(and Increase the Likelihood that You’ll Get Right Back to Healthy Eating!)
It was 2005, and, having recently discovered and devoured the bible of nutrient-dense eating, Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live, I was riding high on the same motivational wave that has propelled many dieters through the first few weeks of their latest healthy eating efforts. Fruit and flax for breakfast, huge mega salad with beans for lunch, and delicious vegetable soup for supper—I was finally learning to love naked veggies in their natural unsalted, unfried state!
Then out of the blue one day that infamous diet derailer—the chocolate bug—bit me. Instead of allowing the ensuing itch to subside on its own, I scratched it with just a few chocolate covered mixed nuts from the little market down the street.
Next day, same story. “Well,” I told myself, “it’s only a little. I’ll stick to just an ounce or so a day and that’ll be fine.” The venom of that chocolate bug went straight to my brain, as it wreaks havoc on one’s rational thinking capabilities.
By day three, still more chocolate was required to satisfy the itch, followed by the rationale, “I’ve already blown it today with chocolate, so I might as well eat some bread and cheese and start fresh tomorrow.” Within a few days, I had resumed my former addiction to copious amounts of chocolate-coated this and chocolate-dipped that, eating every bite without regard to how much I was consuming or where or under what circumstances.
And thus it continued for another year or so, until I discovered The Beck Diet Solution by Judith Beck. Over time, I started to combine Dr. Beck’s cognitive therapy techniques with the latest research on behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience to formulate a healthy eating program for myself—one that would help me stick to a nutrient-dense diet style while extricating me from those horrible sugar binge cycles. The program I created is a set of tools and strategies to help build willpower and self-discipline—which makes it much easier to be really at choice with food. The tools are simple and straightforward, like keeping a food log.
Alas, the techniques appear simplistic but are not necessarily easy to utilize, like when you’re on a Ben & Jerry’s bender, for instance (after all, who wants to measure out a binge one cup at a time?). Well it turns out that sticking to the tools (also referred to as “disciplines” by some of my clients) will always lessen the intensity and duration of a binge. Did I say always? I meant to say always. Binges are so damaging because people let themselves go and just unconsciously start shoveling food in. During my overeating episodes, I would pop a piece of chocolate in my mouth no matter where I was or what I was doing. I’d shove it in as soon as I walked out of the store and keep going until the bag was empty. I had no sense of how much I was eating and didn’t even really taste the chocolate most of the time. After I’d gorged on sugar, I’d move on to the cheddar and white flour products.
Now I know how to manage a binge healthfully, and as an ironic result, I no longer binge. Every now and then, sweet visions of all-you-can-eat double-chocolate peanut butter malted milk balls will threaten my fortitude, but then my practiced prefrontal cortices kick in to remind me, “You have to weigh those, you know.” And that reality slap takes the fun right out of my little cocoa fantasy!
If you find yourself moving into binge mode, don’t give in completely. Stay conscious by weighing or measuring what you’re eating. Measure out a portion, take it to your chair, and enjoy it slowly. If you want more, repeat the process. Don’t worry so much about what you’re eating—focus on the process of binging mindfully. Weigh your food, eat only while seated, and savor every bite because these practices all require an active rational mind. Keeping your rational mind awake will make it harder to continue binging. Oh, and the more you practice all this, the better you’ll get at it. Remember, you’ve practiced your old eating habits for a long time—it’s gonna take a while to replace them with new, healthy eating habits.