*Originally published in May 2018
This is the first part of a 2-part blog series on creating healthy changes for yourself after you end binge eating…that is, if you want healthy changes. There are certainly no requirements, and there’s nothing you have to do. You don’t need to eat healthily to achieve or maintain freedom from binge eating, but I know that so many binge eaters and former binge eaters are health conscious and want to improve their health.
I frequently promote the idea of eating all foods in moderation or allowing all foods (provided there are no allergies/sensitivities). Health-conscious binge eaters can be skeptical about this advice, because they may imagine that allowing all foods involves eating Lucky Charms for breakfast (more on cereal in Part 2!), McDonald’s for lunch, take-out pizza for dinner, then maybe some candy for snacks, and being totally okay with eating like that every day. Eating all foods in moderation can involve eating that way sometimes, and I’ve had days since I stopped binge eating when my eating closely resembled what I just wrote; but if any of us ate like that for more than a few days or weeks in a row, we’d feel awful, and set ourselves up for health problems. This is not new information.
Where “everything in moderation” meets recovery…and good health
All of us living in this time of increasing nutrition knowledge need to come to terms with the reality that what we eat is important to our longevity and vitality. Even though you know this, you’ve likely experienced how difficult it is to try to make healthy changes while caught up in the binge eating habit. Binge eating typically sabotages efforts to make healthy changes; and also, trying to make a lot of healthy changes can take the focus off of the most important healthy change you need to make: stopping the binges.
I’ve worked with many people who are trying their best to eat as healthy as possible. They aren’t eating much sugar or processed foods, for example, as part of their normal daily intake. But privately, and with a lot of guilt, they are bingeing on large amounts of those very same foods. For some of these individuals, the only time they eat unhealthy food is when they are binge eating. They often believe they are powerless to eat unhealthy foods in moderation, or believe that eating those foods in moderation will make them gain weight. However, the cycle of trying to restrict the foods and then bingeing on the “restricted” foods is actually leading them to eat much more of those “restricted” foods than a moderation approach would.
This is why learning to allow foods is important.
If you can learn that you aren’t powerless against any food, you will build confidence that you can eat anything and not binge. If you instead continue to think one bite of sugar or wheat or fast food will cause you to be out of control, then you will never be totally free of the binge eating habit. This is the reasoning and purpose behind the everything in moderation approach in recovery…to empower you to realize that no food can make you binge. The purpose is not to convince you to be unhealthy.
So, when you hear me or anyone else recommend eating everything in moderation or allowing all foods, it doesn’t mean I don’t understand nutrition; it doesn’t I haven’t read the latest research on the keto diet, or whatever the popular “healthy” eating approach of the day happens to be. It means I want you to stop thinking you are powerless; it means I want you to have freedom from food rules; it means I want you to be realistic about the world we live in and the foods you will encounter, and the fact that no one follows a healthy eating plan 100 percent of the time. But, primarily, it means that – first and foremost – I want to you to be free of binge eating.
Becoming binge-free is a massively healthy change, and other healthy changes often naturally and effortlessly flow from there. Furthermore, allowing all foods, over time, usually leads to you eating less of those foods, because it breaks the diet mentality that gives those foods such a strong appeal. Of course, ending binge eating itself also vastly reduces the amount of unhealthy foods you consume.
What if you want more health improvements than stopping the binges provides?
You need to know that, although it’s life-changing and amazing, becoming binge-free does not automatically equal becoming healthy. It does not automatically equal you eating in way that makes you feel nourished day after day. It does not automatically equal sharp mental clarity and high energy. It certainly helps in a big way, but after binge eating recovery, you may indeed want to make more healthy changes.
The rest of this 2-part blog series is for those of you who are now binge-free, but feel a pull toward improving your health. It’s possible that you feel confused about how to improve your health if you are supposed to be allowing all foods, and eating everything in moderation, and of course – not dieting. In this post and the next, I’m going to discuss some issues related to this challenge. I hope you’ll come away from reading this series with some ideas and insights to help lead you into a healthier lifestyle (if that’s what you want), without feeling restricted.
You never have to stop eating everything in moderation…but make sure to”allow” a lot of nourishing foods
There is not a point after recovery where you say, “ok, I’m done with binge eating, so now it’s time to stop allowing all foods.” Eating everything in moderation isn’t only a strategy for recovery, it’s a lifelong strategy. You always have the freedom to eat what you want to eat, without fear of being out of control. But, again, that doesn’t mean you’ll be eating junk food at every meal. That, in fact, would not be “allowing” all foods, because you would not be allowing the truly nourishing foods that are natural and simple and good for your body.
The more you can allow foods that nourish you, the more satisfied you’ll feel, the more nutritionally balanced you’ll be, and the less you’ll tend to want the foods that aren’t serving you. You never have to put unhealthy food “off limits,” but adding and allowing and welcoming nourishment – without a restrictive mindset – can naturally help you move away from unhealthy foods. And, that choice won’t feel like it’s coming from a place of deprivation.
As you work to improve health, you get to make your own food choices on your own timeline
There are so many options when it comes to how to improve your eating and your health. You are the expert on your own body and it’s important to empower yourself to make choices that are in your best interest. If your friend is vegan and swears that makes her feel amazing, but you try eating that way and it doesn’t feel good, then trust that it’s not for you. If your co-workers are all trying to eat low-carb, but you feel unbalanced when you eat that way, then listen to your own body. Last year, I studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and a big concept was what they called “bioindividuality.” The term means that everyone’s biology and physiology are different, and what’s healthy for one person may not be healthy for another, based on countless factors. Some people do better with more carbs, or more protein, or less protein, or more fat, or less carbs…or with or without dairy, or soy, or wheat…or with more or less fruit or starch…and the list could go on and on. These are your decisions to make.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek advice from nutritionists or health experts, or do research on what may be healthy for you; but you have to sort through it and see what makes sense to you personally, and fits with the lifestyle you want to create for yourself. You also get to decide the timeline for implementing any healthy changes you want to make. There is no rush, there are no rules, and there is no pressure. You are crafting a way of eating and a lifestyle that works for you, and there is no end point. You will be on this ever-changing journey for the rest of your life.
In the next post (Part 2), I’m going to share a personal story of making a healthy change after recovery. I’ll talk about my relationship to sugary cereal – the food I most craved when I was dieting, and the food that made up my first binge and countless more after that. I’ll explain how I no longer eat it much at all, and how that change came about.
Before I end today, I want to also direct you to a podcast episode and a resource that fits with this topic. In Episode 31: Making Healthy Changes After Binge Eating Recovery, I interviewed Daniel Thomas Hind (*listen to this important message prior to the episode), who helps people improve their health through a process of learning new skills and habits around food. Although Daniel does work on helping people with weight loss, he always comes from a place of making sure his clients are well nourished and not feeling deprived. If you’ve stopped binge eating, and you want to make improvements to your health, it’s important to have options that don’t send you down the path of dieting. This is why I’m bringing Daniel’s ideas to you – as one possible resource you can use on your journey to better health.
I am not an expert in helping people make healthy changes to the way they eat (my main focus is on helping people end the binge eating habit), but Daniel provides a free call to help propel you into creating whatever healthy changes you want to make, and also to determine if his coaching program may be a fit for you. This is especially useful if you don’t actually struggle with binge eating, but instead tend to overeat frequently or have other eating habits you feel are problematic (like emotional eating, constant grazing, or food “addictions”). If you are someone who is still binge eating, keep your focus on ending that habit – by learning to dismiss binge urges, learning to eat enough, and practicing eating all foods in moderation, in whatever way works for you.
One final thing I want to mention about Daniel’s work relates to what I said in this post about choosing how you want to eat, based on your own unique body and lifestyle. It’s important for you to know that, although Daniel personally subscribes to a paleo-type lifestyle and does teach about that, he wants clients to choose and craft their own way of eating. Here is an excerpt from Daniel:
“It’s important to note that my stance on diet and nutrition is philosophically-rooted in an ethic of what’s natural and simple. As far as your actual diet goes, I do not claim to be a guru, and you are a unique human being. My teachings are a guideline, and are meant to serve as a foundational template, an example that’s worked for many. I provide all of these tools, foundations, teachings, and my approach in order for you to feel empowered to choose the diet that best expresses who you are in the world and the life you’d love to live.”
You can learn more about Daniel’s work and program by filling out this questionnaire.