[This is the Part II post of the Binge Eating Recovery During a Crisis series. Read Part I]. This is an unprecedented time, and no one is handling these sudden life changes perfectly; and no one is handling their anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness perfectly either. You may find yourself feeling lost, distracted, and questioning so much in your life. How can you best protect yourself and others from becoming sick? How are you going to work through quarantine and provide for your family? How is your business going to survive? How are you going to home school your children? How are you going to continue pursuing a hobby or sport that you love? How are you going to keep exercising? and…
How are you going to eat during quarantine? The answer to this question and all of the others is: imperfectly. If you are struggle with binge eating, the imperfection surrounding your eating may be giving you a lot of anxiety, and I’m writing today to help you with that.
You can only do the best you can given the circumstances. You can’t expect yourself to keep it all together and have a flawless plan for every area of your life. This is not going to be a smooth ride, and we are all going to need to continue to adapt to changes in the way we live, work, connect with others, and eat.
Anxiety about imperfect eating during isolation
Even if you were able to accept some imperfection in your eating prior to this crisis, maybe it feels different now. Maybe it feels like your eating is just too far from what you consider ideal, and too different from how you were eating just a few weeks ago, and you aren’t sure what to do.
If you struggle with bulimia or binge eating disorder, your anxiety about how you are eating may be more intense than it is for people who do not have a history of binge eating, but you are definitely not alone in feeling “off” with your eating during this difficult time. I’m sure you have noticed that many people are helping themselves cope with this situation through humor, and there are a lot of memes going around that relate to eating too much or too unhealthy while at home and isolated. Although people are joking about it, that doesn’t mean they’re not distressed by it. Even people who don’t have issues with food may find themselves out of their normal eating routines, and may find themselves grazing or snacking more, or not having any structure surrounding meals.
Most people have also found themselves eating lower quality food. When another paycheck is uncertain, or nonexistent, or business is way down because people aren’t buying non-essentials, it only makes sense that we would try to do whatever we can do to spend less, and our grocery bill is one area that most of us are trying to reduce. The reality is that cheaper food is typically lower quality food. People who were previously buying higher quality food and organic food are now opting for the less expensive options, and options with longer shelf lives in case we are in our homes for a while. For most of us, this means less fresh foods and more packaged, processed foods.
Please do not criticize yourself for this. The issue of poor quality food being cheaper is something that is problematic in society, but that multifaceted issue isn’t going to be solved right now during this crisis, and it does you no good to be upset about it at this time. You simply have to deal with what is, and feeling guilty about eating more processed foods or beating yourself up over not eating organic foods isn’t going to help.
I’m not saying to just give up on health and to only buy junk food, because there are ways to spend less and still get as much nutrition as possible. But the reality is that you probably didn’t have a plan in place for that, and it’s just not your highest priority right now, and you are definitely not alone. I’m also not saying to give up on having any structure in your daily eating, because it may indeed help you to work on having meals and snacks at relatively consistent times. What I am saying is that during this crisis, your eating will likely include a significant amount of imperfection, and that goes for binge eaters and non-binge eaters alike.
A new perspective on imperfection
Instead of being frustrated by your imperfect eating or feeling like it’s a roadblock to your recovery from binge eating, you can see it as an opportunity. It provides an opportunity to accept imperfection in your eating, and still not binge. It provides an opportunity to learn that you are not powerless around foods you may have previously tried to avoid. It provides an opportunity for you to see that you can snack often, or graze too much, or be out of your normal routine, and stay binge-free. It provides an opportunity for you to realize that you don’t have to get your eating exactly “right” to recover. In fact, you can eat very “wrong” (according to your own standards, or common health advice) and still not binge.
It’s common for people with eating disorders to think that they need to eat in a certain way to prevent binges, and this is your chance to truly see that this is not the case. If you follow my work, this is not a new concept for you, and you might even be tired of me saying that you don’t need to eat perfectly to recover from binge eating. But it’s so important, and that’s why I consistently remind you that life can get in the way of your eating plans, and it’s okay if you don’t eat healthy all of the time, and it’s fine if you choose fast food or convenience food, and it’s normal to overeat sometimes; and despite all of that imperfection, you can you can stay binge-free. This may have sounded great to you in theory, but now is your chance to powerfully experience it for yourself.
I think when I say “it’s okay to eat imperfectly,” many people believe I’m talking about slight imperfections, like maybe stopping at a fast food restaurant once per week, or eating a few bites of chocolate after dinner, or buying regular milk instead of organic milk. But I’m actually talking about much, much more imperfection than that. You can eat fast food or processed food at every meal, or eat desert after every meal, or have most of your eating be grazing, and you can still not binge. Of course, I know you aren’t going to want to eat that way on a consistent basis, because it will negatively affect your quality of life and your health over time; but if it happens, I want you to know that you retain the ability to avoid binges.
Eating imperfections will happen throughout your life, not just during quarantine
It doesn’t take a crisis of the magnitude we’re dealing with now to throw off eating habits, or to influence your food buying decisions. Even after this crisis passes, life will continue to throw problems your way that seem to interfere with how you want to eat. If you can learn now, during this crisis, that imperfect eating does not have to lead to binge eating, you will set yourself up to be able to withstand any change in your eating habits in the future, and roll with it, and never let it send you back into binge eating.
I’ve been wanting to share this for a while, but I simply haven’t gotten around to it. I often say how I personally do not eat perfectly, and that’s true every day; but in 2019, I had the longest stretch of low quality eating that I can remember. I went through a divorce last year, and although I know this is not even remotely close to what many people have to deal with in their lives (and what many people are dealing with during this crisis), it was still very difficult in it’s own way. The process was long and draining, and it was stressful emotionally, mentally, and physically. I found that I had so much to deal with and so much on my mind (and I wanted to focus so much on my children) that I just didn’t want to put much effort into my food choices.
It seemed like I just didn’t have enough energy to go around. I ate whatever was fastest and easiest and cheapest, and a lot of times that looked like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fast food, or leftover mac and cheese from the kids’ dinner the night before. It wasn’t all poor-quality food. I did make an effort to keep some easy, healthy foods around too, like nuts, carrot sticks, and apples; and I took vitamins and drank healthy protein shakes. I also tried to cook for my kids, but they are super-picky and I just didn’t have the energy to push them to try new things during this time, so even my “cooking” wasn’t much of an improvement over convenience food.
I wouldn’t say that I overate during this time-frame, at least not in any way that I’d consider out of the range of normal. I knew in the back of my mind that this way of eating was temporary, and that I was just trying to get through the days in the best way I could; and indeed, late last year I started craving healthier foods again and putting more effort into cooking and nourishing myself (although now, with the coronavirus crisis, we are back to easier and cheaper foods).
During the divorce process when my eating was less-than-ideal, I never once felt like I was using those lower quality foods to help me cope emotionally, and I never thought that those foods were making me feel better in any way (listen to Episode 39: Emotional Attachment to Binge Eating for more about the relationship between food and emotions). I never felt like it was comfort eating or emotional eating, and I primarily ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full (but not perfectly!). The type of eating that would have actually provided comfort would have been for someone to make a delicious, healthy meal for me. I just didn’t prioritize doing that for myself.
I knew I retained the ability to put in the extra effort to buy and prepare better food, but my choice to have convenience food seemed worth it to me at the time, to save energy. I knew rationally that the added effort to eat better would have possibly provided a net gain in my energy, but it simply didn’t happen…because like I keep saying, I’m not perfect:-). I’m sharing this because you might find yourself feeling the same way during this crisis.
I’m so far removed from the binge eating habit that any thoughts related to binge eating never crossed my mind. What did cross my mind however, was how thankful I am that almost 15 years ago I disconnected stress and binge eating, and I also disconnected imperfect eating and binge eating, so that now stress and imperfect eating don’t send me back into bingeing. I’m thankful that long ago, I stopped believing that recovery depended on my life’s circumstances, or on my stress level, or on my emotional state, or on my eating choices. If I still believed recovery depended on those things, 2019 would have been a prime time for relapse, and now 2020 as well because I’m right back to more stress and lower quality eating.
If you’ve binged during this crisis…
I want to say here that if you’ve acted on binge urges during this coronavirus crisis or during another difficult time in your life, I don’t want you to criticize yourself for it, and I don’t want you to think it means you won’t recover. Those of you who read my books know that even after I stopped linking my emotional problems to my binge eating problems, and even after I shifted to the brain-based perspective that led to my freedom from binge eating, I still acted on two more urges to binge. And, I acted on those urges when things were relatively normal in my life, aside from typical daily problems.
I was thinking today about how my recovery might have looked differently if a big, stressful event like my divorce or the coronavirus crisis would have happened around the time I learned to stop acting on urges to binge. Due to conditioned, habitual patterns, my binge urges did appear more often in times of stress than non-stress (listen to Episode 13: How to Stop Binge Eating Under Stress for help with this), and my binge urges did appear more when I ate more junk foods, although I definitely still had urges when I was otherwise happy and when I was eating well.
There were other problems during the time of my recovery that gave me practice disconnecting binge eating from difficult life circumstances, negative emotions, and imperfect eating; but if a life-altering crisis would have occurred alongside of my recovery, is it possible that I would have had an increase in my urges to binge? Absolutely. And, is it possible that because of the increased urges, I might have been tempted to act on more of them before stopping the habit for good? Yes, it’s definitely possible…although I do believe that because I saw the urges for the false, lower-brain messages that they were, and because I realized the binge eating wasn’t helping me cope with anything, I wouldn’t have kept acting on the urges for long.
I’m saying this here because I want you to give yourself forgiveness and compassion if you’ve been following binge urges more during this stressful time when there’s so much imperfection in your eating. Yes, you might be facing challenges that people who recovered at other times didn’t have to face, but you can also recognize the opportunity inherent in recovering now. You can recognize the opportunity to experience your own sense of choice and control in a powerful way, as you prove to yourself that imperfect eating does not need to lead to binge eating. Despite all of the negative feelings and thoughts you understandably have right now, you can also experience the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes when you don’t get your eating exactly right, but you also don’t use that as a reason to just give up and binge.
You aren’t giving up on the rest of your life during quarantine. Don’t give up on recovery from binge eating.
I want you to think about the rest of your life during this crisis. Your kids can’t go to school…does that mean they should just give up on trying to learn anything during this time? You might not be able to do your normal job right now, or you may be restructuring the way you work…does that mean you should just give up on your job or on trying to find other work? You can’t get together with many of the important people in your life…does that mean you should just give up on those relationships? The answer to all of these questions is of course not; you aren’t giving up on what’s important to you just because there are challenges, changes, and isolation.
If you are reading this, I know how important it is for you to become binge-free, so I want you to consistently remind yourself that imperfection in your eating does not mean you should just give up and binge.
An opportunity to see that you aren’t powerless over certain foods
If you’ve previously been of the mindset that lower-quality foods, or processed foods, or sugary foods, or too many carbs cause binge eating, this is your opportunity to show yourself that this is not the case. This is your opportunity to realize that the urges to binge cause binge eating. *If you are new to this approach, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics to learn more about the urges to binge and how to stop acting on them.
This is an opportunity to see that no food makes you powerless, and no food makes you destined to binge. It’s also an opportunity to realize that imperfect eating isn’t going to lead to your weight spiraling out of control. I realize that everyone is different and weight is dependent on many complex factors, and I cannot predict or guarantee anything as far as what may happen to your weight, but I do know that when you are not bingeing on the imperfect foods, you are so much less likely to experience weight gain.
More about weight…
If before this crisis, you were eating high quality foods, plus bingeing (on either low or high quality foods), you were likely eating much, much more overall than if you were to just eat low quality food in a normal way, without binges. So, it’s possible you could even lose weight during a time of significantly imperfect eating, provided you reduce or stop binge eating. But, what happens to your weight is not the most important thing right now, and this crisis also provides an opportunity for you to focus on what truly matters to you, and to put your weight concerns in perspective. I only wanted to mention weight here because I know that some people interpret my suggestion to accept imperfect eating as me saying to accept weight gain too because imperfect eating is going to make you gain weight. But that is not the case, and you can get more information about weight and binge eating recovery in my post, “So, How Do I Lose Weight?”
I talked earlier about how even normal eaters are making jokes about not eating well, and not exercising, and gaining weight during this time; but I want you to notice that after this crisis, the vast majority of people will look the same. Everyone has a unique weight range that their body wants to maintain, and it makes physiological adaptations to keep weight in that range. If you are doing your best to eat normal amounts, your body will naturally keep you in your general set range (or pull you back toward that set range if you’ve previously been dieting restrictively and/or bingeing).
I fully realize that this weight topic I’m briefly touching upon is complex, but please try to trust your body during this time (and always), and realize that you don’t have control over everything. You can’t control what’s going on in the outside world right now (aside from following recommendations about keeping yourself and others safe), and you can’t control what’s going on inside of you and what your metabolism might possibly do in reaction to how you are eating. But, you can avoid binges, and that can help your metabolism regulate over time and help you body find it’s own natural, healthy weight.
An opportunity to accept imperfection
There are so many things to be upset about right now, but your imperfect eating doesn’t have to be one of them. Try to see this as an opportunity to learn to dismiss binge urges even when you are dealing with eating challenges and changes, because you will have times of imperfect eating throughout your life. If you can avoid binges now—while you are home with the food, and while you are out of your normal routine, and while you are eating differently than you were before—you can avoid binges through any difficult time, and for the rest of your life.
[Go to Part III]
*Originally published in May 2018
I don’t have a rule against eating sugary cereal, and I actually do eat cereal sometimes, but the vast majority of the time, it’s not the kind I used to crave when I was dieting (and the kind I’d binge on too). Greatly reducing my cereal intake – and almost completely eliminating sugary varieties – is one example of a healthy change I’ve made since I stopped binge eating. If you’ve read Brain over Binge, you know how much trouble I had with cereal during my dieting and binge eating days; so I want to share more about this change with you, in hopes that it gives you some insight and ideas for how similar healthy changes may come about in your own life.
This post is the second part of a 2-part series about Healthy Changes after Recovery. You can read Part I here, which talks about the role of eating everything in moderation, making choices about what’s best for your unique body and lifestyle, and being patient with yourself as you create your own way of eating. This blog series is primarily for those who are now binge-free, or who do not actually struggle with binge eating, and instead have other problematic eating habits like overeating, grazing, or feeling addicted to certain foods.
My Personal Example of a Healthy Change: Sugary Cereal
I used to eat sugary cereal often for breakfast as a kid and teen. My mom, like any good 80’s/90’s mom, used to buy the “fun” brands like Lucky Charms, but she also tried to balance it out with varieties that were viewed as “healthier” at the time, like Raisin Bran (the kind with the sugar-coated raisins!). I ate various types of cereal in normal amounts; I always stopped when I was full; and I never thought much about it. It wasn’t until I started restricting my food intake in order to try to control my weight that I learned to label sugary cereal as “bad,” and tried to avoid it…and ended up eating more of it than I ever thought possible.
At the time I started dieting (1997), dietary fat was mostly considered the villain, and because cereal was generally low-fat, my reason for thinking it was “bad” didn’t have much to do with its nutritional content or high sugar. I thought it was bad because, when I started restricting my food, I suddenly craved it and I had trouble controlling myself around it. I seemed to want so much of it, which I’d never experienced before and which scared me. I worried that eating too much of it would give me too many calories, and hence, make me gain weight; so, I tried not to eat it, which made me crave it even more.
As I shared in Brain over Binge, my first binge was on sugary cereal – 8 full bowls of it. In hindsight, it’s easy to see exactly what happened, and what turned me from a normal-cereal-eater to someone who could eat 8 bowls. The short version is that I was starving. I wasn’t eating enough, and because of that, the appeal of the cereal skyrocketed. Calorie deprivation increases the reward value of food, especially food that is highly palatable (which usually means it’s high in sugar and/or fat).* This makes sense from a survival perspective – my brain was just trying to make me eat foods it sensed would help me survive the “famine” I’d created for myself by dieting.
Before I was in a calorie-deficit, I could forget we had cereal in the house, and in my life today, it’s the same. But, when I was in that calorie-deprived state, I would often wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about the cereal in the pantry. Then, once I binged on cereal once, it quickly became a habit. Eating bowl after bowl became a regular part of my binges, and during binge urges and binge episodes, it felt like my body truly needed that much cereal.
At certain times during my binge eating years, I read information about foods being addictive or people being powerless, so I tried to give up cereal (and other foods) from time to time. To me, it seems like such a baffling approach to tell someone who feels out of control around a food to simply never eat that food. Maybe that approach would make sense if the problematic food suddenly no longer existed on earth, but in my world of living in a college town, with roommates, there was no getting away from cereal.
I also tried moderation approaches with sugary cereal, which made more sense to me, but proved to be frustrating as well, because I actually did learn to eat sugary cereal in moderation…and I still binged on it. At the time, I didn’t understand that it was the binge urges that caused the binges, not the sugary cereal. Looking back, it makes sense that I could only eat sugary cereal in moderation when I didn’t have binge urges before, during, or after eating it.
Once I stopped acting on my binge urges, those urges went away, even when I was eating my former binge foods, like sugary cereal. Then, I could eat sugary cereal in moderation again – every time! It was great.
I resumed my normal life and simply ate cereal when I wanted. It was a common breakfast food for me after recovery, although I’d try to mostly buy the kinds that were a little “healthier.” (I put that in quotes, because today, most processed cereals you buy from a grocery store are not generally considered healthy). I still ate high-sugar varieties now and then as well, but primarily as a night snack. After binge eating ended and my appetite stabilized, I quickly realized that eating too much sugar in the morning didn’t make me feel good. Choosing the low-sugar varieties if I was eating cereal in the morning, and then sometimes having a high-sugar treat at night was a change that came naturally, and not something that I forced myself into.
As the months and years went by, there was a gradual increase in nutrition research and news pointing to the idea that sugar and processed grains cause harm to health. My carefree cereal-eating days seemed to be in question. Although I had never been under the impression that cereal was super-healthy, I didn’t think it was causing harm. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the idea that I could absolutely have anything I wanted in moderation, but also that some foods are – without a doubt – not healthy.
At this point, my binge eating days were long gone, but I was also firmly set in the anti-diet mentality. I knew dieting caused harm; I knew I never wanted to go down that path again, but would not eating sugary-cereal be “dieting”?
The short answer is no, it would not be dieting, but it took me a little while to truly see it that way. I gradually came to believe that making healthy changes in a gentle, non-stressful way, while making sure you are nourished and eating enough, is not dieting. It’s simply trading out foods that are no longer serving you, with foods that serve you better, and it never has to mean banning foods completely.
Fast forward to today, I can’t even remember the last time I ate the types of cereal I used to binge on. I sometimes eat more natural types of cereal such as granola – still typically as a night snack – but it’s not very often. I may eat it for a couple of nights, and then forget I have the box for weeks or months, or I simply won’t want it.
How is it that I’m not craving sugary cereal like I used to? How can I (mostly) not eat sugary cereal, but also not feel restricted at all? How can I basically never eat the brands of cereal I thought about morning and night as a dieter, and no longer think about them?
Here’s a short rundown on why I think it was possible for me, and hopefully that will help you see how it can be possible for you too:
1. Because I know I can have sugary cereal if I want it. I can absolutely go buy a box of Lucky Charms right now and have a bowl and enjoy it, no big deal. It’s not forbidden in my mind. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure (in moderation) is not always a bad thing. It’s fun, it’s delicious..and we all have to find that balance in our own lives between pleasure and focusing on our health.
2. Because I’m no longer calorie restricted. Sugar doesn’t hold that high appeal that it did when I was starving and it was so attractive to my survival instincts. It’s amazing what eating enough will do to help your cravings!
3. Because the decision to reduce my cereal intake came gradually and naturally. My choice came from information I read, but also from my own insight about how the cereal was making me feel, and also from learning to expand my tastes to other, more nourishing foods. I never felt like I was fighting against myself, or holding myself back from something I truly wanted. Also, the decision came when I was ready to make that decision, not because someone else told me that’s what I should do.
4. Because I don’t believe I’m powerless against cereal, or any other food. I know I can eat a normal amount of cereal without a problem, so there’s no fear around eating it. Conversely, there’s no fear that not eating it will lead me to crave it more. When I tried to give up cereal during my binge eating years, it was out of a sense of fear – because I thought that one bite would lead to 8 bowls. Fearing a food tends to keeps it on your mind, and keeps your attention focused on that food. Now, there is relaxation around cereal, and I rarely think about it.
5. Because “not having sugary cereal” is not a restrictive rule. This is similar to reason #1, but I want to expand on it by saying that when you make a genuine choice to eat in a healthier way and it feels good, you feel in alignment. You don’t feel restricted. You don’t fantasize about the unhealthy foods that you’re not eating. You simply choose (most of the time) to have other things, and don’t really miss what you aren’t having.
6. Because I’m simply older…and I don’t think many adults are still eating Lucky Charms for breakfast. It’s okay to walk away from childhood foods that aren’t benefiting you in adulthood. This is not dieting. You could simply call it “growing up,” or learning to take care of yourself.
I don’t want to give the impression that my eating is perfectly healthy. There are many other unhealthy foods that I still choose to eat! But, I wanted to share this personal story to let you know that giving up binge eating and giving up dieting does not at all mean giving up on health. After binge eating ends, you are free to make (or not make) any healthy changes you want, in a way that works for you, and on a timeline that works for you.
Making those healthy changes is not part of binge eating recovery, it’s simply part of life. However, as a former binge eater, you will want to make sure you make changes in a healthy way that doesn’t involve putting yourself in a calorie deficit or becoming obsessive or overly restrictive about foods. You will want to be cautious not to develop a dieting mentality.
If you are someone who has ended your binge eating habit and wants help in making healthy changes, you can get more information in Episode 31 of my podcast, in which I interviewed Daniel Thomas Hind about this topic. If you resonate with what he talks about, you can also get more information about his coaching by filling out this questionnaire to get a free call that he offers. I am not an expert in helping people make healthy changes to the way they eat, but I know that many of you are interested in that area. So, if you want greater health, but healthy changes don’t seem to be coming naturally and gradually for you after you stop binge eating, it makes sense that you may want some outside help. I hope Daniel’s coaching gives you an option for getting that type of support.
*One example of research demonstrating this: Stice, E., K. Burger, and S. Yokum. “Calorie Deprivation Increases Responsivity of Attention and Reward Brain Regions to Intake, Anticipated Intake, and Images of Palatable Foods.” NeuroImage 67 (2013): 322-330
*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.
Go to part 2 of this blog series.