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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

Am I ready to stop binge eating?

Am I Ready to Stop Binge Eating?

During my years of binge eating, and what seemed like thousands of attempts to recover, I looked for the reasons why I wasn’t successful. Through therapy and reading self-help information online, one of the theories I came up with was that I simply wasn’t ready to stop binge eating. Maybe there was something I needed to change in my life first; maybe there was a problem I needed to solve; maybe there was pain from my past that I needed to heal; maybe there was a stressor that I needed to eliminate from my days. Maybe once I found and dealt with whatever was in the way of recovery, then I’d be ready.

I wasn’t even sure what it really meant to be ready to stop binge eating, but that didn’t stop me from looking for reasons why I wasn’t yet equipped for recovery. Since all of my attempts to quit had failed, it only made sense that there was something getting in the way. Now that I’ve recovered, I see things differently, and I want to help you understand why you might be asking yourself, am I ready to stop binge eating? I also want to share ideas with you to help you feel capable of stopping the habit, and to help you address anything that is truly a roadblock to recovery.

What Does it Mean to Be Ready for Recovery?

I began thinking about this a lot because of an interview I did in February of 2013. I was a guest on Alen Standish’s Quit Binge Eating Podcast (this podcast is no longer available because Alen needed to focus on a health issue in his family). Alen asked a question that inspired me to start writing this blog post about recovery readiness. His question was very insightful, and in asking it, he shared some of his own personal experience and how it was different than mine. Here is what he said:

 Alen:  You cautioned in Brain over Binge that you are only focusing on how to stop binge eating and are not addressing any other underlying problems a person may be having in their life. In my own case I actually had to work on several areas of my own life to better round myself out before I was ready to fully take on stopping my own binge eating disorder. Your book was a large part of that, but it only worked for me because I was ready for it at that point in my life. Based on my experiences and this is just my own opinion, I find that it seems to be a balancing act that only the person suffering from the disorder knows when they are ready to just say no to their disordered eating, and from that when and where to start their recovery process and most important, how to recover. It’s a very individual thing. What are your thoughts?

Below, I’ve included my response with many additional ideas added, to help you if you are doubting your readiness to end bulimia or binge eating disorder:

First of all, I think an important thing to remember when reading anyone’s recovery story, using any self-help program, or even attending therapy, is that you can use what works for you at this particular time in your life, and discard what doesn’t. Sometimes people get caught up in trying to do things exactly right, based on someone else’s advice, and it doesn’t end up feeling authentic. If someone else’s advice doesn’t help you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t ready. It just might not be the right approach for you.

My recovery came about from me discovering useful information and an approach that resonated deeply within me. This was primarily due to reading Rational Recovery, and also having my own insights afterward, which I discussed in my book. Once I changed how I approached recovery, the question of whether or not I was ready to stop binge eating didn’t seem to apply anymore. I put the information and insights into action, and my binge eating quickly stopped. Questioning my readiness for recovery was something I did when I wasn’t successful, and once I was successful, the question seemed to just fade away.

I knew binge eating brought me misery, and I knew I didn’t want it in my life; and this was the case since my binge eating began. In that way, I guess I was always ready to recover.

I believe it can be as simple as this: If you want to be free of binge eating, you are ready to be free of binge eating.

I’m Not Ready to Give Up the “Benefits” of Binge Eating

I also realize that it’s not that simple for everyone, especially if you’ve come to believe that your eating disorder serves a purpose in your life, or helps you cope with problems, or helps you fill some sort of emotional void (see my podcast about emotional attachment to binge eating). I know that when I believed my eating disorder gave me certain benefits, it was much easier to think that I wasn’t ready to give it up. Even thought I knew that whatever theoretical benefits or temporary pleasure I received from the binge eating wasn’t worth the cost, the idea that binge eating was a coping mechanism made it easier to keep hanging on to the behavior.

In order to feel ready to let the binge eating go, I spent a long time in therapy and on my own trying to sort out things in my life and solve other problems. Some of these problems I did sort out and solve, and some of these problems I didn’t; but there was always another problem I could find and decide that I needed to fix before I could be free of binge eating.

If Rational Recovery would have been another approach saying that it might not work if you have other problems to sort out first, I don’t think it would have helped me. I needed a no excuses approach at the time. I needed to learn that I could quit right away without having to do anything else first. In other words, I needed to hear that I was already ready to let the binge eating go.

Preparation for Recovery is Different for Everyone

I’ve shared my experience, but Alen’s experience was different and uniquely authentic to him; and your experience might be different from both of ours. I agree with Alen that recovery is an individual thing and only the person recovering can decide what they need. This is why it’s important to have alternative perspectives in eating disorder recovery, because some ideas will be a better fit for certain people at certain times than other ideas.

If you read my book, or attend therapy, or complete a self-help program and you don’t improve even after giving it proper effort and practice, this is not the time to put yourself down or lose hope. It’s the time to determine how to adjust the ideas to better suit you, or it’s time look elsewhere for ideas that feel like your own unique truth and that work for you, or it’s time to decide if there is some preparation work you need to do in order to be ready to stop binge eating.

I don’t believe recovery should be a maze or that you should jump around from one approach to another, without being consistent enough to see changes occur. Recovery can and should keep moving forward, but there may come a time when you feel like you do need to work on another area of your life in order to move forward, or keep moving forward.

How Do I Become Ready to Stop Binge Eating?

I’ve spent some time thinking about a way to merge the idea that some people, like Alen, might need to work on other areas of their life in order to feel more able stop binge eating, and my approach which focuses on stopping the behavior without needing to address other issues first. Here are my thoughts…

I believe that recovery from binge eating comes down to 2 goals:  

  1. Learning to dismiss urges to binge
  2. Learning to eat adequately

If you are new to the Brain over Binge approach and want a better understanding of those two goals, you can download my free PDF, the Brain over Binge Basics. You can use those two simple recovery goals to guide you in determining what you might need to work on, in order to make yourself recovery ready.

It’s not helpful to put too many conditions on your ability to recover, but I think it’s helpful to work on any specific issues you feel are holding you back from being successful at one or both recovery goals. You can listen to my podcast episodes about two common issues that hold people back: food addiction, and weight obsession. Basically, if you think that working on another problem or issue in your life will help you move toward the two goals, then work on that issue or problem.

Of course, you can work on whatever issue or problem you want as a way to live a better life, but try not to wrap up all of your self-improvement work into your eating disorder recovery. You don’t want to be endlessly trying to work on emotions or solve other problems, hoping that will magically make you feel ready to recover, or even take the eating disorder away. But, if you stay focused on the two recovery goals of learning to dismiss binge urges and learning to eat adequately, you can tackle recovery readiness with a much more strategic mindset. I’ll give you some examples so you can see how this could play out in your life.

Let’s say you have poor body-image, and because of that, you are determined to diet restrictively and lose weight in an attempt to feel better about yourself. That might prevent you from eating enough food, which in turn, will make your urges to binge stronger and more difficult to dismiss. If you feel unable to allow yourself a nourishing amount of food to meet your physical needs, you might need to address your poor body-image in order to move forward (for help, you can listen to this episode on body image). This doesn’t mean a positive body-image is a cure for binge eating; but improving the way you view and relate to your body will help you start feeding it properly, and therefore put you in a position to stop acting on the binge urges.

Another example: let’s say you have severe depression that prevents you from wanting a better life for yourself. You don’t have the desire to avoid binges, so you allow the lower brain (the part of the brain that drives binge eating) to overtake you, without even trying to avoid the behavior. You simply don’t have any motivation to let go of the binge eating. Again, improving the other problem (in this case, depression) isn’t a cure, but it will put you in a better position to start overcoming the binge eating. Feeling less depressed will strengthen your higher brain (the part of your brain that can change a habit), and allow you to connect with your desire to live free of your eating disorder.

To summarize what I’m suggesting: If you don’t feel ready for recovery, get to work on the issues you believe are preventing you from eating adequately or dismissing binge urges.  

In contrast, what I’m not suggesting is this: If you don’t feel ready for recovery, work on the problems or emotions that you feel binge eating helps you cope with, and expect that resolving those problems will make the binges go away.

Sometimes what I’m suggesting and what I’m not suggesting can involve the same problem. If that seems a little confusing, I’ll explain, using anxiety as an example.

Let’s say you think you binge to cope with anxiety, so you try address that anxiety by relaxing more and avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. You do this hoping that decreasing anxiety will decrease your need to binge. If the binge urges habitually come when you are anxious, this approach might indeed help you avoid some binge urges (which may be helpful in some ways), but reducing anxiety isn’t truly helping you learn how to dismiss the binge urges when they come up. There are likely other situations where you have urges, and you still binge. Furthermore, it’s impossible to control every situation and feeling in your life, so when anxiety inevitably comes up, you may find yourself swept away by the urges.

The problem with this approach to reducing anxiety is that you are trying to make a problem go away in hopes that binge urges will go away too. But, this usually doesn’t work, and it’s more effective to learn to avoid acting on urges in any situation or in response to any feeling.

On the other hand, if something about anxiety is making it more difficult for you to dismiss binge urges or eating adequately, then it makes sense that you’ll need to address it before you feel ready to stop binge eating.  For example, if anxiety about weight gain is keeping you depriving your body of food, then yes, that anxiety is something to work on as a part of binge eating recovery. The distinction can seem subtle, but I think it’s important not to make recovery too complex or think you need to work on too many things to be ready.

I want to make sure you realize that I’m not telling you to just resign to deal with certain problems. You can absolutely work on whatever issues you want to work on, but as much as you can, keep that separate from binge eating recovery. Otherwise, you could keep working on other problems indefinitely, hoping that will take your binge eating away, without getting any closer to accomplishing the two recovery goals that change your brain to end the binge eating habit.

Although I believe recovery is an individual thing, I hope that keeping the two recovery goals in mind will help you zero in on what’s truly necessary for you to do to be ready to stop binge eating for good.

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For help learning to dismiss urges to binge and eat adequately, you can download the free Brain over Binge Basics PDF, or learn more about my Coaching Audios or Course.

Overeating, Part III: Practice Thankfulness

When I was planning out this blog series on overeating, I envisioned this third and final post to be a little different (see Part I and Part II). I thought I would share some practical tips for conquering any problematic overeating you may have after binge eating stops, but this week I was inspired to take this post in a new direction.

Inspired feels like the wrong word to use here. I was heartbroken seeing the events unfolding in the Philippines during the past week (*this post was written following the devastating typhoon in 2013). I just couldn’t bring myself to write tips for conquering overeating, while so many victims of the typhoon were starving as they waited for aid. Those of you who read Brain over Binge know that my family was impacted by hurricane Katrina in 2005, and since then, seeing the suffering caused from natural disasters seems to affect me even more deeply.

Before I go any further, I want to stop and say that I’m not trying to minimize the problem of overeating at all, or say that you shouldn’t worry about it because there are people who don’t even have food to eat (and certainly not enough to overeat).  But, what I hope to point you toward in this post is a different perspective that will serve to help you in your effort to end problematic overeating.

What I want to suggest to you is to cultivate gratitude for the food you have, which in turn, can naturally lessen your desire to overeat. Gratitude can bring you peace in so many aspects of your life and your relationships, including your relationship with food; but if you are like most people with eating disorders, you probably have an antagonistic relationship with food. You may be fearing it, trying to eat less of it to lose weight, trying to “burn it off” when you feel like you don’t eat perfectly; and at times, you are also putting too much of it into your body, which is harming you both physically and emotionally. All of this means that you may not experience a deep sense of gratitude for food.

If you can learn to develop that sense of gratitude, it can be a powerful deterrent to any of your harmful food and weight thoughts and behaviors, including overeating.

To explain this, I want to share a personal story about the effect that thankfulness had on my thoughts about food today. I had been watching the news coverage of the typhoon prior to taking a trip to the grocery with my 4 kids. The background to this story is that over the past several months, I had slipped into a negative mindset in regard to feeding my kids. I had been worrying so much about potentially harmful ingredients that’s in some of the food I buy. There is, of course, a great deal of concerning information out there about food, and although I try to feed my kids relatively well most of the time, I rarely buy organic because it’s just not financially feasible for our family of 6 right now. I also feel overwhelmed much of the time caring for my little ones, and I don’t always succeed in cooking at home and avoiding processed foods and fast foods.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to nourish yourself or your family with high quality food, but my lack of success in doing that was causing me a lot of unnecessary stress. I was approaching a lot of meals with self-criticism and a sense of fear about the potential effects of certain ingredients; and because of this, I was not truly appreciating the food we were eating. But, during today’s trip to the grocery store, I filled up my cart without any of those worrisome thoughts. It was as if the news coverage of the typhoon woke me up, and made me truly appreciate what I have. As I took each item off of the shelf, I felt a renewed sense of thankfulness for having food and being able to feed my kids meal after meal and day after day, even if it isn’t perfect.

I believe gratitude can have a similar effect on the desire to overeat. If you find yourself worrying that you’ll overeat at a meal or snack, try to shift your focus to being thankful for the food that you have. Try to grow your appreciation for the fact that you can nourish your body, feel satisfied; and then have more food available the next time you are hungry. A mindset of being thankful for food in the present, while also being thankful for future food, can help curb the desire to eat too much right now.  If you allow yourself to feel deeply grateful that food will be there for you at your next meal or snack, you will be more likely to stop eating when you are comfortably full.

Trying to be more thankful doesn’t mean you should feel guilty about having plentiful food when others have little. I am simply recommending that, when you begin to worry about eating too much of this or that, or when you feel too full after a meal, you try gently reminding yourself that you are fortunate to be able to eat, even if you don’t always do it perfectly. And be thankful that you’ll have tomorrow to try again.

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If you are still struggling with binge eating, it’s best to overcome that first before working on any overeating issues. To help you end binge eating, I’ve created a free eBook called The Brain over Binge Basics which you can receive by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.
Brain over Binge PDF

Overeating, Part II: Don’t Overdo Self-Control

(Part I)

To recover from binge eating, you are not aiming for heroic control of everything you put in your mouth; and this is very important when it comes to discussing overeating. Ending binge eating is not about ending all overeating, but many binge eaters want to address their overeating behaviors as well. In the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide and in my course, I suggest that people who believe they overeat should first consider how they define overeating, because it’s possible they are not overeating at all. To better explain this, here is a paragraph from the “Overeating” Chapter of the Recovery Guide:

“Many people think that they are eating too much when they are in fact eating normally – just not dieting anymore. Individuals who have a history of starving themselves might view what are actually normal portions as excessive; and since people with eating disorders can be perfectionists, there may be an element of “being too hard on yourself” involved in what you perceive to be overeating.  For example, if a dieter is trying to restrict calories to 1,500 per day and “overeats” one day to reach 2,200 calories, they haven’t truly overeaten at all, just eaten more in line with their calorie needs.”

In other words, make sure you aren’t holding an unrealistic standard for yourself.  Breaking resolutions to stick to overly restrictive eating plans is not overeating.

Let’s say you are someone trying to maintain a too-low calorie intake; for example, 1,300 calories per day. If you go over your “allowed” amount of calories and think you overate, you may hear faulty thoughts telling you that you “have no self-control and you might as well binge and then start over tomorrow.” Remember that voice making excuses for binge eating is from the lower brain; those thoughts are not logical or rational and don’t need to be given any value or attention.

Of course it makes no sense to binge because you have eaten more than your restrictive diet allowed. But, if you continue down the path of not giving your body enough food, the binge urges will persist and giving into them will be inevitable. The best course of action is to abandon the restrictive diet, not abandon your resolve to stay binge-free. 

You may be thinking that your overeating is more than just breaking a strict diet. If you determine that you are truly overeating (and not simply being too hard on yourself), here are some thoughts for you:

If you are someone who is still binge eating and trying to end that habit, my advice is to acknowledge any overeating you engage in, but don’t focus too much attention on correcting the overeating right now. I think that tackling too much at once may actually prevent you from overcoming your main problem of binge eating, and here’s one explanation of why, which also explains why trying to strictly control everything you put in your mouth is not helpful:

Recent research shows that too much self-control is not good for you. The following is from The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal:

“Just like some stress is necessary for a happy and productive life, some self-control is needed. But just like living under chronic stress is unhealthy, trying to control every aspect of your thoughts, emotions, and behavior is a toxic strategy. It’s too big a burden for your biology. Self-control, like the stress response, evolved as a nifty strategy for responding to specific challenges.  But just as with stress, we run into trouble when self-control becomes chronic and unrelenting. […] You will have to choose your willpower battles wisely.” (pg. 49)

When recovering from binge eating, I think it’s best to use the “nifty strategy” of self-control primarily for binge eating and not worry much about overeating or any other eating imperfections. If you start trying to dismiss every non-hungry craving, or try to detach from every thought encouraging you to eat a few more bites, you will wear yourself down. This doesn’t give you a pass to overeat all of the time; it only means to avoid putting so much pressure on yourself to get your eating exactly right. If you find yourself having a few more bites (or another serving) when you are already comfortably satisfied, it’s okay. Just move on, and put your focus on dismissing the binge urges.

To help you put aside your overeating concerns for now, it may help you to write those behaviors down. That way, you know aren’t ignoring any eating behaviors that you feel are problematic.  You are fully acknowledging them, but you are disconnecting them from your binge eating recovery. Keep your list in a place where you can come back to it after binge eating stops. You may find that some of the overeating habits go away on their own with the cessation of binge eating, and you also may find that what you considered “overeating” simply isn’t a big deal after recovery and there is no need to address it. Conversely, you may find that some of the eating issues do indeed interfere with your life after binge eating stops and you need to work on them. Welcome to the world of normal eating!

Another benefit of having your overeating habits or any other problematic eating behaviors written down, is that you’ll be less likely to fall for those lower brain thoughts that tell you that you “might as well binge” because you aren’t eating perfectly. You can detach from those harmful thoughts, remembering your list and that you will work on resolving overeating or any other eating problems after recovery, if you deem it necessary when that time comes.

So, instead of getting upset at yourself for overeating, and instead of binge eating in response to overeating, try this:

If you find that you’ve eaten in a way that isn’t ideal (but is not a binge), then just add it to your list, and acknowledge that it’s something you may need to address at some point in the future when you are binge-free. Don’t over-think it; don’t dwell on it; don’t put yourself down because of it; and most importantly: don’t think that you are destined to binge binge because of it.

Overeating, Part I: My Experience

I want to spend three blog posts talking about overeating – why do we do it? is it normal? how much is okay? how is it connected to binge eating?

In this post, I’m going to briefly describe my experience with overeating, if I should even call it that. I consider all of my eating to be normal, even if I sometimes eat past a perfect ideal of satiety. I think the term overeating can have a negative quality, and may possibly be connected in your mind to eating disorders and compulsive actions. I call it overeating for lack of a better word, but maybe there should be a better word, because I’ve found that explaining to people that some overeating is normal can leave them them feeling a little uneasy.  If this is the case for you, I hope this blog series will help ease your mind. 

The overeating I’m speaking of in my experience is fully chosen, in balance, and infrequent. It is not something I feel compulsively driven to do, or feel guilty about doing. I haven’t been extremely full since I stopped binge eating in 2005, nor would I have any desire to be. But, I have been a little uncomfortable after big holiday dinners; I’ve felt my stomach stretched more than might be ideal after eating my favorite meals at restaurants; I’ve eaten desserts even after being fully satisfied from meals; I have chosen to have a few more bites of delicious foods even after my physical needs were met; I’ve eaten snacks or treats without any hunger at all, just to be social or just because the foods looked too good to pass up. 

Overeating is subjective because there is no perfect blueprint on what amount is exactly right for anyone. We all have to make educated guesses for ourselves based on our body’s signals and what we know to be reasonable portions. In the situations I described above, it’s possible that my body actually did need the energy from the foods that I perceived to be more than I needed. Being a little too full or eating when not hungry is not necessary overeating. Sometimes it’s just what we need for a variety of reasons. Getting overly analytical and vigilant about the exact amount you should eat, and being overly critical of yourself if you eat beyond a perfect satisfaction level is not helpful. It can lead to some unhealthy obsessions and can drain your valuable energy. 

When I eat in the ways that I described above, I don’t label it overeating in the moment. I just feel the sensation of being a little too full or eating when not physically hungry, and move on with my life. Then, my body gets hungry again, and I eat again. Judging every eating decision you make, including when you choose to overeat (or eat more than you may physically need, or eat past the point of ideal fullness, or whatever you’d like to call that type of eating) will only make eating much more difficult. Throughout this blog series, I’ll continue to call this type of eating overeating for simplicity, but know that there is no one exact definition, and know that some overeating is certainly normal.  If you are a recovering binge eater, the most important thing you need to know about overeating is that it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you’ve “blown it,” and it certainly doesn’t mean you are destined to follow it with a binge.

I look forward to continuing to talk about this topic in the next two blog posts!  (go to Part II and Part III)

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*This blog series is about overeating, but if you are still struggling with binge eating, you can get my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics by signing up for my newsletter. It will help you understand why you binge and what you can do to take control back!

Brain over Binge Basics

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.

Enjoy Your Food: Giving up binge eating does not mean giving up food pleasure

I want to share a blog post from my good friend Emily, who is a health writer, called The Food Enjoyment Equation (copied below as it is no longer available online). It describes such a simple, but powerful idea about enjoying our food.

To a binge eater, the idea of enjoying food in normal amounts can seem foreign. When I was bulimic, I often feared eating meals and snacks because there were so many foods I thought might trigger binge eating, and many more foods that I labeled “too fattening” to eat as a part of my regular diet. At the time, I probably would have taken the advice to “enjoy your food” as a justification to binge, because I felt that the only time that I enjoyed eating was when I let go of all inhibition, and secretly ate whatever I wanted in huge quantities. Although binges felt unsettling and out of control, there was always an experience of temporary pleasure.

But as the article below explains, enjoying your food is the opposite of the fruitless and fleeting pleasure of binge eating. Thinking back, my binges brought no true enjoyment, but only a temporary high that faded fast and led to shame and pain. Even before the binge was over, any sense of pleasure was long gone, and even in those initial moments of eating pleasure, there was always a part of me that realized it wasn’t what I actually wanted.

You already know that binge eating leaves you feeling awful – physically and emotionally.  Even so, the thought of giving it up can bring a sense of fear of losing that “enjoyment” that you think you feel during binges.

It’s important to realize that binge eating is not real enjoyment or true pleasure, but only short-lived gratification that brings very harmful consequences. Once you realize this, you are on the road to letting go of the destructive behavior. However, you may not know how to enjoy food otherwise, and you may think that once you quit binge eating, you’ll have to view food as fuel only and no longer take pleasure in eating. This is simply not true!

It’s important to start looking at “enjoying food” with a new perspective. I want you to know that, when you give up binge eating, you will open yourself up to learning how to truly enjoy your food. You’ll stop getting that fleeting pleasure of a binge that’s only leading to pain, and you’ll begin learning to take real, satisfying pleasure in food in normal portions. You’ll stop letting go of all inhibition because you tell yourself that “tomorrow starts a new diet;” you’ll end the shame of hiding your eating habits; you’ll stop obsessing about weight and calories; you’ll end the guilt that comes after binges; and instead, you’ll start learning to enjoy the way you feel during and after a good meal, snack, or dessert.

As you read the article below, think about how you can start applying it in your own life, and how you can balance the two aspects of enjoyment that are discussed:

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“The Food Enjoyment Equation”

You may wonder how I can espouse a view of no-rules, enjoy-your-food freedom, and subsequently launch into the world of nutrition science to examine optimal diets.

The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Enjoying your food is of the utmost importance. Nutrition is hugely important as well. But the big-picture view of health includes so many factors, in varying degrees of importance, that it’s not an easily defined black-and-white issue. Add to that that health is a highly individual matter, and it gets more complicated.

My simplified take is this:  Enjoy your food.  And that means looking at what that actually means.  I define the notion of enjoying food as follows:

food enjoyment = how does it taste? + how does it make me feel?

This is my way of accounting for food quality when discussing the principle idea of food enjoyment. Many people would say they “enjoy” regularly eating fast food and candy bars, but if they assessed how they felt afterward, would they say eating low-quality foods on a regular basis actually made them feel good?
Conversely, someone adhering to a strict diet of high-nutrients foods might feel good physically, but are they stressed and anxious all the time?  If so, it’s not an enjoyable way of eating.

Balancing these two aspects of enjoyment is key. If you’re in a social situation and being served a type of food you’d prefer to avoid, sometimes it’s more enjoyable to focus on having a nice dinner with friends than to worry about the food that’s being served (barring any serious food allergies, of course).

By the same token, if eating a certain item will make you feel ill, it’s probably worth it to speak up. I tend to think that the healthiest option is the one that maximizes enjoyment by making me feel good mentally (low stress) & physically, and that tastes good.

Food should be one of the greatest joys, not a technical breakdown of “Should I or shouldn’t I eat this.”

It highlights one of the most fundamental aspects of eating: That food is meant to be enjoyed, not fretted over.

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To jump start your recovery, you can download my free eBook, The Brain over Binge Basics by signing up for my monthly newsletter and updates.

You can also learn about the Brain over Binge Course and how to get additional support.