Beat the binge

Advancements in brain science have lead to new approaches to treating addiction which are also being applied to overcoming binge eating. This post will explain how to beat the binge, what causes binge eating in the first place, and effective techniques to accelerate recovery.

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How to beat the binge

Ulitmately you need to make a decision to become a non-binger. "I was a binger, but now I'm not." "On the dd day of Mmm, Yyyy I gave up binge eating for good."

OLD WAY. Lets analyse your binge urges. What do they mean? What deeper emotional issues are behind this behaviour? How can we heal you?

NEW WAY. The primitive part of your brain (hindbrain/cerebellum, pons, and medulla oblongata/reptilian brain/croc brain) is playing out old patterns. By identifying an urge as an old pattern which no longer serves you, you can simply ignore it and with time it will go away completely.

HOW TO IGNORE AN URGE? There is a very subtle but highly significant nuance between ignoring an urge and fighting it off with will-power. The former is effective and with repetition will rewire your brain pathways and stop the urges occurring. The latter is energy-sapping and likely to have only temporary effectiveness before you eventually give in to an urge and in doing so strengthen the negative pattern rather than creating a new one which can strengthen over time whilst the negative pattern weakens.

So how do you tell the difference and how do you choose to ignore not fight an urge? When you ignore the urge you say "No, that's not me, that's not who I am, that doesn't align with who I am." When you fight an urge you say "No I don't want to do that anymore, I'm not going to. I really don't want to blow it." You are negotiating and arguing with the urge. Your croc brain has started a little debate which is playing out in your head. The urge is getting airplay and the debate is getting your attention. You need to respectfully decline the urge. "No, she's not here anymore." "You've dialled the wrong number." And hang up the phone.

The above really does work although it sounds overly simplified for a problem that may have plagued you for several years.

What causes binge eating in the first place?

Although the only direct cause is acting on an urge to binge, there are two factors at play which trigger an urge to binge which then replays itself.

The first is dieting. When you follow a restrictive diet and ignore your hunger, survival instincts will kick in to compensate and when you do eat, cause you to eat far larger quantities than normal. This is a normal healthy reaction. Anyone who has had a problem with binge eating and does not want to fall back into a pattern of binging needs to learn to respect their bodies survival mechanism and avoid fasting or severe dieting. It is likely that your survival response will be more highly-tuned to hunger. To successfully lose weight it is important, then, not to ignore your hunger. When your hunger reaches a moderately high intensity, eat something. You can eat a small meal. Your weight loss efforts will be most successful eating a small meal when your hunger reaches a moderate to moderately high intensity. Avoid allowing your hunger to reach high or maximum intensity as this will trigger compensatory eating and throw you out of balance. While you are correcting a pattern of binge eating it is advisable not to diet for a period of 6 to 12 months, and only when the binge eating urges have gone, to then follow any kind of dietary restriction but being diligent never to allow hunger levels to exceed a moderate level without then eating to satisfy your hunger.

The second is conditioning. As you repeat a certain behaviour it becomes 'wired' into your brain. A habit is formed. This is also a natural healthy response to a repeated behaviour. This is a life preserving function because through the process of conditioning, behaviours are carried out with far less brain activity or attention freeing up capacity for dealing with the new, the unknown and the unexpected.

The pathways associated with the urge and response will be strengthened over time and will be fired more often. When you first make the decision that you are not a binger anymore, these urges will still be fired and will be strong. You may even still occasionally find yourself binging semi-unconsciously. However each time you observe the urge or the behaviour and remind yourself of your decision, you will be strengthening a new pathway in your brain. The more time that passes without acting on an urge to binge the weaker that pathway will become until it stops firing altogether.

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Effective techniques to accelerate brain rewiring of your binge urges

Neuro Linguistic Programming offers a collection of techniques for short-circuiting the brain wiring to create instant change. If you are aware of certain events which trigger urges to binge, you can perform an NLP visualisation exercise to cancel these out. If there is a particular problem food which plays a role in your binge eating you can eliminate it.

Note it is definately easier to have an NLP practitioner guide you through one of these processes, however it can be equally effective to do so yourself.  And once you've taken the time to learn the process and applied it to one change, you have a new tool you can use for all kinds of semi-subconscious patterns and behaviours.

Read through the description a couple of times.  Make some notes about what you will visualise.  Practice the steps individually and then perform the full process.

Disabling a trigger event

Examples of a trigger event might be walking into your house after having been out.  You go into the kitchen, see the fridge, and that triggers you to start eating, even if you just ate.  This is a bad habit and a good example of a pattern to 'swish' away.

This description of the Swish Pattern comes from: http://EzineArticles.com/5449542

1).   First,  identify the behavior you wish to change and then see the undesirable behavior in your mind's eye. (Getting a snack as soon as you walk in and see the fridge.)

2).    Next, create a picture of yourself performing the new behavior. (Going to the tap and getting a glass of water.)

3).    "Swish" the two pictures so that the undesirable behavior automatically triggers the resourceful one. To do this, make a clear, big bright picture of the undesirable behavior, then in the bottom right-hand corner of THAT picture, make a small dark picture of the new way you want to be. Now, take that small picture, and in less than a second, expand it in size and brightness and burst it through the first picture of the behavior you no longer desire. As you do this, say the word whoosh! with all the passion and enthusiasm you can.

4).    Speed and repetition are the keys to this process. Now, as quickly as you can, do this five or six times  - and have fun doing it. The message to your brain is, "See this? Whoosh! Do this. See this?  Whoosh! Do this, etc." until the old picture automatically actually triggers the new picture; the new states and thus the new behavior becomes a natural part of your life.

Eliminating a problem food

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If there is a certain food which plays a role in your binge eating, you may decide that you would prefer never to eat that again rather than have it continue to trigger binging. Only if this is the case, that you feel happy to eliminate that food from your diet, should you apply this technique. Note that it is equally easy to reapply this technique to reverse the effect, which you can do at anytime. This means that it is only permanent if you choose for it to be permanent.

Firstly you need to identify three different foods, the food you wish to eliminate from your diet, a food you really enjoy, and a food you dislike.  If there is no food you dislike think of something you would never eat that you don't consider to be food, such as grass in a paddock.

To get started with this process, you need to callibrate your visualisation.  You will do this twice, once with the food you like and once with the food you don't like.  It is easiest to get a pen and paper and write your answers down.

Sit quietly, close your eyes, and prepare to think of the food you like for about 30 seconds.  While you are doing this, gain a sense of how you perceive the idea of this food.  

  • Do you see a picture of it? 
  • Is it large or small, or medium sized?
  • Is it colour or black and white?
  • Is it bright or dull?
  • Is it framed?
  • Are you in the picture?
  • Is it far away or up close?
  • Is it off center to the left or right, or up higher or lower?
  • Do you sense a feeling or sensation in your body?
  • Where do you have this feeling?
  • What type of feeling or sensation is it?
  • Do you smell anything?
  • Do you hear anything?

When you have done your best to note down all of these 'modalities', move on to the second callibration.

Repeat the above process with the food you don't like.  Answer each of the same questions.

You will now have an understanding of how your brain represents a food you do like as compared to a food you don't like.

The final step to perform this process is to visualise the food you are eliminating from your diet.  Before you start, try to memorise each of the modalities of the second callibration.  While you are doing the third visualisation, you are going to change each of these modalities to mimick the representation of the food you don't like.  If you have a particular sensation when thinking about the food you don't like, actively create this sensation while you are thinking of the food you are eliminating, and remove any sensation which is associated with a food you do like. When you have made all of the adjustments to the representation the process is complete.