How to recover from binge eating disorder? That is the question 1 in 3 people may ask themselves at some point in their lifetime (especially if they’ve ever gone on a diet before).
Binge eating disorder, or chronic “emotional eating,” is a common type of disordered eating wherein you often eat large amounts of food, feeling unable to “control yourself” and extremely stressed, both before, during and/or after eating. You may eat to the point of bloating, constipation, fatigue or discomfort, followed by emotions of shame, guilt, hurt or depression—beating up on yourself for your lack of self-control, or worry about what compulsive eating will do to your body (like thinking, is my metabolism messed up?!).
Recovery from binge eating may feel overwhelming…especially if you’ve tried in the past to just have “more control” or “willpower.” (How did that go for ya?). How to recover from binge eating disorder? In order to recover from binge eating disorder, maybe you should try a new strategy—or 5.
In my 10 years of work as a functional medicine practitioner, nutritionist and therapist with clients recovering from disordered eating, I’ve discovered these 5 (innovative) strategies are “game changers” for finding food freedom.
How to Recover from Binge Eating Disorder: 5 Innovative Strategies for Food Freedom
#1. Identify Your True “Gut Hunger”
Binge eating disorder is NOT about the food. Just like anorexia is not about the food. Bulimia is not about the food. And orthorexia is not about the food.
Binge eating disorder is a “metaphor” (a reflection or story) for some sort of underlying mental, emotional, psychological and/or spiritual conflict(s) going on inside. I call these conflicts our “gut hungers” or “core hungers”—an unresolved conflict or universal human need that we have in our life that we try to meet through food or our habits with food. Whereas other people may turn to alcohol, drugs, workaholism, exercise, restriction and diets, co-dependent relationships, spiritual life or healthy habits, in binge eating disorder, one may turn to Ben & Jerry’s, McDonald’s French fries, keto chocolate or paleo popcorn to try to fill the “gut hunger” they have in their heart and life.
These 7 universal needs—7 types of “gut” hungers are rooted deep inside our gut—and actually have nothing to do with food. The include, the hunger or need for:
- Control (The need for safety, stability, security, consistency; assurance you can avoid pain)
- Worth (The need to feel important, like you matter, liked, set apart)
- Purpose (The need for meaning, reason, direction)
- Love & Connection (The need for closeness or union with someone or something)
- Growth (The need for variety, movement, development, mixing things up)
- Comfort (The need for pleasure, fun, ease, excitement, joy, no worry and less stress)
- Independence/Freedom (The need to feel free and like your opinion, voice and choices matter)
If any of these universal needs are unmet in our lives, it may explain why we feel stress or turn to vices (like food, diets or exercise) to fill the void (the hunger). Once we are more aware of the different types of gut hungers we have, we can respond consciously and more appropriately to satisfy them when they arise.
For example, if life feels uncertain and out of control (like your parent’s fought a lot when you were a kid), there’s nothing like eating the same chicken and broccoli every single day for a sense of control. On the flip side, if life feels out of control (like you lose your job or break up with your boyfriend), our need for security may lead to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or Halo Top—something we can control.
Hating on your body and feeling a lack of worth? Screw it! A box of cereal or a plate full of cookies are at your finger tips. Not feeling good enough? You can get it by excelling at running 12 miles or eating no more than 20 grams of carbs every day (until you can’t take the restriction any more).
Feeling lonely and craving love and connection? Chocolate to the rescue! Or, bored and tired of doing the same things (lack of variety and growth)…You may seek to mix things up with a spicy Thai meal or pizza party (with yourself).
You get the picture.
Instead of focusing on using will power to “fix” the binge eating issues, identify the true gut hunger you are feeling; allow yourself to feel it; and do the work with support to replace it.
#2. Support Your Gut & Rewire the Vagus Nerve
When you eat, you not only feed yourself, but you feed your gut bugs.
The crazy thing? Your gut bacteria tell you what to eat and what not to eat. In other words: your gut is the #1 driver of your cravings and eating habits.
You have the “gut brain” connection to thank for that! Your gut is directly connected to your brain by way of the vagus nerve. Like a shoe string walkie talkie, your brain talks to your gut, just like your gut talks to your brain. If your brain experiences “perceived stress” (basically all the stress you think about and deal with daily), it sends inflammatory “stress signals” to your gut, provoking dysbiosis (gut imbalances galore). Likewise, if your gut is out of balance (leaky gut, dysbiosis, candida, parasites, etc.), it also sends inflammatory “stress signals” to your brain, making you more susceptible to anxiety, depression, over-eating and emotional eating.
The gut brain connection is a two way street!
The healthier your gut, the healthier the thoughts, emotions and compulsions in your brain and vice versa—the less stressed you are in your life (mentally and physically), the less cortisol (stress hormone) and inflammatory stress signals that go to your gut and cause you to crave certain foods or override hunger cues. For some folks, food works like a pacifier or baby bottle to “soothe” stress in the brain and/or gut—just like exercise, alcohol, compulsive shopping, deep breathing or yoga are stress reducers for others.
Interestingly, when scientists observe the gut bacteria of both women with anorexia and those with binge-purge eating disorders, they find a similar gut bacteria profile—low growth of healthy diverse gut bugs and the overgrowth of some unhealthy or commensal gut bugs.
Keeping this information in mind, a big focus of the work I do with clients to find food freedom (beyond binge eating) involves “supporting the gut” and rewiring the vagus nerve. Some of my strategies may include:
- “Cleaning up” any dysbiosis (bacteria imbalance) with antimicrobial herbs (customized to you)
- Customizing the best probiotics and prebiotics for you
- Optimizing your “digestive mechanics” with enzymes, short chain fatty acids, gallbladder support and stomach acid support (to ensure you’re digesting your food)
- Vagus nerve retraining—such as using HRV tracking to become more intuitive with stress, limbic system retraining I teach you, acupuncture, microcurrent therapy and Brain Tap training
- Varying the diet and incorporating more “gut loving” foods into the mix, customized for your gut needs
#3. Balance Your Blood Sugar
“Blood sugar” is a code word for your body’s “energy” source. If your energy is running low, what do you think happens to your hunger cues? Bingo! You crave grub! Binge eating notoriously happens at nighttime—or at least later in the day—for a vast majority of folks. More often than not, I see this occur due to under-eating, intermittent fasting or lack of dietary balance (not enough protein or fat) earlier on in the day.
In nutritionist circles, this is known as the “hypoglycemic” binge. As blood sugar drops, your body and brain say “feed me!” This is perhaps why patients with full onset diabetes often experience the comorbidity of binge eating. This is also why why binge eating (such as ingestion of an entire day’s calories at dinner) can lead to dramatic increases in insulin responses and poor glycemic control (even if you eat a normal amount of calories and macros that you may need for the day—just in one setting).
To improve metabolic health and binge eating episodes, consider strategies to balance blood sugar:
- Eat protein within the first 1 to 2 hours of waking (sets the tone for blood sugar for the day)
- Sleep 6.5-9 hours per night
- Move your body daily—walking, yoga, weight training, biking
- Eat a complete protein with each meal, and aim to eat 3 balanced meals daily
- Consume 6 to 10 veggies per day (fiber)
- Supplement with probiotics and prebiotics
Simple, yet highly effective strategies!
#4. Get a Clear Picture of Healthy (Free) You
Who is healthy, thriving, non-emotional eating you? You know, “that girl” who has food freedom, confidence and total peace inside and out? Get a clear picture of what she acts like, talks like, thinks like, looks like. Bullet journal that persona down. Then…embody her. Pretend to be her. When the choice of ‘what to eat’ or how to spend your time comes up, ask yourself, “What would healthy me do?” And pretend to be her until you wake up and realize…you are her!
#5. Don’t Go It Alone
There is strength in numbers. If I had a dime for every single time I told myself, “tomorrow I will change” or “I’ll make better choices tomorrow”…I’d be rich! Tomorrow never comes for most of us without support to help make it happen—be it spiritually, emotionally, physically, socially and relationally.
Isolation is rampant in binge eating disorder, as well as delayed seeking of treatment and support. These strategies are effective solutions on how to recover from binge eating disorder.
I get it. I’ve been there. And it was not until I finally allowed support into my recovery journey that food freedom became mine for the taking.
Reach out to book an appointment—either with me or another specialist who understands both the mental and physical aspects of recovery. You don’t have to go it alone.