Breaking Up With Binge Eating

Your New Language of Recovery

July 27, 2020 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Your New Language of Recovery
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Your New Language of Recovery
Jul 27, 2020
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

Want to see yourself making more progress? Want to feel stronger and more motivated on a daily basis? It's all in the words you use. In this episode we'll touch on the key phrases you'll want to start using, and which terms you'll want to strike from your vocabulary to leave binge eating and emotional eating far behind you. 

Show Notes Transcript

Want to see yourself making more progress? Want to feel stronger and more motivated on a daily basis? It's all in the words you use. In this episode we'll touch on the key phrases you'll want to start using, and which terms you'll want to strike from your vocabulary to leave binge eating and emotional eating far behind you. 

Your New Language of Recovery 

Breaking up with binge eating involves learning a multitude of new skills. How often to eat, how much to eat, how to tap into our emotions and know what to do with what we find. We also learn a new language in a way. The words that make up our thoughts, the terms we use to describe our experiences, also change through the recovery process. For example, instead of talking about how they ate a bad food or a bad dinner, clients who are progressing with their recovery start saying things like we had a 'lower protein dinner' or a 'higher sugar breakfast than normal', they focus on the facts and don’t generalize foods as being BAD. 

They talk about their bodies and emotions in a new language too. Instead of "I’m so fat and disgusting, I just can’t stand myself," the language of recovery sounds like, “I’m having a hard time today accepting my current size and feeling like wanting to be slimmer.” The language of disordered eating is mean and critical, the language of recovery is kinder. In today’s episode, we’ll talk about shaping your word choices to help you move further away from uncontrolled or binge eating, and closer to the end goal, feeling calm and confident around food. 


When I read our facebook group discussions this weekend, a word that jumped out at me was exhausted. It struck me that ‘exhausted’ is a word, much like “starving” that we tend to throw around when it’s not exactly true. If I tell myself I am starving, it carries a higher emotional intensity than “I’m hungry”, and that emotional content impacts us in a real way! If we believe we are starving, it makes us more desperate and hurried for food. It makes the situation sound dangerous and extreme, and possibly justifies doing something we wouldn’t if we were instead operating with the belief we were instead “very hungry.”

I’ve talked about setting aside the word "starving" for years, it's in my 2015 book Lean Habits where I discuss forming a positive relationship with your body’s appetite sensations.

But this weekend was the first time I see that word exhausted is similarly problematic!. It’s more dramatic than thinking “I am tired” or “I feel fatigue.” We can envision going through the bedtime routine with our kids when we are tired right? We can envision picking up the kitchen even if we’re tired.  It’s possible. But what if we tell ourselves we are exhausted? Sounds a lot harder or even impossible? Exhaustion is completely debilitated and unable to act or move. Tired on the other hand, would be feeling low energy, moving slowly and with greater effort, but still able. I think I have been making this mistake, telling myself I’m exhausted when I’m really just tired! I’m totally going to try and switch that when I notice it. I have a feeling I’m not the only with this story popping up, the “I’m exhausted” story. Exhausted I think is a sneaky way of saying “I can’t.”

But if we’re really just tired, maybe we can carry on with whatever we have in front of us. Athletes exercise when they are tired all the time. Doctors and nurses who work long shifts have to continue doing their jobs when they are very tired. People in these positions tend to quickly realize that being tired and continuing to work anyway is not only possible, it’s part of the role. I don’t want to minimize the difficulty one bit of working or parenting through fatigue - I want to highlight the toughness of the human spirit. Binge eating may be something you have done with the belief that it got you through a given task or situation - but the truth is you got through it on your own. Food was just an ineffective bystander!

So let’s all try this one on for the next week. If we notice ourselves saying “I’m starving”, we can try redoing it and saying or thinking “I’m hungry”. “Or I’m really hungry”. 

And if we notice ourselves saying “I’m exhausted”, we can try out “I’m feeling fatigue”. 

Changing the language we use can make us feel less powerless, as we just saw, but it can also help us stay more motivated to choose the right words. And come on, who wouldn’t like to feel more motivated on a daily basis, for whatever our goals are? 

I’ve been talking with my clients about framing our goals in a sense of MORE instead of less. I’f you’ve read my new book Give Yourself MORE, you get the idea. Instead of approaching our life as experiences we want to avoid, we can approach what we want to experience. Instead of fixating on subtracting from our bodies or reducing what we think of as personal flaws, we can set goals based on adding ability, health and vibrancy to our bodies, and increasing the number of physical and character strengths we have. 

This swap doesn’t come easily - after all, when people describe their goals, many of them use negative phrases. Weight loss, fat loss, stop smoking, stop binge eating, spend less money. As for how they want to achieve their goals, the steps along the way also tend to be about avoidance, taking away or subtraction. Avoid this or that food, stop watching so much tv, don’t buy wine, resist the urge to buy new outfits. If our goals are framed as avoidance, and the steps to reach them are also phrased in terms of avoidance, the whole process feels pretty negative. 

I sipped my coffee, reading my emails one morning this week. My client Terry wrote: “Being completely honest, I’m still living in a LESS mode. MORE is a hard concept to internalize. It’s counterintuitive. I’m going to “lose” weight by limiting myself. Still giving myself a high five when I don’t eat those chips in the pantry that Mark loves. How do I stop thinking about that in terms of LESS? 

I had a call with Terry that very day, so we discussed it on the phone. I encouraged her to think of her overall goals and how we can think of them in terms of more. One trick to do this is to take your less-oriented goal, whether it’s weight loss, drinking less, spending less, whatever.. And ask yourself what will be AWESOME if you achieve it?  You might even create a little film in your mind, your success montage, where you see scenes of you having achieved your goal and … what are you doing, or enjoying in those scenes? That’s likely to be a MORE based experience. 

Terry and I came up with: 

Be able to wear MORE of my clothes and have MORE styles she feels good in

Have MORE energy
Feeling MORE confident.
Increasing her activity because she would be pain free MORE of the time. 
Getting MORE praise from her doctor and positive feedback about her health

Then we moved through each skill she has been practicing and made sure it was consistent with giving herself MORE. She had step goals, food she wants to make sure she includes at each meal, like protein and fruit and vegetables, those are definitely positive. Instead of thinking, “don’t eat Mark’s chips at night” we reinforced that the goals were to eat until she felt satisfied at dinner (and she could include chips then if she wanted) and go to bed as soon as she was tired to give her body what it was really asking for, rest. For entertainment she would look things up on the internet, do crafts she enjoyed, or read. Terry started to enthusiastically list things she wanted to do more of in the evenings. “See?”, I said, “there are so many things you enjoy doing with your evenings, focus on moving towards those.” She blurted out “I love laughing, and I love music and I love banter with intelligent people"! And I wrote it down because it was just so charming. 

Think about what you want to experience in the days of your life that you have remaining. What do you not want to miss out on? That’s part of seeing your life with a MORE mindset. 

A MORE mindset leads to motivation that lasts and lasts, as your goals draw you forward like an oasis in the desert or the peak of a mountain you are eager to reach. When we keep our eyes on the prize, we can keep doing the work, moving closer to it in the most efficient way we can see. Trying to get away from something we really hate or are scared of, on the other hand, doesn’t usually lead to taking effective actions. Think of how people respond to a sudden explosion, everyone just sort of runs hastily and in every direction, trying to get away. And once the hated thing is out of sight we relax again. So there’s a flurry of activity, but no lasting motivation. 

I want to help you stay engaged, motivated, and moving forward, because there will be really hard days in this process where we start to think we can’t do it. And we can, together. To learn more about how positive psychology can help you reach health goals, check out my new book Give Yourself More. 

I’m Georgie Fear, I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Please don’t forget to leave a review - and join us next week.