Inside Scoop: Learn how to beat binge eating by honouring your hunger.
This article was submitted by Alexandra Tarr, Health Coach and Intuitive Eating Specialist.
We’ve all been there – meticulously following a diet plan, carefully avoiding contraband ingredients, and turning down the dessert table. But then, we suddenly find ourselves devouring every cookie, cracker, and piece of candy we can find in the pantry.
Unfortunately, no matter how much will power we put forth, our bodies are smarter than our brains. Dieting is a form of starvation. When we restrict food when we’re hungry – by counting calories, points, or macros – the body undergoes a series of chemical changes that make us even hungrier. These chemical changes include the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. This powerful molecule not only intensifies our drive to eat, but it makes it more likely that the calories we consume will be stored as fat instead of burned as energy.
What’s amazing is that we don’t even need to be actively in a calorie deficit (“starvation mode”) for our bodies to react this way. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that simply thinking about being on a diet creates the same physiologic stress response as actually skipping meals. So, even if we are careful about avoiding donuts at the office because we want to indulge later in the evening, our bodies recognize the stress of our dieting mentality, making us more likely to overeat at mealtimes.
HOW TO BEAT BINGE EATING BY HONOURING YOUR HUNGER
But, there’s hope for the chronic dieters, binge eaters, and everyone is confused about what the heck to eat for dinner. The answer is Intuitive Eating.
The term for this revolutionary concept was coined by two California dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They didn’t, however, invent it – our bodies did! Babies are born without any sort of nutrition education, and yet they eat exactly as much as their bodies need and receive the perfect balance of nutrients. This is because they are closely attuned to their internal signals telling them they are hungry and/or satisfied.
Of course, as adults, we consume a much more complicated diet than just milk. But we still possess the innate ability to self-regulate our eating patterns, nourish our bodies well, and maintain our weight at its natural set point. That is, unless dieting has gotten in the way, with all of its rules and regulations about what we are “allowed” to eat, how much, and when.
For those who have been dieting for most of their lives, this can sound like an outlandish claim, but it’s naturally built into us, supported by health professionals, and is a growing area of research around the world: one study from the Journal of Nutrition & Metabolism demonstrated that intuitive self-regulation of energy intake leads to weight loss for overweight individuals, and also allows for weight maintenance in those of a normal weight. Other research efforts have shown that intuitive eating even promotes healthy physiology, such as blood sugar control.
Intuitive eating is your body’s natural way of establishing and maintaining true health – you can learn how to beat binge eating with no diets necessary.
My Journey With Intuitive Eating
My freshman year of high school, I developed anorexia, which resulted from an inability to cope with stressors in my life. I was in treatment on and off until I graduated, but I didn’t truly recover. I would continually engage in cycles of dieting and relapse, weight gain and recovery, episodes of bingeing, and so on and so forth. I was obsessed with “healthy eating” which was, ironically, very unhealthy. I agonized about every bite of food – whether it was low enough in calories and fat, whether it had the correct balance of vitamins and minerals, etc. As a result, I was constantly stressed out, and meal times felt more like a war zone than a means of self-care.
I also was militant about my exercise regime. I would go back and forth between weight training and distance running – but none of it felt good, even when I wasn’t overdoing it. I ran and lifted weights because I thought I should, not because I was wanting to care for myself. Ultimately, my food and exercise habits were a result of hating my body, rather than loving myself and wanting to be healthy.
It wasn’t until I was nineteen, studying abroad in Florence, that I can say I truly recovered. There I was, in one of the most beautiful countries of the world, supposed to be having the time of my life. Instead, I was terrified of gelato, pizza, and all the delicious pasta around me! I realized at that time that I wanted to live my life boldly instead of staying afraid. So, I started eating.
I ate my way through Italy, all the way to recovery. Throughout the process of giving myself unconditional permission to eat, I broke away from my food fears. As a result, my binges stopped, and I realized that I didn’t even enjoy some of the foods I’d been so diligently avoiding! Additionally, I was satisfied by much smaller quantities of the foods I truly enjoyed – everything from cookies, to steak, to kale smoothies. When I returned home, I started working with a dietitian and therapist to sort through my history and develop lifelong patterns for intuitive eating and self-care.
I know that my story isn’t unique. So many others have had the same experience, and found out how to beat binge eating, and found food freedom by eating intuitively. You can, too!
10 TIPS TO BEAT BINGE EATING BY USING INTUITION
Even though Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch didn’t invent intuitive eating, they wrote an excellent book about the philosophy, which outlines ten easily digestible (pun intended) steps for restoring your relationship with food. In their book, as well as the accompanying workbook, they discuss these steps in detail and provide helpful exercises to identify areas where you can improve. Here is a summary of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:
1) Reject the Diet Mentality – this means saying “no” to dieting, forever! Diets don’t work, and the first step in intuitive eating is to stop hoping (or pretending) that they do. Diets include everything from counting calories/points to avoiding certain food groups or ingredients (you can read more about why you need all your macronutrients here) .
2) Honor Your Hunger – our bodies need to be fed. If we don’t feed them, they fight back, and we often end up overeating. Learning how to identify hunger signals is vitally important.
3) Make Peace with Food – when I was in Italy, I gave myself unconditional permission to eat, and it ended my personal food fight! Feelings of deprivation cause us to “tune out” from our bodies.
4) Challenge the Food Police – eating isn’t a moral issue, and any voice that tells us we are “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods belongs to the Food Police. Intuitive eating means breaking free from the rules/regulations of the Food Police.
5) Respect Your Fullness – do you have a habit of cleaning your plate even if you aren’t hungry? Observing hunger signals and honoring fullness means eating more if we’re hungry, but not if we’re full.
6) Discover the Satisfaction Factor – food is more than fuel; it’s also one of life’s pleasures! By choosing foods that satisfy both the palate and our hunger, we often need much less food to feel satisfied and full. For example, bread and potatoes are nutritionally comparable foods, but I just don’t like potatoes! So, I usually choose bread, which satisfies my taste buds and my tummy.
7) Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food – just like drinking water doesn’t fix sleep deprivation, eating food won’t help us alleviate stress, repair broken relationships, or satisfy boredom. Doing so instead creates more problems! Intuitive eating requires that we identify our real needs and satisfy them appropriately.
8) Respect Your Body – everybody is built differently, and its unrealistic and unhealthy to try to force ourselves to be a certain shape or size if our genetics haven’t set us up that way. By accepting and honoring our bodies, we can feel better about who we are and be more successful in saying ‘no’ to diets.
9) Exercise – Feel the Difference – I still enjoy running, but only for a mile or two. That’s my body’s personal limit, and trying to run more makes me feel exhausted and burned out. Likewise, not exercising at all leaves me anxious and antsy. Find a way to move that feels good to your body, and develop a habit that you can sustain for your entire life
10) Honor Your Health – this is where nutrition comes into play. There’s no such thing as “eating perfectly,” and we can’t ruin our health with one meal or snack. Learn to choose foods that taste good and feel good in your body on a consistent basis.
One of our favourite ways to get started with intuitive eating is to journal the food we consume in the day for a couple weeks. You simply write down what you ate, and your emotions (whether it be happy, stressed, anxious, guilt, etc.) throughout the day. Having a Food Mood Journal handy is a great tool as an insight into the way food makes you feel. You can download your free printable Food Mood Journal here:
FOOD & MOOD DIARY
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After earning her degree in Food Science, Alexandra began working in private practice as a nutrition consultant. With the hope of one day providing more comprehensive care, she started medical school in 2017, and continues to see clients on the side through video chat. Her clinical interests are varied, ranging from bingeing and weight gain, to yo-yo dieting, to fatigue, hormonal imbalances, and food allergies/sensitivities. Her goal in every session is to empower her clients to embrace their bodies instead of continuing to battle against them, ultimately leaving her office to lead healthful, fulfilling lives. Visit her website at Nutra-Intuition here.