Cold turkey: how to stop overeating

This website poses a theory about how to cure binge eating disorder, compulsive eaters, ‘emotional eaters’, ‘stress eaters’ and anyone else who has disrupted their ability to eat ‘intuitively’ (that is, their natural ability to eat when hungry and stop when full – often as the result of a junk food addiction triggered by a restrictive diet). The method simplifies methodology used in anorexia and bulimia treatment and is aimed at those who struggle specifically with overeating. It outlines how to stop overeating and rapidly initiate normal eating patterns, allowing you to consume a normal, nourishing diet (gradually returning to a healthy weight) with only a short dose of concerted effort. The method is simple and easy to implement, but you must believe it before you begin, so I suggest you read other material that has been published on this website first (start here). This is the method that worked for me, and I am providing it here, free of charge, in the hope that it also helps you.

Please note that if you recently endured a very low calorie diet or have been purging regularly, you may need medical supervision while increasing your food intake, as there can be fatal health complications, such as refeeding syndrome.

The method is applied without any adjustment period. It involves stopping disordered eating cold turkey and eating normal, nourishing meals, following a short period of high nourishment eating. This allows your body to swiftly embrace normal eating patterns, without starvation, addiction, restriction or binge eating. Unlike dieting, which requires increased willpower with each new day (as your body fat reserves dwindle and starvation sets in) this method becomes rapidly easier, with only the first few day or so requiring mild, concentrated effort. After 5 days, in my case, the method required no conscious effort at all. The approach deprives you of nothing, is enjoyable from the very first moment and engulfs you in a normal eating pattern that can be continued for the rest of your life.

What is the cure? It is ridiculously simple: eat three, normal, nourishing meals a day, beginning with a period of high nourishment eating (of about one week).

 

The high nourishment phase

Most of withdrawal is caused by incorrect or distorted beliefs about the addiction and your depressing circumstance. This can be eliminated with relative ease, if the right information is presented in the right way (this is the purpose of this website). A tiny portion of withdrawal, however, is triggered by the gradually worsening physical state of your body. In food addiction, this occurs as nutritional deficits mount and, in some cases, as breathing and movement becomes more difficult, due to high blood pressure, obesity and other health complications.

Luckily, the human body operates on a system of relativity. For example, if you are freezing, a lukewarm bath feels pleasantly hot. On a sunny day, however, a lukewarm bath feels cold. If you are are poor, a $100 prize is awesome. For a millionaire, such a prize is inconsequential. We measure the world not in absolutes, but in reference to our existing state. We notice the difference. We pick up on the trajectory of progress (ie. whether things are getting better or worse) and this dictates our response. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense that we would be propelled towards situations or occasions that make our life better; not that we would feel miserable until a state of perfection had been achieved. In other words, although nutritional deficits and health issues cannot be corrected overnight, a human body that has been provided with low nourishment meals for an extended period of time, will sit up and take notice when they are provided with a sudden onslaught of nourishment. Every cell in your body knows that repeated high-nourishment meals will save you. This is why, on the very first day, you can transform every speck of your misery to delight. Although you do not instantly revert to a healthy weight (if you are overweight or underweight) the knowledge that you have solved this thing, that you have beaten it, is AMAZING. That is how Allen Carr gets chronic smokers from forty cigarettes a day down to zero, instantly. He dismantles all of the brainwashing society has fed to them, and then instantly removes the supply of nicotine, so that the tiny physical aggravation quickly dies, and in its place there is freedom.

Follow a high nourishment phase until you feel ‘normal’ (ie. until you don’t intermittently think about consuming junk food and even forget about food for vast periods of the day). On the 6th day, I realised that I felt completely normal again. I felt like when I was a child again. I realised that none of the crazy thinking was part of me and that it was just withdrawal – there was nothing wrong with me after all! I felt as though all of my willpower had returned and that I could make decisions about food just as a normal person could. It felt like a big space had opened in my brain and I felt free.

How to stop overeating

The high nourishment phase: how to stop overeating cold turkey. This photo shows a close up detail of the sort of meal I ate (pork roast – tonnes of veges, dripping with pork fat, salt and pepper. High carb, high protein, high fat, high calorie, but most importantly, high nourishment. I still regularly eat meals like this.

 

Guidelines for the high nourishment phase:

Please note that these guidelines have become more complex over time. In concept it is very simple. Eat as high nourishment as you can, three times a day, until full and completely satisfied. Additional information about specific foods has been added gradually, because people often arrive at this website after years or even decades of learning about nutrition. With such a wide knowledge and a head full of conflicting ideas, what is simple may not seem so. Thus, I have tried to cover as many different foods as possible. Please don’t get caught up in the specifics. No one knows exactly what the optimal human diet looks like. We are an adaptable, highly flexible species. We just need this: nutrients with our calories.

  • Eat lots of saturated fat (animal fats, cheeses, full-fat milk, cream). Do NOT worry about calories. The aim is not to minimise calories, it is to maximise nourishment, so that you feel satisfied and full and your body thrives. I will write a long article about saturated fat. For now, in brief: it appears that our initial fear that saturated fat lead to heart disease was unwarranted. Rather, the opposite is true: dietary saturated fat is a necessary for brain functioning, skin health, calcium absorption in bones, liver health and your immune system and so on. When you think about it, this should be obvious. Humans have been eating animal fats for thousands of years.
  • Eat lots of protein (eggs, meat, fish – full fat, of course, with skin). Fresh, grass-fed meat, shellfish and fresh fish are ideal. Processed meats (sausages, ham, bacon, salami) have been associated with adverse affects in various observational studies. These issues are separate from the concept of satiation and nourishment outlined on this website; in other words, eating or not eating processed meat is unlikely to have any impact upon your body weight and/or the level or satiation that you derive from food, however you may choose not to eat it in light of this possible adverse health risk. I continue to eat processed meat, perhaps once a week. Bone broth/stock is excellent. Bone broth is the ‘new big thing’ with many diets, including The Wild Diet by Abel James (see on Amazon), which was, incidentally, one of the highest performing diets in the ABC show ‘My Diet Is Better Than Yours’. (There are numerous other books on Amazon purporting the benefits of this). Bone broth, of course, is not a new thing, but is a way of cooking bones in soups that humans have used for generations. It appears to be a great way to consume nutrients, and appears particularly helpful for healing leaky gut syndrome, improving food intolerances, allergies and boosting the immune system. It is also rich in collagen, which may help combat sagging skin (a study examining the effect of oral collagen supplementation shows a ‘significantly higher skin elasticity level’). I often consume bone broth in both soups and casseroles (there is an inexpensive supply of grass-fed beef bones in New Zealand) and buy pre-made fresh stock too. You can also purchased a powdered form of bone broth and collagen etc on Amazon, to save you having to cook bones for hours in your kitchen. I keep it frozen and add it to meals.

Chicken soup isn’t just good for the soul: There’s a reason that it’s prescribed by doctors and mothers alike when you’re feeling under the weather. All bone broths — beef, chicken, fish, lamb and more — are staples in the traditional diets of every culture and the basis of all fine cuisine. That’s because bone broths are nutrient-dense, easy to digest, rich in flavor and they boost healing. – Dr Axe:

  • Eat lots of nourishing carbohydrates, fresh fruit and vegetables, including sugary fruit, cold-pressed or fresh juices and root vegetables. Dried fruit loses some of the nourishment of fresh fruit – for example, it has less Vitamin C – so (for the high nourishment phase) focus on fresh fruit if a snack is needed between meals. Dried fruit contains some nutrients, however, so using dried fruit as part of a meal (for example, chicken cooked with dried apricots etc or raisins in a salad) is absolutely fine.
  • Add unlimited dressings / sauces to make meals taste great, including those filled with refined sugar (the aim is to prove to yourself that the issue is NOT the presence of sugar, but the absence of nourishment, and also to make your meals taste great). Do not hold back on these. The aim is not to limit calories, but to pack in nourishment. Dressing on a meal packed with nourishment is not an issue.
  • Eat normal quantities of sweets / junk food at social occasions or special events. For example, if it is a birthday party, eat a slice of cake. If a friend bakes biscuits, eat one. Follow this with nourishing food as soon as possible, ie a glass of milk or fresh fruit. Do NOT avoid situations that have junk food. Do not decline junk food because you think you don’t feel like it: pretend you are normal. Pretend your weight is perfect and you have no eating issues. The aim is to prove to yourself that there is no ‘toxin’ – no ‘evil addictive substance’ in food – to reassure yourself that you will not fall into addiction, as long as you consume an adequate quantity of nourishing food (initially, a lot of nourishing food).
  • Aim for three meals a day, with snacks as needed. In the first week, anticipate that you will be hungry (or think you are) a lot. Eat fruit in between meals, or, if ravenous, meat / cheese or a glass of milk or freshly squeezed fruit juice. In New Zealand, there is a phenomenal brand of cold pressed fruit juice, which tastes nothing like ordinary store-bought fruit juice, and supposedly retains all of the nutrients present in freshly squeezed juice. I found this great reassurance between meals in the first few days (I continue to drink their feijoa or orange juice daily with breakfast now). Interestingly, citrus has been mentioned by many people as a great way to help those quitting cigarettes (old wives tale, who knows). Raw, cold pasteurized juice is put under extreme pressure to deactivate bacteria, yeast and mould, with minimal change to the vitamins, minerals and flavour (unlike ordinary juice which is heated).
  • Minimise grains, pasta, oats, rice and breakfast cereal, except on special occasions, as described above. *This is only during the high nourishment phase*. These things are minimised NOT BECAUSE THEY ARE ADDICTIVE OR EVIL, and certainly not because they contain carbohydrates, but because they do not add nourishment (even whole grains are surprisingly now assumed to deplete you of nourishment and are thus even worse than their white refined versions – more on this soon). Please do not be extreme about this. There is no problem with flour used to thicken a sauce, crumbs on a fish fillet or cereal ingredients used as part of a sausage, for example. If you are struggling for breakfast ideas, eating porridge covered with lashings of milk, cream, fresh fruit etc is fine. If someone serves you rice with a meal, DO NOT FREAK OUT. If the only option available is a nourishing wrap or sandwich, for goodness sake don’t carefully peel it apart and eat only the interior. Eat it with an apple or banana and move on. The issue is not the presence of calories, BUT THE ABSENCE OF NUTRITION. In general, try and make sure all meals are as high nourishment as possible, so that, while withdrawal is passing, your body is flooded with as many nutrients as possible (more than normal). Think big picture (80/20 rule), not extreme. Once the high nourishment phase has passed, normal quantities of these bland low nourishment ingredients can be resumed. Important note: the low nourishment phase should NOT be low carb. It absolutely should not. Please see above, beginning ‘eat lots of nourishing carbohydrates…’

Note: I began this at a point where I was binge eating every day and was significantly overweight. Previous attempts to ‘eat normally’ or ‘eat intuitively’ did not work for me, despite my best intentions. However, on the first day of high nourishment eating, after breakfast, lunch and several apples for snacks, a light suddenly lit up in my brain. I had considered myself to be previously eating ‘normal meals’ plus constant excessive eating of junk food on top of this. In other words, I had considered myself to already be eating nourishing food PLUS junk, but the difference in even half a day of super high nourishment food was amazing. I suddenly knew it would work. I felt as if my body was coming alive.

By the 6th day I felt like I could eat normally again. I woke up and had a completely normal breakfast (cornflakes with milk, plus juice and an apple) and from that moment ate normally without issue.

 

The rest of your life phase

Aim to eat three normal, nourishing meals a day. This means a combination of man-made refined foods, with nourishing foods. Don’t specifically plan snacks, but if you are starving between meals, have something nourishing to eat.

Semi-structured eating: 3 meals a day

Eating only at specific times is sometimes called ‘structured eating’ – part of the common treatment for those who have bulimia and anorexia (unfortunately this is far less common for those who struggle with overeating; obese people are normally coaxed or encouraged to adopt another form of restrictive ‘healthy’ eating). It also describes the most common eating pattern of human beings, followed by people all over the world, including those in the ‘blue zones’ – areas in the world with the highest concentration of centenarians. A Reader’s Digest article discussing the Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner (see on Amazon) encourages people to:

… only eat three meals a day. The routine is the same in almost all of the Blue Zones. […] People may occasionally grab a mid-morning piece of fruit or a mid-afternoon handful of nuts, but most don’t make a habit of snacking.

Eating three normal meals a day means that you can go out for meals with other people without any awkwardness or inconvenience, because you will be eating normal food at normal times, just like everyone else.

The Time Magazine comments:

Eating three square meals a day is the oldest nutrition advice in the book, and some of the most important for staying healthy. But new research shows that children are snacking instead of eating three meals a day on a regular basis, a habit that could be contributing to overweight and obesity and putting them at risk of heart disease later in life.

It is also a simplification of the stunning work of Reinhard Engels, author of the No S Diet (available from Amazon) who advocates a ‘program of systematic moderation’ that guides people into a normal eating pattern with three rules (no snacks, no sweets, no seconds) and one exception (except on special days and those that start with ‘S’). As you can see from the Amazon link above, the reviews for this book are outstanding, with many of his followers awed at the peace and normality it returns to their eating. Reinhard describes his system as ‘a framework for controlling excess’. In my view, the primary reason that this method works is that it becomes almost impossible for people to consume an ‘addictive meal’ (read my nutrient density theory for overcoming food addiction).

 

Eat intuitively, while aiming for nourishment at each meal 

At each meal, eat intuitively: that is, eat whatever you like (normal, tasty, nourishing, non-diet meals) until you feel full. Not 80% full, almost full, or ‘maybe-I’m-full-perhaps-I’ll-stop-and-see-in-20-minutes’ full, but until you have no desire at all left to eat. Aim for well-balanced, semi-nourishing meals. On special occasions have deserts, like a normal person.

Note: There is endless debate about what is healthy. Even the experts don’t agree. I will give you my best take on the research in coming articles. In the meantime, remember this: the aim is not to decrease calories, but to consume lots of nourishing food from a range of food groups until you no longer want to eat more. When you focus on eating three well-balanced meals a day, as discussed above, you will find it almost impossible to not to eat normal, nourishing meals (note: this does not mean super ‘clean’ meals).

 

Don’t schedule snacks between meals, but eat them if you are hungry 

Eliminating planned snacking makes decision making easier (you don’t need to worry about what to eat between meals) and avoids ‘decision fatigue’. Carrie Arnold of ED Bites shares this quote from a lecture by Linda Hill on The Noisy Brain:

The AN/BN brain is impaired in identifying the emotional significance of stimuli, but it has an increased ability concerned with planning and executing tasks. There is an emotional blindness to decisions. If there is little or no internal regulation to help the person in decision making, it’s easier not to decide. I need few to no options to help me in those decisions. [For people in recovery from anorexia], we need to increase structure and limit options for decisions.

Planning to eat only three meals a day reduces the number of decisions to be made and makes the process stress-free and easy to follow (for someone who has an enormous nutritional knowledge, even deciding what to eat for a single snack can be a challenge).

Adults are capable of lasting between meals without passing out from hunger. If you are younger, or starving, have a nourishing snack (I often do, but this is not something I worry about or plan in advance). Babies and children need feeding often because their stomachs are small; however, adults easily adapt to three meals a day. Despite the simplicity, this may seem scary. Michelle, the Fat Nutritionist (whose website has the awesome tagline ‘Normal eating is the new black’) wrote about moving from grazing to structured meal times:

…having discrete periods of eating interspersed with discrete periods of not eating (and not having to think about food), can be really helpful if you struggle to feel hunger and fullness signals. It can also be incredibly reassuring to the small, scared part of you who remembers going hungry, who didn’t know where its next meal was coming from (or when).

Moving to three meals might seem restrictive or ridiculously simple, but is also liberating, because it means you don’t need to think about what to eat constantly – you don’t need to obsess over whether you are really hungry and wonder what you really feel like – you can just put it out of your mind and get on with something else. In other words, eliminating snacks in between cuts down on decisions and frees up your mind to think about other things.

It also has these benefits:

  • If you only eat three times a day, you are more likely to make an effort and prepare a great meal for yourself – aiding your enjoyment of the meal as well as the nutritional value.
  • You can go out for meals / dinners with friends without any hang-ups whatsoever.

Of course, if your hunger prompts you to eat between meals, then have a nourishing snack. If you are starving, it is normal to eat something.

Doesn’t eating more frequently increase your metabolism? Isn’t frequent snacking better?

This article by Adam Bornstein of Born Fitness makes the following observations:

The reputed benefits of eating frequent small meals as superior to fewer meals has not been scientifically validated, although there have been studies that have tried.

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center found that eating more frequently is less beneficial from the perspective of satiety, or feeling full.

Nicola Conville, of Body and Soul, writes:

…eating three meals a day may be better than grazing on six small meals, say researchers from Purdue University in Indiana, US. A study of obese men on low-kilojoule, high-protein diets found those who ate three meals a day felt less hungry than those who ate a series of smaller meals.

Eat junk food / sweets on special occasions

Use social occasions as an opportunity to strengthen your willpower; proving to yourself that you can consume ‘normal’ quantities of celebratory ‘fake’ food for fun (just as you might drink alcohol now and again for entertainment purposes, rather than to quench your thirst). Use special occasions as an opportunity to dismantle the connection between eating a small portion of junk food and binge eating afterwards. Keep repeating this pattern, every special occasion, until a new brain pattern is established and you realise that you never lost your willpower after all…and that the danger with food addiction is NOT with junk food itself, but with meal sized portions of low-nourishment food, which set the stage for a downward cycle of addiction (read more about junk food addiction here).

Junk food – what we might consider ‘treats’ – chocolate, sweets, low nourishment cakes and cookies – provide energy but little nourishment. A desire for a junk food snack but not for nourishing food, therefore, never signals hunger, just as a desire for alcohol never signals thirst – it just signals a desire for junk food. This is not to say that you cannot have treats on special occasions (this is something humans have done for centuries, long before obesity swept the globe), but that you must use your rational brain to decide whether this is appropriate (rational thought is impossible in this matter at the outset, but easy once the high-nourishment phase has ended). To make this clearer, let’s think about alcohol. If I see a picture of a delicious alcoholic cocktail in the morning while flicking through Pinterest, this might trigger a craving for such a drink, however, I would never consider acting on such a craving, because alone during the morning is not (in my view, at least) an appropriate occasion for an alcoholic drink. Thus, what drives decision-making, in the case of alcohol, is whether it is situationally appropriate for my life. If I begin rationalising having drinks throughout the day “because I feel like it”, this is a signal that there is a problem (thankfully this has never happened to me)! It seems sensible to treat junk food in a similar way. If a special situation involves junk food, have junk food. If it does not, do not.

What about desserts? Having a dessert as part of a meal is not addictive. You still obtain nourishment and if you eat until satiation, you will meet your dietary needs. However, someone who eats desserts at every meal will settle at a weight that is slightly higher than someone who does not include desserts at every meal. Depending on your goals, this may be fine. You can still be perfectly healthy. I have desserts on special occasions or when others make them for me, and nourishing desserts (strawberries, cream and honey, for example) whenever I have appropriate ingredients or can be bothered to make one! For low nourishment desserts, I follow the same reasoning as above: the situation dictates the decision.

 

What to expect: the joy of resuming normal eating

It doesn’t take any effort to resist hunger, when eating normally, because you are not going hungry. Your hunger is completely satisfied at every meal. It doesn’t take any effort to resist eating your favourite fake food, because you are free to eat any fake food at any special occasion where it is present, or at any other time it would be normal to do so.

It takes a few shorts days – perhaps a week at most – for the quiet, restless feeling of withdrawal to pass, so that you no longer idly contemplate consuming low-nourishment food at occasional random intervals. On the 10th day, when visiting the supermarket, I didn’t even think about purchasing chocolate (which I had done, every other supermarket visit for literally years on end). It didn’t even occur to me until I was driving home and I burst into tears. I also noticed around the two week mark that my appetite started decreasing…or, rather, that full sensations became so clear. It was almost funny…like a single extra mouthful became so unappealing (that had never happened to me before).

It felt as though it was when I first started dieting, in a weird way, where I had total control over my food intake…but, instead of restricting myself, I chose to eat as much awesome, nourishing food as I was hungry for, but with no fear of adding other things in. Rather than using my willpower to diet, I was using it to eat normally and make sure I always ate as much nourishing food as I needed to feel properly full.

How to stop overeating and lose weight

This advice is counter to that often given by eating disorder recovery specialists, as it seems to align with ‘dieting’ behaviour and not ‘normal’ eating, however, it is important to address. It is not correct that normal eating is the only goal desired by overeaters; rather, we wish to return and/or maintain a healthy weight: a physique we can be proud of. The whole dieting fiasco is triggered by an initial dissatisfaction about body weight; any cure that does not address this is doomed to fail. Rather than being required to accept your figure in its voluptuous form (although loving yourself, no matter what, is a great idea) it is possible to adopt a form of eating that allows you be normal around food and return to (or maintain) a healthy weight in the process.

Eating three well-balanced meals a day, supplemented with occasional snacks when starving and ‘treats’ on special occasions leads you to an optimal weight. In my n=1 experience, this has been the case. (I have written a longer article providing more information about why this happens and why ‘intuitive eating’ without an understanding of food addiction and satiation may result in normalisation of eating behaviours, but not weight loss: how to lose weight while eating normally).

With this in mind, I recommend that you record your progress (if you choose to track it at all) in two ways:

1. Occasional weighing of yourself, with decreasing frequency as your weight loss stabilises at a normal, healthy weight (see chart below). Have no goals in terms of how much or how fast the weight should be lost (or gained, if you are underweight); simply notice what happens. If you have been restricting severely, you may gain weight in the short term; however if you have been binge eating for some time, the reverse is likely to occur. The goal is not to meet a certain weight loss per week, but to eat normal, regular, nourishing meals. If this happens, your optimal weight will follow.

Printable weight loss chart PDF

This chart gives you an idea how you may wish to approach recording your weight (click here to access this A4 printable weight loss graph, free of charge for personal use). This guides you towards weighing yourself with decreasing frequency over time. The graph shows 52 weeks (one year) going across the page, with a weight range that is relevant for you to be added along the left-hand axis. The first 12 weeks have divisions that can be used for daily weighing (of course this is not necessary); reducing to weekly weighing for the next 12 weeks; followed by fortnightly and then monthly. Although it seems counter-intuitive, there can be benefits to weighing daily initially: this reassures you that eating normally actually results in weight loss (for those who are overweight) and it also helps to disconnect several of the fears about ‘trigger’ foods. For example, while eating three normal, nourishing meals a day, you will discover that weight loss can occur even on days when you eat foods you previously considered ‘fattening’. This wisdom is lost when weighing weekly and is a hugely important lesson. It helps to take all of the fear away from particular ingredients or isolated items, and returns the emphasis to where it should be: the nourishment available in your meal as a whole. Obviously you should weigh at the same time of day and assume that your weight will fluctuate up and down due to a wide range of minor factors. It is the overall trend that is important.

Photograph your meals whenever you make something awesome (I sometimes add photos to Instagram with the tag #eatlikeanormalperson). This helps me to view each meal as an awesome, beautiful celebration. It encourages me to make meals look appealing, as well as to try a range of different recipes (although I often end up having the same things over and over)! 🙂

Think somehow that you are doomed and that you will be fat even while eating normally? I will write lots more about this, but for now, read this quote by Anthony Mychal:

But it’s not your place to worry about your genetics. A seed without sunlight and water won’t sprout; you can’t blame the seed. You don’t know your potential ahead of time. You discover your potential.

When you feed your body regularly, satisfying your hunger with normal, nourishing food, you’ll be blown away when you see what your body can do.

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