How I Stopped Binge Eating: This is the story of coaching Brynn Johnson.
Most people have experienced binge eating or emotional eating at some point.
Sometimes it’s a lighthearted occurrence like mindlessly eating an entire bag of potato chips while watching Netflix. However, some people are captivated by binge eating disorders.
Binge eating disorder is defined in DSM 5 as recurrent and persistent binge episodes.
Overeating episodes are associated with eating faster than usual, eating until uncomfortably full, eating alone, and feeling disgusted with food.
I am a recovered binge eater. Personally and professionally, I know the distress this issue causes women worldwide because I am also a life coach who specializes in helping women overcome overeating behavior.
One of the most potent ways to help overcome binge eating and uncontrolled eating is to realize that you are not alone. Once you learn how others have struggled through their challenges, the shame rises.
My story of overeating and how I overcame it in 8 steps
I want to share my story on how to overeat and how I found the cure.
For me, my messy relationship with food started in high school. The alchemy of teenage hormones, the new pressure to be slim, and my perfectionism led me to try my first diet.
I was 16 years old, and I did not feel at home. Like most young women, she was gaining weight and hated the loss of control she felt.
I compared myself to my “skinny” friends and thought I should have abs like Britney Spears, one of my favorite singers of that time.
I remember finding my first diet as a scene from a movie.
I was in a bookstore in a shopping center when bookstores still existed. I walked through the lines and saw a book, a well-known diet plan from the 90s.
I followed the diet religiously. I lost weight, and people rewarded me with glowing compliments, fueling my need for approval.
Thus began my cycle of restriction. During the month leading up to my junior prom, I followed my diet and took it to the extreme.
After the dance, I came home and experienced my first binge-eating episode. I didn’t know it then, but when I grabbed the tortilla chips and cheese and made a huge plate of nachos, I was in the middle of a binge.
I ate with an unfeeling ferocity that I couldn’t understand.
For me and the hundreds of women I have trained, once you have a binge episode, it is almost as if something changes in your brain. You access a feeling from emotional and euphoric food, but only temporarily.
I went through food restrictions, military service, and powerful binge-eating episodes for years afterward.
Over and over again, the pendulum of my food swung back and forth. If I was eating according to my diet or rules, I felt in control and “fine.”
If she was eating off plan, she was wrong, immoral, and embarrassed by what she saw in the mirror.
During my time at the university, my binges continued. The restrictive phases filled me with hunger, fear of food, and anxiety. The overeating phases helped ease the stress and embarrassment I felt.
After each binge, I would feel worse about my body and vow to be even more rigorous and restrictive.
At age 20, I had sunk into an exhausting state of depression. The more I tried to lose weight and gain control over food, the worse I felt.
I was wasting so much of my mental energy worrying about food that I barely participated in my own life.
The holidays were a disaster because I was confronted with delicious food and an available schedule.
I was completely losing my mind, eating out of control instead of creating memories.
Relationships were almost impossible. It was challenging to be present and loving with a partner when I felt ashamed of my eating behaviors and my body.
I knew I didn’t want to live the rest of my life stuck with an obsession with food and a terrible body image.
I began the slow and hard work of ending the bingeing and starting a new and more fulfilling life with courage.
Through a process of therapy, support groups, trial and error, and personal reflection, I eliminated my binges.
I also created a life full of passion, purpose, and love.
These were the eight steps to my recovery.
- I stopped extremism
My first diet was the catalyst for my first binge episode. If you had never followed that diet, you might have been able to avoid overeating.
Drastic food rules and restrictions are like pulling back a sling once you eliminate a food group, the brain sets on a craving for them.
When willpower finally erodes, the catapult is released, you are pushed into a binge-eating episode.
If you practice extreme rules about food, you run a greater risk of swinging the other way: overeating.
During my recovery, I had to stop following hard-and-fast rules about food. Instead, he continually practiced balance. It was not easy. Eating in a balanced way is one of the most challenging behaviors that I had to learn.
Instead of living on a diet plan or off a diet plan, start practicing living in the middle. You’ll feel a sense of relief when you stop experiencing extreme periods of restriction followed by unhinged periods of eating.
- I stopped thinking in black and white.
I am a perfectionist. Thinking in black and white helped me interpret the world. I saw things as good or bad, and it gave me a sense of order and calm.
During my recovery, a therapist broke the news that the world is not black and white. She told me that a person could be good and make bad decisions. A person can be healthy and also eat fast food.
I was a bit skeptical about this idea. It seemed like a trap to drag me into the dark side of eating junk food and becoming a criminal.
But I started to open up to the idea that there is a gray area with everything. I started dipping my toe in unconstrained satisfaction the next day. I found that I didn’t burst into flames if I went out for a drink on a weekday night.
I began to see the world more softly and compassionately. This helped me see myself with more forgiveness, too.
To this day, I get angry at the terms misleading food and clean eating. I don’t believe in defining food or behaviors as good or bad.
- I stopped being afraid of food and hunger.
I had been on so many diets and restricted myself so much that I was drastically out of sync with my hunger signals. I was afraid of overeating that any feeling of hunger sent alarms to my brain.
I worked hard to recognize and notice hunger first. I began to allow my hunger to be just a physical sensation. So I learned to deal with hunger naturally and healthily.
I slow down and wonder, how hungry am I? What am I hungry for? Or is this hungry or something else?
- I processed my emotions with movement.
Because my emotions had often led to a binge episode, I avoided feeling emotional.
To heal my binge eating, I knew that I had to dislodge the emotions that I had been avoiding for years; a great job.
First, I allowed myself to notice my emotions. And I saw a lot of them, like:
When it was tough to sit with my feelings, I used movement as a way to process them. I took short walks around the office building where I worked as a walker in a shopping mall.
The movement helped me process things as I moved my feet. Also, the training helped create endorphins, which further helped my healing.
Learn to accept and embrace all your emotions. If you encounter difficult emotions, try using movement to process them. Walking and yoga are beneficial.
- I found my self-love.
Much of my disorderly eating behavior was born out of a misconception of self-love. In the beginning, I had developed the idea that it was worth it if you got things done, and it was worth it if others said it.
These ideas multiplied until I was utterly dependent on external validation.
During my binge recovery, I had to eliminate my need for external validation. Deep down, I found the truth. I deserve love, and I am worthy.
When I was a child, I was full of exuberant confidence. Through self-reflection, I accessed that unfettered self-love. Then, I was able to begin the process of rejuvenating my self-confidence.
Remember that you are dignified and kind regardless of your appearance or eating behavior. If this is challenging, work hard every day to build your self-love.
- I have a perspective.
Yes, health is essential. Yes, the ability to be physically active matters. But aside from those weight aspects, it doesn’t matter as much as we think.
During my recovery, I opened my eyes to the idea that my stress on weight and appearance was primarily a perspective problem.
My ability to enjoy the world is not affected by the fact that I have gained 20 pounds; my perspective was the problem.
My ability to laugh until my stomach hurts with my friends has no relation to whether I ate two donuts yesterday.
My perspective held me captive to the idea that I couldn’t enjoy life unless I were “on the plan” or within a specific weight range.
- I looked for support.
A milestone in my recovery was attending a support group for people with eating problems of all kinds. I remember walking into the meeting, so terrified but filled with a spark of hope.
For the first time, I looked around and did not feel alone and deeply ashamed. It was like going up for air after ten years of being underwater.
Although it’s scary, sharing your struggle with food with someone can be transformative. Find a support group or confide in a friend about your problems. You will feel relieved and unburdened.
- I renewed my passion for music.
My greatest passion in life has always been music. I love to sing, write songs and play the piano. When I was in an eating disorder, I lost my enthusiasm for creativity and hardly ever played my piano.
When I focused on repairing my self-image, I began to do more activities that made me feel energetic, happy, and capable. Playing the piano reminded me that I have much more to offer than just my looks.
When I started playing music again, my self-confidence began to blossom.
Find activities and hobbies that you can get lost in. Think about what you loved to do as a child. Maybe you loved drawing. Perhaps you enjoy craft projects or an HGTV-style home project.
Adopt a healthy distraction and remember how capable you are.
You can also free yourself.
Rebuilding my relationship with food and repairing my body image was a long process. I had to tear down my flawed foundation of perfectionism, need for approval, and black and white thinking.
Living in balance is not without effort. I work hard every day to protect the healthy and happy life I have built. Although my journey was neither quick nor painless, it was worth it.
I can be present in my life instead of being buried in my thoughts about what foods I should or should not eat next. I can maintain a happy marriage, deep friendships, and a thriving coaching business.
Don’t let fear of food and doubt keep you from truly living. Seek help from therapists, support groups, and the people who love you. A beautiful life awaits you.