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.