Tag Archive for: end bulimia
I want to let you know that I’ve created a free preview of the Brain over Binge Course. I realize that times are difficult right now, and you may not be in a position to purchase the whole course, but I hope you can use the free resources to help you stop binge eating. When you go to the preview, you will receive instructions and guidance. In the rest of this blog post, I will outline and explain what’s included in the preview, and answer questions you may have about the course.
Resources in the free preview:
- Lesson 1 Welcome Track: This track will guide you as you get started using the Brain over Binge approach, or as you renew your commitment to stop binge eating.
- A Writing Prompts Worksheet: This worksheet will help you develop your own insights and get in the right mindset for recovery.
- A Tips and Advice Message: In the complete course, I’ve written 12 messages that include important ideas and information that I want you to keep in mind as you go through the lessons. The tips and advice message in the free preview guides you to get the most out of your writing prompts worksheet.
- A Coaching Track: This track is designed to help you focus on and grow your desire to stop binge eating. You can listen anytime you need some extra motivation.
- 2 Q&A Tracks: These tracks will give you detailed answers to the following questions/issues:
- How much focus should I put on recovery?
- Food is constantly in my thoughts. Even if I’m not having urges to binge, I’m incessantly thinking about eating.
If you decide to subscribe to the course, you will get 8 lessons right away. The course includes 115+ tracks, 24 worksheets, and 12 tips and advice messages.
You can begin the course at any time and go through the lessons at your own pace. The lessons will guide you in a carefully structured way, toward a new understanding of your binge eating habit, and will show you exactly how to end it.
The Brain over Binge Course is based upon my simple and practical approach, and the idea that you can can end binge eating without a major personal transformation, and without solving your life’s problems.
- You’ll learn to use what works for you (and put aside what doesn’t) so recovery can be efficient and effective.
- You’ll learn to trust yourself again, and stop feeling out of control around food.
- You’ll be able to see a future without the pain of binge eating.
All of the information and guidance of the Brain over Binge Course is available for only a small fraction of what it would cost to work with a coach privately or in a group setting. I put all of my coaching, advice, and encouragement into this affordable format so that it will be more accessible to anyone who needs it.
FAQ’s about the Brain over Binge Course:
Yes. There are 15 coaching tracks in the Brain over Binge Course, including an track that will help you in moments when you are feeling tempted to binge. You can also get these same 15 coaching tracks separately, which is a great option if you feel like you don’t need the whole course, but only some daily reinforcement and motivation from the coaching tracks.
*Starting in May 2020, when you purchase the coaching tracks, you will also get Lesson 1 of the course. There is no extra cost for this until July 7, 2020, when the price of the coaching tracks (plus Lesson 1) will go up from $31.99 to $49. Lesson 1 gives you a foundation in the Brain over Binge approach, which will help you use the coaching tracks more effectively.
*If you purchase the coaching tracks, and then later decide to upgrade to the complete course, 100 percent of your payment for the coaching tracks will be applied to the course price.
2.) I was a member of the former 8-Week Group Course, or the Independent Study Course. Can I get a discount on the new version of the Brain over Binge course?
Yes! If you participated in one of my previous courses, and you want to enroll in the new version of the course, please send an email to email@example.com and you will receive special repeat member pricing.
The course is based around the same concepts as the books and podcast, but it’s designed to guide you in a more incremental way, so that you can better apply the concepts in your own life. The audio lessons take the most important information from the books and podcast and break it down for you in a way that is accessible and practical. Most people learn better with a structured and guided approach, but you know yourself best, so use what works for you!
The course also contains 85 Q&A tracks, and many of the topics discussed are not covered at all in the books or podcast, and if they are, the discussions in the Q&A tracks are more detailed and relatable to your own situation. In these course Q&As, I believe I’ve answered every question I’ve been asked over my years of helping binge eaters. The Q&A tracks are very practical because you can find a question you have at any time of day or night (on the Q&A page), and click on the track to get an answer when you need it. Most people find this to be much more convenient than trying to find an answer in a 300+ page book or somewhere in a podcast episode.
In the course, you also get 15 coaching tracks to keep you focused and motivated, including a coaching track to help you when you are feeling the urge to binge. There are 115 total tracks throughout the course, so if you are someone who learns well with track, or if you like to listen while doing other things you need to do, then the course could be a great fit for you.
Although the approach in the course is fundamentally the same as it is in the books and podcast, the value is in the structure, guidance, accessibility, detail, Q&A tracks, and coaching tracks. I’ve had so many people tell me that even though they read the books or listened to the podcast, the course gave them the extra help they needed to end binge eating for good. Here is one quote from a course member:
“This course is exactly what I needed to hear! I’ve read countless books on the BED-topic (including Brain over Binge) before, without any success. The course is full of deep insights and packed with valuable and practical information. I really appreciate the rational and organized form everything is presented. I’m exceedingly thankful for the course – it has really changed my life!“ – Justin
4.) Will you ever offer the 8-Week Group Course again, with the Facebook Group and live group calls?
Although nothing is completely certain in life, I do not plan to offer that version of the course in the future. The original course that I created with Cookie Rosenblum was very successful; however, based on life and work changes for both Cookie and me, we are unable to continue that version of the course. I hope this new version will allow the course to be more accessible and affordable to more people who need it, and eliminate some of the challenges of a group format. Everyone is highly individual, which is why I want to give you all of the resources you need to be successful, as well as give you an extensive library of Q&A tracks that you can use to stay on your own path to recovery.
5). If I choose the no-expiration access, how long will I have access to the Brain over Binge Course after I enroll?
You will have access to the private course website for as long as it is available, which I hope will be for many years. I do not have any plans to change the course in the future (aside from possible small improvements that you’ll get access to). However, I do not believe that promising “lifetime” access is realistic, considering the ever-evolving, changing, and unpredictable nature of life and technology. If I need to end the course in the future, you will still get at least 1 year of access from the date you purchased. I will also give you 2 weeks notice if I ever decide to change or replace an track or worksheet, so that you can download and save it first.
6.) How do I enroll?
Registration is always open. You can subscribe here.
Remember you can check out the Free Preview to see if the course is right for you:
In last month’s blog post What Makes Recovery “Work?”, I talked about how an effective recovery method or strategy is not defined by its ability to take away your binge urges, but by its ability to help you stop acting on them. So, when you try an approach to recovery and hope that it will “work,” try not to have the expectation that it will take away your binge urges, but instead that it will help you better manage them and better avoid acting on them.
Last month’s post got me thinking more deeply about this topic, and I decided to write a Part II and a Part III post, addressing different angles of the idea of recovery “working,” as well as the “work” you do in recovery. Today, in Part II, I want to talk about the work that you personally put in to overcoming binge eating.
If you expect that talking to a therapist or coach, or reading a book, or joining a support group or online program will “work” by taking the urges away, then it can automatically put you in a more passive role, where you may be expecting recovery to just happen–ie: the urges to disappear. When the urges don’t disappear, it’s possible for you to assume that the therapist, support group, book…etc. didn’t work, without fully considering the work you need to put in to have success.
That’s not to say when recovery doesn’t work, it’s your fault. Not at all. There are many factors at play, and different approaches are better suited for different people. But, once you know that no recovery method will make your urges suddenly disappear, you can see clearly that there is work for you to do.
I’m not talking about work in a “nose to the grindstone” or “tough it out” sort of way. But, when you use recovery methods and resources as ways to help you stop acting on your urges, it automatically puts you in a more empowered, active role in recovery. You fully realize the work you need to do: avoid acting on every binge urge, until the binge urges stop coming. When you deeply know that is the work of recovery, your focus can shift to finding and applying what works to help you do that.
No matter what strategy for recovery you are using, you are the only one who can choose (or learn to choose) not to act on binge urges. Even if you have a lot of support, there will be moments when it’s just you and the urge. Recovery strategies and support can certainly help prepare you for those moments, but during binge urges is when you do the brain-changing work of recovery.
To think of having to avoid acting on every urge to binge may feel overwhelming to you right now, but once you can shift your perspective and achieve some separation from your urges, it will start to feel more natural to avoid acting on them. It won’t always feel comfortable, but even the most meaningful work can be unpleasant at times.
While writing this, I looked up the definition of work, which is this: An activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. Not acting on your binge urges day after day definitely fits that description. It does require mental effort and requires you to stay connected to your higher brain, and it is certainly aimed at a result that you absolutely want: to be free of binge eating.
At times, it may feel easier not to do the work of dismissing urges. It sometimes may feel easier to slip back into old habits, just as it often feels easier to get back in bed in the morning instead of going to work at your job or care for your family. But, I’m sure that you rarely get back in bed, because your sense of responsibility is too strong. The work of your recovery deserves the same sense of responsibility from you. That doesn’t mean you will do it perfectly, and never slip, but if you keep trying day after day, you will find what works for you.
If you want help in increasing your ability not to act on binge urges, and you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get started with my free eBook.
If you want extra help in making recovery work for you, the Brain over Binge Course is composed of over 125 audios to guide you and encourage you, including one audio you can listen to when you are having an urge to binge—to help you avoid acting on it. You can get access to the complete course for only $18.99 per month (no commitment required).
I know a life free of binge eating is completely possible for you, but if you are like many binge eaters who I’ve spoken to over the years, you may have a hard time believing that right now. You may have searched for years for a cure, for something to “work,” for it all to just click so that you will no longer binge. You may feel exhausted and frustrated by the search.
You may be someone who has already read my books, and you could be thinking that the method I used “worked” for me rather quickly, so it should be the same for you. You may believe that if the concepts from my books do not work right away, then you need to look for a new approach that will work. It is certainly possible that another approach may be a better fit, but if you are someone who has jumped around from one approach to another, I want you to take a minute to think about what you believe makes a recovery method “work.”
If you are holding the common belief that a recovery method only works if it gets rid of your binge urges right away, or at least very quickly, this could create some problems for you in recovery. If ‘getting rid of the urges right away’ was the measure of a successful recovery method, then the Brain over Binge approach actually didn’t work for me either.
Seeing my binge urges as meaningless, powerless, and harmless neurological junk from my lower brain didn’t make those urges go away right away, or even all that quickly. The new mindset I had changed how I perceived my urges, and it rather dramatically made me feel my own ability not to act on them. But, the urges were still there for a while.
I had to avoid acting on every binge urge until they did completely go away – about 9 months from the time I adopted my new approach. Not once during those 9 months did I think “this isn’t working.” The reason for this was that I defined success not by whether or not I had urges, but by my ability not to act on them.
In the beginning of recovery, the binge urges came frequently…and I wasn’t perfect. There were two times when I did act on the urge. The first time, I heard those familiar, lower brain reasons why I should binge, I felt the familiar craving, and I mistakenly thought it was the real “me” who wanted to binge, and I acted on it. The second time I binged, I had much more awareness of what I was doing, but ultimately, I did still act on the urge.
When I acted on those two urges, I didn’t proceed to throw out the principles that I’d learned, because they didn’t “work.” I realized that in those specific instances, I had not applied what I’d learned, and I had simply followed the urges. I did not think that I’d failed or that I needed a new approach. I recognized that I had the power to avoid acting on the very next urge and to keep my recovery going.
During those 9 months of having urges but not acting on them, I never wished the urges away or took their presence to mean something was wrong. I believe this was a big component of what allowed the approach to be effective.
My own recovery and my experience helping others has led me to believe this:
What makes recovery “work” is not what works to take your urges away. It’s what works to help you not act on them.
No matter what approach you use, the crux of recovery comes when you have a thought, feeling, or impulse encouraging you to binge, but you don’t.
When you are able to do that over and over, your brain changes, the urges gradually do go away, and your binge eating habit is erased.
If you want help in increasing your ability not to act on binge urges, and you are new to the Brain over Binge approach, you can get started with my free eBook.
If you want extra help in making recovery work for you, the Brain over Binge Course is composed of over 125 audios to guide you and encourage you, including one audio you can listen to when you are having an urge to binge—to help you avoid acting on it. You can get access to the complete course for only $18.99 per month.
The first urges to binge commonly appear after a period of restrictive dieting. The binge urges are a primal survival response—when you restrict food, the primitive part of your brain starts to encourage you to eat as much as possible. (You can learn more about this in Episode 2: The Cause of Binge Eating: Urges to Binge). To get rid of the binge urges, it’s necessary not only to stop acting on them, but also to get your body out of that “survival” state by eating enough food. You cannot continue to restrict food and expect to fully recover. That doesn’t mean you have to eat the exact, perfect amount at each and every meal; it just means that overall, you need to give your body what it needs.
You may have some hesitations about letting go of dieting, or you may think that you actually want to continue dieting, even though you certainly want to stop binge eating. It’s easier to see that binge eating is something you don’t (rationally) want in your life, but dieting can sometimes feel like a deliberate choice that is in line with your true desires. To stop dieting, it’s important to start to change your mindset and see that dieting is not actually what you want, and that it’s harming you and making recovery impossible. It’s important to explore your motivation for dieting and challenge the reasoning behind it, so that you can move toward freedom from binge eating.
Below, I’ve listed 4 common factors that may serve as your motivation for dieting. Know that more than one might apply to you, and that it’s possible to let go of all of these reasons.
Motivation for Dieting #1: None—It’s an Habit
It’s highly possible that your reason for dieting is devoid of any real, thoughtful motivation. It’s possibly you are just following the force of a habit you’ve created. You may have had some original motivation to diet at the outset, but then it simply stuck. Dieting became your norm, so you just keep doing it, without stopping to think if it is the right course of action.
Your thoughts about weight loss or perfect eating plans, or your desire to restrict calories may appear at predictable times and in predictable situations. For example, you may finish eating a nice meal at a restaurant and you may automatically have thoughts saying, “I need to work out extra and eat very little tomorrow to make up for this,” or “I need to start over with my diet tomorrow.”
Instead of considering if these thoughts are serving you, you automatically take them as truth, and don’t see that you actually do have other, healthier options. In this example, you don’t stop to rationalize that resuming normal eating at the next meal or the next time you are hungry will help you in your efforts to stop binge eating, and be much better for healthy weight maintenance in the long run. (For questions and issues surrounding weight, you can see my post: Addressing Weight Issues in Binge Eating Recovery.)
Treating the habitual dieting thoughts and urges to restrict food as neurological junk is a helpful way to overcome them and start eating adequately. At any point, you are capable of turning attention away from the faulty thoughts that say you should be dieting.
Motivation for Dieting #2: Positive Feelings
If you achieved a weight-loss goal in the past, it may have given you a temporary good feeling—a feeling of achievement, or pride, or confidence. This feeling is fleeting, but it can temporarily lift your mood and make you feel good about yourself. The problem is: if the weight-loss goal you achieved in the past or the weight-loss goal you are chasing now is outside of your natural weight range, it’s impossible to maintain that weight—or the good feelings that came along with it (or the good feelings you imagine will come along with a certain number on the scale). So, what this can lead to is a yo-yo effect where you are perpetually seeking that weight in an attempt to experience the fleeting moments of positive feelings.
But chasing those good feelings while you are making yourself miserable with strict diet rules, self-criticism, and binge eating, just isn’t worth it.
If you can see that the positive feeling (of happiness, pride, achievement, confidence) is what you actually want, you can see that you don’t need a certain number on a scale to get that feeling. You don’t need the self-sabotage of a diet to achieve a positive feeling, and you certainly don’t need to be a specific weight to experience happiness, pride, achievement, and confidence.
All of those same feelings can be achieved in a non-diet way—in a way that’s sustainable, doesn’t harm you, and doesn’t lead to binge eating. If you want a feeling of achievement, you can work toward that in other parts of your life. If you want happiness, you can find that feeling being with people you love—without your mind caught up in thinking about food. If you want confidence, you can learn a new skill that has nothing to do with weight loss. Good feelings don’t always have to be connected to accomplishments either, good feelings are available to you in simple ways.
An important thing to remember is that you won’t always feel great about yourself or reside in positive feelings all of the time; it’s normal to have ups and downs in your state of mind. The point is not to chase unrealistic goals or perform harmful behaviors in order to try to experience the ups, because the overall impact will be to bring you down.
Motivation for Dieting #3: Affection and Attention
The previous motivation was all about how dieting and weight loss makes you feel internally, but related to that is the external attention you may get for achieving a weight loss goal (which can also lead to the internal feelings). It’s possible that dieting and temporary weight loss has attracted positive attention toward you in the past, whether that was through admiration or romantic attraction, and you want that attention again. Maybe you’ve never had that type of attention, but you believe that if you can only look a certain way, you will receive it.
With this motivation for dieting, it’s important not only to see that you can get attention and affection in other ways, but that the attention and affection you receive as a result of dieting is mostly superficial. If you are only using your body to attract attention, is that truly the kind of attention you want? If you let your authentic self shine through, and let your personality and heart attract the attention, you’ll naturally get better quality attention.
Giving up dieting does not mean giving up on being a healthy, strong, well-presented person; it does not mean you’ll stop taking pride in yourself. It just means you will take pride in yourself at your natural size and not try to control your body in an effort to gain more attention. Think about how you could gain good-quality attention in your life—the kind that feels fulfilling—such as the attention you receive from helping others or giving of yourself, or from being a loyal friend/mother/father/sister/son…etc., or from being hard-working, intelligent, funny, and being appreciated for who you are.
Motivation for Dieting #4: Control
Your motivation for dieting could be that you like to feel in control. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a predictable schedule, or manage your life, or even have a plan for your eating, feeling like you need to perfectly control everything you put in your mouth can backfire (for more on this, you can read my post about not overdoing self-control). Eating is a natural, fundamental biological drive and it doesn’t lend itself well to being perfectly controlled, especially when that “control” means deprivation.
When you over-control your eating by not giving yourself enough food, your lower brain gets the message that you are starving and heightens your desire and drive to eat. So, the “control” actually leads to the opposite effect of you feeling more out of control.
If you feel like your life is unstable (everyone does to some extent just by the fragile nature of our existence), and over-controlling your eating seems appealing, try to focus on taking some control elsewhere. Try to see if there is an area of your life that you can put energy into managing better, which won’t backfire and lead you to feeling more out of control. Maybe that means seeking more career stability, or improving a relationship, or organizing your home, or developing a more consistent schedule. Doing those things doesn’t cure an eating disorder, but anything that will take your focus away from restrictive dieting helps break the habit.
Also, changing how you think about the concept of control can be helpful as well. We truly aren’t in control of everything, even most things, in our lives, and trying to pretend that we are often leads to frustration and exhaustion. There is freedom in getting comfortable with knowing you are not in control, and that may even lead you toward spirituality, or a deeper perspective of the universe.
Don’t Get Caught Up In Analysis
Keep in mind that your motivation for dieting may not be very “deep” at all. You may have simply wanted to lose some weight, and it seemed innocent enough at the time. This was similar to my experience, which I detailed in Brain over Binge. Maybe your friends or family members were dieting, and that gave you motivation to restrict your food too, and you didn’t think too much about it. You just tried it without knowledge of what would happen, and it turned out to be a bad experience that led to binge eating. You can now learn from that experience and not repeat it in the future—no further analysis necessary.
Even if you feel there are deeper and stronger motivations for why you started dieting and why you continued, that doesn’t mean you should spend too much time dwelling on those motivations, or trying to solve everything before moving forward with giving up the harmful dieting behavior. Just take an honest look at what your biggest motivation for dieting might be and then try to find a new, healthier perspective. (You can also listen to podcast Episode 48: How Do I Get Rid of the Dieting Mentality in Binge Eating Recovery?)
Dieting is ultimately a choice—one that brings consequences, and one that is detrimental for your recovery from binge eating. For whatever reason, it made sense for you at one point in time to begin dieting, and until now, it may have seemed to make sense to continue dieting. But, at any point, you can make a new choice that is more beneficial to your recovery and to your life as a whole.
I hope that this blog post helps support you in choosing to eat adequately and nourishing your body. When you eat enough food, it makes dismissing the binge urges possible and takes you a long way toward complete freedom from disordered eating.
If you need more guidance in eating adequately, the Brain over Binge Course is a powerful resource. 4 out of the 8 lessons of the course focus on adequate eating, and many of the course’s Q&A audios address giving up dieting and learning to eat in a way that works for you. The course is only $18.99 per month with no commitment.
To stop binge eating, you have to want to…not in every moment, but on the whole, you have to have reasons why you no longer want the destructive habit in your life. If you feel very little or no desire for recovery, then your higher brain is likely to continue following the binge urges from the lower brain. Your higher self needs to be motivated in some way, for any approach to work for you.
Most people have inspirational motivations for recovery, like becoming a better friend, parent, daughter/son, spouse, or being able to focus more on their career, or having more energy to pursue goals, or having more time to travel, or being able to better serve others, or simply enjoying life more. Your motivation could be highly specific, based on things you want to accomplish in the near future. It is very helpful to reflect often on your reasons for recovery, and consistently remind yourself why you want to stop binge eating.
But, what happens when you have days where you can’t seem to find anything positive about your life?
What if your main motivation for recovery is to succeed in your career, but then you lose your job? What if you want to recover so that you can heal your relationship with your spouse, but then the marriage falls apart…even while you are binge-free? What if you come to the realization that you can’t possibly achieve a particular goal due to a physical or financial limitation? What if everything seems to be going wrong in your life?
Then, what happens to your motivation for recovery?
You might notice that when it feels like things in your life are falling apart, your motivation for recovery feels like it’s falling apart as well.
You may have an urge to binge (because that’s what your lower brain has been conditioned to think you need, regardless of what’s going on in your life), and then you may experience thoughts like this: “You’ll never achieve your goals, so what’s the point of even trying to recover?”…or… “Life is so hard anyway, even without binge eating, so you might as well binge”…or… “You wanted to recover so that you could enjoy life, and life sucks, so there is no reason to dismiss this urge to binge.”
You can of course dismiss all of those binge-encouraging thoughts as neurological junk, and avoiding giving them any attention or value. However, an additional technique is to reframe how you think about your motivation to recover–in order to make those type of thoughts seem even less logical.
What I mean by this is to adjust how you think about your reasons for recovery, so that those reasons are not only about things going well in your life.
Although it’s great to imagine hopeful possibilities for yourself after recovery, I would suggest that your core motivation for recovery be this: Freedom
I realize that sounds cliché. I know you want freedom from binge eating, or you wouldn’t be reading this; but I will explain further how viewing freedom as your fundamental motivation can provide protection against your reasons for recovery falling apart when you have hard days.
When I was in the depths of binge eating, I thought of freedom as a vehicle for achieving my other motivations for recovery: Freedom from binge eating was how I was going to become a better friend, freedom was how I’d be able to become successful in a career, freedom was how I’d finally be able to enjoy my life.
But as it turned out, freedom was the goal in and of itself, whether or not I lived up to any of my other expectations.
Once I was free from binge eating, I could even be a terrible wife or friend, completely fail in my career, not accomplish goals and still not feel tempted by thoughts saying “you might as well binge.” I realize that may sound a little odd, because of course, being unsuccessful was not actually a goal of mine, but there were (and still are) days when I did not even come close to the expectations I had for myself, and times when the reasons I wanted to recover didn’t even begin to materialize.
But I was still free.
I was free to fail, and not worry that a binge would result. I was free to have horrible days, and cope the best way I knew how, because I knew binge eating was never truly a way to cope. I had the freedom to pick myself back up when relationships went badly, or when life didn’t go as planned, without having to pick myself back up from a binge as well.
Desiring freedom is about desiring the opportunity to experience all of what is means to be human, even the bad parts, without binge eating getting in the way.
Freedom does not hinge on your accomplishments, or what’s going on around you, or your success in relationships, or your own happiness. The other motivations that you have are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but when freedom provides the foundation, you always have a reason to recover.
Using freedom as motivation is also helpful if you can’t find many reasons to recover in the first place. If binge eating has been clouding your life for a long time, you may not be able to fully see what your life could be like after recovery. But, no matter what life brings, the opportunity to have freedom from food issues is invaluable. You’ll be free from the shame, the physical discomfort, and the feeling of being out of control of your own life. If you can experience even a moment of freedom from the consequences of binge eating, and get excited about it, it can solidify your desire to keep recovering, despite your uncertainty about what your life will be like afterward.
Freedom, in and of itself, is worth the effort you are putting into quitting this habit.
I encourage you to keep focusing on all of your motivations to recover, but remember that underneath those reasons lies a desire to be free to live the whole of your life – the good and the bad – without the pain of binge eating.
If you want practical guidance toward complete freedom, please join me on July 17th (2023) at 8pm for the 2-Hour Course, an online event where I will teach you the Brain over Binge approach and address any challenges you have. Learn more:
When I struggled with binge eating, it seemed like alcohol often ruined my progress in recovery. I’d have days when I felt like I was doing pretty well—my eating was relatively normal and I felt like maybe I would make it through the day without a binge. Then, I’d get invited out to have drinks, and it seemed like my desire for recovery faded, so that by the time I got home, I didn’t hesitate to follow my urge to binge.
To avoid acting on the urge to binge, you have to use your prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain responsible for self-control and rational decision-making. The problem is: Alcohol directly affects the prefrontal cortex and reduces your ability to make sound decisions.
Does This Mean Everyone Trying to Quit Binge Eating Should Abstain From Alcohol?
Not necessarily, but I think it’s an important decision that each person in recovery from bulimia or binge eating disorder needs to make. I hope some information in this post will help you decide how you want to handle alcohol as you are breaking the binge eating habit, and you can also listen to my podcast episode on this same topic of alcohol and binge eating.
I want to first share my personal story of alcohol use during binge eating recovery, and then give you some advice to help you decide what is right for you.
When alcohol seemed to interfere with my progress, I had not yet discovered the brain-based information that I shared in my books. I still had the mindset that I was diseased or powerless over my desire to binge, and that I needed to solve my underlying emotional issues and learn to cope with problems more effectively before I could say no to binges each and every time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to resist urges to binge, but it usually felt like a losing battle, and that was especially the case when I drank alcohol.
At the time, the things I thought I needed to do to avoid a binge—like journaling about my feelings, or engaging in healthy self care, or reducing my anxiety, or trying to get my emotional needs met —- just didn’t feel doable when I was drinking. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to engage with any of those activities, which rarely helped me avoid a binge anyway. Under the influence of alcohol, I was much more likely to say screw it, and go right into the harmful binge eating behavior without even trying to avoid it.
Once I changed my approach to recovery, and realized I had the power to stop acting on my urges regardless of my mental or emotional state, then avoiding binges while drinking suddenly became possible. (If you are new here and want to learn about the Brain over Binge approach, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics.) Because of this new and empowering mindset, I felt confident that I wouldn’t binge, even after drinking.
However, I was not a frequent or heavy drinker. At the time I recovered in 2005, I was only having one or two beers or glasses of wine a couple times per month. Since it only took a few months for my binge urges to decrease significantly, this only gave me about six times to experience the effects of alcohol on my binge urges and my ability to avoid acting on them. So, I do not have significant personal experience with the combination of alcohol and binge urges when using this brain-based approach; but looking back, I do not remember it being any harder to avoid binges when I was drinking.
I believe this was due to the simplicity of my new approach to recovery. I no longer felt like I needed to deal with my emotional issues, or stress level, or problems to avoid a binge. I only needed to see the binge urges for what they were — automatic, faulty messages from my lower brain that no longer meant anything to me — and then just move on with my life. I had the mental capacity to do this even when under the influence of alcohol. I saw those binge-promoting thoughts in the same way that I saw other outrageous thoughts that popped up when I was drinking. Alcohol only reduces self-control functioning in the brain, it does not eliminate self-control completely. I knew there were many things I could trust myself not to do even while drinking, and binge eating became one of those things.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Ability to Avoid Binges?
In talking to others who have more experience with alcohol while trying to stop bulimia or binge eating disorder, I’ve found that alcohol can cloud thinking and reduce self-control so much that the binge urges feel very compelling. This only makes sense due to the way alcohol inhibits the prefrontal cortex, which I also call the higher brain.
With each drink, the prefrontal cortex is impaired a little more until you feel like you have little control over your voluntary actions. This can make you more likely to act in habitual and survival-oriented ways. Since binge eating is a habit and a survival response, this means that alcohol primes you to use the neural pathways in the lower brain that drive the binge eating habit, instead of the newly developing pathways in the higher brain that are working on recovery.
You may also feel less motivated toward recovery when you are drinking. This is because the prefrontal cortex also gives you your identity and allows you to think about long term goals and plans. When this more sophisticated part of the brain isn’t at full strength, you tend to act in ways that are out of character, and you tend to focus more on immediate gratification, and you temporarily don’t care about the consequences of your behaviors. You put what you truly want (recovery) aside and fall into a screw it mindset when you are being driven by the more primitive part of your brain.
Furthermore, alcohol strengthens those primitive parts of the brain that drive habitual behaviors. In other words, it has the opposite effect on the lower brain and the higher brain. Drinking causes a release in dopamine, which arouses pleasure and reward circuitry in the lower brain. It basically makes you more pleasure-seeking, and since the lower brain senses that binge eating is a form of pleasure, this could mean an increase in your urges to binge. However, this is not the case for everyone who struggles with bulimia or binge eating disorder. You may find that alcohol and the feelings it gives you are pleasurable on their own, without triggering a desire for the temporary and harmful pleasure of a binge (which always results in pain).
How Should You Deal with Alcohol as You Recover from Binge Eating?
Even if you know you have power over your urges, even if you understand that you don’t have to act on them (listen to Episode 4 for more on how to stop acting on urges to binge), drinking may tip the balance in favor of your lower brain so much that you find yourself binge eating. In the moment, you may feel like you don’t even care about recovery, and you may believe the thoughts that say, just one last time, and you can quit tomorrow. Drinking may even take away the sting of regret you usually feel right after the binge; but, when you wake up the next day, your rational brain will return and you’ll remember your desire for recovery and wish you had not binged.
On the other hand, you may be someone who can avoid the I don’t care mindset that sometimes gets drunk people to do things they regret. This could be due to a difference in personality types or a difference in the way alcohol affects each person physiologically. You may be someone who feels confident in your ability to say no to binge urges, no matter how many drinks you have. Or, you may be somewhere in between, and find that you only feel in control up to a certain point. After 2 drinks, you might feel like you can easily avoid the harmful lower-brain-driven behaviors, but after 4 drinks, a binge starts to seems much more compelling.
Even though I personally felt like I could avoid a binge even if I was drinking, I didn’t put it to the test with larger amounts of alcohol. Not drinking a lot wasn’t something I resolved to do to help recovery —- I just wasn’t into drinking very much at the time. There were previous times, in college, when I did have more than a couple drinks, and can’t say for sure whether the new brain-based perspective that eventually helped me recover would have prevented binges during those times or not. I’d like to think that binge eating was so off limits in my mind that I still would have been able to say no, just like I always said no to driving after drinking.
I encourage you to think about the experiences you’ve had with alcohol and binge eating, and decide on a plan that works for you. Think about the way alcohol makes you feel in relation to your urges to binge, and your motivation toward recovery. Considering how alcohol affects the brain, it’s best to proceed with caution when you drink. You may even decide to give up alcohol completely until you’ve significantly weakened the binge eating habit or ended it altogether. Alternately, you may decide to simply limit your alcohol intake until you feel much more confident in your recovery. You can always make changes over time as you make progress in stopping the binge eating habit.
*This post is for recovering binge eaters whose drinking is already within reasonable limits. This post is not for people who feel like they have a problem with alcohol. If your drinking feels out of control, please seek appropriate help.