical hunger, then you need to eat more calorie-dense, nutrient-rich food in your meals or your binge urges will never go away. If you need more help in this area, our coaches can help guide you.
Ok, with that said, lets get into the technique…
For many bulimics in recovery, whenever they first notice an urge to binge on food, their reaction is usually fear, panic and a deep desire to get rid of the urge as fast as possible. They may fight and argue against the binge urge in an attempt to throttle it out of existence. Unfortunately trying to wrangle or eliminate the binge urge often worsens it. We become frustrated that our attempts to control the urge are not working. We panic because the urge is not going away or because it is becoming more intense. We judge ourselves harshly and we begin to feel more crazed and out of control.
In reality we have very little control over how the urge to binge makes us feel, how long it stays, or how intense it is. We could try to argue against the binge urge with logic and reasoning but this isn’t very effective. As Kathryn states in her book, the urge to binge comes from the lower brain and it’s too primitive to understand rational arguments. You could have the most compelling arguments in the world not to binge, but it still isn’t going to help you overcome the urge to binge. It doesn’t respond to logic, it operates at a subconscious level. Any attempts to control it are usually futile and perpetuate the idea that the binge urge is intolerable and that there is something wrong with you.
If you think about it, you don’t binge because of your emotions or feelings. The only reason you binge is to remove your uncomfortable “urges to binge.” If you could learn to be more accepting of your binge urges, they wouldn’t cause you as much bother and then you would be in a better position to ignore them rather than act on them.
The psychology works likes this…
Binge urge + panic and fear for having a binge urge = more uncomfortable emotions + stronger binge urges.
Binge urge + acceptance that it’s okay to feel this way for now = less uncomfortable emotions + less intense binge urges.
An attitude of acceptance can work wonders to diffuse the intensity of the binge urge. Acceptance is a skill and like all skills it can be learned and strengthened through continual practice.
What you need to do:
Step 1. Accept the binge urge
Although we have no control over our binge urges, we do have full control over how we react to them. Instead of fruitlessly attempting to control the binge urge, it is more effective to accept its presence and let the urge flow through you and do as it pleases. Remind yourself that the binge urge is just a feeling, it is not dangerous and does not need to be fought. Allow the urge to rise and fall again. Acceptance feels like a softening, a feeling that it’s okay to be like this.
Two statements that you might want to say to yourself to reinforce your acceptance are: “It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now.” and “I can handle these feelings.”
No matter how strong the feelings are, remind yourself that you do not want to binge. The real you does not want to binge. Allow the feelings to be, but keep resisting what the feelings are telling you to do. You can just tell the binge urge “I don’t have to listen to you”.
Try not to think of the binge urge as meaningful or compelling. Don’t give it any more weight than it deserves. As long as you have stopped restricting and are providing your body food regularly then you can be certain that the binge urge means nothing.
See that you’re OK. There is nothing to fear. These feelings and sensations cannot harm or hurt you. It is OK to feel this way. We tend to want to act on our urges right away or we panic. I’m not sure what we think will happen if we don’t act on the urge, but it becomes very urgent. Instead, sit and watch the urge and realize that you’re OK even if you don’t act on it. The world doesn’t end.
When you experience strong feelings, there is a tendency to respond as though you are powerless against the feelings. The truth is, even at its strongest, the binge urge is just one aspect of your experience. As such, it is something separate from the “You” that is experiencing it. As the experiencer, you are “bigger” than your experience. The binge urge is just a feeling and an experience, like any other feeling or experience. It doesn’t have the power to control you.
For example, should you find yourself going towards the fridge for a binge, the very moment you notice your body reacting with movement… stop moving. Stand completely still. Realize that your thoughts cannot make you move. Realize your body is totally unaffected. The urge to binge is powerless unless you act on it. You may feel waves or a compulsion to binge, but they cannot make you move.
I am not asking you to like the binge urge. I am sure you would rather the feeling wasn’t there. That’s understandable. But you don’t have to struggle and fight it, that would just be adding suffering to suffering. The bottom line is that the feeling of a binge urge is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.
There is no need to judge yourself harshly or feel guilty or ashamed for experiencing a binge urge. The binge urge has nothing to do with you, your upbringing, your emotions or your self-esteem. It is not a reflection on who you are as a person. It’s just the unthinking part of the brain that reacts automatically because of instincts and habit. You can dismiss it.
Step 2: Delay bingeing for 10 minutes
When you tell yourself that you have to make it through the rest of the night (or the rest of your life) without bingeing, the emotional burden of that commitment can become overwhelming, so instead, challenge yourself to resist bingeing for just 10 minutes at a time. This way you are far more likely to succeed.
As much as the binge urge may try to consume you, try to accept any sensations with a sense of calm. Tell yourself that if you still want to binge after ten minutes has passed then that’s okay. Use a watch, or your phone to make a note of the time and try to wait a full 10 minutes before making any decisions as to whether or not you will binge.
Step 3: Distract yourself
A binge urge does a great job of claiming your attention and your focus. Psychologists know that concentrating on two things at the same time is very hard. Therefore, if your mind is flooded with binge thoughts, do something else to distract yourself. Don’t just stare at the clock waiting for 10 minutes to pass. Allow the urge to come and go as it pleases, stop struggling and move your attention and focus on something else.
If you are looking for ideas for something to distract yourself I would suggest something that involves physical movement and also takes you away from any possible binge foods. Something as simple as going for a walk can be extremely effective.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Go for a short jog.
- Go for a drive.
- Have a bath.
- Surf the web.
- Talk to a friend.
- Work or play on your computer.
- Immerse yourself in a project or hobby.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Work in the garden.
- If you have children, play some games with them.
Distraction exercises may not take your mind off bingeing completely, but they should lesson the intensity of those urges. Remain interested in what you are doing and just let the binge urge be. Try not to get emotionally involved with the binge urge and accept its existence. Remind yourself that “It’s okay to be uncomfortable right now” and “I can handle these feelings.”
Step 4: Delay for a further 10 minutes if possible
Then, when the ten minutes is up, congratulate yourself for resisting the binge urge for a full 10 minutes. Well done! Even small steps like this can go a long way to weakening your urges, and helping you stop the binge and purge cycle for good.
After 10 minutes you may find the urge to binge is still quite strong. Challenge yourself to accept these sensations and feelings for another 10 minutes. Remind yourself that the binge urge is just a feeling. It cannot harm you. It cannot control you. You are more than your urge to binge. Encourage an attitude of acceptance to any sensations and feelings.
Alternatively, if after 10 minutes you are no longer able to hold off any longer then give yourself permission to binge. But remember that you are in control and it was your choice to choose to binge.
If you continue to resist long enough eventually the binge urge will pass. It might take 5 minutes, 20 minutes or longer, but it will pass.
Repeat this process as many times as the urge arises. As you continue to practice this technique you will notice the length of time you are able to resist a binge urge increasing. Your binge urges will become less intense and frequent, until they eventually disappear altogether.
It takes practice to resist bingeing
Overcoming urges to binge and purge takes time and practice, so it’s quite normal to find yourself continuing to binge on food, especially in the first few months of your recovery. Please do not beat yourself up if you do end up bingeing. Remember that you are not expected to just stop bingeing in recovery. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “never binge again.” We are all human, no one is perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be any different.
You can find this technique and many more helpful strategies in The Bulimia Help Method and The Binge Code, and if you want one-on-one support in bulimia and binge eating disorder recovery, you can check out our coaching program.
If you want even more help overcoming binge urges, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF.