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Indulging in Food, Part 3: Getting over Overindulging

This is the third and final post in my blog series on indulging in food. If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2, I recommend you do that before continuing with this post. In those previous two posts, I talked about what indulging may mean to you, how you can think about indulging, and I reminded you that’s it’s normal and okay to indulge in food.

But, what if you think your particular form of indulging is problematic? What if you feel your indulging is more frequent than it should be?  What if you worry that you’re eating too much when you indulge?  What if you think you are overindulging?

If you are certain that you’re not defining indulging with a restrictive mindset (see Part 1), then this may be something to look at and address.

In this post, I’m going to break down how and why indulging could be problematic, and I’ll give you some guidance in normalizing it. First, I’ll take you through a series of questions that will help you determine if this is an issue for you, and then I’ll explain how you can start to overcome it.

Is your indulging a problem?

Have you very recently stopped binge eating (or are you still binge eating)?

In the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, I described a process that former binge eaters may go through when binge eating stops – I called it a bridge to normal eating. This is to meant to convey that you probably won’t go from binge eating to 100 percent normal eating habits overnight, and it could take time for you to feel like you are on steady ground with food. When you are a binge eater, you become accustomed to eating large amounts of food; and even when you stop the harmful binge eating behavior, you may find yourself overeating a little more than you’d like, and that includes over-indulging in pleasurable food a little more than you’d like.

I don’t think you should waste energy worrying about this, and instead you should stay focused on becoming confidently binge-free. Your physiology will gradually stabilize, blood sugar regulation can correct itself*, and the size of your stomach can return to normal, so that normal amounts of food and normal-sized indulgences will feel more satisfying. (*ln talking about physiological issues, I want to remind you to seek professional medical and nutritional support as needed). 

So, if you are only recently removed from binge eating, and you think you may be overindulging, try to give it some time and allow your body to heal. If the issue does not resolve itself over time, then you can begin to address it. The same advice applies if you are still binge eating – try not to worry about any overindulging right now and focus instead on ending the binge eating habit and allowing your body to regulate. Then, you’ll be in a better place to work on any eating issues that remain.

Do strong cravings primarily drive your indulgences?

There’s a difference between deciding to go out for ice cream with your family, and impulsively driving to the nearest fast food restaurant for a milkshake in response to strong sugar cravings. Neither situation is a binge, but if you feel like you are being overrun by your cravings, then it’s going to feel more problematic than if your decision to indulge feels rather calm and relaxed. Even if the desserts in both scenarios contain a similar amount of sugar and calories, you’ll feel more conscious and in control in the first example of getting ice cream than in the second example, when you feel more like you are being controlled by your desires.

Even though there is certainly food pleasure in both situations, they feel very different. If strong and uncomfortable cravings are the driving force behind most of your indulgent eating, then I believe this is something to work on, and you can start by using the suggestions I’ll give at the end of this post.

Are you obsessing over your indulgences?

If thinking about your food indulgences and looking forward to them takes up too much mental space, that’s another reason indulging could feel like a problem to you. Normal indulgence isn’t something that consumes your thoughts in a bothersome way. It’s something you decide to do, either in the moment or by planning it beforehand, but it doesn’t feel like an absolute priority in your life. If getting your treats feels so important that you can’t focus on anything else, and it causes you to lose sight of what is truly important to you, then you’ll definitely want to bring food indulgence back into it’s proper place in your life.

Are the consequences of indulging too great?

Even if you don’t feel driven by strong cravings, and even if you aren’t obsessing about indulgences beforehand, you may be experiencing problems after indulging. You may be someone whose decision to have ice cream in the first example leads to uncomfortable digestive issues or an exacerbation of certain inflammatory symptoms. You may have a health condition that makes the indulgences you are choosing too physically damaging for you personally.

You can start to find replacements that are equally or nearly as enjoyable, or you may need to let certain indulgences go in the name of better health. Do not take this too far by completely banning anything that is not healthy, but if you have specific symptoms and issues with certain pleasurable foods, then it’s time to take a look at that and to change how you approach indulging in food.

Are you too often saying,”it’s okay to indulge”?  

Yes, it’s true that indulging in food is okay, but if you hear this thought over and over in your head and it justifies overeating every day, or even at every meal, then it’s going to feel problematic. It’s definitely a good thing to remind yourself that indulging in food is okay, and that you don’t need to be restrictive (especially when you are learning to let go of dieting); but know that you don’t have to eat anything and everything that comes into your mind. Take an honest look at your behavior, and know that you get to decide when it is okay to indulge, and when it may not be the best idea. You get to strike a balance that works for you.

How to get over overindulging:

The simple advice I’m going to give you about dealing with overindulging can be organized into five D’s:

Define (what indulgences are okay to you) – Take some time to think about what indulging means to you and how you want it in your life (see Part 1 and Part 2 for help). This will provide guidance when you have opportunities and/or desires to indulge, and you hear that voice in your head saying “it’s okay to indulge.” If you’ve already defined what’s okay and not okay for your personally, then it becomes clear whether or not you will follow that voice. You do not need to set exact, strict rules, and in fact, I would not recommend that at all. It’s best just to have a general idea of what food indulgences you want in your life.

Desire (accept it and possibly address it) – Desire may or may not be present prior to indulging. If it is, it’s okay – a normal, healthy desire for pleasurable eating is not a problem. Desire is part of our human nature. I realize that here I could insert an entire book about the effects of modern foods on cravings, and I understand that many theories abound. However, I believe it’s best to keep it simple and realize that desire has always been a part of the human condition, but we have choice available to us.

Based on that, my first piece of advice about desire is to accept that desire is okay, but also to know that it doesn’t mean you are destined to have what you are craving.

When you have desires, try to pause and determine the course of action you want to take. That may be to have the indulgence you are craving (and not binge afterward); that may be to have a healthier food option; that may be to do another activity. That may also include developing an overall strategy for addressing the cravings you feel are out of the range of normal. Cravings can be dismissed like binge urges, but additionally, you may want to get help regulating blood sugar and hormones through nutritional support or a medical workup. You can also look into improving sleep, reducing stress, and improving hydration, which can all help reduce some cravings.

Decide – This is where your power of choice comes in. It’s important to realize that you are the one eating the food. Your cravings do not control your voluntary muscle movements, even if you have physiological imbalances that are causing those cravings. This is not about blame, it’s about empowering you to feel like you can choose what you indulge in.

I believe that bringing the power of choice into your eating decisions is how indulging stays in the proper place in your life. Because, even if strong cravings are present, and even if you do decide to have the indulgence you are craving, you can still feel conscious and in control. You have the freedom to decide to indulge anytime, and you also have the freedom to decide against it when it doesn’t feel like the right decision for you.

Deliberately enjoy the indulgence: You don’t have to eat super-slowly, or chew a certain number of times, or avoid doing anything else while you are eating; but try to slow down enough to enjoy what you are indulging in. If you are eating rapidly, or eating mindlessly in front of the TV or in the car, it will feel more impulsive and potentially problematic. Eating a little more deliberately goes hand in hand with deciding to indulge. It’s another way of keeping your higher brain engaged, realizing what you are doing, and proving to yourself that you are in control.

Delicious! – This is a bonus “D” to remind you that you can and should enjoy eating and indulging. When you indulge, it’s perfectly okay to soak in the pleasure (without the guilt!). Then, when you are done, put the food aside and move on with you life.

I hope this series on indulging has been helpful to you! I realize it’s been a lot of information, so thanks for staying with me!

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If you want to end the binge eating habit, you can download my 30-page free eBook, which will teach you all of the basics of the Brain over Binge approach.
Brain over Binge PDF

Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part III

I’ve been talking about eliminating foods, for those who want to do so in order to lead a healthier lifestyle (see Eliminating Foods Part I and Part II).  In this post, I’m going to discuss the importance of replacing foods you are trying to eliminate and how to avoid letting your healthy changes turn into restrictive dieting.  But first, I’m going to talk briefly about my own experience with needing to eliminate foods, something I addressed in Brain over Binge.

Since I recovered over 8 years ago, I’ve gone through 4 extended periods of time that I’ve had to completely eliminate certain foods. My first child developed allergic colitis only several weeks after birth (a condition where the baby’s immune system overreacts to food proteins in the mother’s milk, which leads to irritation/inflammation, ulcerations, and even some bleeding in the colon).  To treat this, I had to give up all dairy (and beef), wheat, soy, eggs, and nuts for several months.  When I gave birth the second time, I hoped it wouldn’t happen again; but sure enough, when my daughter was a few weeks old she began developing the same symptoms.  This time, I knew exactly what to do to help her, so I went on an elimination diet again; and within a couple weeks, her symptoms disappeared. For my 3rd and 4th babies,  I didn’t even want to risk it so I stopped all dairy one month prior giving birth.  My 3rd baby did fine, but my 4th(who is now 8 months), had some symptoms despite the elimination of dairy and there was about a 6-week period when I had to eat nothing but potatoes, turkey/chicken, olive oil, almonds, and some mild vegetables and fruits in order to clear up his digestive tract.  (On a side note, all my children are fine now.  An infant’s intestines are porous until around 6 months, which allows proteins to pass though; but when the pores start to close, their bodies gradually stop producing the adverse immune response. It’s not a true allergy, just a temporary protein sensitivity).

I talked a little in Brain over Binge about how restricting my diet in this way didn’t cause any problem for me.  It never felt like a “diet,” or like I was depriving myself (Ok, maybe I did feel a little sorry for myself sometimes as I watched the rest of my family munch down a pizza and I was eating my 3rd meal of sweet potatoes and chicken for the day:-)).  Although it was inconvenient to have a lack of freedom around food, and it’s not something I’d want to continue for a long period of time; it wasn’t a bad experience at all.  There was always a choice to put my babies on hypoallergenic formula, but that would have been costly and not as healthy for them.  I chose to change my diet, and I felt like I was doing the right thing for my babies.

In the same way, people who lead healthy lifestyles and nourish their bodies well with real food don’t feel “deprived” when they eliminate certain foods. They know they are doing right for their bodies, and they feel good doing it; and in all likelihood, they would actually feel “deprived” if they were forced to eat a diet consisting of a lot of processed, low-nutrient food. Wanting to nourish yourself well, and therefore avoiding foods that have no benefit to you, is much different than trying to force yourself to follow a bunch of food rules and starving yourself just so that you can lose weight.

It is possible to make healthy changes (or even eliminate a certain food completely because it creates an adverse reaction) without it turning into a rigid diet; and sometimes the difference is simply in your mindset. I recently came across a book that does a wonderful job of explaining why there is no need to think in terms of rules, restrictions, and prohibitions when it comes to taking on a healthier lifestyle. It’s called Ditching Diets, by Gillian Riley. I’ve had a few of my own readers tell me that this book is helpful to read along with Brain over Binge, especially if a very healthy lifestyle is desired. Ditching Diets discusses some of the same concepts that my book does, but with a greater focus on helping you let go of the “dieting mindset,” and addressing lesser forms of addictive overeating (that gray area that doesn’t feel like a binge, but also not like you’d want to be eating).

What I liked best about this book was how Gillian Riley drove home the idea that we all have free choice about what and how we eat, and everyone is capable of achieving freedom and peace with food – without solving emotional problems first.  But, she also makes clear that having freedom with food doesn’t mean we’ll just be eating a bunch of junk all the time because we are free to do so.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite:  once we feel our free choice and give up dieting, we will be more likely to make better choices.

I could relate to so much of what this book talked about, because I’ve experienced it.  When I was dieting, I indeed felt deprived when I created a lot of food rules and avoided certain “fattening” foods (and I ended up eating much more of those same foods as a result of the deprivation).  However, now, I don’t have the same reaction when I choose to avoid an unhealthy food (or when I gave up countless foods while breastfeeding). Without the dieting mindset, passing up a certain type of food doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out on something, and doesn’t create powerful cravings.  

As you know from my book and other blog posts, I’m far from being a “perfect” eater (which doesn’t even exist because nutrition science is constantly expanding and changing). I eat unhealthy foods sometimes, but as Ditching Diets does such a good job of explaining, when there is a strong sense of free choice about how you eat (and you don’t feel out of control), choosing to eat less than ideal foods isn’t a problem – it’s simply a choice with certain outcomes you have to be prepared to accept.  Yes, I choose convenience over nutrition when my life is busy; but yes, I also strive to nourish my body well as much as I can.  This is a balancing act that everyone must manage, but it never has to be all or nothing, it never has to be perfection or binge. 

If you are taking on a healthy lifestyle, I think it’s very important to make sure you have enjoyable and nourishing replacements for the foods you are not eating.  I know this seems pretty obvious, but sometimes people forget the “enjoyable” part, and then get trapped in the dieting/deprivation mindset.  The goal should be to find foods you like to eat, and that make you feel good as well, which may take some experimenting.  To illustrate this, I’m going to give one example from my own life of a food my family has been trying to avoid, and how we’ve replaced it:

My kids love waffles (they like peanut butter and maple syrup on them, which I think is a bit odd, but they got it from their daddy:-)), and I slowly got into the habit of giving them processed, pre-packaged waffles too often.  At the end of my 4th pregnancy and after my son was born in November, the older 3 kids ate the pre-packaged waffles every single day. I was so exhausted and sleep-deprived that I couldn’t find time or energy for anything better first thing in the morning, and it was the only easy breakfast that all of them liked. Around the end of 2012, my husband and I decided that we’d find a way to make healthy, homemade waffles so our kids could get a better start to their day.  We experimented with some recipes and finally found something that worked –  using eggs, coconut milk, coconut flour, baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, and honey.  The waffles are delicious!  I make a big batch each week and I freeze them, so that the mornings are just as easy as when we bought the frozen Eggo waffles. If you asked my kids, I’m sure they would still say they like the “waffles from the store” better, but they eat up the ones I make. I know this is a simple example, but just keep in mind that there are enjoyable, healthier replacements for foods that you want to avoid.
 
Finally, as a reminder from my last post, try to keep making healthy changes to your diet separate from quitting binge eating.  That way, if you choose to eat a couple processed waffles one morning, you won’t pay any attention when your lower brain says, “you already ate 2, you might as well have the whole box.”

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics.

If you want more help in ending binge eating, and direct coaching from me on issues like the one discussed here, you can learn about the Brain over Binge Course.

Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part II

Continuing on the topic of eliminating foods (see Eliminating Foods, Part I), I want to discuss a possible obstacle you might encounter if you are trying to eliminate unhealthy foods while also attempting to quit binge eating. The reason I want to address this topic is because I’ve heard from many people who truly desire to have a very healthy diet, and don’t want any processed/”junk” foods in their life; and while this can be a worthwhile goal to have, it ends up complicating recovery for some people.

Here’s why I think that happens:

The binge eater merges the part of themselves that wants to binge with the part of themselves that wants the foods they are trying to eliminate. They begin to apply the lower brain/higher brain idea to the consumption of any junk food, by viewing their lower brain as their “unhealthy eating” brain, and their higher brain as their “healthy/clean eating brain.”  I don’t think this is useful, especially when first trying to quit binge eating, because it can lead to an “all or nothing” trap.

Everyone has food cravings, but when you start trying to view all of your cravings for anything unhealthy as neurological junk, it can be overwhelming.  It can lead you to believe that if you follow a desire for a dessert, or some processed/fast food that your lower brain has already won.  “See, you can’t control yourself,” your addicted brain will say, “you might as well binge.”  And, you might be primed to believe it because in your mind you have hard proof that you are weak – after all, you ate unhealthy food when you were committed to a good diet.

Try not to think that you have a “good brain” and a “bad brain.”  This is not the case at all.  Your primal brain with it’s pleasure centers might indeed be behind your cravings for some junk food, but everyone has this, and has to decide to what extent to follow those cravings. Craving some french fries doesn’t make you abnormal or weak, and it certainly doesn’t mean your animal brain controls you.  If you choose to have the fries, great…enjoy them!  If you choose not to, then that’s great too…have some carrot sticks with almond butter instead:-)  Don’t think that if you choose the french fries you are giving into a binge urge.  Likewise, don’t think that if you decide on the carrot sticks, that depriving yourself of the fries will lead you to binge.  It won’t.  There will be other opportunities for fries.  Try to keep this simple – make your food choices and move on, knowing that it’s only the binge urges that you are trying to correct right now.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I personally don’t think that eliminating all unhealthy foods while trying to quit binge eating is the best course of action; but I understand the reasons for it, and I appreciate that people want to be healthy.  If you truly want to eliminate a certain food group or all processed foods for health reasons, try to keep that endeavor separate from quitting binge eating. Then, even if you aren’t able to eliminate the foods you don’t want in your diet, you can still completely recover from bulimia or BED.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the importance of replacing foods you are trying to eliminate and not letting your attempts to eat healthy turn into restrictive dieting.

Go to Part III.

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, “The Brain over Binge Basics”

If you want more help in ending binge eating, and direct coaching from me on issues like the one discussed here, you can learn about the Brain over Binge Course.

Eliminating Foods in Binge Eating Recovery, Part I

This is the first of a 3-part series on eliminating foods from our diets (for health reasons). In this post, I will simply share a Q&A from an interview I did with Rande McDaniel at the Vegetable Centric Kitchen.  This gives my basic opinions on the topic, and in the next 2 posts, I’ll elaborate some more.

6. Before your book I read in many eating-disorder style books that we should never restrict anything, or omit any food from our diets or we’re guaranteed to binge on it. On some level I believed this so yes, it lead to bingeing. What are your thoughts on someone who wants to take on a healthy diet/lifestyle that may omit certain foods (processed foods, etc)?

I certainly don’t believe that omitting something from your diet guarantees that you will binge on it. There seems to be a divide in the eating disorder community with the majority of eating disorder experts saying that we should not omit any foods, but other treatment groups – like Food Addicts Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous – saying that eliminating problematic foods is necessary for recovery. Quite simply, I don’t believe that the types of food you eat or don’t eat cause binge eating – the urges to binge cause binge eating.

Might eliminating a certain food – or on the flip side, eating a certain food – lead to an urge to binge? Absolutely. But, we always remain in control of what we do when we experience an urge to binge. So, whether you chose to eliminate certain foods for health reasons or not, it doesn’t have to affect recovery. I personally believe that, when recovering from binge eating, it’s most helpful to allow all types of foods in moderation so that you can de-condition associations between eating certain foods and binge eating. The good news is: when you feel you can control yourself around any food, you are free to make any dietary changes you see fit.

I am trying to keep a narrow focus on using my own experience to help people stop binge eating, not necessarily to have a perfect diet or maintain a perfect weight, because I am not an expert in those areas. However, I will mention a few things I personally believe are important to remember if someone wants to implement healthy dietary changes. First, I think it’s very important to make sure to eat enough. It’s easy to become overzealous about a healthy diet, and in so doing, deprive the body of necessary calories, which can lead to strong survival-driven cravings and even urges to binge. Second, I think it’s helpful to remember that the body and brain will likely protest even a healthy change in diet. We become accustomed to eating certain types of food, and even though avoiding them might be beneficial, the body/brain may still react with strong cravings for the foods we are used to. However, if we can stick with it, healthier eating habits will become the norm, and cravings for the unhealthy habits will subside.

The third thing I think is important to remember is that maintaining an extremely healthy diet is difficult, so I think it’s important to cut yourself some slack if you can’t always eat perfectly. I think having the mindset that you can never “break” your healthy diet can cause some people unwanted stress, and it can also lead to a tendency to overindulge when they do eat something that’s not healthy. Sure, you might chose to have some processed food now and then even while trying to lead a healthy lifestyle; but it doesn’t have to lead to overeating or binge eating.
See Part II and Part III of this series for more.

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, “The Brain over Binge Basics”

If you want more help in ending binge eating, and direct coaching from me on issues like the one discussed here, you can learn about the Brain over Binge Course.