For most recovering bulimics, learning how to stop binge eating can be one of the most challenging, intimidating and confusing aspect of the entire recovery process.
I'll be honest with you, before I started recovery (and even for some time after that) I wasn't completely convinced that it was possible for a person to overcome binge urges.
"Once a binge eater, always a binge eater," I thought.
I imagined as a recovered bulimic I would spend the rest of my life in a perpetual state of recovery, always wanting to overeat but reminding myself not to, fighting with everything I had in order to avoid bingeing, but always hanging on by a thread.
But just like many of my other preconceived ideas about recovery - I was so wrong!
In a couple of months I'll be celebrating my 4 year bulimia recovery anniversary and right now I can't even remember the last time I had an urge to binge. I haven't overeaten in years!
These days lot's of people ask me how I managed to stop bingeing completely and in a second I'm going to share with you the 3 things that helped me the most when it came to overcoming my own urges to binge eat.
But before we go any further there are some things that I really want you to know...
For many of us recovery isn't so much about learning to eat normally again, but rather it's about learning to eat normally for the very first time, and that can be seriously intimidating.
Before recovery I can't remember having even a remotely normal relationship with food, I dieted and binged throughout my entire childhood as I expect many of you did too.
But recovery taught me that just because you've never had a normal relationship with food in the past, doesn't mean you won't be able to have one in the future.
Many of us convince ourselves that binge eating is a sign of weakness, something that we're choosing to do, something that we could overcome if only we were a little bit stronger.
But in reality, willpower has very little to do with it.
If you try to fight off your binge urges using willpower alone then yes, it may work for a short time, but eventually those urges are going to overpower you.
You could have all of the willpower in the world and it still wouldn't be enough to fight those urges.
Well, to answer that question you need to understand the reasons why you're driven to binge in the first place.
Those of you who are already members of The Bulimia Help Method will be familiar with this, but just so we're all on the same page let's briefly take a look at the 2 reasons bulimics are compelled to binge eat...
Now I know what you're thinking, "I binge on so much food, how can I be starving?"
But what you also have to bear in mind is that as a bulimic you purge either through fasting, excessive exercise, laxatives, or vomiting - all of which are certain to ensure your body remains in a malnourished state.
Being malnourished creates very powerful binge urges because your body thinks you're experiencing a famine. It wants to do everything it can to ensure your survival through this famine, and so it tells you to eat everything in sight.
At Bulimia Help we call this "The Body Binge Urge."
When you've been bulimic for a long time it's common to start relying on the cycle of bingeing and purging for emotional or psychological support. What this basically means is that you've learned to use food to numb emotional pain and to distract yourself from unwanted thoughts and feelings.
This is something I used to do all of the time before recovery, whenever I was even the slightest bit stressed or upset I would feel my urges to binge skyrocketing!
At Bulimia Help we call this "The Mind Binge Urge."
When you understand exactly why you're compelled to binge on food it's easy to see why willpower alone is just not going to be good enough to help you to overcome urges to binge.
So what can you do to stop binge eating?
Here are my 3 biggest tips to help you stop binge eating...
It sounds a bit strange to say "in order to stop binge eating you have to start eating more" but that is exactly what you need to do.
In fact normalizing your eating behaviors by implementing a structured eating meal plan for recovery is the single most powerful step you can take if you want to dramatically reduce your binge urges.
While you're restricting your food intake powerful and overwhelming binge urges are going to be unavoidable.
I can't emphasize this enough - structured eating saved my life and it will save yours too if you let it. It is the key to recovery and it has to be your first step when it comes to beating binge urges.
I know this may be the scariest thing I've said to you so far today, believe me, I had a very extreme reaction myself the first time I learned about the importance of eating triggering foods during bulimia
But in recovery there comes a time when you do need to start adding more variety and balance to your diet because if you continue to avoid certain foods then you will always be vulnerable to bingeing on them.
It can be a bit of a bumpy road when you initially start re-introducing all of the foods you've previously avoided through fear, but you can't even imagine how liberating this is going to be in the end.
I used to be someone who could easily eat 20 candy bars in one sitting and still want more. Now, thanks to recovery I am "one of those people" who often eats half a bar of chocolate and saves the rest for later.
A claim like that won't sound big to anyone who hasn't experienced bulimia, but I'm pretty sure you can understand the magnitude of it.
Take a look at our article on how to eat triggering foods without bingeing if you'd like some further advice on this.
There's a quote I hear from time to time which says, "change your thoughts and you'll change your life," and it's a nice sentiment.
I'm all for positive thinking during recovery, I like to "look on the bright side of life" and I'm forever trying to remain optimistic even in seemingly dreadful situations.
But I'm also realistic.
I understand that there are times when thoughts, urges and compulsions become so intense that you can't even breathe let alone think straight.
Times when no amount of positive thinking is going to "snap you out of it."
But you know what, that's okay, because in recovery I learned that one of the worst things you can do is try to fight back against those negative and unwanted thoughts and urges.
When you fight against a binge urge you only add fuel to the fire.
You reinforce the idea that it is something to panic about and it is this reaction to the thought that creates anxiety and intensifies the binge urge.
What you really need to do when a thought about bingeing appears is practice accepting it - and I know that may sound ridiculous if you've never tried it before, but give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Binge urges do not last forever, although it feels as though they will. If you practice accepting them you will find that eventually they peak and then subside.
You will be amazed the first time you simply sit there, welcoming and accepting all thoughts, feelling those urges, and then slowly watching as they leave you.
By practicing acceptance of all thoughts we are teaching ourselves that they have no real power over us, that we do not have to react strongly to them - that we do not have to fight with them.
In the Bulimia Help Method there is a whole section dedicated to helping you overcome mind binge urges in this way, all centered around a powerful technique called "Thought Diffusion" which is a process where you teach yourself how to react differently to binge urges and thoughts about bingeing.
As with all aspects of your recovery from bulimia it's important to understand that the changes you're hoping for are not going to magically happen over night.
They will take time, there will likely be more ups and downs than you ever could have imagined and if you're anything like me you're probably going to experience lots of moments where you convince yourself you're never going to overcome your binge urges.
But eventually, if you persevere with your recovery you are going to see yourself transforming and you are going to see the "impossible" becoming possible.
Imagine a life where you can eat the foods you love without fear of bingeing or gaining unneeded weight.
Think of the day where you'll start eating when hungry and stop eating when you've had enough, no matter how good the food you're eating tastes.
Envisage the moment when you realize you can eat half a bar of chocolate and save the rest for later, where you can have just one bowl of cereal, where you can cook a huge pasta dish without panic.
If you've already started your recovery then that life is so much closer than you realize.
Change is always possible.
I learned how to stop binge eating and I honestly believe you can to. Bulimia is not a life sentence and recovery does not need to be a life-long ordeal.
Here's to your freedom!
Catherine works as a Bulimia Recovery Coach for BulimiaHelp.org.
Catherine has a degree in Applied Psychology BSc (Hons), a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Social and Community Studies and has extensive practical experience employing several counselling and therapeutic techniques.
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The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.
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