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Health At Every Size (HAES): A Guide for Binge Eating Recovery

Before I discovered Health At Every Size, my relationship with food and exercise had one mode: will this make me thin or fat?

And that was pretty much it.

There was no “will I truly enjoy this?”  There was no “how will this make me feel?”

And there was very little concern for my actual health and well-being outside of the “thin-is-good” / “fat-is-bad” paradigm.

My weight-centric view of eating and exercise became obsessive very quickly…ultimately leading to a variety of disordered eating behaviors, including but not limited to:

  • Chronic attempts at under-eating/restriction,
  • followed by binge-eating,
  • weight-cycling (aka “yo-yo dieting”)
  • food obsession,
  • low self-esteem,
  • (A LOT) of emotional eating,
  • and generally feeling “crazy” around food.

While I clung tightly to the hope that I could “recover” from diet-binge cycling and still casually try to lose weight,

I was never able to truly heal my relationship with food—including my binge-eating behaviors—until I put all the attempts at dieting down and started pursuing “health” in weight-neutral ways.

Ultimately, the core concepts introduced by Health At Every Size (combined with Intuitive Eating and some deeply important self-acceptance work) eventually helped me find the “off-ramp” of the diet-binge cycle.  

 

What is Health At Every Size (HAES)?

Health At Every Size (“HAES”) is a weight-neutral approach to healthcare that promotes the pursuit of healthful behaviors (like eating vegetables, moving your body, getting enough protein, etc.) for the inherent health benefits of those behaviors, rather than for the explicit purpose of weight manipulation.

For instance, HAES-inclined wellness professionals may suggest that clients move their bodies for the sake of its cardiac or mental health benefits—rather than for the purpose of thinness.

Health At Every Size additionally promotes the pursuit of health outcomes (like balanced blood sugar, blood pressure, heart health, etc.) through the pursuit of healthful behaviors, rather than through the pursuit of weight loss.

For instance, HAES advocates may suggest that patients manage diabetes or heart disease through movement or nutritional therapy, rather than asking patients to lose weight as a proxy for healthy behaviors.

Additionally, Health At Every Size is a grassroots political and social justice movement, advocating for the adoption of weight-neutral health care in all health and wellness spaces.

On that note,

HAES is a movement made up of many different people, voices, and ideas.

I cannot speak for the entire movement—I can only share my own understanding of these concepts, and for the sake of simplicity and efficiency, I’m choosing to distill that understanding down into what I believe are the most crucial introductory points.

 

Why Health At Every Size (instead of dieting)?

At its most fundamental level,

Health At Every Size is an alternative to our current weight-centric approach to healthcare—an approach which has been largely proven ineffective.

Below are some reasons why our current weight-centric healthcare system—meaning, healthcare that aims to make people thinner as a means to improved health outcomes—doesn’t work and is probably making people sicker long-term.

 

#1. Diets don’t work.

The Health At Every Size approach was developed in response to an ever-growing body of research showing that diets for weight loss are unsustainable and do not result in improved health outcomes for most people long-term.

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You may have heard the statistic thrown around—that 95% (ish) of diets fail over time.

What this statistic actually means is that no peer-reviewed weight loss research—of any kind or by any method—can demonstrate consistent “weight loss success” for more than a small fraction of participants in the long term.

While most people are able to lose weight temporarily through dieting—

typically no more than 5% of research participants (give or take a few points depending on the study) are able to maintain “significant” weight loss—by any method—for more than 3-5 years. More on this here.

These numbers diminish even further in the rare cases that weight loss lasts more than 5 years, and those rare people who DO maintain “long-term, significant” weight loss often exhibit attitudes and behaviors that would be diagnosed as eating disordered in lower-weight people

(i.e. they must stay vigilantly obsessed with food and exercise and not much else—more on this in a moment).

This all to say, most people do not succeed at forcible attempts at weight loss in the long-term—no matter how, or why, they are trying to do so.

While HAES advocates typically reject the idea that “health” should be defined by body size (since many fat people live perfectly healthful lives in the bodies they have, and thin people are not immune to “weight-related” illnesses like heart disease or diabetes),

most agree that it is irrelevant whether or not your personal definition of “health” includes thinness—because there is simply no safe or “proven” method of weight loss that exists when you consider sustainability and long-term probable outcomes.

 

#2. Diets lead to weight gain.

Additionally, research suggests that forced attempts at weight loss lead to long-term (rebound) weight-gain in about a third of instances.

In other words,

every time you lose weight on a diet—you have about a 30% chance of ending up bigger than when you started, after going through a full diet-rebound cycle.

As it turns out, dieting (or trying to lose weight) is the number one predictor of weight gain over time.

On the flipside, non-dieters—or those practicing HAES and size acceptance—maintain their natural set point weight effortlessly with relative stability over time.

 

#3. Diets may be unsafe (even for those who are “successful”)

Not only does dieting as a “treatment” for fatness not usually work, but it comes with a long list of side effects—including but not limited to:

binge eating, emotional eating, low self-esteem, food obsession, eating disorders, depression/anxiety, and a wide variety of physical ailments that may result from malnutrition or weight cycling.

Weight cycling—that is, losing weight and gaining it back over and over again—is a known stressor on the body and is associated with some of the same chronic illnesses that are typically blamed on fatness.

Some research suggests that certain negative health outcomes associated with fatness (e.g. diabetes and heart disease) may be a result of chronic yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling, which is disproportionately encouraged in larger bodied people.   

Additionally, the psychological impacts of chronic dieting are bleak—irrespective of maintenance or “success.” Malnutrition and disordered eating are common and serious threats to anyone attempting or maintaining significant weight loss, irrespective of their starting weight.

 

What “works” about Health At Every Size

While many feel hopeless about their prospects for dieting—worried they are doomed for ill health and disease if they’re unable to achieve or maintain long-term weight loss,

there is an alternative to dieting that is more effective in improving health outcomes AND has fewer side effects—including less binge-eating, weight-cycling, and less feeling “crazy” around food.

And this approach is surprisingly simple…

Pursue a healthy lifestyle—including things like eating vegetables, getting regular movement, managing stress or [insert healthy behavior of your choice]

…without worrying about the weight part.

Voila!

There are several reasons why this strategy is more effective (and less harmful) than dieting “for health,” but I’ll review some big ones below for your review.

 

HAES is more sustainable

As it turns out, people are more likely to sustain healthy behaviors (like eating vegetables, and moving their bodies) when those behaviors are NOT motivated by weight-related goals.   

There are a couple reasons for this—

First off, thinness may motivate people to work out or eat vegetables on “Day One”

…but the second a dieter perceives themselves as “off the wagon,” or becomes frustrated when they don’t get the weight results they were hoping for, they tend to throw in the towel on whatever health behaviors they attached to dieting…until their next diet of course. 

On the flipside, health behaviors that are motivated by immediately tangible benefits (e.g. endorphins, better sleep, generally feeling better, etc.) are intrinsically rewarding and are thus more likely to be continued—irrespective of perceived “performance” or judgments of those behaviors.

Secondly, eating restrictions are biologically difficult to maintain—even for the most strong-willed or “motivated” people. 

Limiting calories or major macronutrients (e.g. fat, carbs, etc.), which is often encouraged by diets “for weight loss” sends our bodies into starvation mode and our biological instincts quickly rebel—leading to binge-eating, rebounding, and other complications of malnutrition (eek!).   

While diets tend to focus on taking things out—that is, limiting amounts or types of food consumed—the HAES approach focuses on adding in healthful behaviors, like exercise, vegetables, etc.

Adding “healthful” things into our life is significantly easier for our human brains than taking “unhealthful” things out. After all, we’ve evolved over millions of years to seek food rather than resist it.

When limiting certain food types IS necessary for “health” (e.g. physical allergies, etc.), folks are more likely to succeed long-term—and are less likely to fall into binge eating behaviors—when pursuing these restrictions in a weight-neutral way.

More on this here.

 

Weight is a flawed indicator of “health”

The second reason that HAES is more effective than weight-centric health strategies, is that not all bodies are genetically “designed” for thinness.

Some people’s healthiest possible weight—the weight they end up at when they’re at the top of their personal “health” game—is higher than current medical BMI “recommendations.”

Advocates of Health At Every Size recognize that bodies—including “healthful” bodies by metabolic standards—naturally occur in a range of sizes.

Some data suggests that more than half of “overweight” people are “metabolically healthy” (meaning healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) while about a quarter of thin or “normal weight” people have at least two risk factors typically associated with “obesity.”

While our medical system assumes that thin is unilaterally healthy and fat is unilaterally unhealthy, this is a highly flawed assumption—one that is largely based on correlational data and is un-useful in predicting individual health outcomes.

This all to say, naturally occurring body diversity is a thing…and it’s been a thing for thousands of years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAES reduces weight-bias in healthcare settings.

One of the biggest problems with our weight-centric healthcare system is that it encourages weight-bias in almost every aspect of our medical system.

The existence of weight bias in our medical system is well-documented, and has dangerous (even fatal) implications for larger-bodied people.

For instance, fat people are told to lose weight (aka diet) in response to just about every health problem, ache, or pain, they could possibly present with—while their thin counterparts are treated with actual evidence-based medicine.

It’s not uncommon for serious medical threats (think: tumors, blood clots, broken bones, etc.) to go undetected in larger patients because doctors assume their symptoms (everything from knee-pain to chest pain to trouble breathing) are no more than simple side effects of fatness that would go away if they just lost weight.

Larger bodied patients are viewed by doctors and nurses as “lazy” or “non-compliant” (when diets inevitably don’t work) and patients hesitate to pursue medical care to avoid being shamed and judged for their size.  

Higher-weight people are regularly denied medical care—especially surgeries and insurance coverage, “unless/until” they lose weight.

In other words, patients have to WAIT to receive basic medical services until they do something that may not be healthful or possible for them.

WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK.

what is health at every size

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many HAES advocates have pointed out that the only real way to close the “health gap” between larger and thinner bodied people is to eliminate weight-based stigma and oppression in our health-care system and throughout the world.

Repairing social inequalities that affect healthcare has thus become a quickly growing priority for the HAES movement.

 

“Health At Every Size” Title-Confusion

There are a lot of misunderstandings about HAES—and it’s easy to understand why.

The title is controversial (even amongst HAES and other body-positive activists), simply because it lends itself to gross misunderstanding about what HAES actually is.

Most of what you’ll read about “Health At Every Size” on the internet is a product of simple misunderstanding…so let’s clear up the most common “objection” to the HAES approach once and for all.

OBJECTION: “But fat bodies are unhealthy”

While it seems pretty clear from research that this is NOT unilaterally true—there are plenty of fat people that live long, disease-free lives, and there are plenty of thin people who die from “weight-related” illnesses like diabetes and heart disease—

it’s important to note that HAES advocates are not making ANY claims about what bodies are, or are not, “healthy,” however you may define that term.

HAES advocates are not claiming that “everyone is healthy at every size,” or that “every size is equally healthy” or any version of this sentiment.

HAES advocates are simply promoting a weight-neutral approach to health-care—one that focuses on the promotion of healthy behaviors and lifestyles, rather than trying to make people universally thin as a proxy for good health.

In other words, HAES advocates are promoting a more effective way of pursuing health—while warning against the dangers and ineffectiveness of forced weight loss attempts.

 

Getting Started with Health At Every Size

When you finally come to terms with the realistic prospects of dieting (I know…there may be some mourning involved…), here are some steps that you can take to pursue your happiest, healthiest life in whatever body you’re realistically working with.

#1. Set Weight-Neutral Health Goals (aka “Plan B”).

Instead of obsessively trying to lose weight for years on end with no lasting results,

think about the health or fitness goals that matter to you—the things you think you’ll get through weight loss—and start pursuing those goals directly in the body you have right now.

For instance,

  1. Do you want to work on mobility? Awesome, let’s do some strength training and stretching…that’ll help whether you lose weight or not.
  2. Do you want to walk, run, or climb up the stairs more easily? Awesome, let’s get some more cardio in…that will also help whether you lose weight or not.  
  3. Do you want to manage your blood sugar or blood pressure more effectively? Great! Let’s work on getting enough protein and fiber at meals and snack times—a little cardio helps here too!

…all of which helps whether you lose weight or not!

There are loads of things you can do to improve pretty much any “weight-related” health condition…that have nothing to do with diets-that-don’t-work-anyway.

In other words, start thinking about Plan B:  weight-neutral actions you can take to achieve the health outcomes you’re looking for…regardless of what happens with your size. 

Additionally, set weight-neutral health goals that are reasonable for your unique body and lifestyle.

If a particular form of movement isn’t available to you—for weight or non-weight-related reasons—you have to meet yourself where you are.

Similarly, if a particular dietary change isn’t realistic for economic, lifestyle, mental health or any other reasons—work within your life circumstances rather than against them.

There is no “right” way to do health…and all health pursuits should be realistic, practical and most importantly feel good to the individual pursuing them.

(Otherwise…what’s the point?)

 

#2. Be okay with what you can’t control.

Recognize that like weight, “health” outcomes are not fully within your control either.

Although focusing on behavioral change is more effective than dieting when it comes to long-term health outcomes—behavioral change itself can only go so far.  

When we honestly acknowledge the role of genetics, environment, social inequality, and an infinite number of unknowable factors—it becomes clear that we are only “in control” of a small fraction of our own “health” inputs.  

Arguably our own behaviors are not even fully within our control, because our behaviors are impacted by our environment, energy levels, attitudes and beliefs, etc.

This all to say, you can take some of the pressure off yourself.

Despite what most health blogs would have you believe—it’s not all on you, and you don’t get to choose the day you die.

 

#3. Don’t forget about mental health.

Since there is NO dietary or health choice that will make you immortal—and there is no point in trying if you have to be miserable to achieve it—don’t forget to enjoy life now.

Physical health has little value if you can’t enjoy your life in this moment.

Even if I could “misery” my way into longevity—I’d gladly take a few years off my life if it meant that I could have fun and live well in the years I had, rather than spend my life an anxious, food-obsessed wreck.

Additionally, there is strong research suggesting that people who are relaxed and happy are better protected from a range of illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes.

This all to say—mental health and well-being is an equally important piece of our overall “health” equation.

If your pursuit of physical health is destructive to your mental health—it’s probably not sustainable and almost certainly not worth it.

 

Find support and resources.

What I’ve shared with you today is the tip of the iceberg of problems associated with a weight-centric (and weight-biased) healthcare system, and we all need as much help as we can get to manage the shitstorm of problems that result from a culture of widespread fatphobia.

If you’ve had enough of diets-that-don’t-work and are ready to pursue a weight-neutral, body-positive approach to health—seek out support in whatever ways are realistic for you.

Arm yourself with education—check out the book, Health At Every Size, by Linda Bacon, as well as the Intuitive Eating book to learn core concepts of the “non-diet” approach.

Make sure to review HAES informed blogs like Dances With Fat, for an ongoing conversation about how people of all sizes can pursue weight-neutral health and support people in larger bodies who are suffering at the hands of weight-bias in our culture.

If you’re struggling to let go of dieting, diet-mentality, or are healing from diet-binge cycling, check out my free video training series, which outlines my own binge eating and diet recovery philosophy by clicking here.

Lastly, seek out HAES informed health professionals in your area through the Association for Size Diversity and Health.

ASDAH equips wellness professionals with research and other resources that support a size-inclusive health philosophy, and only accepts members that represent as non-diet, size-inclusive and HAES-informed.

If you’re not already on my email list, make sure to sign up above for HAES-informed, diet-recovery blog posts and support.

Lastly, if this post was helpful to you, I hope you’ll share it on FB so we can get these important distinctions out into the world. 

 

 

What is Intuitive Eating? A Guide for Binge-Eating Recovery

If you’re a reader of my blog, you’ve likely heard my story before—

I was a “low-bottom” binge-eater—meaning, I would make myself so sick and so full with food that it was not uncommon for me to call in sick from work or leave work early after raiding the corporate kitchen. 

More than that, I was OBSESSED with food. My entire life revolved around what I was going to eat that day, how I was gonna get my steps in, how I was gonna track my points or carbs or macros or whatever-the-fuck-it-was-that-month

…in essence, a near constant stream of food-and-body NOISE in my head all day long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to lose weight—or maintain weight loss—was a full-time job

…that to be honest…I wasn’t very good at…the binges always found me eventually.  

ENTER: INTUITIVE EATING.

Now, before I get into the role of Intuitive Eating in binge-eating recovery,

please note, that Intuitive Eating was only ONE PART of my healing process (albeit a pretty important part), and there were several other steps I had to take mentally, physically, and emotionally to fully recover from binge-eating and my generalized obsession with food and weight.

That being said, in this post I’ll be talking specifically about the role of Intuitive Eating in binge-eating recovery, as well as what you can do to make these changes in your own life.  

What is Intuitive Eating?

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Intuitive Eating is the process of making decisions around food based on your bodies internal hunger cues and other physical sensations—rather than trying to adhere to externally prescribed meal plans, food rules, etc.

In other words, Intuitive Eating is the process of choosing to eat what makes you feel good on a moment-to-moment basis, rather than trying to follow “shoulds” dictated by an external authority—or by your own obsessive dieter mind.

There are many reasons to eat intuitively,

the most obvious being that most people can’t sustain “food rules” for very long, and “shoulds” often lead to rebellious rebounds or binge-eating in the long run.

We’ll talk more about how to get started with Intuitive Eating in a moment, but for now, consider this:

when a dieter makes decisions about what to eat—they might ask:

“What should I have for lunch?” or, “What can I have for lunch?” and try to stick to whatever rules or boundaries they have set for themselves in the name of “health” (or more typically, in the name of weight control).

An Intuitive Eater, however, may ask—

  • “What do I want to have for lunch today?”
  • “What would feel good to eat right now?”
  • “What am hungry for?”
  • “What would satisfy me?”
  • “What would be pleasurable to me?”

In other words, Intuitive Eating is about pleasuring and caring for the body you have in this present moment—while dieting, meal plans, “rules” and “restrictions,” are more typically about controlling your body (especially trying to control your body’s size).

It’s worth noting that all humans (and animals!) are naturally designed for Intuitive Eating—and struggle with dieting and food restrictions—hence the phrase “diets don’t work.”

We humans—like all other animals—have evolved to regulate our food and weight naturally through instinct, feeling, hunger, etc.,

NOT calorie counts, nutrition facts, food labels, or “food rules.”

When we deny our natural instincts around food (through dieting or restriction), dysfunction around food ensues very quickly.

Common symptoms of chronic dieting and food restriction include:

  • Binge-Eating,
  • Weight Cycling (or “yo-yo dieting”)
  • Food Obsession,
  • Compulsive Eating,
  • Emotional Eating,
  • and pretty much any kind of clinical *eating disorder* you can think of.

Yikes.  

Why Does Intuitive Eating Help Stop Binges?

At its core,

Binge-Eating is a biological reaction to deprivation around food.

Binge-eating may be a response to physical deprivation (e.g. hunger, dieting, weight suppression, etc.) or it may be a response to emotional deprivation, which you can read about here.

Binge-Eating is eating because you haven’t had bread in 3 weeks and you can’t hold back one second longer…(aka “falling-off-the-wagon eating”)

OR it’s eating because “fuck it…I’ve already screwed up…I might as well eat EVERYTHING that isn’t nailed down…and get back on the wagon starting tomorrow” (aka “last supper eating”).

In other words,

binge-eating is what happens when we deny—or threaten to deny—our natural, biological instincts around food.   

Intuitive Eating—on the other hand—is the practice of responding to our hunger signals (and other bodily sensations) as they arise.

In so doing,

Intuitive Eating eliminates the most pressing and common cause of binge-eating—which is physical dieting or restriction around food.  

Will I lose weight from Intuitive Eating?

Unlike diets—which I define as forced attempts at weight loss through restricting or trying to “control” food,

the goal of Intuitive Eating is NOT weight loss, but to have a healthful relationship with food both physically and mentally.

In other words, the goal is to stop feeling like a crazy person around food—not to be thin at all costs.

As you heal your relationship with food—both physically and mentally—your body will arrive at its unique “set point weight,” which is the weight your body sustains effortlessly when you are not dieting and bingeing (i.e. when you’re eating “normally”).  

While some people advocate Intuitive Eating “for weight loss,” it is dangerous to pursue this path, and can easily trigger binge-eating just like any other diet.

There are both physical and emotional reasons for this, but the primary reason why “Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss” usually backfires is that effective Intuitive Eating depends upon letting go of diet-mentality (more on this later).

The pursuit of weight loss is the #1 trigger—and possibly the defining feature of—diet-mentality, which you can read more about here.

Intuitive Eating and Weight Set Point Theory

When you are eating intuitively AND have a healthy relationship with food (physically and mentally) you will eventually arrive at your unique set point weight.

This is the unique body weight that you maintain effortlessly when eating “normally” (aka not dieting and bingeing).  

Everyone’s set point weight is different and may be higher, lower, or the same as your current weight—depending on where you currently are in your “yo-yo” dieting cycle.

This weight may or may not line up with your dreams and visions of permanent thinness—which are largely dictated by unrealistic beauty ideals—but it will be the body that you can sustain effortlessly without dieting, binging, or obsessing about food.

Most people are not capable of maintaining weights below their set point for very long (hence: binge-eating)—and for the few who are “able,” there may be grave physical and mental health consequences to suppressing your natural size.

In other words, the weight you arrive at when you’re eating intuitively is probably the healthiest weight YOU can be.

This weight is largely genetically determined—although it may be affected by environmental, biological and other factors, most of which are outside of our conscious control.  

How to get started with Intuitive Eating

There are several books that teach the core principles of Intuitive Eating—or more specifically, there are several books that teach people how to listen to their bodies for information about what to eat, rather than externally prescribed diets.

Some of these books actually use the words “Intuitive Eating” and some don’t. For instance, I’ve heard the words “attuned eating” or “hunger-directed eating” used to describe very similar concepts, with some differences from book to book.

Most of these books focus on listening to hunger and fullness signals specifically, although they may also discuss other bodily sensations (e.g. “how does a particular food make you feel, physically, after you eat it?”)

I personally have my own unique way of teaching Intuitive Eating, which I discuss at length in my coaching programs.

The core themes, however, are the same—which are (in short) tips, tools, and “how-to’s” for learning to listen to your body for information about what to eat, rather than relying on diet rules.

The Intuitive Eating Book & Workbook (Review)

The most widely read book about these concepts is likely the original “Intuitive Eating” book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch—for which the term was coined in 1995.

intuitive eating book

Their particular take focuses on their own “10 Principles of Intuitive Eating,” which include:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness 
  6. Discover the Satiation Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food (FYI—I find this particular principle a bit problematic for reasons explained below).
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise: Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

I’m hesitant to go through and review each “principle” because it would take a lot more writing than a single blog post can provide—however, I will say:

while this book is far from perfect (for reasons I’ll explain in a moment), I do generally recommend this book as a starter guide to Intuitive Eating principles and the non-diet approach.

This book explains in great detail how your body’s hunger signals work, what they feel like (ish), and why they are a much safer (and more dependable) guide for making choices around food than traditional diets.

If the actual “how-to’s” of noticing signals like physical hunger or fullness elude you (or simply overwhelm you, which may well be the case after years of dieting),

this book can provide pretty in-depth support in your transition to trusting your body’s hunger signals around food.    

That being said, there are parts of this book that I think can be problematic for clients in recovery from diet-binge cycling or other disordered eating behaviors.

Below are a few common “challenges” or “pitfalls” that my clients often fall into when reading (or possibly misreading) this book, or when pursuing other versions of hunger-directed eating.

Intuitive Eating Challenges & Pitfalls

The 3 most common challenges/pitfalls that people struggle with when they first begin Intuitive Eating are the following:

  1. “The Hunger & Fullness Diet”  (or the “Don’t-Eat-Emotionally Diet”)
  2. Underestimating hunger (read this even if you don’t think it applies to you)
  3. Trying to control weight through “eating intuitively”

The “Hunger & Fullness Diet” (aka The “Don’t-Eat-Emotionally” Diet)

The “Hunger & Fullness Diet” (aka the “Don’t-Eat-Emotionally Diet”’) are terms I coined to describe the single most common pitfall I see clients fall into when they beginning Intuitive Eating.

This happens when people turn “hunger and fullness” into RULES to follow—

for instance, when people turn “eating when physically hungry” or “not eating emotionally” or “not getting too full” into things they “should” or “should not” do.

The “Hunger & Fullness Diet” is problematic for a few reasons:

First off,

trying to eat ONLY within certain “acceptable” boundaries (e.g. “hunger and fullness”) can trigger binges when you inevitably “give in” or “fail.”  

When I first started practicing Intuitive Eating, I used to feel incredibly guilty (or even ashamed) when I would eat emotionally, or get really full. In other words, I thought my “emotional eating” was a “screw up.”

Of course, whenever I thought I “screwed up,” I would then binge my face off, because…

“I’ve already ruined my day—so I might as well binge my face off and try ‘Intuitive Eating’ again tomorrow.”  

In other words, I turned Intuitive Eating into a “wagon” that I could fall on and off of.

When you turn Intuitive Eating into a “wagon” that you can fall on or off of, you’re almost guaranteed to “fall off” of it eventually—and probably binge your face off in the process.

Underestimating Hunger (Don’t Skip This)

It’s clear in retrospect that I highly underestimated the amount of food I really needed in my early days of Intuitive Eating.

This is likely because diet-mentality (especially the “hunger & fullness diet” or the “don’t-eat-emotionally-diet”) got in the way of my trusting my natural instincts around food.

For instance, if I didn’t feel a “growl” in my stomach or other physical sensations that I personally labeled hunger, I would put that urge into the “emotional eating” category.

The reality, however, is that I may have been experiencing signs of appetite…which is simply a “drive to eat” that may—or may not—accompany specific physical sensations in the body.

Thinking about food is often the first sign of physical hunger we experience,

which is why trying to draw a narrow line between “emotional eating” and “eating for hunger” is actually more complicated (and less reliable) than you might think.   

This is one of many reasons dieters and restrictors spend so much time thinking about foodthinking about food is a “symptom” of hunger.

Additionally, it is quite normal to want (and need!) to get very full when recovering from restriction or weight suppression.

Your body may legitimately need much more food than your definition of “acceptable fullness” might suggest.

Why trying to lose weight through “eating intuitively” usually backfires

Another common pitfall people fall into when attempting to “eat intuitively,” is practicing Intuitive Eating in an attempt to control weight, rather than as a method of weight-neutral self-care.

This fails for very similar reasons as the first two common pitfalls—

DIET MENTALITY.

When you pursue any particular “way of eating” for the purpose of weight control, it’s almost inevitable that you will judge your “performance” every step of the way, probably try to undercut your needs, and as a result, you may very well continue binge-eating too.

You can read more about why this doesn’t work in my post “How to Stop Binge-Eating” by clicking here.

Instead of using Intuitive Eating as a form of “weight control,” try using it as a tool for taking care of the body you have right now, and for the purpose of living your mentally and physically healthiest life (rather than your thinnest-at-all-costs life).

Binge-Eating Recovery takes more than Intuitive Eating…

In my opinion, learning to listen to your body about what to eat is only ONE part of the total recovery equation.

Making the necessary mental and emotional shifts to truly let go of dieting (and diet mentality) is the “real challenge” that most people face in healing their relationship with food.

While the Intuitive Eating book addresses some of these challenges, most people need more support to combat diet mentality—especially through the perspectives of Fatphobia, body image concerns, or a general desire to “control” food or weight.

If you’re feeling like,

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong! I’m trying to eat Intuitively, but I just keep binge-eating!”

You are almost certainly still struggling with unhealthy attitudes about food and weight, or are trying to use Intuitive Eating as a form of food or weight control.

Diet Mentality is complex, can take many forms (e.g. the “hunger & fullness diet”), and typically reflects a person’s body image, fatphobic beliefs or societal ideas about what eating “should” look like.

Resources for Healing Diet-Mentality (& Diet-Binge Cycling)

In addition to the Intuitive Eating book,

I highly recommend checking out the book Health At Every Size, which describes the importance of pursuing a weight-neutral approach to health—rather than the traditional “diets-for-health” approach, which is almost certainly hurting our collective health (and sanity) long-term.

Additionally,

if you’re struggling with binge-eating, emotional eating, chronic dieting or food obsession—

make sure to check out Stop Fighting Food (my free video training series) that teaches folks how to heal the underlying thinking patterns behind all common “food issues.”

Also, if this post was useful to you, please share! You can share this post directly to Facebook by clicking here. Easy Peasy. 

 

 

Can’t Stop Binge-Eating? Here’s WHY and how to stop.

On the diet-binge roller coaster from hell? I get it, gurl.

Binge-eating was my nemesis for YEARS.

I used to literally dig out food from the trash after throwing it out because I didn’t “trust myself” not to eat whatever-the-hell-forbidden-fruit happened to be in my cabinets that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until I finally understood the root causes of my binge-eating (which I’ll get to in a moment),

I spent most of my time alternating between periods of “being good” or successfully “controlling myself” around food

…and then inevitably “losing control” in the bulk bin section of the grocery store—knee-deep in chocolate covered whatever-the-hell-it-was—swearing I’d get back on the horse for good starting tomorrow.

Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for me to make myself so full and sick from eating that I could barely get up from my couch…let alone go out with my friends, be productive at work, put on real pants, etc.

I was a “low-bottom” binge-eater, trying everything to stop—including 12-step groups and “food addiction” programs, to a couple stints in rehab for Binge-Eating Disorder and everything in between.

 

How to Stop Binge-Eating: Understanding Why You Binge-Eat 

For the most part, all of the various “programs” I tried to stop binge-eating suggested that binge-eating was a self-contained psychological defect—the result of a “spiritual malady,” or bad habit, or perhaps some childhood trauma.

In other words, they all suggested that if I could just fix the underlying emotional problems that “triggered” binges, I would be healed.

Doing everything in my power to get this problem “under control,” I went to therapy, I went to church, I journaled, I made up with my mother…and for years, I just couldn’t stop bingeing.

It wasn’t until years into my healing journey, that someone finally suggested that perhaps my bingeing wasn’t just a response to difficult emotions or “neurological junk” in my brain…

perhaps my binges were a natural response to countless years of dieting and feeling deprived around food, as a result of innumerable attempts at weight “control throughout my life.

 

The Root Cause of Binge-Eating

Despite an enormous amount of effort by “the diet industry” (meaning, anyone and everyone who may profit from our society’s obsession with thinness) to suppress research that suggests “diets don’t work,”

it is widely evidenced in the scientific literature that binge-eating is primarily a symptom of dieting or attempts at food and weight “control.”  

If you’d like to read the pages and pages of research supporting this claim—it will take you a while—but I would start by referencing the literature collected by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who are the nutritionists behind the book, Intuitive Eating, (which I’ll discuss later in this post),

as well as the book Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon, which reviews decades worth of research on the most common symptoms and outcomes of dieting and weight suppression. More to come on “Health At Every Size” as well.

 

Binge-Eating vs. Emotional Eating vs. “Getting Really Full”

The terms “binge-eating” and “emotional eating” are often used interchangeably, even though they are actually very different behaviors and need to be treated in different ways.

Since you can’t heal a problem you don’t fully understand, let’s start by defining these terms so we can all make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

 

What is “Binge-Eating?”

I now understand that Binge-Eating is—plain and simple—a reaction to deprivation around food.

In other words,

  1. it’s eating because you haven’t had a piece of bread in 3 weeks and you can’t hold yourself back one-second longer (that is, a biological instinct to relieve oneself from food restriction—aka falling-off-the-wagon eating”)
  2. or it’s eating because you already screwed up, so you “might as well” finish the bag and start over tomorrow (aka “last supper eating”).

This type of eating can also be triggered by unhealthy attitudes about food and weight—aka “Diet Mentality.”

For instance, people who feel guilty or fearful about eating certain foods are much more likely to binge-eat or feel “out of control” as they judge, analyze or criticize their choices with food.

This all to say that binge-eating is not a stand-alone or self-contained behavior—it is simply one part—the second part—of the diet-binge cycle.

As such, attempts at “self-control” around food are not only unproductive in managing binge-eating, but may actually be the primary risk factor for binge-eating and binge-eating disorder (BED). More on this here

 

What is “emotional eating?”

“Emotional Eating,” on the other hand, is eating for emotional pleasure or to soothe uncomfortable feelings.

A “normal” eater may eat emotionally from time to time, but will likely do so far less often than dieters and restrictors, for reasons that I explain here.

That being said,

the reality is…most people eat emotionally sometimes

As my friend Wendy Shankar says,

“there are only 6 people who eat food righteously as fuel and nothing else…and all six of them are Kenyan marathon runners.”

The difference between a person who has a bowl of ice cream after a hard day, and the person who flies off the handle into a week-long binge…

is whether or not they were trying to “control” their food and weight to begin with—is whether or not they struggle with diet-mentality around that experience.

 

Binge Eating is NOT the same thing as “getting really full”

Despite conventional wisdom—it is completely unuseful (and actually quite problematic) to define binges by volume or amounts of food.

What is much more useful is to define binges by their motivation…by what actually *causes* the behavior, rather than by some arbitrary amount of “this-is-not-okay,”

Ultimately, there’s a big difference between reacting to deprivation (aka bingeing) and eating a bunch on Thanksgiving because your mom’s mashed potatoes are AWESOME.

This sounds like semantics, but it’s really important to remember—

Like “emotional eating,” getting really full sometimes is a normal part of life.

Restricting your food choices and then shame-eating when no one’s looking doesn’t have to be.   

 

“I don’t think I’m a dieter, but I know that I binge-eat…”

Because “diet” has become a 4-letter word in the Wellness Industry, many of my clients don’t realize they’re dieting unless they’re on Weight Watchers or Atkins or some old school weight loss “program” of some kind.

The reality, however, is that anyone who defines themselves as a “binge-eater” is almost certainly dieting or struggling with diet-mentality.

If you’re struggling with binges or extreme “loss of control” around food—you are, by definition, trying to control your food in the first place.

After all—you can’t fall off a wagon that you’re not on.

More on this here.

 

What exactly do I mean by dieting or “restriction?”

There are a couple definitions of dieting that most often lead to binge-eating behaviors:

  • A diet may include any attempt to restrict or limit food intake for the purpose of weight loss (or weight “control”)

In other words, a diet may include anything from:

  1. limiting certain types of food,
  2. or certain amounts of food,
  3. or limiting certain eating behaviors

…for the purpose of weight loss or weight control.

If weight loss, weight control, or weight-management is your goal, you are most certainly “on a diet.”

  • A “diet” may also mean ANY kind of food restriction to which you feel emotionally attached (whether it be for weight loss, or “health,” or any other possible reason).  

For instance, restricting dairy or gluten because you have allergies will not necessarily lead to binge-eating in and of itself

…but if you feel emotionally attached to “following” that instruction “correctly,” 

if your self-esteem or feelings of emotional security depend upon you “sticking to” your particular definition of “health,”

you will likely find yourself “falling off the wagon,”  just like you would any weight-controlling diet.

 

“Diet Mentality” can also lead to binge-eating.

Although physical diets or restrictions around food are the primary cause of binge-eating, it takes more than canceling your Weight Watchers subscription to rid your mind of years (and possibly decades) worth of toxic diet-culture beliefs around food—which can also trigger binge-eating.

When you start paying attention, you may be surprised by how judgmental you are of your food choices, or how fearful you are of eating certain foods. You may walk around feeling terrified of gaining weight or eating “too much,” all of which can be just as triggering as the diets themselves.

In other words—fear, shame, and judgment of your food choices can themselves trigger binge-eating.

When we judge a particular eating behavior as “not okay,” we subconsciously send ourselves the message that food should be restricted in the future, thus sending us back into “last supper mode” around food (i.e. binge-eating behaviors).

 

How to stop dieting…so you can stop binge-eating.

Ultimately, the only way to stop binge-eating is to *truly* let go of dieting…which is not always easy in a culture that constantly tells you your life’s happiness depends upon you eating (and looking) a certain way. 

Fear usually comes up. 

Most of my clients ask,

“But if I stop dieting, I’ll just eat and eat and eat FOREVER!” “I’ll never stop gaining weight and Oompa Loompas will  pop out of my closet and kill me!” 

how to stop binge-eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting aside that this fear—Fatphobia—is likely the real root of your food obsession, and is certainly not helping you recover from binge-eating,

let’s briefly review the reality of the situation: 

Dieting makes us feel like there’s no amount of food in the world that could possibly satisfy us—

but the reality is, when we’re not constantly depriving ourselves around food—we discover that we are, in fact, satiable.

Satiation is influenced by several factors— including your history of dieting, your current diet-mentality, as well as where your weight currently rests relative to your natural set point weight. 

Your set point weight is the weight you naturally arrive after you let go of dieting and eat in accordance with your bodies natural hunger signals.

This weight will be different for everyonedepending on genetics, environment, hormones and other factors.

Whatever your set point weight is—where ever you happen to ‘land’ when you have a healthful relationship with food —is, by definition, the perfect “healthy” weight for YOU.

On that note, below are some basic tips to help you make the transition from diet-binge cycling into “normal,” biologically-attuned eating. 

 

#1 Practice “Intuitive Eating”

Diet Recovery typically starts with a practice of “Intuitive Eating,” or listening to your own biological hunger signals for information about what to eat, instead of external diet plans, etc.

When you tune in and listen, your body knows exactly what it needs to eat at any given time—you just need to start honoring and trusting those signals, which is what a good Intuitive Eating coach should be helping you accomplish.

More on Intuitive Eating here.

 

#2 Challenge your diet mentality.

While listening to your body’s hunger signals for information about what to eat is super helpful in making sure you get enough food,

be careful not to fall into the trap of the “hunger & fullness diet,” which will backfire just like every other diet on the planet.

At the end of the day, rules and restrictions around food are the real enemies when it comes to binge-eating recovery—and practicing “Intuitive Eating” can only go so far if you’re still struggling with diet-mentality around it.  

 

#3 Practice “Health At Every Size”

People who pursue healthy behaviors (like exercising, eating vegetables, etc.)—without worrying or focusing on weight outcomes—are significantly more likely to maintain those health behaviors over time.

Additionally, people who pursue health behaviors in a weight-neutral way enjoy better health outcomes (e.g. blood pressure, blood sugar, cardiovascular health)

…as well as significantly better mental health outcomes, especially around food and body image.

Since there is little-to-no evidence to support forced “weight loss” or diet interventions—because they are rarely sustainable, and often lead to weight gain over time, 

there is increasing support for a “weight-neutral” approach to health—citing sustainability and long-term health outcomes as a reason to ditch the scale and focus on taking care of the body you actually have.

I would argue that pursuing health and nutrition in a weight-neutral way is critical for the safety of anyone in recovery from eating disorders, or binge-eating of any kind.

 

#4 Pursue Body Positivity (heal your Body Image NOW) 

Letting go of the “goal” of weight loss, and committing to pursue actual health, can be challenging in a culture that regularly stigmatizes people on the basis of size.

We are constantly being fed messages that we are only worthy or lovable in thin bodies, and this can trigger a cascade effect onto our food:

Body Shame → Dieting (and/or Diet Mentality) → Binge-Eating

Of course, binge-eating often leads to more body shame…and the cycle continues on and on indefinitely.

While many hesitate to work on body-image believing that self-hatred is somehow “motivating” them into thinness,

the truth is, it is VERY difficult to overcome diet-binge cycling (and binge-eating in general) without doing significant body acceptance work right off the bat.

The sooner you work to accept the body you have, the sooner you’ll be able to truly let go of dieting and eat “normally” in accordance with your biological hunger signals.

Work with a coach, find a body-positive or body-acceptance support group, do what you need to do to remember:

how to stop binge-eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Help for Binge-Eating

At the end of the day, binge-eating is a reaction to dieting or other attempts to “control” food and weight.

You can think of it like a Bow & Arrow:

The farther back you pull a bow and arrow (aka dieting), the farther that bow’s gonna fly in the other direction as soon as you let it go.

If you want to heal your binge-eating for real, you’re gonna have to stop straining your body through dieting and other attempts at food or weight “control,” and re-learn to respect and honor your bodies natural instincts around food.

This will also mean learning to respect and honor your bodies natural size, which is different for everyone. 

 

Binge-Eating Recovery Resources

To learn more about the non-diet approach on how to stop binge-eating, make sure to check out my free video training series at StopFightingFood.com.

You can also check out my free guide, “How To Not Eat Cake…really fast, standing up, when nobody’s looking” by filling out the form at the top of this page.

Lastly, if this post was useful to you, please share! You can share this post directly to Facebook by clicking here. Easy Peasy. 

 

Can’t stop “grazing” or snacking? Don’t forget about THIS.

As a dieter, I was the queen of “grazing,”

primarily because I was constantly trying to eat the least amount of food possible at every eating event—or at least stay within my boundary du jour—which left me perpetually unsatisfied, running back and forth to the kitchen continuously throughout the day.

It rarely occurred to me to go to a restaurant and order what I really wanted for dinner…right off the entrée menu…without having to ask for anything “on the side.”

Even when I was “off the wagon,” I rarely considered going to a restaurant and ordering something truly filling and satisfying,

it was more likely I’d rummage through the cabinets grabbing spoonfuls or handfuls until I felt sick…or go to a dark corner store with my sunglasses on and bulk buy…whatever.

Warm, filling, satisfying, non-diet MEALS

…with creamy sauces and ALL the food groups,
…with the intention of both nourishment AND enjoyment,
…something both physically filling and emotionally satisfying,

rarely occurred in my diet OR binge-eating worlds…I practically forgot them as options. 

I’ll never forget thinking to myself in early recovery: “it’s been years since I had a burrito for lunch.” 

Of course, a thick burrito—with all the trimmings—was exactly what I needed at that moment.

Filling, satisfying, delicious, and all the food groups—a burrito was about as close to “real food,” as I’d considered in a long time.

At that moment, I remembered that regular, hearty, filling meals…are a thing,

and maybe an important part of finding complete satiation after years of dieting and restriction.

If you’re struggling to develop a “normal” relationship with food after years of dieting, make sure to check out my free video training series for more info about ending the diet-binge cycle for good. It’s worth it