unsplash-logoFlemming Fuchs

binge eating

Podcast Interview

I had a lot of fun recording a podcast episode for Better Mental Health this week. In the episode I talk about body image - the trouble with comparing yourself to others and the influence of social media.

You can find the episode at https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/better-mental-health

I also share a bit about my own story with binge eating, which isn’t something I have done a lot of online. I do think we connect through sharing our stories. I see this a lot in the binge eating therapy groups I run. When we know we aren’t the only one facing this challenge, we feel less alone. When we feel compassion for someone else’s story that’s similar to our own, we can find a bit of compassion for ourselves.

Struggling with compulsive eating and bingeing is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s confusing and scary and it can be hard to find your way out on your own. There are many places to get support, professional or otherwise, you don’t have to face this alone.

Episode 11 - Sarah Dosanjh on Body Image

Episode 11 - Sarah Dosanjh on Body Image

Why dieting isn’t the answer to overeating

I am pretty vocal about being anti-diet. Diets do not work for the majority of people. Our behaviour is driven by how we are thinking and feeling. Going on a diet usually involves trying to create a behaviour change without making any other changes. Diets will insist that you just have to be disciplined enough and if you don’t manage to stick to the diet, you must be lacking in willpower.

As Kelly McGonigal writes in her book Willpower! You only need willpower if there is a conflict of will. Diets create a conflict and no-one can thrive while living in a conflicted state. There are three things that could happen when you go on a diet.

i can't stop eating binge eating weight loss

You might lose weight and be a “success” story.

Firstly, you might lose weight and keep it off. This is very much the exception not the rule but it does happen in a tiny percentage of cases. When it does happen, these people have created a shift in identity. They develop a new attitude to how they eat and move their bodies and that attitude is integrated into their personality. Usually these are people who didn’t have a great deal of emotion around their eating or body image to begin with. They are not people who have tried dozens of diets and have had the experience of feeling like a failure around food. Because the emotions are not particularly heightened, they are not working with the same resistance that so many of us are. Not fair? Perhaps, but we can’t change our emotional history with food. We need to accept where we’re starting from.

The rebound effect of diets.

Secondly, you may stick to the diet for hours, days, weeks or months - maybe you even hit you goal weight but at some point most people will throw off the shackles and resume eating, usually more than before and usually with a sense of feeling out of control until you find yourself back at your starting weight or higher. How distressed you are by this experience will predict how disordered you could start to become around food the next time you try and exert control over your eating.

Dieting triggers eating disorders.

And lastly, you restrict and maintain your restriction through tolerating the conflict of wanting to eat but not allowing yourself to. This one can be dangerous because it’s the feeding ground of eating disorders. In anorexia tight restriction is maintained but at enormous cost. Obsession, fear, anxiety, isolation and deteriorating health all follow this type of restriction and once you’re gripped by it, it’s incredibly difficult to fully recover. Perhaps you manage to restrict but with periods of bingeing, well this is a slippery slope into binge eating disorder and once you start making “amends” for bingeing (purging, exercise, laxatives, fasting) you slide into bulimia territory.

How do I stop overeating?

You may be thinking this all sounds a bit hopeless. What are you supposed to do if dieting isn’t the answer? I think we need think about what we can learn about the first group. They changed their identity around how they were with food. Their conflict and emotionality around food isn’t as high. In order to change how we eat, we first need to reduce our own conflict and emotionality around food. I know you want to jump straight into making the changes. Of course you do, this has become so incredibly important to you but the challenge may be to make it LESS important. This is why ditching the diet mentality is crucial. It’s not just about not dieting but about shifting the mentality. This is the mentality that you carry around day-to-day and it influences every single food choice you make and turning food decisions into a minefield.

This is how so many people get stuck, the desperation to lose weight through controlling what you eat is what will keep you feeling out of control. Like a spiders web, the more you struggle, the more stuck you become. We need to end the war to find peace and then rebuild from the debris. This means surrender, not destroying ourselves through trying to win against our appetite for it is a fierce and non-compromising opponent.

 

Want to stop binge eating? STOP compensating.

First let me preface this by saying that this blog post is not going to be aimed at everyone who is struggling with overeating but if you struggle with binge eating and your weight stays within a 10lb range then read on and listen up.

Weight and binge eating

Now this may sound a bit controversial but if your weight is not climbing up then you are probably not eating more than your body needs over the long run. “No way,” I imagine you thinking, “Have you seen how much food I can put away on a binge?” I hear you, it doesn’t seem possible that you could ever need that amount of food and you know by how terrible you physically feel afterwards that it was more than you needed in the moment. But that’s the point, it might have been more than you needed in the moment but perhaps it was what you needed in the long term.

Most of my clients who come to me for help with binge eating are not in what most people would call big bodies and yet they are consuming large amounts of food and feeling utterly out of control of their eating. So what’s happening?

Compensation. From the moment the binge is over you start plotting and planning how to compensate for the excess of food. This usually involves planning exercise, promising to eat less/healthier tomorrow, skipping meals or purging, and what does this do? It ramps up cravings and the desire to binge again soon.

bingeing compulsive eating stop

Compulsive eating and caloric deficits

I often ask people to describe a bad day of eating and a good one. This invariably produces similar answers - the bad days mean bingeing on sugar and processed foods and the good days go something like, porridge for breakfast, soup for lunch and fish and vegetables for dinner. The good days are invariably days of caloric deficit, so then the compensatory behaviour to for this is a binge.

You see? Restriction compensates for bingeing but then bingeing compensates for restriction. It’s not so much of a vicious cycle, more like a pendulum swinging one way and then the other. Even thinking about compensatory behaviours can trigger more bingeing. It’s that moment mid-binge where you feel a bit sick and fleetingly consider stopping, it’s often that compensatory belief about what you’ll do later that will lead you to continue the binge. You tell yourself that tomorrow you’ll be so “good” that you don’t want this food left around anyway so you’d better just eat it all now.


binge eating stop compulsive overeating

Clients then point out to me that some people seem to be able to maintain strict and even restrictive diets. They use this as evidence that they just need to try harder and that the answer must be to find a way to control their food intake. This is a tricky one but I do think people’s brains are wired very differently when it comes to eating and appetite. We don’t all experience our hunger or our cravings in the same way. You don’t have the same brain as that fitspo model with the million+ Instagram followers and you don’t have the same biochemistry either.

Binge eating recovery

So while this post has focused on the physical side of bingeing, the psychological component is a massive factor that we can’t ignore. I think it’s important to briefly touch on identity. Often binge eating, once it becomes a regular experience, starts to integrate itself into your identity. You start to believe you are a person who is out of control with food, you are a person who cannot trust their body’s signals, you are someone who keeps failing. These beliefs start to bury themselves in your psyche and they are driven in deeper each time they are compounded by strong emotions such as guilt or shame.

This is why we cannot separate the physical (stopping the compensation) with the emotional (the way we feel about ourselves). A focus on emotional health, while stopping compensatory behaviour planning is the path or recovery.

A Rant About Calories

When oh when will we stop with the demonisation of calories? Products on the shelves loudly and proudly proclaim - “Only X number of calories per portion!”, “Low in calories!” or my biggest pet peeve – “Guilt free!” (implication – low in calories).

Since where are we supposed to feel guilty about needing to eat food and for that food to contain calories?! Gah! Calories are energy and energy is necessary for, well, just about everything!

People fear consuming too many calories and in today’s environment of easy-access, high energy food I recognise that this might be a legitimate fear for some but worrying about getting your calorific levels ‘right’ may simply create a lot of internal chatter that makes it difficult to really know what your body wants at this moment in time.

You have probably been there - standing in Pret or Tesco, comparing sandwiches and pre-packed salads and trying to find the fewest calories to trick your body into thinking this is enough for your lunch. Your body is smarter than you are when it comes to calorie usage.

Also, we don’t absorb all the calories we eat, did you know that? Yep, some of those calories pass right through you and there is no way of knowing how many you absorb. Did you know that if two people consume a 100kcal banana, one could absorb 95 calories and the other 85 calories? FROM EATING THE SAME THING!

You don’t know with your thinking mind how many calories you need and the body’s caloric requirements change from day to day based on numerous factors from activity levels to the weather to how many calories you consumed the previous day.

So please, let’s start appreciating those humble calories, the building blocks of our body, the unsung heroes of our life.

Ending the Nightmare of Binge Eating

First published on the Counselling Directory https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/ending-the-nightmare-of-binge-eating.

We have never had greater access to nutritional information than we do today. We also know more about how our bodies function than ever before, but it seems that we have never had a trickier relationship with food or greater dissatisfaction about the size and shape of our bodies.

More and more clients are approaching me because they are fed up of struggling with what they perceive is their out-of-control appetite. Are our appetites more out of control these days? This is often the reported experience but all may not be as it seems...

Our relationship with food and appetite is complex. We have many cues and triggers that encourage us to consume food, and these engage all the physical senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and even sound. Ever spotted that green Starbucks sign and suddenly wanted a caramel latte? It wasn’t even on your mind until you spotted the green mermaid in her circular frame!

Experts have termed our environment as ‘obseogenic’, and this simply means we are living in a culture that continuously primes us to eat.

Here lies the cultural paradox. Thin lean taunt bodies and “clean” disciplined eating is celebrated as a sign of success and bestowed with greater social value. Soft, squishy bodies are often judged as undisciplined and an example of what we shouldn’t be. The pressure is on to sculpt your body into a more acceptable shape.

The solution to this becomes a diet. Diets these days are often masquerading as wellness programmes, or healthy clean eating. Sugar is the enemy; we should be eating low carb, keto or paleo. There are long lists of what you should or shouldn't be allowing yourself to consume, and with each new bit of research more things are added to these lists.

The problem with this solution is that it requires you to ignore your body’s signals and hand over the decisions about what and how much to eat to a prescribed set of rules. People crave freedom, it’s a basic primal need, and for many the restriction imposed by dieting triggers rebellious eating, or binge eating.

Binge eating is much more than eating “too much”. It’s a sensation of completely losing control around food. It’s very scary to experience. Unfortunately the common response when people start to binge is to try and exercise EVEN MORE control over food, which sets up the next binge and so the cycle continues. This is how people get trapped in the cycle of bingeing and dieting.

Also, dieting causes emotional eating. As soon as you restrict food you like, you increase its emotional value. Eating and deciding what to eat becomes a more emotionally-charged experience, which confuses your hunger signals even more. Food can then become a way to manage your emotional state.

So what’s the solution?

Understanding some of the emotional reasons that perpetuate your eating is a good start, and counselling will help you gain insight into this and assist you to develop tools for managing your emotions without turning to food.

The emotional work is only part of the picture though.

I like to use the analogy of Newton’s third law, which states that each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Bingeing is the natural reaction to restriction. Even restrictive thinking can trigger the binge response. Ever planned to start a diet on Monday and ended up eating your way through the weekend before?

To break free from bingeing requires a rejection of diet culture and a re-learning of how to respond to your body’s signals.

When people stop believing their bodies aren’t acceptable as they are, they can begin to reconnect with the subtle sensations and signals in their bodies, and regain their sanity around food.

If you are struggling with binge eating, you may be interested in joining a binge eating therapy group. The group meets on Tuesday evenings in Ealing. For more info, click here.

Have you reached a turning point?

A Turning Point Session (TSP) is for anyone who has come to a point in their lives where they are fed up of struggling with overeating and body image and have reached the the point where they are ready to make a change.

If you have been caught up in a bingeing cycle for a while, I imagine you would have made many resolutions to change in the past. You’ve probably said to yourself most days that tomorrow will be different.

But then it isn’t.

And the cycle continues.

overeating binge eating treatment

In your TPS, we will have a 3 hour intensive together where we seek to get to the bottom of what may be keeping you stuck. I have many tools in my kit to help us to uncover this and make a plan to change it around. Drawing on approaches from transactional analysis, cognitive therapy, NLP, psychotherapy and coaching, we will have a session which is tailor made for you. You will have filled out a thorough assessment session prior to our session, which will enable me to have an idea before me meet of what techniques we may need to use.

This may be right for you if….

  • You are fed up of struggling with overeating/bingeing. You know it isn’t supposed to be this hard.

  • You are ready and willing to learn how to do things differently.

  • Committing to weekly sessions does not appeal to you.

You will leave the session with tools and resources you can use to turn things around and get on with living your life.

The session includes:

  • Constructing the narrative - understanding how you have become this way around food.

  • Understanding neuroscience and how this information can help restore mental sanity with food.

  • Emotional release work.

  • A tailor-made plan for you to implement over the next few weeks. Including take home resources.

  • A Skype check in 4 weeks later.

    If you’d like to find out more, please head to the contact page and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. To purchase a Turning Point Session, please click here.

The Last Supper Sabotage

The solution to excess weight seems very simple – don’t take in more energy than you expend over long periods of time or, if you have weight to lose, ‘eat less, move more’.

A 2016 study reported 48% of Brits had tried to lose weight in the previous year and this figure rose to 57% among women. With so many of us trying to shrink our waistlines, how is it that, according to NHS figures, 62% of people living in England are currently classified as overweight or obese.

If nearly half of us are trying some form of dieting every year, why are we failing in our goals for health? Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that we actually gain weight once we get on that cycle of dieting. To be clear, I’m not suggesting it’s the diet itself that causes weight gain but rather the diet mentality that is working against us.

Eating is the most important thing we do for survival after breathing. It is crucial that we are driven to seek out food. We have many physiological and psychological triggers which are driving us to eat and a diet mentality can confuse and stress these systems.

Just the mere thought of future deprivation can activate food-seeking behaviours. When you tell yourself you are starting that diet on Monday, your brain now tells you to eat, eat, eat now! Before the food runs out. They call this Last Supper eating, that final binge or overindulgence you are driven to have because you truly believe that you won’t be able to eat like this for a while.

The morning after an indulgence, your insulin sensitivity is reduced because of the overproduction of insulin required to deal with last night’s excess. Insulin has a very satiating effect but when your sensitivity is reduced, this satiating effect is muted, driving you to eat more and the diet is blown before 3pm. A new start time for the next diet is set and the Last Supper eating begins again and, before you know it, weeks have passed, you never did quite get into the flow of your eating plans, and you’ve eaten more than you would have if you hadn’t decided to diet to begin with.

We are more educated about food and nutrition than we have ever been, yet so many of us fell so out of control when it comes to our diet and health. With all the information available, losing weight should be a fairly straightforward process but our thoughts, emotions, physiology and modern lifestyles throw up obstacles, which creates conflict and confusion.

This is one of the reasons why many people turn to talking therapies. In order to change our relationship with food and our bodies, we need to change the way we think and feel about food and our bodies.

I believe in empowering my clients with a combination of therapy; to help them understand their processes, and psycho-education; to promote knowledge, understanding and self-compassion.

Sources:

http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/brits-lose-count-of-their-calories-over-a-third-of-brits-dont-know-how-many-calories-they-consume-on-a-typical-day

https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/statistics-and-causes-of-the-obesity-epidemic-in-the-UK.aspx