Breaking Up With Binge Eating

Reset Your Relationship With Your Trigger Foods in 4 Steps or Less

November 03, 2020 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Reset Your Relationship With Your Trigger Foods in 4 Steps or Less
Chapters
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
Reset Your Relationship With Your Trigger Foods in 4 Steps or Less
Nov 03, 2020
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

If you have a rocky past when it comes to potato chips, should you banish them from your home forever? What if your trigger food is chocolate -- does that mean you must never buy m&m's again? Or can you only call yourself 'recovered' when you can have your trickiest foods at home and not binge on them? In this episode we'll talk about how your relationships with specific foods may have turned abusive, but you can reset them! With a few sequential steps,  you'll form a new dynamic that is healthier, happier, peaceful, and binge free.

Show Notes Transcript

If you have a rocky past when it comes to potato chips, should you banish them from your home forever? What if your trigger food is chocolate -- does that mean you must never buy m&m's again? Or can you only call yourself 'recovered' when you can have your trickiest foods at home and not binge on them? In this episode we'll talk about how your relationships with specific foods may have turned abusive, but you can reset them! With a few sequential steps,  you'll form a new dynamic that is healthier, happier, peaceful, and binge free.

I went to bed early, like 7:30. But I wasn’t asleep just watching tv, scrolling on my phone… and then I thought of the sandwich cookies in the kitchen. I thought, I’ll just try them, but then, I just kept eating and eating them. I ate about half the box and just feel totally crappy today.

This was not Lisa’s first trip to the rodeo with these sandwich cookies. Unfortunately, these particular sandwich cookies, half vanilla, half chocolate, had bucked her off at least 4 times in the last month. I hated seeing her spend another morning in the land of stomachache and regret. 

I tried to help Lisa draw something productive out of the experience, by asking what had been going on in her life yesterday, what sorts of thoughts and feelings she was having in the evening before she decided to start eating the cookies. If we can figure out what her emotional state was, we can talk about what might be a plausible alternative next time that same feeling or need surfaces. 

Lisa said, “First, I think restocking snacks was part of the problem. Last week I bought a different brand of cookies that weren’t as good as those chocolate-vanilla ones. So once I had my favorite ones in the house again I was super eager to eat them, and then I think I overcompensated once I started eating them. It was like finally I have the “right cookies” instead of those “wrong” ones. I don’t think I was upset or more stressed. 

Her next email was “I just finished the other half of the box. Okay, I’m done.”

I leaned back in my chair and read the email series over a couple times. Lisa wasn’t telling me she was feeling loneliness, or work stress, or family drama. These two episodes of eating half a box of cookies really seemed as simple as having the food at home. It was so convenient and within such easy grasp that even if she had been upset, or had some lingering lonely feelings, she could grab the cookies and get started on them before she had any time to actually notice her emotional state. 

I agreed with her that restocking the cookies in her apartment was only perpetuating the cookie incidents. I asked Lisa if she was willing to give it a try for a couple weeks to not keep boxes of cookies at home, or pints of ice cream or other types of treats which came in multi-serving containers. She said she definitely was. “I keep thinking, she said, “that I can do this, I can have this food at home but not binge on it, and sometimes I’m fine, but yeah, it keeps happening more often than I’d like.” 

In this episode, we’ll talk about that dynamic, because there’s a time to get binge foods out of your home to re-establish the peace, but you don’t have to keep them out forever. I’ll share with you the 4 Phases of a healthy relationship with your trouble foods, whatever they are. 

(Intro) 

Being selective about the foods you buy and keep at home is downright smart when it helps you have an easier time eating healthfully and normally. 

The reason we start avoiding trigger foods is logical. 

If we tend to only eat ice cream when we are feeling emotionally out of control or are binge eating, then simply not buying ice cream can help us reduce or stop bingeing. Deciding on a hard line “I will not buy that food for a month” is a good idea to get some separation and break the pattern of frequent loss of control involving that food. When this goes well, we stick to our commitment, and experience urges but are able to get through them, aided by the fact our usual go-t0 food is less convenient! And then, after the initial complete separation, we can decide if we’d like to gradually re-introduce that food in controlled, deliberate settings and portions. (More details on that to come.) 

The situation where this goes wrong, on the other hand, is far more common. Most people have made these commitments before, but after not touching the food for a while, they backpedaled and decided to buy the food anyway and “try to not binge on it”. “This time will be different” we might say. But without really changing anything about the situation, the episodes we wanted to avoid tend to just start up again. Most of our clients have done this, ending up ping-ponging back and forth between avoiding the food completely and eating it a way that makes them feel bad (either bingeing on it or turning to it during emotional eating). It’s like a dysfunctional relationship! 

To help you break out of that second, frustrating loop of behavior, we’d like to present you with a plan that has worked for many of our clients to break up the binge-involvement with a particular food but not necessarily swear it off forever. It goes like this: 


Phase 1: “I need some space” 

You decide to take 2-4 weeks completely off from that food. It’s not forever, it’s just a break long enough time to practice feeding yourself normally and adequately without that food playing a role, and get out of the negative pattern of interacting with it in ways that leave you feeling lousy.  You are cementing that you do not need this food to live or to cope with your life. 

During this time, you’ll want to focus on eating foods you enjoy but that don’t tend to turn into a binge. If you are taking a break from cookies, for example, you might use squares of dark chocolate for your evening treat, or yogurt with fruit and honey. If you and corn chips are taking a breather, you might find rice crackers or Wasa crispbreads are a substitute that is easier to have just one serving of. 

Note: this does not make it impossible to binge. Some people have found they will binge on celery if that’s all they have around. But, it does give you advantage in not bingeing if the food you find the most hyperpalatable or associated with binge eating just not around you for a while. 

Phase 2: “I’ll meet with you, on my terms. In public, and I won’t be alone.”  

When you feel ready, you can move to this stage.

You decide to eat some of the food, but in a situation where bingeing on it or eating several servings is highly unlikely: when you are in public and have someone with you. For this phase, it’s important to find a way to get a single serving of the food. You might need to be creative here. You might be able to buy one, such as a single doughnut, ice cream cone or cookie, or you might have to buy a larger package and come to terms with throwing out or giving some of it away so you only have ONE portion in your possession before you eat a bite. Then, you practice eating your single portion, and moving on with your day. You go about your activities, job, and family life, because there is no need to do anything differently. In this stage you are cementing that you do not eat this food the way you used to. Now, are someone who has a single portion, enjoys it, and stays in control.


You can choose to stay in Phase 2 forever with a particular food - there’s nothing wrong with deciding that this food and you have the best relationship when you only meet in public for single-serving dates. Lots of my clients have found peace long term by deciding they only eat ice cream when they buy a cone somewhere, or they only buy single cookies or muffins from bakeries or coffee shops, rather than bags or boxes of cookies and muffins of them to have at home. This can be a long term happy arrangement. You may or may not choose to have someone with you all the time for extra binge-proofing of the situation. 

Phase 3: “You can come over, but you can’t move back in”. 

If you choose to move to a closer level of engagement, it’s because you strongly want to have the food in your own home. It’s important to recognize that there are more risks, difficulty and trust involved, but if you’d like to, this phase involves bringing a single portion (again) of the food home and eating it as part of a planned meal, then continuing with your planned day. This action cements that this food can join other foods in your normal eating rotation, and that it does not have the power to set you off or trigger continued eating. After all, it didn’t overpower you in other circumstances, so there is nothing inherently self-control-vaporizing in the food. You did it in public, and you can do it at home. You can eat it, and get busy with the rest of your life. 

Again, you can stay in this arrangement for as long as you like, and if you find that this leads to a peaceful pattern of no more binge or emotional eating, it’s a great fit for you. There is no law that says you must have large bags of potato chips at home, gallons of ice cream or dozens of muffins at home. 

Phase 4: “I think we can live together again”. 

If you’ve successfully gathered many experiences in the previously described practices, you may feel confident that this food and you can have a healthy ongoing relationship going forward. (Again, you can just stay with the second or third stage long term!) But if you’ve eaten the food several times now and things have gone smoothly, clearly you have some control. At this point, if you want to, you can choose to buy several single-serve packages (like 1 ounce bags of popcorn or chips) or whatever packaging you’d prefer to keep at home. 

We recommend, however, that you still are careful to consider the timing and situations in which you choose to have some of this food. Given that you have some mixed history together, you might want to decide to only have it with meals, or when you’re feeling positive and confident, for example. We’d avoid a midnight rendezvous in the dark kitchen, or turning to it when you’ve had too much wine. Remember: you are the one who sets the barriers, and you ensure that your relationship stays healthy. And if things get rocky, you can always go back to an earlier stage.