For years I struggled with binge eating.
I created weird rules about what I could eat and not eat. I also told myself a story that to reach my goals and be a “healthy” person I had to follow these rules all the time.
I would follow my diet during the week and binge on the weekends. I blamed myself and felt a lot of shame and guilt about my behavior.
- I told myself I lacked discipline.
- I believed I didn’t have willpower.
The strangest thing is that fundamentally I got it. I knew food wasn’t good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, clean or not clean.
I knew if I wanted to lose fat I needed to be in a calorie deficit. I understood that if I wanted to build muscle. I needed to resistance train with progressive overload and eat enough protein.
It wasn’t until I worked with a coach that I started to understand what was going on.
They pointed out a few things.
- I didn’t need more information. I was consuming too much and chasing the next thing or shiny object.
- The nutrition rules I created for myself were too hard to follow. These rules made me feel in control. Then I would break my rules, and set new rules, and this made me feel more in control. A vicious cycle.
- My environment will never allow me to follow those rules. Eating “uber-clean” in today’s society is impossible for extended periods of time. Unless you want to be an anti-social hermit of course.
My coach asked me to do three things.
- Stop consuming fitness and nutrition information. Books, blog posts, Facebook stuff, and IG wasn’t a thing.
- Eat something every day that I would consider off-limits.
- Set up my environment to help me do more of what I want to do and less of what I don’t want to do
My face was like this.
The second one in particular gave the creeps.
Actually, eat a cookie every day? WTF!
Deep down I knew eating a small amount of this thing wouldn’t make me fat or mean I was unhealthy. But for some reason, even the thought of it gave me anxiety.
I told them I can’t. It’s not “healthy.” And because my experience with these foods was binge eating large amounts of them. I assumed I would do that every day.
I was wrong.
I came across an email from coach, Mike Milner and he gave one of the best analogies I have heard to explain this. I’ll paraphrase here. Mike, if you read this please correct me if I fuck anything up.
Consider a scenario where you’re told to never listen to your favorite artist again. You could comply, but think about the constant exposure you face: at the gym, in the car, at home when your kids play music. Each instance requires conscious effort to resist, resulting in mental exhaustion. The accumulated fatigue leads to a binge where you listen to all your favorite songs.
This analogy applies to snacking and overindulging. People walk through life imposing limitations on themselves. Either self-imposed or through external influences. Regardless, this constant mental strain takes its toll.
The key to resolving this issue lies in two steps.
- reducing the frequency of exposure
- eliminating self-imposed rules.
Much of our day is in a state of mindless, subconscious behavior. When tempting snacks are available, such as a candy jar on your desk or chips at eye level in a visible cabinet.
Mindless snacking or overeating becomes more likely. Reducing the frequency of exposure and making access less convenient. You reduce the amount of snacking.
The second crucial step is removing self-imposed rules. Telling yourself that you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” indulge in certain foods perpetuates the cycle. Restrictive plans that deprive and limit us only lead to binge eating, snacking, and overindulgence.
A major predictor of weight gain and difficulties in weight maintenance is the perception of food as being on or off limits. If certain foods bring you joy, then attempting to avoid them throughout the day will lead to self-sabotage. Like trying to avoid your favorite artist’s music. It simply won’t work.
If you love chocolate, enjoy it every day or every other day. If pretzels are your thing, have them daily or every other day. If you adore ice cream, make it a weekly treat.
The reason behind overindulgence lies in the self-imposed belief that you can’t or shouldn’t indulge. This leads to guilt when you do. It’s almost like thinking, “I better enjoy all this now because I don’t know when I’ll have it again.”
But, if you know you can have it again the next day, or the day after, or the following week, its grip on you diminishes. It no longer holds the power of forbidden fruit. Instead, it becomes something you enjoy from time to time.
Kind of a scary thought isn’t it?
I’m going to challenge you. Give yourself permission to enjoy something “off plan” every day for a week. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Does it make sense for you to change the way you view and consume these foods?