I have a long history of chronic dieting. I was a compulsive eater with severe episodes of binge eating disorder for fifteen years. At thirty-five, I feared that this would be something I was stuck with for life; that I would be endlessly recovering and relapsing, never cured. But after years of searching (while starving, binge eating, gaining and losing weight and everything in between) I worked out how to stop. I escaped dieting-roller-coaster-hell and returned, slowly, to a normal, healthy weight. I am free of the urge to binge and the desire to compulsively overeat – and I accomplished this ridiculous feat with minimal concerted effort.
This website outlines the strategy that I used to stop binge eating and lose weight. It contains several essays, which link to books, scientific studies, and online teachings. The essays communicate a hypothesis: a theory that I’ve been working on for decades. A story of misguided love; and of freedom.
I want to scream it from the rooftops, but I’ve chosen an anonymous internet platform instead: wildly pouring thoughts onto a computer screen. I’m whispering via the keyboard so that you, too, can hear. Binge eating is not something we want to talk about with friends. It’s something that we hide in humiliation: bury inside ourselves, like endless sticky wrappers shoved away in rubbish bins.
If you arrived at this website as the result of typing ‘I can’t stop eating junk food’ or other such desperate phrases into Google…Welcome. I’m so glad that you’ve found your way here.
Immediate binge eating help exists – whether you binge eat at night, in your car, every weekend, on rare occasions, or throughout each and every day in a mindless, endless trance. ‘Emotional eating’, ‘compulsive eating’ and ‘binge eating disorder’ can and does get cured. Excessive overeating is NOT the result of a character flaw, genetic malfunction or a heinous messed-up intrinsic part of your psyche. It is a behavior that was cultivated by accident: a craving for deceptive meals (foods devoid of satiating qualities) that has a mild physical basis but is sustained and perpetuated by one thing only: the false belief that you have lost control of your behavior – that the thing has control over you. These behaviors were triggered, in almost all cases, as the normal response to meeting deceptive food after a restrictive diet. Once you understand how dieting (the method of intentionally depriving your body of the calories and/or nutrients it needs to survive) cripples you physically, while eroding and shattering your self-belief, you begin to understand what happened and how to leave all of the madness behind.
Disclaimer: If you are suicidal, severely depressed, or in need of medical attention, please see a doctor. This website does not substitute for medical advice.
A cure for binge eating disorder
Let’s begin with a quote from Dr. John Sarno, author of Healing Back Pain (available from Amazon) and an expert on chronic pain:
I have been successful because we have made the right diagnosis, not because we have found the right treatment. We do not have an “approach” to the problems of acute and chronic pain – we have the diagnosis.
In other words, a cure arises out of the correct diagnosis of a condition. When you understand exactly how and why something arises – you have the cure.
If a problem can be solved at all, to understand it and to know what to do about it are the same thing. – Alan Watts
‘Binge eating disorder’ can be cured instantly by grasping a few simple concepts and realizing that not only is escape possible but that it can be rapid and easy. Knowledge is all that is needed to change your behavior and for an eating disorder to cease.
Recovery is not a process, but an event.
He is right. Physical transformation takes days, weeks or years, but escape comes instantly: via an illuminating mental shift. The acquisition of new information leads to a change in desire and behavior, terminating the problem at its core.
So let us start with a definition.
What is binge eating disorder?
According to the experts, binge eating disorder is the act of regularly consuming large quantities of food (far more calories than your body needs), feeling a lack of control while doing so and not purging this food from your body afterwards. This may involve eating a lot in a short period of time (at night, alone or in the car, for example) or grazing all day, picking constantly at food (also known as compulsive eating). Binge eaters feel over-full and eat when not physically hungry. They gorge upon food, sometimes to the point where they feel sick or in pain, as if their stomach is bursting. Binge eaters may have a wildly fluctuating or escalating weight, with 10kg (22lb)+ gains per month not uncommon. Unsurprisingly, the behavior is prevalent in many of the super-obese. It is also common in those you might never suspect, such as bodybuilders and fitness professionals. Bodybuilder and coach Scott Abel, in his latest book, the Cycle Diet (available from Amazon), describes how he lost 50lbs over 12 weeks, in preparation for his first bodybuilding contest and, then, after winning, gained it all back in less than one week.
Binge eaters feel compelled to consume vast quantities of junk food (and sometimes nourishing foods) despite knowing that the excessive intake harms their health or life. They are often terrified of the effect that binge eating has upon their body and are desperate to stop. Binge eaters feel fall into a downward spiral as binge eating escalates; overeating, feeling awful and then binge eating to restore the illusion of relief again. Binge eaters feel trapped: wanting desperately to change, but not knowing how.
I was caught in this trap for 15 years. This quote by recovered bulimic Julie Kerr sums up how I felt:
I was absolutely terrified that that there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t understand how something I had done occasionally and had seemingly been under my control, had become something that now had a mind of its own.
I alternated from extreme dietary control to the opposite. I succeeded and failed at diets so many times that I sometimes reminded myself of the [disputed] Edison quote to keep myself sane:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work – Thomas Edison
Even while experiencing all of the hideous consequences first-hand, and desperate to change, I kept doing it. In the face of mounting evidence, rebukes from those who loved me and my ever-expanding figure, I continued to damage my health, my happiness and my future.
But I have found a way out.
To communicate this to you, I need first to explain how binge eating arises.
The cause of binge eating disorder
While experts seem able to offer a clear binge eating definition and describe it in great detail, when it comes to causes, they are less certain. Descriptions make broad, all-encompassing statements (which neither exclude nor explain anything), such as:
Like other eating disorders, binge eating disorder seems to result from a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. – WebMD
Correlations are made with poor mental health, a history of depression and other psychological problems, however, it is difficult to tell whether these are the cause of binge eating disorder or the result. Binge eating disorder also seems to run in families, as do many other food traditions and non-genetic behaviours.
Without a clear understanding of what causes binge eating disorder, we struggle for a cure.
The hypothesis: The real cause of your binge eating disorder is that you once ate large quantities of deceptive food while hungry (unaccompanied by real food that might have otherwise provided sustenance and satiation). When this was followed by compensatory behaviors (such as diet and exercise), your hunger was exacerbated, priming you to repeat the behavior. Eventually, you arrived at the belief that something is wrong with you and that you are unable to change.
It is likely that you started eating large quantities of fake food for one of two reasons:
1. You were fed a nutritionally inferior or inadequate diet as a child, for example, you ate exclusively processed food and/or were restricted nutritionally by parents who were worried about your weight (this is much more prevalent in this day and age, as fears about the obesity epidemic grow). Eating a nutritionally inferior or inadequate diet results in a hunger that never abates. This led you to binge upon ‘forbidden’ items, which you then became addicted to (read more about food addiction here).
From the feeding dynamic’s perspective and from my own clinical practice and from my reading of the research, the biggest cause [of paediatric obesity] is restrained feeding, is restricting the child’s food intake. Many times restrained feeding is based on a misinterpretation of a child’s normal growth…When you restrict a child’s food intake they’re going to become food preoccupied and prone to overeat when they get the chance. – Ellyn Satter
2. You went on a self-initiated diet that failed to meet your nutrient and/or caloric needs. As with above, your hunger never abated and the food you ate during the diet was never enough. This led you to binge on ‘forbidden’ items, which you became addicted to.
Both of these scenarios follow the same pattern and the same cure; the only difference is that the latter example is self-imposed. In my experience, this is the most common path to overeating, so we will dwell on this for a moment.
How dieting triggers binge eating disorder
Dr. Halmi, who is also a professor of psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, said she had found dieting a frequent “proximal trigger” among people with binge-eating disorder. – New York Times
When we are born, we eat like all normal healthy living creatures: consuming food when hungry and stopping when full. Hunger exists to ensure that we swallow an optimal quantity of energy and nutrients. We eat until these two needs are met and then our hunger abates (food loses its appeal). This is a handy and reliable system that has evolved over eons. You might think that such a system has malfunctioned in the face of modern food, but it is precisely because this system works so well that we are in this situation at all. If your body could be fooled into thinking that fake food was food, you would never overeat it. It is only because the amazing regulatory system that is your body quickly ascertains that an inadequate level of fats, vitamins, minerals and nutrients has been consumed, that your hunger switch remains firmly on until this need for nourishment has been met.
Think about the young children that you know (or perhaps your own childhood). Kids who are fed ordinary, mainly nutritious (but not extreme) meals (i.e. a combination of processed modern foodstuffs along with nourishing foods such as meat and animal fat, dairy, fruit and vegetables) almost always end up a normal healthy weight, with genetic and behavioural differences resulting in small variations in muscular and body fat distribution. A child who is fed a greater quantity of junk food will consume more calories in order to gain the necessary nourishment. In this environment, a child is a fraction plumper than he or she who is fed a more nutritious, wholesome diet, but their weight does not wildly escalate out of control or balloon upwards to infinity. It just sits a few kilograms or pounds higher. That is, of course, until the child decides to go on a diet. (The sad thing is, most people, after decades of futile yo-yo dieting and increasing weight gain, would give anything to return to this ‘unsatisfactory’ starting point).
When someone first decides that they are too fat, they learn the misleading notion that to lose weight you must restrict energy intake and/or increase energy expenditure through exercise. Depending on the level of motivation, initial weight loss attempts usually involve one or both of these strategies. This requires that you summon the willpower to ignore the natural hunger signals of your body and eat less, often while moving more.
If you give up on this insane approach after a day or so (I will explain why dieting is insane and based on flawed logic soon) and accept your pre-existing physique (or undertake a better method of losing a few kilograms – see how to really lose weight coming soon) your eating will normalise and you will return to or maintain your initial weight. For many people, however, this is unacceptable. If you prioritise a desirable appearance (as most young humans do) because you understand, either consciously or subconsciously, that attracting a mate is a crucial requirement of procreation and the survival of your genes, you may summons a very strong dose of willpower to achieve this goal. This is especially the case if you are a high-achieving individual, who is capable of delaying short term gratification for long term gain (many of those who develop eating disorders fit into this category). I should note here that the desire to be physically appealing is a normal healthy goal (although the level of thinness desired is often unrealistically low, due to Photoshopped and starving models, actresses and singers distorting our perception of what is normal – more on this soon). The problem, however, is not that you desire to achieve an optimal body weight, but that the approach used to do so is wrong.
At this point in our dieting adventures, however (and even, often, decades later) we hold faith to the idea that a forced reduction in calories is the answer…because it seems so logical, from a mathematical perspective (we don’t realise that the simplicity of this premise excludes other crucial variables involved in this equation) and because, initially, it seems to work. If you are able to summons a superhuman effort and restrict your food intake for an extended period of time, you see results. At the same time as you lose weight, however, you initiate a cascade of consequences that spirals out of control. Your body realises that you are doing something crazy (eating less than it needs to survive) and it tries to save you, by issuing tremendous urges to eat. It does this relentlessly, until you oblige (or die from anorexia). In most people, this urge is eventually met with an unplanned consumption of ‘allowed’ food (an extra spoonful of peanut butter, an additional bowl of cereal, or a larger than ideal serving of grapes or meat at a meal) and this small deviation triggers the seed of doubt that, somehow, the diet has been broken. Once broken, of course, the floodgates open. This gives a small window of opportunity (usually until tomorrow) when your rational brain must accept that you are not on a diet, and that you have temporary permission to eat all of the previously ‘forbidden’ foods. In the words of Geneen Roth, author of Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating (available on Amazon):
The fourth law of the universe is that for every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge.
Rather than binge eating upon nourishing, wholesome foods that would heal your starving body, you charge full-throttle for those that deliver a fast and immediate hit of energy and, most importantly, are restricted tomorrow. In contrast to the gnawing pain of hunger, vast quantities of easily digested junk food deliver an immediate illusory high. This high is fake and fleeting, with no nutritional benefits to create satiation, thus it is never, ever enough and we eat and eat, until at the exploding brink of capacity. In addition to a swollen belly of artificial foods, we now drown in failure; terror at the impending fatness; despair that we lost control again. Despite an exploding stomach, we have often obtained very little of the nourishment we desperately need. We make a misguided attempt to alleviate the hunger and misery of a diet with the most addictive substance in the world. (You don’t believe that fake food is addictive? Do you think you are alone in this trap? Look around).
If you are lucky, after your first few diets and reactive binge eating episodes, you realise the futility of the situation, get a grip of yourself and stop. In ‘diet recovery’ (if you have not acquired a binge eating addiction, that is) food intake normalises after a few months or years and you settle close to your original weight, as happened to the men in the Minnesota Starvation experiment. However, at this point in your dieting war, the futility of the situation rarely sets in. If you believe that you are FAT – and, worse, that your original starting point was unattractive – it is irrational to accept a period of lavish overeating in order to arrive at a slightly plump set point that may or may not eventuate in several years. This leaves us with a terrible dilemma. When we find ourselves consuming ludicrous quantities of fake food, again, we begin to consider more dramatic alternatives. Those who are able to self-induce vomiting may turn to bulimia as a way to rid themselves of the excess calories (a method that exacerbates hunger, increases binge eating, rapidly depletes nutrient levels and may end in death). Those who cannot vomit may initiate periods of fasting, diet pills, restricted intake and/or increased exercise as they try in vain to succeed at weight loss using the ‘restrict calorie’ method (a method that has a spectacular failure rate of over 98%). Instead of acknowledging that forced calorie restriction is an absurd approach to weight loss, we vow to increase our willpower and try harder tomorrow. A cycle of dieting, binge eating, purging and more dieting becomes entrenched.
As time passes, the diets become more obscure, restrictive and deliberate, eliminating whole food groups, or types of food. These are appealing, as they rely on less willpower – a rule to never eat wheat, for example, is easier to uphold than weighing food every meal, counting calories or tallying points. We veer towards orthorexia (a new term to describe those who pursue obsessively ‘clean’ eating and adhere to extreme dietary rules).
As the pattern continues, the gap between diets often widens and the out-of-control periods sometimes extend to days, weeks or years (yes, I have had years of straight binge eating). As the number of failed diets increases, your faith in your ability to succeed diminishes and the effort required to restart each one becomes greater.
At some point despair sets in. You fear that you have lost all motivation and self-control: that you cannot summons the willpower to ever diet again. Part of you abhors all forms of restriction, exercise and dieting, while another part idolises it and festers a growing hatred and disgust towards your own body. You believe, deep down, that you must regain ‘control’, and, perhaps (as in my case) constantly tell yourself that you will, but there is always an excuse as to why the time to do so is never now. We enact tens or hundreds or even thousands of ‘final feasts’: enormous junk food meals that are never final, before a ‘perfect diet’ that never takes hold. This journey is often accompanied by endless research and obsessive reading of diet books, websites or any other damn thing. It is here that obesity begins to rear its head, yo-yo dieting gets out of hand and panic and depression take hold.
At a certain point, a quiet sorrow edges into your soul. When you’ve battled with your weight for an extended period of time, a sludgy, brain-thick misery envelops you and you cannot tell if it is the result of your weight or if the misery was there all along.
Richard Kerr, author of The Bulimia Help Method (available from Amazon) describes this as the 9th stage: believing you are mentally ill:
Progressively declining health, constant anxiety, disgust and slavery to food, not to mention mood swings, body dissatisfaction, food obsession and feeling like you’re going mad, all take their toll. Your self esteem plummets. Your confidence shatters and you worry for your health and your life.
Let’s be clear: it is normal to be filled with despair when weight loss efforts continually fail. It is normal for binge eating to rip holes in your self-esteem. This is the reaction of a normal human being; not someone who is flawed and ruined beyond repair.
It is possible to escape junk food addiction and take back your power.
The permanent and instant way to stop binge eating
The first part of my escape came when reading a book called Brain over Binge, by Kathryn Hansen (it is a little known self-published book, with phenomenal reviews – read on Amazon). This book is one of the best I have read on the subject and I highly recommend it. I was not able to stop binge eating as a result (many readers quit instantly and I was distraught, yet somehow unsurprised that I did not) however, I knew that it contained some of the best truths about the subject. Stopping is not only possible but instantly achievable. You don’t need to wait for the stars to align or for willpower appear. The cravings are created by the very act of engaging in the addictive behaviour, combined with a misunderstanding about where the problem lies: they are not a piece of YOU. When you understand this, and when you see that you can stop (the penny drops and you suddenly understand that it is completely within your grasp), you eliminate the problem. As addiction studies indicate, quitting instantly, on your own is not only possible, but is the most effective strategy that exists. According to Scientific American:
…many if not most addicts successfully recover without professional help. A survey by Gene Heyman, a research psychologist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, found that between 60 to 80 percent of people who were addicted in their teens and 20s were substance-free by their 30s, and they avoided addiction in subsequent decades. Other studies on Vietnam War veterans suggest that the majority of soldiers who became addicted to narcotics overseas later stopped using them without therapy.
Although I did not stop binge eating after reading Brain over Binge, it provided the first real insight that was needed: it was possible.
Addiction is the acceptance that you have lost your control over a particular behaviour – that the substance or activity has control over you. Allen Carr, author of the most successful stop smoking book of all time, made people realise that addiction is almost entirely brainwashing, coupled with minor physical withdrawal. Once the brainwashing is peeled away, ending an addiction is easy. In the case of junk food, physical withdrawal is almost non-existent. There are rarely headaches. No shivering, cold sweats or convulsions. Withdrawal is a quiet, lethargic, restless feeling that presents as the urge to consume more of the fake food that made you feel this way in the first place.
Binge eating disorder is an addiction, but the good news is that it can be stopped easily. Nowhere in your body is there an instruction to eat crap until you die. You have the exact same genetic makeup as every other single human being: you want to thrive. If you starve yourself, you will create hunger. If you ignore it, your body takes control and nags you until you binge. The only problem is that you binge ate chocolate or sweets or cake or some other nutritionless, manmade concoction that felt good but gave you nothing…and after months of suffering this humiliating cycle, you lost all faith in your own body’s ability to know what to eat, how much to eat, and – god forbid – how to stop.
You’re here, right now, just as you have spent countless hours scouring other websites, blogs, books, vlogs and whatever else you can find, sucking away your time and your life, trying to work out how to stop something that is devastatingly simple.
Your eating disorder is a fabrication of your brain, triggered by the ridiculous modern theory that somehow eating less than your body needs to maintain a healthy weight is the way to return you to optimal health; combined with mild withdrawals, often a quiet, ever-present hunger (yes, most obese people are malnourished even if they binge eat excessive calories all day long) and a misunderstanding about where the culprit lies (despite common logic, for example, sugar is not the enemy. Nor is saturated fat, processed food or animal products). Food addiction is caused by swallowing food-like meals that aren’t one speck of food at all and don’t for one minute deliver what is needed…combined with the insane, crazy idea that somehow you have lost your self-control to be or do any different; that you are permanently flawed – disordered – unable to return to normal.
It can end like this:
- Understand what makes a meal addictive (a meal, not a single ingredient), so that you can diminish the onslaught of addictive meals and give your body a chance to absorb the nutrients it so strongly desires and heal. (No, this does not mean consuming 100% blended green smoothies or abiding by any other ridiculous regime. It means eating like a normal person).
- Understand that addictive substances are a thief and a con: they provide a temporary illusion; pleasure that leaves you with pain. They leave you worse off than you were before, and prompt you to seek pleasure again: setting up a cycle where you desire more.
- Understand that immediate cessation of the substance or activity that causes an addiction, causes all physical cravings to dwindle and die – that these cravings were never a part of you.
- Understand that addiction, however, is not due to the evil quality in the substance or activity itself, but is sustained entirely by the false belief that you cannot control yourself in this arena. Failing at diets, over and over again, drummed a false idea into your brain: that you had lost your willpower: when really, you had acquired the knowledge that subjecting yourself to a restrictive diet is ludicrous, painful and absolutely insane. You have lost the ability to wilfully starve, because you are a survivor, born to thrive. This does not mean you have no willpower. Chances are, you have more willpower than most people you know. In many cases, it is your extreme willpower that got you into this mess. Don’t worry. This false belief can be undone instantly through contrary proof. That’s where the magic of the Allen Carr method lies, and that’s how I escaped too.
Once you understand these things – and a few other minor ideas to help cement this knowledge – you can quit binge eating immediately (even if this seems scary and impossible at the outset) and replace it with a short period of structured high nourishment eating that turns off the minor physical element of withdrawal. This eliminates the alarm and confusion that may accompanies ‘intuitive’ eating, and allows your brain to quickly re-establish real hunger cues, without the interference of junk food cravings.
All of this will be explained in more detail on this website. I am typing everything as fast as I can. It is taking me a while (I am a single mother, with two young children, and I run my own business from home): it is full of typos and jotted down a haphazardly, but I will get there.
The aim is that this website will help you to step out of the maze. It won’t take you in an endless winding path towards a distant light. It will show you how to leap out of the maze and land with both feet in the sun.
Your body is born to seek health; it longs to acquire a normal, healthy physique, with the bouncing energy of a child.
You conquer the urge to binge, not by charging it down with willpower, but by dissolving it at the source and then using a small period of high nourishment to ease you back into eating like a normal person. Once you see addiction for what it is – and realise how to escape the cravings – it’s easy. The best thing is that it fills you with joy. You realise, if you can beat this thing, you can do anything. 🙂