In this episode, I am joined by my friend Clara Collie, a registered dietician, as we discuss how to stop binge eating.
Clara walks through how we can recognize when under-eating has overridden our innate relationship with food, the effect yo-yo dieting has on our nervous systems, and how we change our fear narrative concerning food.
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How to Stop Binge Eating
Clara, welcome back to the podcast! I am glad that you’re here. I am excited to talk about how to stop binge eating and how dieting is impacting our health. This is a topic near and dear to my heart because I have restricted food many times. Can you talk about how the dieting world has impacted and changed our view of just the way that we eat and even our thought process around eating?
I never thought of myself as a dieter at the moment, but in hindsight, I was dieting, keeping a log of what I was eating, working out, and tracking calorie intake. It just totally overrides our innate relationship with food and the way that I think the Lord created us to be in communion with food. It just totally takes the enjoyment of food off of the table and the trust in your body and how the Lord made you.
We even attach it to our morality or our worth or how good we are. It just totally messes with everything around food and makes it so stressful, unenjoyable, confusing, and overwhelming. We get obsessed and wrapped up in it. And soon we’re questioning when did it get so confusing? Why is my relationship with food so stressful? When we get to the root we can begin to heal and learn how to stop binge eating.
I think you hit it on the head. I know many of us have probably said that before. And I think that can segue us into restricting – what does that look like?
I think there are two types of restriction – there’s physically restricting yourself from food – not eating as much as you used to or saying “I can only eat X amount of calories a day.” Then there’s also the mental restriction around eating. The idea that some foods are bad. And both of those restrictions work against our ease around food and they make it impossible to feel at ease and comfortable around food because we’re always focused on restricting.
That just has such a considerable weight of stress on the body mentally, physically, and emotionally. Your nervous system is always on edge because you’re always focused on what you shouldn’t be doing. Your body can’t calm down. You’re just always hyper and your body identifies that as stress. Then pair that with not giving your body enough nutrients so it has the energy that it needs to function – it all adds up. It’s all stress.
I think every guest has said this is impacting our nervous system so it’s important. What questions do you ask your clients or people that you work with that are restricting? Or how to help them stop binge eating? Or what little baby steps can we take to get away from the narratives that they heard or the fear of food or the what-ifs?
The first question I ask is “Who told you that?” just to get people to say it out loud and to process through it. I think a lot of times we don’t take the time to ask where we heard it and question if it’s vaild. And then the second question would be “Why are you wanting to focus on this?” Or “why is this weighing so heavy on you? Why is it so important to you?” And keep asking them why.
To me, a lot of times it comes down to motives. I think there are some things that we do when it comes to how we eat or what we eat or why we eat that aren’t inherently bad. But it’s our approach – it’s our motivation behind why we’re doing that that is the problem. And that can make these “neutral” health actions turn negative and hurtful us.
That’s not to say everything is neutral – under-eating or telling yourself you can’t eat past seven o’clock – those aren’t always neutral, they could be negative.
We have to get honest about why eating after 7 stresses us out. What’s gonna happen? Why are you scared? Scared that you’re gonna gain weight – why is that? Why is that weighing so heavy on you? It’s hard to sit with yourself and process through that because it is just flat-out uncomfortable.
I love the questions you’re asking because we don’t realize that oftentimes that our dieting and restrictions are just fruit of what’s going on underneath, right? We try to control our feelings and manage our feelings through food. It’s just an outlet for us. We have to address the root because once you uproot the root, then the fruit changes.
And I think this goes right into binging because restriction says that you can’t have something and if you do, you’re bad. What happens with binging is we want to rebel against the diet and eat the things that were considered bad. And binging can happen in many different ways – I’ve seen a lot of restrictions leading to binging.
Can you talk about how those go together?
I can talk through this from personal experience. I was never diagnosed with binge eating disorder, but in hindsight, I can see it so clearly now. This is something that I had to learn, it wasn’t something that I innately knew. When it comes to restriction and binging you nailed it so perfectly when you talked about under-eating leading to binging. But with restriction, I think it comes with both mental and physical problems. Learning how to stop binge eating was something I personally had to walk through.
So mentally if you’re restricting yourself from certain foods, they’re all you think about and that can lead to a binge. And then there’s also the mental – if you tell yourself that you can’t have it, eventually, the body is going to cave. The easiest way I can relate it is telling a kid to not touch a hot stove. You’re restricting them because you’re telling them not to do something so they’re gonna rebel because that’s how they respond to the world.
And even as adults, telling ourselves to not do something or that we can’t have something or that we’re restricting is almost always going to lead to a binge, especially when it’s related to food which our body literally needs to survive. So it leads to this binge where we feel out of control around this food. It’s almost an out-of-body experience where you can’t stop eating because your body has been restricted and you haven’t been giving it the nourishment it needs. Maybe it’s not a lack of willpower.
It is not a lack of discipline. It’s literally a lack of you being well-fed and allowing yourself full-fledged access to that food. Learning how to stop binge eating will be a process of unlearning what you have learned about dieting.
I’m glad that you said that because a lot of people think it’s discipline and willpower. What I’ve noticed is that binges are actually just bigger meals, but they look like binges because they’re bigger, higher-calorie than the 300-calorie meal that they are restricted to. That’s where so many different binges come in.
I didn’t mean to interrupt your thought, but so many women believe they’re just not strong enough or they don’t have enough self-control or willpower and discipline, but it’s actually your body telling you it needs something – it’s communicating with you.
Just a personal example – when I was in the throes of this, cereal and peanut butter were the two things that I could not keep in the pantry because I could eat through them in a night. But now I can keep those in my house and forget about them, whereas I could never imagine wrapping my mind around that 10 years ago. And when I look back and ask why is that different now? It’s because I’m eating enough food earlier in the day.
I’m not restricting physically. I’m not restricting mentally. All foods are available for me to eat and when it comes to those foods that I put as off-limits, I have mentally removed that label of “off-limits” or “bad.” And that comes with time, it’s not just a flip of a switch. It takes effort, time, and patience. And then with that, I also had to learn how to deal with my emotions.
That was probably one of the biggest pieces for me – dealing with my emotions in ways other than using food to numb out. This helped to stop binge eating.
Binge Eating Treatments
I want to get into some practical ways about coming out of binging as well. What are some practical ways on how to stop binge eating? If we’re getting away from dieting, we think, “Well, what am I what am I supposed if nobody’s telling me how to eat?” What do you recommend when it comes to women that might be struggling right now with the idea of binging?
Two or three things come to mind. One of them is something that you can do after the fact. So you say you have this episode of a binge and you’re down on yourself, you’re frustrated, and you’re thinking, “Why did that happen again?” Well, this is an opportunity to take an audit. What happened? Think, what did you feel in the moment? What were you eating? What was the environment around you at that time?
A couple of minutes up to the binge, where were you? What were you doing? Think about the environment? What were you feeling? What led to those feelings? A couple of hours before the binge, same questions. Where were you? What was going on? What were your feelings, emotions, and thoughts?
Then continue that throughout the rest of the day – maybe even the day prior just to get a better timeline because it feels like binges come out of nowhere. But a seed had been planted. So that can help give you a more broad look at what led to the binge. Breaking the chain can be helpful. Another thing that I find helpful with some clients is what I call the HALT approach.
It’s an acronym that stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Also, to throw in bored in there as well… or sad. If you find yourself maybe a little bit more aware and you feel the binge coming – stopping, halting, and thinking, “Am I hungry? Am I angry or lonely? Am I tired, bored or am I sad? Is it a habit?” Think through your emotions and how you’re feeling and then ask is food going to help with that? And it might not, it could be a coping mechanism. Using food to cope isn’t bad, but if that’s the only way that you cope with your emotions or use it to numb out that’s a red flag.
So using that HALT approach can be helpful to build in that awareness. You may still binge, but you’re building in that space to slow down, which I think is big.
I think HALT is great. Being able to look back with compassion and grace on yourself and learn every single time. then move forward. As we wrap up today, what would you like the women to know as they’re walking through coming out of dieting and coming out of this restriction and binge lifestyle?
Man, that’s a big question. It’s possible to overcome it and learning how to stop binge eating will take time. It’s not going to be done in your own strength or discipline or willpower. I think the Holy Spirit is what empowers us and equips us to be able to do this. We can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s challenging, but is possible.
If there was something that I could hear 10 years ago when I was going through it’s that your identity is not in how you look. Because I think for a lot of people, we’re restricting because we want to change how we look and because we want the approval of other people. And so for me, that was the underlying root. Understanding that’s not where your worth and your identity comes from and removing labels from food is one of the most freeing things ever because they no longer have control over you.
It’s that freedom that we find in Christ when we get to partner with him.
I love the honesty too that this is going to be hard, you’re going to feel tension, it’s going to feel like you’re doing the wrong thing. The enemy is going to come in and he’s going to convince you that you’re doing it wrong. Especially when you’re moving into an intuitive eating approach and learning to eat food again that you once restricted. It’s such a process.