The year was 2005, and, having recently discovered and devoured the bible of nutrient-rich eating, Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live, I was riding high on the same transitory motivational wave that has propelled many a dieter through the first few weeks of their latest weight loss effort. Fruit and flax for breakfast, Huge Mega Salad with beans for lunch, and delicious vegetable soups for supper—I was finally learning to love naked veggies in their natural unsalted, unfried state!
Then one day, out of the blue, that infamous diet derailer—the chocolate bug—bit me, and instead of allowing the ensuing itch to subside on its own, I scratched it with just a few chocolate covered mixed nuts from the little market down the street.
“I’ll have just a little.”
Next day, same story. “Well,” I told myself, “it’s only a little. I’ll stick to just an ounce or so a day and that’ll be fine.” You may recall that the venom of a chocolate bug goes straight to the brain, wreaking havoc on one’s rational thinking capabilities.
By day three, still more chocolate was required to satisfy the itch, followed by the rationale, “I’ve already blown it today with chocolate, so I might as well eat some bread and cheese and start fresh tomorrow.” Within a few days, I had resumed my former seemingly intransigent addiction to copious amounts of chocolate-coated this and chocolate-dipped that, eating every bite indiscriminately without regard to how much I was consuming or where or under what circumstances.
The binge cycle meets its match
And thus it continued for another year or so, until I discovered The Beck Diet Solution (Judith Beck). From there, over time, I combined Dr. Beck’s cognitive therapy techniques with the latest research on behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience to formulate a program for myself—one that would help me stick to the high-nutrient diet style while extricating me from those horrible sugar binge cycles. This program is a set of tools and strategies for helping build willpower and self-discipline—which makes it much easier to be really at choice with food. The tools are simple and straightforward—keeping a food log and eating while seated, just to name a couple.
Alas, the techniques appear simplistic but are not necessarily easy to utilize, like when you’re on a Ben & Jerry’s bender, for instance—after all, who wants to measure out a binge one cup at a time? Well it turns out that sticking to the tools (also referred to as “disciplines” by some of my clients) will always lessen the intensity and duration of a binge. Did I say always? I meant to say always.
Binges are so damaging because people let themselves go unconscious and just start shoveling it in. During my overfeeding episodes, I would pop a piece of chocolate in my mouth no matter where I was or what I was doing. I’d shove it in as soon as I walked out of the store and keep going until the bag was empty. I had no sense of how much I was eating and didn’t even really taste the chocolate most of the time. After I’d gorged on sugar, I’d move on to the cheddar and white flour products.
Learn to binge mindfully
Now I know how to manage a binge healthfully, and as an ironic result, I no longer binge.
Every now and then, sweet visions of all-you-can-eat double-chocolate peanut butter malted milk balls will threaten my fortitude, but then my practiced prefrontal cortices kick in to remind me, “You have to weigh those, you know.” And that reality slap takes the fun right out of my little cocoa fantasy!
If you find yourself moving into binge mode, don’t give in completely. Stay conscious by weighing or measuring what you’re eating. Measure out a portion, take it to your chair, and enjoy it slowly. If you want more, repeat the process. Don’t worry so much about what you’re eating—focus on the process of binging mindfully. Weighing your food, eating only while seated, savoring every bite—these all require an active rational mind. Keeping your rational mind awake will make it harder to continue binging. Oh, and the more you practice all this, the better you’ll get at it. Remember, you’ve practiced your old eating habits for a long time—it’s gonna take a while to replace them with new, healthy habits.
Caroline’s 4-part compulsive eating program helps people adopt a nutrient-rich diet by teaching them the psychology of permanent weight loss.
This post was first published on Healthy Food Now.