I Don't Know How to Eat

Episode 86: Stop Thinking “I Don’t Know How to Eat”

As you learn to end binge eating, you may feel confused about food and tell yourself “I don’t know how to eat.” In this episode, I’ll help you understand and overcome this thought pattern, so that you can start feeling more confident around food, and eliminate the self-doubt you may be experiencing when it comes to your eating decisions.

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Disclaimer: *The Brain over Binge Podcast is produced and recorded by Brain over Binge Recovery Coaching, LLC. All work is copyrighted by Brain over Binge Recovery Coaching, LLC, and all rights are reserved. As a disclaimer, the hosts of the Brain over Binge Podcast are not professional counselors or licensed healthcare providers, and this podcast is not a substitute for medical advice or any form of professional therapy. Eating disorders can have serious health consequences and you are strongly advised to seek medical attention for matters relating to your health. Please get help when you need it, and good luck on your journey.


Welcome to the Brain over Binge podcast, where you learn a simple brain-based approach to ending binge eating.

I appreciate you joining me today. I’m Kathryn Hansen, and I hope that what I share on this podcast will lead you to complete freedom from binge eating.

I’m looking forward to today’s topic which in many ways is a continuation of what I talked about in the previous episode. Last time I talked about dropping the “shoulds” around eating—which means to stop putting pressure on yourself to eat in a certain way or to follow other people’s eating advice. Today I’m going to be talking about dropping the “I don’t knows” around eating—which means to stop telling yourself that you don’t know how to make food choices or which foods to eat. I’ll explain this in detail and explain why this is imporatnt as you learn to end binge eating and learn to eat in a normal way.

Before I get into the topic, I want to say that if you’re new here and new to the Brain over Binge approach and you want to learn more about it, I suggest that you start listening to this podcast from the beginning, because in the first 11 episodes, I give you all of the basics of the Brain over Binge approach.  After episode 11, you may want to jump around a little more to find topics that apply specifically to you.

And if you want to go into much more detail with using and applying these concepts in your own recovery, you can subscribe to my self-paced course for only 11 dollars per month. The course guides you in a structured way as you learn to stop acting on your urges to binge, and as you learn to eat in a way that works for you. Within the course, I’ve addressed nearly every question I’ve been asked, and I add new content and resources each month as well.  You can learn more at Brainoverbinge.com/subscribe.

Now I’m going to begin addressing today’s topic, and the purpose of this discussion is to help you start feeling more confident in your food choices, and eliminate the self-doubt you may be experiencing when it comes to deciding what to eat.

If you feel like you don’t know how to eat, I want you to take a look at what you are thinking about your ability to make food choices. It’s very likely that you are having thoughts that say, “you’re confused about food,” or thoughts that say, “you don’t know what type of foods to choose,” or that “you don’t know how much to eat,” or that “you’re not sure when you should be eating,” or that “you can’t figure out whose nutrition advice to follow.”

If you are having self-doubting thoughts like this, you will definitely feel confused, and like you just don’t know how to go about feeding yourself.

These thoughts likely seem very believable and true right now, but I want to help you see that you can overcome and eliminate these type of thoughts, and stop feeling like you don’t know how to eat. I want to help you capture your ability to make food decisions that feel good to you. Because food decisions are plentiful in your life. Deciding what, when, how, and where to eat is not something you just have to deal with maybe once a month or once a week—this is something you have to do many times every day.

First of all, know that it’s totally understandable right now for you have these “I don’t know” thoughts when it comes to eating. You’ve probably spent a lot of time trying to follow certain diets, or meal plans, or fasting regimens, or specific food rules or requirements. Dieting can definitely make you lose touch with your natural sense of simply making food decisions that feel right in the moment, and then moving on with your life.  When you try to give up dieting and give up restriction, it can lead to you feeling lost about how to eat.

You may sit down at meals and feel confused about how much is normal, or how much is too much, and because you’re trying to give up dieting, you may wonder if you’re eating too little and therefore being overly restrictive. You may overthink your body’s signals of hunger and fullness. You may feel like you don’t know what type of foods to eat, because you’re worried about certain foods making you gain weight, or you’re worried that certain foods might lead to urges to binge. You may be even be concerned if you choose healthy foods—or if you turn down unhealthy foods sometimes—because you want to make sure that you’re not depriving yourself. You may feel confused about what you see other people eating, or not eating, or you may feel like you just don’t know when to say yes to food and when to say no.

And, add to that, all of the advice that you may have heard about the how to eat in order to recover from bingeing. Eating disorder recovery advocates don’t always agree on what way of eating is best, and you may have heard so many different opinions over the years. The reality is that there is no one right way to eat, but the variety of advice can leave you wondering how you should eat in recovery—if you should be eating completely intuitively, if you should be measuring your food, or counting your servings or calories to make sure you’re getting enough, or if you should be completely avoiding any sort of measurement or calorie counting.  Or, you may be wondering if you should have a more structured meal plan, or eat in a more flexible way.  You may be trying to decide about allowing yourself to eat all types of foods, or avoiding certain foods while you get the binge eating habit under control.

And not only do you have this confusion, but you also have the habit of binge eating, and the urges to binge may arise frequently in those times of confusion. A very common pattern is to feel that confusion, and to have those thoughts saying that you don’t know how to eat, and then for that to lead to thoughts saying that you “can’t  possibly figure out how to eat, so you might as well binge.”

It’s as if that primitive, habitual part of your brain automatically offers binge eating as a solution to not knowing what or how to eat. The binge-encouraging thoughts basically tell you to give up on even trying to determine how to eat, and to instead just eat anything and everything.

As you know if you have the binge eating habit, the brain uses so many circumstances surrounding food and circumstances in your life to rationalize bingeing, and my goal is to help you stop believing there is ever a reason to binge.

In the last show, I talked about this type of pattern and rationalization in terms of the “should” around eating. I explained that when you have a way that you think you “should” eat, and you’re not able to eat in that ideal  way, you can have the thought saying that you “might as well binge.”

Just like it doesn’t make sense to binge when you don’t eat in the way you think you should, or in a way that you don’t think is perfect, it simply does not make rational or logical sense to binge in response to feeling like you don’t know how to eat, because you know without any doubt that binge eating is not how to eat. This is very clear. Binge eating brings you pain and is ruining your life. Even if you genuinely feel confused about your food choices, it’s very powerful to realize that there is no confusion surrounding binge eating. It is extremely harmful to you, and any thought that says that it makes sense to binge because you don’t know exactly how to eat is absolutely false. If there’s one thing you do know about food, it’s that a binge is not a good food decision.

Now, let’s move on to helping you learn to make food decisions and eliminate the “I don’t know” thoughts around food.

I want you to take a step back here and look at food decisions from a bigger picture perspective.  It’s a pretty modern thing to have confusion about what or how to eat. In the ancient past, it was simply about what was available, and a lot of times, it was simply about survival. Still today, if your situation was completely different and food was not plentiful, there would also not be any confusion.  I mentioned this in the Brain over Binge book, but as a simple example, I think back to going home to the New Orleans area to help my family after hurricane Katrina, and there were some wonderful volunteers and organizations that provided free meals, as there were no grocery stores, and there was really no where to just go buy food. And in this situation, there was no confusion about what to eat.  You may be able to find examples of that in your life today, where there simply are not too many choices, and you may be limited in resources of what you can buy or access—and you just eat, and there isn’t all of that self-doubt.

I think it’s helpful to remember that you have that ability inside of yourself.  It may only come out in certain situations right now, but it is there. It’s just that all of the choices in your life today, and all of the advice that you’ve heard over time, is getting in the way of this ability.

Now something important to see is that it’s not the choices themselves that are stopping you from making sound decisions and moving on. It’s actually your own thinking that’s getting in the way.

I want you to recall times when you did have a lot of choices and still made a decision and moved on. A good example could be when you were child, and you were outside playing, and you were hungry, and you came inside and just picked out something to eat. You just got something from your pantry, you ate it, and you got back to playing—without any overthinking whatsoever. You simply ate what you felt like eating.

Now, I realize you may not have always made great choices as a kid about what to eat, because kids tend to be very pleasure seeking, but I just want you to see that even with a lot of choices, you can still just decide on something and move on.  What you pick now as an adult will of course be different than what you chose as a child, but that inherent ability has not gone away.

What has happened is that you’ve started to have the “I don’t know” thoughts. Like I’ve said, it’s understandable that you have these thoughts, but it’s time to stop believing them and to start letting  them go.

Even if you think there was never a time in your life when you made food decisions and moved on, I want you to think about the multitude of decisions that you’re able to make in your life that don’t have anything to do with food.  You make decisions at work , in your education, about your kids or your relationships, or just the many choices that come with living each day and functioning in the world.  Even if you need some practice in the area of food decisions, you can use your ability to do this in other part of your life to encourage yourself that it’s possible.

When you’re faced with a food decision in the moment, or a decision about how you should be eating overall, and you start to hear those “I don’t know” thoughts, I want you to just acknowledge that they are there, but tell yourself that you are going to make a decision anyway.  And also tell yourself that any decision you make is better than deciding to binge, and it’s also better than staying stuck in indecision.

You basically want to start exercising your decision-making muscle, even if it feel weak right now. Gently make yourself choose something, fully acknowledging that there is no one right choice, and that you are simply doing the best you can in the moment—with the knowledge you have now.

Tell yourself that your next meal you may choose differently. Tell yourself that this is just one food decision of countless food decisions that you will make throughout your life, and that it does not have to be perfect. Aim for decisions that feel good enough. Tell yourself that you’re simply going to choose, you’re going to eat, and then you’re going to move on with your life.

This does not mean you’ll just be choosing on a whim all of the time—although you certainly can.  I know you’re an intelligent person who knows a lot about yourself and who also knows a lot about eating.

You can take into account the situation—for example, you may make some food decisions simply for convenience, because that’s what you need in your life at that time, and that’s okay. That may mean you’ll be eating less healthy foods in those moments, but you have other priorities in your life, and there is no need to feel guilty about that.  At other times, you may decide to spend the extra time or money to give yourself more nourishing foods because that’s what you feel is best at that point.

As you make decisions that feel good enough, you can get feedback from your body, and you can make adjustments over time, without all of the self-doubt.

If you like your reasons for your food decision, that’s all that matters. When you know there is not some ideal way to eat that’s out there somewhere, it’s easier just to deal with the daily reality of making everyday choices. And your choices teach you things that you can use to improve your decision-making abilities in the future. In other words, you learn from every decision that you make.

After you make your decision and eat the food, it’s helpful to redirect your focus onto something else in your life—something that you want to do, or need to do , or something that’s important to you. It helps train your brain to see that eating is just eating—it does not have to consume so much of your brain space.

The more you practice deciding imperfectly, and the more you stop giving attention to the thoughts that say you don’t know, the more confident you will become at choosing the foods, and the amounts, and the eating times that feel right for you. And then, those “I don’t know” thoughts can simply fade away.

I hope that this discussion helps you think about your “I don’t know” thoughts in a new way and helps you start to make food choices that feel good to you.

I decided to also create a new Q&A track for the Brain over Binge course with this same information and then some more detail and discussion as well.  I’ve added that new track to the course, so if you want to dive a little deeper into this topic, you can check that out if you already have the course, or you can subscribe, and you’ll see this track on the top of the Q&A page, and it’s titled “I feel like I don’t know how to eat.”

I also released a new mindfulness track in the course, and the mindfulness tracks are from Julie—our Brain over Binge coach.  There are 3 mindfulness tracks in the course so far, and the purpose of them is to help you  become more aware, notice your thoughts, strengthen your higher brain, and feel more connected to your body. All of this can help you with ending the binge eating habit and with making food decisions as well.

So, I hope you will check out those new course resources, and I hope you will join me again on the podcast again next time. Thank you for listening today, and as always, I want to encourage you, and remind you, that you have the power to change your brain and live a binge-free life.