Overcoming the Urge to Binge

Do you binge?  Occasionally?  Often? 

Under what circumstances  are you vulnerable to bingeing?

I’d like to differentiate bingeing from emotional eating

In the chapter, “Overcoming the Urge to Binge” in my book Conscious Eating, Conscious Living, I define a binge as:

  • eating when you’re not hungry
  • eating without enjoyment
  • eating with a sense of urgency, rapidly, without really tasting or enjoying the food
  • feeling out of control, unable to stop
  • eating a much larger amount of food than your body needs
  • having a sense that, no matter how much you eat, it won’t fill the void
  • feeling guilty about your eating

Emotional eating, on the other hand,  is something that most people do.  We are not physically hungry but we eat because it’s there or it looks good or we are looking for something to calm us or distract us from an uncomfortable feeling or thought.  We may eat a little or we may eat a lot.  We are more likely to eat a lot (and it is more likely to turn into a binge) if we feel guilty about eating. And when we have eaten to cope with distress and we haven’t allowed the food to help us feel better (because we’ve eaten it without pleasure or relief), we will need more of it.   Because food, in this case, is our medicine. And if we use it as medicine every day, it will become a habit. So we crave it because we’ve become habituated to it (whatever the “it” is.)

Am I suggesting that we use food as medicine?  Yes.  If you need it.  If nothing else will help in that moment. I teach my clients many tools  but if the urge is so strong that they can’t access any of their tools, I suggest they use the food, choosing exactly what they want and eating it as slowly and with as much relief as they can.  Because then it only takes a little.  One or 2 pieces of chocolate or dates will do it for me.

But I’d like to make a few suggestions about how else you can deal with your urges to eat for emotional reasons.    And prevent binges.  Some of this you may have read here before, but I find reminders can be helpful.

Binge Prevention

-Don’t let yourself get too hungry.  If your blood sugar is low,  you are more likely to succumb to emotional eating and bingeing.  Nourish yourself throughout the day (never going longer than 4 hours, preferably 3, without eating) and carry snacks/small meals with you that include protein.

-If you really want that treat, let yourself eat it – slowly, with enjoyment and satisfaction. If you are white knuckling it and feeling deprived, your willpower will naturally give out at some point.    And then you won’t be able to stop with a small amount.

-Pay attention to uncomfortable feelings.  If they build until they’re unbearable,  you will need the food to calm yourself.  And at that point, a little won’t do t.

In other words, pay attention to how you’re feeling and learn some tools to take care of those feelings.  We’ve talked about some of these tools in past newsletters:

  • Go out for a walk or just step outside into nature. Take it in with all of your senses
  • Breathe (3 slow deep breaths, breathing out through your mouth and in through your nostrils, shifting from the sympathetic nervous system being activated (fight or flight) to the calm parasympathetic
  • Identify the stories you’re telling yourself that have made you distressed and realize that they are simply stories, not facts
  • Talk to the part of you that wants to eat and ask what it is feeling and what it needs. Try to have some kindness towards it.  If you’re in the upset feeling and can’t get distance from it, sometimes it helps to remember a time when we helped a friend or a child or an animal who was distressed.  See if you can experience how calm and loving you felt towards this being  and offer the same compassion towards this hurt part of yourself.
  • Use track #5 on my CD  (Coping with Feelings without using Food.)
  • Use EFT  – Emotional Freedom Technique (you can learn it online or  if live  in or near RI, you can learn it at my next “Overcoming Emotional Eating with EFT” workshop on April 23).  I have found that EFT will decrease the urge and the cravings enough that most people either no longer have the urge or it’s at a level they can manage.

If you do feel the urge to binge,

  1. See if you can take a pause and do one of the above steps
  2. If you can’t take a pause, because the urgency is too strong, remind yourself that you are not having an eating problem;  you are having a calming problem (that you are trying to manage with food.)  Choose exactly what you want.  Eat as slowly and with as much relief as you can, experiencing the food as medicine.
  3. If you can’t slow down your urgent eating, see if you can actually feel how it feels to be eating rapidly and compulsively.  And say to yourself, “I’m sorry that I’m so distressed that food is the only thing that can help.”  And then let it help. Try to slow your eating down a little so you can experience the relief.  Don’t beat yourself up for this. You need and deserve to be calmed.
  4. When the episode is over, try to get back on track with healthy eating. Drink water. Eat greens.  Add protein.  An episode of emotional or binge eating doesn’t need to trigger days of unhealthy eating.  Learn what triggered it, forgive yourself and let it go.  You’re just human, doing the best you can.  Like the rest of us.

“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.”

NY Times Article

If you’ve ever blamed yourself for succumbing to fast food or not being able to stop eating, it would be worth reading this article about how food conglomerates deliberately entice us, using the biochemistry of our brains and taste buds to overcome our rational motivations. Their job, insiders tell us, is to get us hooked on foods that are inexpensive and/or convenient.  If you have wondered how you could be gaining weight when you eat healthy food like yogurt, try reading the ingredients of what you buy (Ex.Yoplait’s new recipe is sweetened with twice as much sugar as Lucky Charms cereal!). Decreased real food and increased processed food plus multiple snacks instead of meals are recipes for weight gain. The article is long but very enlightening. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

 

“The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty”

From Dan Ariely’s social psychology book,

In his chapter, “Why we blow it when we’re tired,” Ariely cites a study by researchers testing to see whether having a lot to think about would tax the brain and make it more difficult to resist temptation. The answer was a resounding YES. They called it “ego depletion,” noting that resisting temptation takes a lot of effort and energy . Ariely suggests we think of willpower as a muscle that gets tired. Which is why, after a day of saying no all day to foods that tempt us, we may eat all evening.

So how do we use that knowledge to our benefit? We can put away food items that would be tempting to us, putting them in the cupboard instead of on the counter. We can make decisions ahead of time about how we want to deal with bread or dessert at a party or dinner (ex. I’ll eat one roll if it really looks fabulous). And we can take breaks to calm our mind and body, recharging ourselves so we’re not depleted from performing one task after another, making one decision after another.

“10 Things you need to know about losing weight”

From PBS’s special

  • I knew that people eat less when they use a smaller plate, but their study they cited found that people averaged 22% less food when eating off a 10″ plate instead of a 12″ plate! They also did a study, giving  a huge container of popcorn to people. Some had the huge size and some were given the super-huge size (both were too big to finish). Participants were told to eat their fill. Those with the larger container ate much more popcorn than those with the smaller container.
  • Eating breakfast made it easier to lose weight (you probably knew that one) and eating protein with each meal allowed people to feel satiated for much longer, a suggestion you’ve been hearing me advocate in my own tips.
  • Variety induces people to eat more. They noted that people ate more m’n’ms from a bowl filled with multi-colors than those in bowls with a single color. Novelty also makes a difference. I went to Club Med a couple of times in my younger years. The first few days, I ate a little of everything (sometimes a lot of everything!). But after awhile, since the choices were generally the same, I became more discerning and only ate what I really wanted at the time.

Tips to Weight Loss Without Dieting

While my work with clients with eating issues usually focuses on conscious eating and managing our emotions without using food (with weight loss as a side effect, not the goal), I am also a believer in behavioral strategies that minimize physical and psychological cravings and make it easier to lose weight without the restrictive, calorie-based approaches of most diets. I have been reading some interesting ideas that I think you will find helpful that I share with you at the end of this newsletter.

But first, I’d like to talk a little about why I believe a non-diet approach is healthier and more sustainable than a diet approach.

  • Most diets focus on calories rather than nutrition, a strategy that may help you lose weight initially but can be unhealthy for your body and your energy (and unsustainable for most people without becoming obsessed)
  • Diets tend to be outer-directed instead of inner-directed. Yes, it is necessary and helpful to plan and create structure for our eating plan, so we have healthy food available to us when we need it and don’t have to make food decisions all day long (which suppresses our willpower – more about that later). And it is helpful to know what a “portion” is. But if those are directives rather than guidelines, we will eat the “correct size portion” regardless whether it leaves us hungry or whether we would have been satisfied with less. This is why, in the ‘conscious eating’ track of my CD, I guide listeners to take a pause to check in with their bodies to note their level of hunger and fullness. I suggest they give themselves permission to go for 2nds if their plate is empty but they are still hungry and to stop if there is still food on their plates but their physical hunger is satisfied.  I call that “eating from the inside-out.”
  • Diets tell us that certain foods are bad and to be avoided, setting us up to feel guilty if we’ve eaten them. And while some foods can have negative effects like causing bloating or creating cravings, it feels very different when we avoid  those foods out of self-love rather than self-hatred and fear. For example, if I tell myself I can’t have red wine with my meal because it creates congestion, I may feel deprived. But if I give myself permission to have it if I really want it, I feel freedom. I may choose not to drink it because I don’t want it enough to experience stuffiness. Or I may order it and if I savor every sip, I will probably be satisfied with half a glass.
  • The biggest reason I don’t like diets is that they can create a cycle of “good me/bad me”.
    • I’m good when I :eat what the diet dictated and bad when I don’t, fostering shame and guilt and a love/hate relationship with food
    • Since diets are focused exclusively on weight loss, we feel good about ourselves when we lose weight and guilty or ashamed when we gain, reinforcing the belief that we have to be a certain weight or size to be loveable and acceptable. This is a prescription for self-hatred and obsession.  And it doesn’t work. Because, what do we do when we’re feeling badly about ourselves?  We eat!  Either to soothe ourselves or punish ourselves.
  • Generally, when people begin a diet, they change their eating and exercise habits until they lose weight. But if those habits are not the way we want to live for the rest of our lives, of course we will regain the weight. So, I’m a believer in deciding how you want to live and then allowing your body to respond. How many hours do you really want to spend exercising?  If you exercise for 2 hours 5 days a week to burn calories but hate doing it, how could you possibly maintain that level, especially if your weight plateaus? But if you find a way to move that makes you feel healthy and energetic, it will be much easier to maintain.  I advocate an approach to food and exercise that gives you pleasure, nourishment and energy.

If you’d more information about this “Making Peace with Food & Your Body” approach, here’s a link to my website (www.makingpeacewithfoodandyourbody.com)

And here is a link to my upcoming “Making Peace with Food & Your Body” workshop on Tuesday March 19 in Wakefield RI http://allthatmatters.com/classView.cfm?classID=23&insID=298)

What I do appreciate about some diet approaches, particularly Weight Watchers, are some of the behavioral strategies for minimizing overeating and eating healthier, tools that can help us lose weight without feeling deprived. I am always on the lookout for ideas that can help me and my clients. Below are some nuggets I have been reading about recently that I think you may find interesting, informative and helpful.

Making Peace with Food & Your Body: New Year’s Intentions 2o13

I received a group email from a friend, inviting us to join her in a weight loss challenge. I always have mixed feelings when I hear that someone is starting a diet program after the New Year. Not because I don’t think it’s a good idea to release extra weight we may have put on during the holiday season food spree. But too often, it sets up a familiar pattern of dieting, followed by frustration, discouragement and returning to other familiar overeating habits. If you have a pattern of yo-yo dieting, I’d like to share some thoughts that you might find helpful this time around.

1. If  you have been on many food plans but gave up on them, be curious about why. Were they:

–        Too restrictive?

–        Too unrealistic?

–        Not a plan that worked for your lifestyle but you forced yourself to do anyway?

–        Did you need more support to maintain it?

–        Did you give up because you weren’t losing weight fast enough? (If you judge your success only by the scale and not by how much energy you now have or by how in charge you feel in your life, it’s easy to become discouraged.)

2 Did you give up when you relapsed? Expect to backslide on occasion. We all do. But if you’re curious about what happened and compassionate instead of berating yourself, you’ll figure out why you fell back into the old habit and be better able to make a plan to help you get back on track. It is crucial that you have a support network. I suggest to clients that they email me when they’ve relapsed with their plan (or questions) for how to get back on track.If you think you relapsed because you were weak-willed and this time you’re going to have more willpower, it won’t work. Willpower rarely lasts indefinitely because it gets worn out (or if you do continue to operate strictly from willpower, it will make you obsessed and miserable). Very different from willpower, even though it may look similar, is operating from Inner Strength.   Think of someone running a marathon. He or she could never endure the pain and discomfort simply through willpower or even discipline.  It takes a vision of what they want, powered by the inner stength that they can feel in their core.  My mentor, Richard Moss, calls this building a “container” in our bodies that we can come back to when our mind pulls us into fear and doubt and disappointment.

3.   So, what makes a good plan? One that works for you. One person may benefit from a structured diet, knowing what he or she will eat at a given meal. Another wants more flexibility. Some know that they won’t be able to resist their sugar cravings until they have detoxed off of sugar for 5-7 days. Other people, who are afraid of feeling deprived, do better when they add things instead of taking them away. My colleague, nutritionist Claire Mandeville (www.clairemandeville.com)  encourages her clients to start with adding more water. And, if possible, more greens. For myself, I simply have to get off the couch. When I read too much, spend too much time on the internet or watching movies, I feel lethargic and depressed, which makes me want to eat. Sometimes I’ll set a timer for an hour, a reminder to get up and move. It’s OK to start small. One small step that’s successful makes the next step easier.

In a previous newsletter, I mentioned a very helpful book by Charles Dughigg called The Power of Habit, which I recommend highly for anyone interested in understanding and changing their habits. Duhigg ends the book with a quote from William James about the role of habits in creating happiness and success: “Water is the most apt analogy for how a habit works. Water “hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and, after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before. ”

I find this imagery helpful in not blaming myself when I fall back into a less-than-constructive habit pattern. I also find it helpful to notice that I have a number of different habit patterns, along with the sub-personalities or parts of me that arise with each pattern. I have my “meditator” pattern, where I meditate and do my yoga every morning, listen to my spiritual teachings, plan my meals, do my tasks and eat healthfully every day, encouraged by my “organized part”, my “spiritual part,” my internal “loving mother” who prepares my meals and sometimes the “disciplinarian who warns me that I don’t feel good when I don’t eat well and move.  And then I have my “lazy” pattern, complete with a cast of characters, like the “adolescent” who just wants to lay on the couch and read, the “rebel”  who doesn’t feel like cooking and just wants to eat cashew butter, the “critic” who yells at me for being lazy and the one who tries to cajole me into getting up and doing some movement or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique).  (What movement and EFT do for me is move my energy that gets stuck when I just lie around).   I have lots more habit patterns but these are 2 of my most practiced ones.  You get the idea.  We have different habit patterns and when something triggers one off, just like the water following its path, the pattern just unfolds until something stops it – something external or something inside ourselves.

I invite you to become curious about your habit patterns.  It has helped me enormously to recognize that it is just a habit, that it is not who I am, not how I always behave or will always behave in the future.  And that I have the power to change it.

I wrote about how you can change these habit patterns in an earlier newsletter.  If you don’t have it and would like me to send it to you, please email me at barbara@barbaraholtzman.net.

One of the reasons that I write this newsletter and that I do my workshops (including my newest one on February 9, “Transforming Your Emotions; Transforming Your Life,”  based on the work I learned from Richard Moss and am practicing on myself   http://allthatmatters.com/classView.cfm?classID=1024&insID=298)  is that by teaching, I am reminded of how I am trying to live.

Making Peace with Food & Your Body: A Path to the Mountaintop

We all know that we should eat better, drink more water, get more exercise and 8 hours of sleep. But does knowing healthy choices motivate us to choose them? Not usually. Or at least, not continually. Knowing that something is good for us does not make us want to do it. There are those occasions where we do find ourselves practicing self-care, almost effortlessly. Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps a neighbor invited you to walk a 5K with her and, for awhile, you were getting up early every morning to train with her. Or maybe you tried giving up gluten because you wanted to know what the hype was about. Or maybe you gave up sugar for Lent. In each of these experiences, you may have felt very different in your body, in your energy. No more fog. I call this “getting to the mountain top.” We don’t typically stay there, but having the experience of feeling better than our normal state stays as a touchstone of how it is possible to feel better and we can build on that.

People often ask me if they should make big changes or take baby steps. Either path will work; however I warn  that if they try to make big changes all at once, don’t expect them to last.  My workshops, for example, are designed to help participants discover a new relationship with food that feels peaceful and nourishing.  But I don’t expect them to leave and live that vision automatically. We need to learn the steps and practice the skills. Our experience has becomes a touchstone, a reminder of how we want to feel. But if we feel discouraged that we cannot maintain it, we may give up altogether.

Then it is time to do the baby steps, those incremental steps that feel doable, that don’t trigger our resistance. Like taking a walk when the weather is nice, getting to bed ½ hour earlier, drinking more water or adding more greens (perhaps in a smoothie or a pill if we don’t like vegetables).

I’ve been to the mountain top – many times. It feels wonderful and I think I have it all together – until I don’t! Fortunately, now I am generally able to catch it before I slide all the way down. And, because I no longer beat myself up and I have an extraordinary toolkit, I pick myself back up and start again.

I went to my meditation group a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t been there for a long time but I had wanted to reconnect with the people. And I needed a jump start for getting back to my practice. When I came back from Richard Moss’ retreat, which I wrote about in my last newsletter, I was calm, focused and spacious much more of the time. In that state, I was able to notice when my mind was taking me someplace I didn’t want to go – stories about myself, about others and circumstances, into the future and into the past. But gradually, as I got more focused on projects and task and less connected to myself and my body, I got back into my old habitual thought patterns. It was easy and familiar to believe that I felt unsettled because of the circumstances in my life. There’s always something to blame our unhappiness on. But I have felt unhappy in beautiful settings and calm and at ease in the midst of turbulence. So, the truth is, that while our circumstances have an influence, it is really our minds that makes us happy and unhappy. We would expect seniors to be less happy because of the losses they’ve experienced. Yet, seniors are among the happiest people. People who do gratitude journals or prayers usually find themselves feeling better. They’ve purposely focused on what is good in their lives.

I do peer consultation my friend and colleague, Beth Rontel, about eating and body image issues. We talked today about how we can help clients feel better about the bodies they have.

Most people think they can only feel good about themselves after they’ve lost weight. If you’ve ever gotten to your ideal body weight, you may have felt you were at the mountaintop (although perhaps fearful of falling back down the mountain, feeling vulnerable and exposed ) But what if you could enjoy your body at its current size and weight , even if it’s not the number you have fantasized about? What if you could appreciate how it serves you, not just how it looks? What if you could accentuate your looks so you felt attractive? What if it’s not as much about the circumstances (your weight) as it is about what you do with your mind?

As I sit here writing this newsletter, I am nursing a swollen knee that I am told may require minor surgery.   A week ago, I was feeling fabulous. I tried paddleboarding for the 1st time and was looking forward to an autumn of hiking and biking and a few more kayak rides. And now my knee is so swollen it’s difficult to walk. My old habit of mind would be to worry about it (Future stories), to find a way to blame myself (Me stories) or to blame my body (You stories). It’s still very tempting. But I’m choosing not to go there. I remember how it feels to be at the mountaintop, noticing my thoughts but not getting carried away by them. Accepting of what is, because to fight it only makes me miserable.   And, while I can’t physically climb to the mountaintop, I can experience it in my mind. And that is pretty wonderful!

Obesity, Bulimia, Anorexia, and Binge Eating: A Simple, Natural Way to Help Them All.

By Mary Sornberger
EmpowHER

When I contacted Barbara L. Holtzman, psychotherapist and author of Conscious Eating, Conscious Living; A Practical Guide to Making Peace with Food & Your Body, I asked her if she had any thoughts on healing eating disorders naturally. After Ms. Holtzman logged on to EmpowHER.com and saw, as she said, “… the good work … we were doing,” she gave me permission to use two of her papers.

According to Ms. Holtzman’s paper Making Peace with Food & Your Body, “Diets don’t work.” Holtzman goes on to explain the three different types of diets and how each causes the dieter to fail and possibly to develop an eating disorder. Holtzman wrote, “Diets that eliminate the food you love and want set up an urge to binge as a rebellion against feeling deprived.” Certainly these types of diets could lead to bulimia and binge eating disorders.

Of the second class of diets, Holtzman writes, “Diets that dictate what to eat and when to eat keep us reliant on external cues rather than responding to our body’s needs for food.” Not being able to eat what you want or when your body is naturally hungry is the best recipe for failure. How many times can dieters fight the urge to eat what they want when they feel hungry? Obesity is one obvious outcome.

The third types of diets are the most dangerous. Holtzman describes them as “Diets that severely restrict the quantity of food turn a weight loss diet into a maintenance diet as the body’s metabolism changes to prevent what it believes is starvation.” Of course these diets could result in anorexia nervosa, the most deadly of all eating disorders.

So what’s the alternative? How can we keep our weight in a healthy range and also feel satisfied? Well, Holtzman lists ten ways, but of these she said the most important one in today’s frantic world is to “Practice conscious eating. Slow down your eating and enjoy each bite to the fullest; you will enjoy it more and be satisfied with less.” There is ancient wisdom in these words.

In fact, a wise old woman once told me something similar. She said, “When you eat, just eat!” Imagine what type of dining that would curtail: no eating while on a cell phone, watching TV, standing at the refrigerator door deciding what’s for dinner, driving, working or playing on the computer and definitely no eating while watching the kids play sports of any kind.

These are all places many of us take our repast today. And it’s unhealthy. Imagine if we only ate while sitting at a table while concentrating on and appreciating the gift of food in front of us.

My Catholic school nuns, God bless them, always said you should chew each mouthful of food twenty times before you swallow it. But most days we’re in such a rush our food disappears before we realize we’ve eaten it. The brain never has a chance to register we’ve eaten. No wonder we’re always hungry. The nuns were right. Don’t tell anyone I said that.

This one recommendation of Barbara Holtzman’s, practice conscious eating, could revolutionize the eating habits of Americans today. It will not just help people with eating disorders; it will help everyone.

EmpowHER

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