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Deeper Issues: Binge Eating

Weight loss is complicated, yet also simple. It can be easy, but also very difficult. I know, because I’ve experienced complexity, simplicity, easy times, and hard times during my journey.

For many of us, a few micro-adjustments are all that is needed to get success on our weight loss journey. It can be that simple once we figure out what works for us.

But figuring out what works for us can be incredibly hard. Furthermore, some people have a lot more to figure out than others.

I am a huge believer in the feedback loop philosophy, where you reflect on your daily habits and make micro-adjustments to eventually change your lifestyle and lose weight permanently.

Unfortunately, for others, it may take some time for results to show. The reality is that we all start on different spots on the weight control spectrum. Weight loss is truly harder for some than for others.

Luuze can work for many people to help them repair their feedback loops, but I’ll be the first to say that it doesn’t work for everyone. I’m not a doctor or medical professional, nor do I claim to be one. I may not be able to help, but others might. There’s no shame in seeking professional help for these deeper issues. Taking back control of our health is incredibly important!

Binge Eating

Binge eating can be one of those issues. There is often an all-or-nothing approach that comes with binge eating, and cycles of restriction and then overeating can be a huge detriment to both mental and physical health. People who binge are actually often quite productive, with high standards and high levels of motivation. Unfortunately, these traits can be double-edged, because a feeling of not doing enough can take them off track.

One of the members of the Reddit r/luuzers community, u/tigertigerishungry, was gracious enough to share her story and experience with binge eating, and how she was able to overcome it. She also shares some of her additional insights on her weight loss journey here.

I share this story here because it may help those who are struggling with deeper issues realize that although sometimes our problems feel deeply personal, there are many others who have walked the same path. 

Q&A About Binge Eating with u/tigertigerishungry

Tell us a little about what binge eating is. How is it related to crash dieting?

I am sure there are many reasons that binge eating originates for different people, but for me and probably many others, it was a direct result of crash dieting and overly restrictive eating that began when I was a teenager. After I went on my first diet, I lost a lot of weight very quickly, but I quickly became obsessed and got more and more controlling and restrictive, and it was only after that that eventually I had my first few binges, from my body reacting to the extreme hunger and deprivation.

What was your experience with the crash dieting/binge eating cycle?

After the first few times I binged, I know now that I self-perpetuated the cycle by continuing to diet and restrict and over-exercise, in fact even more heavily than before to try to compensate for the binge. That just kept the binge urges coming and reinforced the entire cycle. After years of that happening, even once I stopped eating restrictively, the binge behavior was so ingrained in myself that I’d want to binge anyway, in reaction to any number of situations or stimuli or just purely at random. It was only after I let go of all my mental rules about the “right” way to eat and paying attention to managing my weight in healthy and gentle way that I was able to ignore those unhealthy urges. The impulse to binge always felt too powerful and undeniable when I was still in a restrictive dieting mindset or consuming too few calories.

You mentioned you read a book called Brain over Binge. What were your biggest takeaways from that book?

A couple of takeaways from Brain Over Binge that felt really true for me: The cause of all binges is the binge “urge”. That’s the automatic thought or feeling of wanting to binge eat, the sort of pathway that gets worn into your brain’s impulses, and it’s the only reason a binge ever happens. It’s not because of emotions or situations. Without that very specific urge, we’d never choose to binge in order to relax or de-stress, to solve a problem, distract ourselves, or whatever else, because it would be entirely illogical to do so. Learning this was incredibly comforting and freeing to me, because it meant that I no longer had to solve all my life’s issues or avoid any and all stress or difficulty in order to recover. Binge urges can be annoying, but they’re not dangerous, and they have no power over your actions, so they don’t need to be something to fear or even avoid. You can absolutely experience them without acting on them, and in fact, that’s the way to help them die out. Knowing this, in conjunction with taking actions that make reacting to binge urges less appealing (not restricting food or types of foods, making binge foods not un-allowed but also not easily accessible, etc.) is a powerful combination.

How did you start learning to eat more flexibly and moderately?

It was actually the r/loseit discussion board on Reddit that introduced me to a way of eating, losing, and maintaining weight, that was flexible and sustainable for the first time. Even though I did not strictly count calories, due to anxiety and binge urges it still brings up in me from my disordered eating as a teenager. Re-educating myself about the knowledge and the math of how calories relate to weight was an eye-opening experience for me. It was so helpful to learn and have it affirmed by hearing others’ experiences that any and all foods are fine to eat, at any timing, as long as overall calories are in check. And realizing the insane amount of calories I was consuming during binges also gave me the freedom to say, “I can eat SO much food at regular meals and still lose weight, just as long as I am not binge eating.”

How were you able to rethink your routine about diet and exercise when you had kids?

It was a huge adjustment having kids, but it ended up being very positive for me. I realized I could no longer be as strict about my eating or exercise schedule, and that led to me challenging a lot of overly restrictive thoughts I had about what it took to maintain a healthy weight. For example, I used to be hung up on never eating too late in the day; I used to be deathly afraid of carbohydrates, and I had always religiously gone to the gym every single morning. It caused me a lot of mental anguish when I could no longer always do those sorts of things due to the time constraints of having small kids, and it caused me to vacillate between taking extreme actions to make them happen or giving up entirely. Eventually, though, because my biggest enemy to weight loss was always binge eating, giving up all those rules in favor of eating well as best as I could and exercising for fun possible actually made it possible for the first time in my life to feel I could ignore urges to binge eat. Weight loss is all about eating fewer calories than you expend. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time and money, so even being overwhelmed by kids, it’s entirely possible to still lose weight. Every small thing adds up. Short and/or sporadic workouts are great. Just plain walking around with the kids is great. Eating what’s easiest for you to cook, just less of it, it’s great.

How do you manage cravings?

Since I’ve been addressing binge eating, I think it’s important to distinguish between healthy cravings and binge cravings. Normal and healthy food cravings are something I look forward to and try to incorporate into my next meal. That’s a part of eating flexibly – any and all foods can be part of an overall healthy diet when in the appropriate portions and frequencies. Cravings should be a useful signal of WHAT to eat – just not WHEN, or HOW MUCH. I can actually tell if something is actually a binge urge disguised as a craving if I’m NOT interested in making it a part of a normal meal or dessert, if I want to save it up for when I’m alone, or I have a strong aversion to eating it in a moderate quantity or being mindful of the calories in it. For those binge food cravings, I take the opposite tactic and pay no attention to them, or deliberately distract myself from them, because I know from years of experience that giving into THOSE cravings only makes them stronger rather than satiating them. I like to think of it as “I’m choosing not to buy/eat this because I don’t want to be battling the urge for more, more, more for the days to come” – not because cravings or any certain foods are bad, but because it’s a much more positive choice for me not only now but later. I think healthy cravings can even be helpful when combating binge eating, because it lets me look forward to food and enjoy eating in a healthful context, and that can sort of “crowd out” or replace thoughts or actions around binge eating.

What final message would you want to share to people who are prone to binging?

First of all, that anyone struggling with binge eating is far, far from alone. Especially with all the mixed messages we get about what healthy and normal eating and sustainable weight loss is, it’s almost not a surprise to me that many people end up facing binge eating issues. But I would also encourage even long-time sufferers that it is absolutely possible to end the binge eating habit for good. It might mean putting off weight loss or doing it slower, but it is 100% worth conquering the binge eating.

Finally, one tip that made a really big difference to me: think one of the most important aspects of binge eating recovery is to not let the binge eating become the main feature of your life, and instead to fill your life as much as possible with other good things. If you have a binge, go right back to doing what you’d do if you hadn’t binged. Reacting to the binge, either by beating yourself up mentally, under-eating or over-exercising, or saying “what the heck” and bingeing or just plain overeating even more, ALL of those options just cement the cycle. The very best thing you can do is to make the binge eating as small and insignificant as possible in your thoughts and your behaviors, to help it die out as the rest of your life becomes bigger.

I also want to stress that everything I’ve shared here is based on my own, very personal experience. Recovery from binge eating is not one-size-fits-all, and whatever mental understanding or practical strategies that work for any individual is always what’s best.

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