Recovery from bingeing or chronic dieting is very doable, but it looks different for everyone. There is a massive amount of information on the internet, in books and programs. I used to wonder what was wrong with me that I could not follow the most common advice on how to stop overeating and bingeing. It took a while to realize I had to use what worked for me, and I could throw everything else away.
I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, or a psychologist. I am someone who spent her whole life struggling with weight and food and body issues and finally figured out how to eat and feel like a normal person by taking the best advice from many sources and discarding what didn’t work. As with anything you read on this subject, take what works for you and throw the rest away.
Common Advice: Avoid Temptation by keeping all junk foods and binge type foods out of your house.
Common Sense: Avoiding temptation was not good for me. It reinforced the idea that I can’t be trusted around some food because it has a magical power over me which makes me eat it. My recovery depends on me believing that all food is good and that I can trust my body to tell me what it does and does not need and want. So, I buy sweets and other snack foods that I think my family and I will enjoy and I don’t worry that I will eat them in a binge. Allowing myself to enjoy any foods, including sweets, alleviates cravings and thoughts of bingeing.
Common Advice: Listen to your body and only eat when you are hungry.
Common Sense: This is overall good advice for a normal eater, but completely unattainable for me as a binger. I wouldn’t have known a true hunger signal if it knocked me over. If I had the ability to eat only when I was hungry, I wouldn’t have been a binger. So, my common sense tells me to eat what I think I really want with no restrictions and no guilt. Its okay to eat for various reasons and not always just when I’m hungry. Feeling good about anything I eat puts me in the position of being able to choose my food and not having the food choose me.
Common Advice: Eat at regular times and don’t skip any meals.
Common Sense: This too, is good overall advice for the normal eater. But I found, in the beginning, my desire to eat didn’t always coincide with normal meal times. My goal now is to let my body tell me when it needs to eat and how much it needs. I am just here to choose the food, prepare it and enjoy it. When I first started this practice, I would eat breakfast and be hungry again two hours later. I allowed myself to eat as much as I wanted at this two-hour mark, sometimes another full meal. Usually, I didn’t get the urge to eat again until that evening and sometimes the next day. This must have proved to my body that I wasn’t going to restrict food, because after about 3 days, I stopped being hungry between meals and my hunger became more closely tied to typical meal times. I did not force myself to eat at normal times, though, it happened on its own once I allowed myself to eat regardless of the time.
Common Advice: Do not avoid fat.
Common Sense: The common advice used to be ‘avoid fat.’ But since fat plays an important role in our digestion and helps us feel satisfied, more people are hopping on the fat bandwagon. But I take this suggestion a step further – Do not avoid any food that you think you want to eat.
During the first year, my tastes changed dramatically. Things I used to crave, I suddenly didn’t have a taste for, and things I used to dislike, I acquired a taste for. It was almost sad, the day I realized French fries didn’t turn me on anymore.
Common Advice: Eat mindfully, slow down and savor the flavors and textures.
Common Sense: Instinctively I know this advice to be good, but I had no idea how to carry it out. So I went back to the one thing that I DID know. And that was to eat anything I want, anytime, anywhere. Instead of trying to eat mindfully, I just observed how I was eating with no judgement.
Sometimes I found myself in front of the TV eating out of the chip bag, sometimes I found myself standing at the fridge eating leftovers, sometimes I caught myself gulping down my meal faster than anyone at the table. But, no matter what eating circumstances, I did not make any judgements. I didn’t feel guilty or like a failure for not eating like I ‘should.’ Eventually, I asked myself what would be more enjoyable, eating leftovers directly out of the fridge or eating a fresh veggie stir-fry I could whip up in a few minutes? I began to slow down and appreciate aromas and colors and textures of food because it made me feel good, not because I forced myself to ‘pay attention’ while I ate.
Common Advice: Instead of snacking when you are bored, make a list of other things you can do like go for a walk, call friend, or take up a hobby.
Common Sense: My first thought when I read the above advice is ‘Yeah, right!” If I could do something else besides eat, I wouldn’t be seeking help! I already know what I should do, the question is, HOW do I do it?
This is not an easy thing to figure out. This is the crux of the issue- Why do I binge or overeat instead of doing something more fun and healthier?
There are probably as many reasons for someone to binge as there are people who binge. We are all different. But I did realize, that to stop bingeing, I didn’t have to delve into all my personal problems and anxieties. All I had to do was give myself permission to eat and treat myself with respect and kindness, regardless of my eating behavior. This soon spread to other aspects of my life – If I made a bad choice or a wrong decision about a relationship or some other thing, I began to comprehend that it was okay to make mistakes without punishing myself and just go on with my day. It didn’t take long for my overall anxiety level to lessen and I was able to enjoy more of my food and my life overall.
Common advice: Eat in moderation and eat sweets as an occasional treat.
Common Sense: I tried very hard to learn how to eat in moderation but failed miserably. Eating in moderation meant I had to use some one else’s guidelines because I didn’t know what moderation meant for my own body. It was only in allowing myself to eat totally guilt and regret free that my body taught me what moderation was. I was surprised that my body wants about the same portion sizes I see listed on the food labels. And I usually get hungry at normal meal times. But I couldn’t force this information on myself, I had to allow my body to show me.
Regarding Sweets -If I think of sweets as something special, something more tantalizing than other foods, it raises my interest and creates a false desire for them. I mostly think of them in terms of everyday food. I try not to give them any special status and allow myself to freely partake. I am finding myself not nearly as drawn to them as I was when actively bingeing. Other foods are so much more satisfying!
Common Advice: Stop berating and punishing yourself if you slip up.
Common Sense: Part of this advice is really good and part not so good. The not so good part is the term ‘slip up.’ It gives me the impression that I need to be doing something other than letting my body determine when and what and how much to eat. It makes me think that if I deviate from a food plan or healthy eating program, or even my current course of eating what I want, then I have to forgive myself and get ‘back on the wagon.’ The truth is, I don’t have a set program based on what someone else thinks I should eat. And I never have to forgive myself for eating anything. Eating food is not a sin. It is a very natural process. Even overeating and bingeing is my body’s response to deprivation signals I give it from my skewed thoughts of restricting food to lose weight.
The good part about this advice is – No matter what or how much food I find myself eating, I don’t judge myself or feel guilty. I treat myself nice. I respect who I am as a person. There is no ‘getting back on track.’ There is only the next time I am hungry and all the food in the world that I can choose from to satisfy my hunger.
“My value is intrinsic. It is not determined by what I do, what I have, what I look like or what I can accomplish. I am valuable because I am a human being. Once I believe this deep down in my soul, I can function fully.” MD