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.

________________________

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. 

________________________

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!