The Shift That Helped Me Finally Stop Binge Eating

The Shift That Helped Me Finally Stop Binge Eating

I don’t know where the time has gone, friends. July has come to an end, which also means summer is half over. And it feels like I only just started the slow food experiment, yet somehow today is the last day of it.

I have to admit: food has been the easiest of all the slow living experiments I’ve done so far this year. Truly, everything about it was easy. When I got home from that road trip I did across the US, I was so excited to get back into the kitchen. I’ve never craved fresh fruit, salads and smoothies more. And after toying with the idea for close to a year, the voice that had been telling me to switch back to a vegetarian diet was louder than ever. When you’re that excited about making a change, it’s easy to embrace it – and that’s exactly what I did.

For those of you who have been following my Instagram stories (clips that only last for 24 hours), you know I’ve spent a lot of hours in the kitchen this month. I went right back to some of my old vegetarian recipes, and even tried about 7-10 new ones. I don’t know if I’d ever tried that many new recipes in a year before, let alone in one month. But again, I was excited! So not only was I trying lots of new recipes, I was also sharing pictures of the end results. I won’t do this forever, but I was excited about food for the first time in years – and it felt good.

On top of switching back to veg and eating mostly home-cooked meals, two of my other goals were around sourcing and eating more local food products (and finding restaurants that do the same here, which fortunately Squamish has lots of). I feel like the universe was on my side, because shortly after publishing that post, the woman who manages the Squamish Farmers Market introduced herself to me through Instagram and we later connected at the market. There, I’ve been buying produce grown in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor and found a farm in Squamish to buy fresh free-range eggs from. She also invited me to a water bath canning workshop, and then another friend in Squamish gave me a gallon of homemade kombucha. Now, I’m envisioning myself canning things in the fall and playing around with fermentation. This whole month was just another example of something I’ve learned to be true: when you’re ready to make a change, opportunities will present themselves.

The slow food experiment is technically over, as of tonight, and I’ve noticed so many positive effects from it. It’s easier to wake up in the morning. I have a clearer mind and more energy during the day. I am sleeping a bit better (though I also think the Calm sleep stories have something to do with that). I’m less bloated and have less pain in my body/hip. Generally, I just feel better overall. IT ALSO FEELS GOOD TO BE EXCITED ABOUT FOOD! Oh, and I haven’t stepped on a scale since the end of June, but I would guess I’ve lost a few pounds too.

In saying that, I want to talk about something I was asked a few times via email this month. No, I am not on a diet. This was not a diet. And you wouldn’t catch me talking about dieting here, because I am anti-diet.

I’ve been hesitant to ever write about this because it’s not very often I take a HARD stance on something. I’m usually open to seeing both sides of a scenario and encourage people to work within their comfort zones. Also, for most of my life, I was somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I’ve never really believed in diets, but I’ve gone through a few periods of restricting my calories in order to lose weight. I’d still eat most of my regular meals, I would just eat smaller portions of them. And in the short-term, it worked. In 2012, I lost 30 lbs. from both restricting my calories and working out 4-5 days/week (<– that second part was still key).

But guess what’s happened since 2012? My weight has fluctuated. The car accident I was in played a major role in that, of course. It was five months before I could get back into the gym and nearly three years before I could run again (and that was only after having surgery). Naturally, my weight went up when I wasn’t active and has gone down since I’ve been back to my normal self. I’m not far from where I was when I’d hit that 30 lb. mark, but it’s not a goal of mine anymore, so I refuse to restrict my calories or do any kind of diet to get there. The reason I refuse to diet is because I know they don’t work. And the reason I feel confident saying diets don’t work is because they don’t address the real issues.

Let’s start by looking at this from a “mindful consumer” standpoint. Part of being a mindful consumer includes being able to take a step back before making a purchase and asking ourselves why we are so comfortable buying into the idea that we need this product in our lives. Diets are marketing campaigns. That’s it. It’s so simple but it’s worth repeating: diets are marketing campaigns. Atkins, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, slow carb, calorie restricting, juice cleanses, intermittent fasting, etc. They address our problems and insecurities and sell us promises to fix them. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to feel like your best self. On that note, if you know your weight or your current food choices could be hurting your health, you should absolutely take control of that situation and start figuring out what some healthier options are for you. But the popular “diets” out there are probably not the answer. They don’t address the real issues. In fact, they often create more.

One big problem diets have created is that they ask us to place food into one of two categories: good or bad. When we eat foods from the “good” category, we feel good about ourselves. It is a false measure of self-worth. I can speak to this personally, because I know what I’m about to say next is truer than anything I’ve said about food before. When we eat foods from the “bad” category, we feel ashamed. And when you feel ashamed of your actions, it is way too easy to slip into a cycle of self-loathing and substance abuse.

I’ve never really talked about my struggles with binge eating here before. You might have caught a glimpse inside the story in these two posts (Don’t Treat Yourself, Take Care of Yourself & What Happened When I Tracked My Food Intake for 60 Days). But for the most part, I’ve never mentioned it because I have more shame about my binge eating than I ever did about my debt, my shopping or even my drinking. In The Year of Less, I write that I know a lot of people use shopping as a way to treat themselves. It’s a pick-me-up on a bad day or even a way to celebrate on a good day. I didn’t shop in those moments. Nope. In those moments, I always turned to alcohol and food. And once the alcohol was gone, the only thing I had left was food.

My binges usually involved eating an entire pizza or a bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Sometimes both. I’ve also lied about what I ate, eaten alone in my car, and even hidden food at home or in my desk at work. Being ashamed about my food binges is what caused me to keep them a secret for so long. Shame feeds on secrecy. And my secrets were two-fold: I didn’t want to talk about the things in my life that were causing me to binge on alcohol and food, and I didn’t want to talk about the binges themselves either. I was ashamed of it all. And when you’re ashamed, you live in a cycle of self-loathing and potential substance abuse. After eating the “bad” food, I would tell myself I was a bad person and convince myself I’d be fat forever so I shouldn’t bother attempting to restrict these “bad” foods from my diet. And then I would usually binge at least once a week.

Over the years, I’ve made a number of positive changes to my diet – this time, the word “diet” being used to describe the food I happily choose to eat on a regular basis, not a specific program I am following. I’ve accepted that dairy isn’t great for me and switched to almond milk and other alternative products. I’ve swapped my afternoon coffee/treat with a smoothie (and only have it when I’m genuinely hungry for it). And obviously this past month, I cut meat out. You should note that none of these changes were made overnight. More importantly, though, none of them were made with the hopes that I would lose weight. I made them after listening to my body and paying attention to how things made me feel. So I’ve been on the right track but I would still have the occasional binge on pizza or chocolate or both because I wasn’t addressing the real issues.

The real issues for me were underlying: having a low self-worth, being fairly sensitive to criticism and judgment and pain, and not realizing that I was trying to numb it all. Honestly, I wasn’t even ready to talk about some of these things until I finally started going to therapy this year (and I will now forever advocate the importance of taking control of our mental health alongside our physical health). But one thing I figured out on my own first was that I had to remove the shame about eating “bad” food in order to finally be able to stop binging and end this cycle – and I started removing the shame by changing the stories I was telling myself about food.

One of the reasons diets are setup to fail right from the start is because we see the healthier food options as the worser options. We feel like we “have to” eat them or we “should” eat them, and the story we tell ourselves is that we don’t really want to but we will suffer through it. At some point in the past couple of years, I changed the story and started reminding myself how delicious it was and how much better I felt after eating the healthier options. From there, I’ve slowly added cleaner and more whole-food recipes to my regular diet.

The other mindset shift I had to make was that I stopped sorting foods into “good” and “bad” categories – or really, I just stopped feeling like any food was BAD. Is sugar great for you? No. Is pizza great for you? Not really. But once I stopped telling myself it was bad and I was a bad person for eating it, I was actually able to enjoy it occasionally – and I can’t remember the last time I had a genuine binge. When I decide to eat the piece of pizza or the slice of cake, I simply choose to enjoy it <– and that has made all the difference. Instead of eating an entire thing, I now know how to have just a couple pieces and save the rest for another day. I enjoy the amount I eat, chew slower and taste the flavours. I don’t binge and I don’t feel ashamed after. I know I’m not a bad person for eating pizza or chocolate.

Now, I know that in itself won’t work for everyone right off the bat. Sugar is a drug, and even having a little bit can cause a lot of people to binge on more and more of it. But I still stand by what I said about removing the shame about ever eating it at all. Eating sugar doesn’t make you a bad person. And as soon as we can change these thoughts, we can start to change our relationship with all food. In my mind, that is the ultimate goal. Forget about diets. In an interview with Nicole Antoinette, Anna Guest-Jelley reminds us that if diets worked, the industry wouldn’t exist because everyone would be their ideal weight and size. So, forget about them. Instead, let’s change our relationship with food. Let’s fall in love with the food that makes us feel like our best selves, taste the flavours of the things we enjoy and stop shaming ourselves for eating anything that is so-called “bad”.

So to answer the question again, no, I wasn’t on a diet this month. The slow food experiment wasn’t a diet, and you’ll never hear me say I’m on a diet because I am anti-diet. Diets are marketing campaigns created to sell products. They promise they’ll fix our problems and insecurities, but they don’t address the real issues. The real issues will be personal for everyone, but I think it’s safe to say that changing our relationship with food and the stories we tell ourselves about it are part of a lasting solution. That’s not a diet. That’s an act of self-care.

Experiment #6: Slow Food

  • Eat mostly* home-cooked meals – done!
  • *Eat out max. once/week at restaurants that use locally-sourced ingredients – usually ate out twice/week
  • Swap out some ingredients for stuff that can be sourced in Squamish or BC – done!
  • Switch back to a vegetarian diet – done! minus eating fish tacos around my birthday
  • Eat slowly – done!

I want to add that a lot of what I’ve been practicing over these past couple of years could be described as mindful eating (or “intuitive” eating). There are some great blog posts and books on the subject, with ideas and guidelines written by dieticians, nutritions and doctors who are far more qualified to write about this than I am. And like I said before, if you struggle with binge eating or are worried about your health, I will forever advocate the importance of dealing with both your mental health and physical health.

The only things I can speak to are my experiences, and my experience shows me that my own binge eating was a result of not treating underlying issues and feeling ashamed about my food choices. Removing the shame and changing the stories I told myself about food are two of the ways I’ve been able to develop a healthier relationship with it – and with myself.

That is the goal. <3

Extra Reading

  • I remember reading on a whole food blog not too long ago, “we shouldn’t have a ‘relationship’ with our food at all.” At first, I didn’t really understand what they meant. But once I thought about my own (often poor) relationship with food, I realized what it was trying to say. What would our lives look like if we actually treated food for what it is – a substance to keep us alive. It’s not ‘good’, it’s not ‘bad’. It’s literally just essential. Any layers we add to that either make us feel bad about ourselves, or superior to others. And neither is a good outcome. Congrats on making it to the end of your slow food experiment!

    • That’s a great quote! And you’re right. It’s one of the tools in our toolkit. But of course, the food industry and the diet industry have both made it so much more complicated than that. So now we need to use all our other tools to help us simplify food.

  • I always enjoy your posts, but this one particularly struck me due to the many parallels I see with my own struggles with my mentality towards food, the “good food”/”bad food” dichotomy, and the underlying reasons for the shame and negative thoughts around eating. Thank you for sharing this post.

    And I am with you… the word diet makes me cringe. To me, it implies a temporary fix, a mad rush full of impossible acts to achieve a specific goal. Once the goal is met, reality sets back in and the unsustainable “diet” comes crashing down. I would much rather find the correct way to nourish my body that focuses on a positive, sustainable lifestyle change.

    • I think “sustainable” is the best word to pull out of that last sentence and for so many reasons! Not only should we change our relationship with food and create a sustainable diet (diet being just the food we eat on a regular basis, not a program). But another part of that is looking at eating more sustainable food. :)

  • Cait, thanks so much for being brave and sharing your story. I’ve had a somewhat mixed relationship with food over the years, and I am absolutely guilty of succumbing to the lure of “bad” food or even eating way too much of “good” food and then feeling super horrible about it. I definitely want to work on letting go of those labels.

    And thanks so much for being so vocal about your journey with dealing with your mental health. I’m not ready to actually talk about my struggles on my blog yet, but in real life I’m trying to swallow the fear I have about talking about it and readily say “I go to therapy and I’m also on medication for my depression/anxiety.” It’s not easy, but I think every time anyone talks about it in an open way those stigmas lessen just a teeny bit.

    • Thank you so much for taking the first step and sharing that here with me, Erin. I’m grateful that you felt comfortable enough to do so, and can assure you there is no judgment on my end or from the great community we have here. I know how much strength it takes to go to therapy and be willing to do the hard work that’s involved. :) <3

  • What?! Is eating a whole pizza or bag of peanut butter M&Ms binging? I do that occasionally. Sometimes it’s just to finish things! But I love this focus on mental health and that therapy has made you come to these realizations about food! Such a healthier attitude. I definitely try to remove the language of “good” and “bad” from my food choices. It makes me so sad to see my girlfriends at dinner narrating their food choices like ” I’ll let myself cheat a bit by having this dessert since I was good by having the salad for dinner”Ugh! Just enjoy the food and listen to the natural limits of your body.

    • Love that you mentioned the “natural limits of your body”, Danielle. Love love love.

  • I tried Weight Watchers two different times in the early 2000’s when I was fresh out of college and it drove me crazy. The whole tracking points thing (not sure if they still do that in today’s time) stressed me out and made me a bit OCD about the whole thing. Then I would just say screw it, and eat whatever the heck I wanted, and end up in the same position I was in before. Vicious cycle for sure.

    Those programs don’t teach you to actually make food using natural ingredients that are healthy for you. Until I met with an actual nutritionist and also starting doing my own research and trying out things to see what works and what does not, then I finally started eating healthier. Exercise plays an important role too. Your body needs movement.

    Congrats on your experiment this month! Your recipes on Instagram have looked yummy! :)

    • Oh gosh, I can’t even think about the food that is involved in some of those diets. And yes, I believe WW still does points, which is awful because people could literally only eat sugar-based foods but stay within their points and it would be ok. Our bodies – and our minds – deserve better.

  • I’m down 14 pounds this year from a similar type of experiment. But I’d be lying if I said my binges are gone forever. It’s so easy to fall into old habits — like turning to food — when stress or uncomfortable feelings hit. But I take a walk every day, limit booze, and try to cook at home more often. These things, plus therapy, have really helped me.

    • So glad to hear you’ve found the tools that help you, Kate! Also always appreciate that we’ve been able to have these open and honest convos with each other. <3

  • One of the parts of Love Warrior that rang truest was when she wrote about heaven being a giant plate of decadent food and a book. Keeping hands, brain, and mouth busy so that she didn’t have to deal with real life. It’s the perfect escape–except that it has to end and then it feels terrible both physically and mentally.
    Thanks for being honest in an arena where many are still hiding. Your strength will help many feel less alone, and hopefully come out the other side with positive changes like you’ve accomplished.

    • Oh yes, I definitely remember that part of the book. And you know what, I think I’m going to read it again now, while that’s on my mind. Thanks for calling attention to that, friend. :)

  • Before reading this blog post, I never once considered you were on a diet with your “slow food” month. I guess because I have been following you on your journey, I just knew you were just eating healthier as part of taking care of yourself. I admire your honesty in sharing your very personal stories. Thank you again Cait.

  • I started eating only two meals a day several months ago and for me that was a game changer. I sleep much better since I have my last meal around five in the evening. But I have to admit that I didn’t have to work a lot in the past months and I hope I can stick to my two-meals-per-day nutrition when times will be more stressful, because, unfortunately, I am a “stress eater”. I would like to add, that I didn’t start this in order to lose weight, but instead tosleep better at night, and it worked. I also might have lost several pounds, but didn’t really keep track. I thank you for posting this, and also for being so honest and brave.
    Take care Inga

    • It’s definitely important to figure out what is best for you, your mental health and your physical health – so if it’s doing all of those things and helping you sleep, it sounds like you’ve found the right option. :)

  • Water-bath canning is so fun! I canned up a massive batch of cherry-rhubarb jam last week since I was cleaning out my freezer in preparation for a move. Tonight I had planned to organize all my jars and lids but just managed to pull them all out of my cupboards and cover my counter with them. I think I might need to focus on minimize my collection a wee bit…

  • I’m also anti-diet, I believe strict diets “for losing weight” are simply unhealthy. And they never work, since you can’t be on a diet forever.

    I’m proud to say I’ve actually been eating home cooked meals most of my life. My mom always cooked at home, even with a full time job. Ever since I moved out, I’ve learned how to cook myself, instead of ordering or eating out. And right now, the only times we eat out are special occasions (which rarely happen more than once a month).

    I’ve never cooked at home for weight loss reasons, but for health and financial related reasons. However… if I do see a pizza in front of me, I’ll devour the whole thing (crust included). Luckily that doesn’t happen too often! :D

  • I’m curvy and healty I’ve done several diets but no good results onlong terms, plus in 2012 I had a surgery and for therapies I gained weight, so I’ve done a diet to give myself rules and after the end I’m still maintaing the weight loss, simply eating with moderation, mindfulness eating is the way…I can really understand you sometimes food is comfort on emaotional days. I know that I’ll never be skinny I’m woman with curves and after years I love and I’m proud of them…and I’m sure you’ve done and still are doing a great work :D

    • Oh, I’m with you there, Giulia – I love my curves! Totally embrace them. That’s not to say I’m completely body positive and love every part of myself every day. I’m still working on that. But I wouldn’t change the curves. :)

  • Thank you so much for sharing this post, Cait. I’ve struggled with this in the past as well. You make an excellent point about diets and how they’re just marketing campaigns. And labeling foods as good versus bad. Food is still something I struggle with and I want to stop gravitating towards “bad” foods when I’m not feeling well emotionally. I’ve toyed with the idea of a “slow eating” month and hearing details about your story has helped me figure out what that would actually look like. Lots of food for thought (see what I did there?).

    • Haha! Oh, I love a good dad joke. ;) I’m so glad you got clarity around what you want your own slow eating month to look like, Jennifer! Please let me know if you write about it.

  • Cait, this was a wonderful blog! I struggle with binge eating and the shame that goes along with it. I am going to turn 60 in Dec and keep telling myself that you would expect someone my age to be able to eat better. So, the shame just keeps going in circles. Anyway, I have given up drinking, since Feb only one drink so getting it out of my mindset but food, another story. You put into words how I feel and all that swirls in my mind each time I eat “bad” food. THank you so much for your openness and honesty. You are helping even this older lady rework those mind tapes that for years have dragged me down.
    Thank you and peace, Nancy

    • Congrats on making the decision to cut out alcohol from your life, Nancy. I know it’s not an easy decision to make, when drinking is the norm in many cultures, but if it’s the healthy choice for YOU that’s all that matters. <3

  • is AWESOME. I bought the app and after hearing the podcast link you posted. My husband and I fall asleep to it nightly. Absolutely worth it!

    • Oh my gosh, that’s amazing, Kristy! So glad you’re both finding value in it! The app has been pure magic for me.

  • It’s funny that you mention mindful eating because I did Weight Watchers years ago and the most useful thing I learned from it was paying attention to what and how I was eating. (I stopped going because they push too many “fake foods” just to stay in your points range rather than focusing on nutrition. I still felt sluggish and irritable on their plan.) When I needed to lose weight due to rising blood pressure, blood sugar, and acid reflux I used the mindful eating tools I learned from them and focused on eating more healthy foods that I love. I stopped eating after 7 p.m. since I go to sleep at 10. I tried new fruits and vegetables and aimed to eat nine servings a day total. My goal was never to be skinny, just to lose enough to get my numbers back down and stop needing reflux meds. It worked and I feel so much better now. It helps that I viewed these steps as a lifestyle change, not a temporary diet.

    • Yes, I think that last part is absolutely key, Annie! You knew it would be a lifestyle change. I’m starting to realize that getting ourselves in THAT headspace (vs. wanting the quick fix) is probably how we could be making a lot more positive habit changes. What would happen if we started ourselves, “what would the healthier version of me do in this situation?” more often?

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can definitely relate to this, because since I was in 5th grade I’ve been doing all of the diets that “work”, weight watchers, calorie restriction, gluten free, dairy free, meat free, paleo, whole 30, you name it I’ve tried it. Like you said, if it really worked I wouldn’t have to keep dieting because I would be able to sustain it,

    I also liked how you touched on “good” and “bad” food and feelings of shame depending on what foods we choose. I can definitely say I feel guilty if I eat something I know I shouldn’t, and I feel like a failure and that I lack discipline. I know what’s good for my health and what isn’t as good. I think removing the labels from foods and enjoying the pizza or chocolate every once in a while without feeling ashamed, and then continuing to eat foods that benefit my health and body is a much better way to live. We shouldn’t be in a constant battle with food and ourselves, we should enjoy it!

    Thank you again for this post!

  • I hate the word diet too and am anti-diet as well. Because I generally eat ‘clean’ people always make comments about my ‘diet’. It is just how I eat. Little to no processed food (allergies to gluten and soy), low dairy and nightshades, low sugar. I don’t count caleries (I did once for fun but not normally), I generally eat 2 servings of fruit and 7-10 of vegetables. I eat a lot of nuts and seeds too. I am looking at reducing my meat consumption next. Given my food allergies no meat would make going out impossible, and I do enjoy it, so at this time think reducing it is my best option.

    I think if people reduced the processed food they ate and increased the food our grandparents and great-grandparents ate, they would feel better.

  • What is the recipe for your smoothie. I also use Vega and have chia and flax and etc but do not use them with the Vega. Thanks!

  • My weight has been a real issue for me lately. No, that’s not quite true. My food consumption has been the real issue.
    I was always “skinny” growing up, even though I have terrible eating habits. But I’m not in my teens or twenties anymore, and those bad habits have finally caught up to me. Marrying a cook changed things – both good and bad. I eat a LOT more fresh foods (and less frozen, convenient meals) but I also eat a lot more in general.
    Joining a gym has helped me feel better about myself, but I know that food and nutrition needs to play a bigger role in that, too.

  • Thank you for this post it really did touch a nerve for both myself and my daughter. I grew up in the sixties with meal replacement biscuits now it’s shakes and of course non of them work and they bring untold misery when you “fail” yet again. And as for WW and those blessed points….not to mention the table of sugary “treats” that are always available to buy at the meetings – I’d go home and eat a couple of packets in one sitting – in secret of course. I think WW lost it’s way because apparently the “diet” was originally designed along the lines of a diabetic diet – no point counting but eating food groups – it was better but I still lost my way.

    Thank you Cait for letting us know that we aren’t alone out there and essentially if we don’t eat we die….so let’s eat but try and just eat food not crap – easier said than done : ) Why is it so hard? because it certainly doesn’t love you back if you’re mental health isn’t the best…or not.

    I only just found you so I hope that you don’t mind an “old girl” joining in the conversation…..sadly the pain is still there no matter what age you are. Love Angela X

  • Thank you for sharing so openly! Thankfully, recovery is possible and supports and treatment are available. Binge eating and binge drinking so often go together, and the cycles are hard to break without professional help. I just want to encourage anybody struggling to reach out to family and friends, or a professional you trust. You’ve got this! <3

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