Learn everything there Is to know about fItness, performance, fat loss and lifestyle from Adrian McDonnell.
.Have you ever started a fitness program full of enthusiasm from the get go?
Maybe you told yourself “I’m not eating chocolate for the next 12 weeks” or “I’m not going drinking or socialising with my friends until all of this is over.”
This usually results in some short-term progress the first week or two. But often around the three-week mark, temptation gets the better of us & we can no longer live up to the promises we told ourselves. Then we completely break out.
Why? Because this “all or nothing” mentality is a dangerous approach.
What happens when you tell yourself you can’t have something? You immediately want it! In fact, subconsciously, you probably think and crave more about the food or drink than you usually would have previously.
The result of all of this? Binge Eating.
Binge eating often comes from being too restrictive until you’ve had enough and give in.
When you ‘break your diet,’ the mentality is ‘I’ve already messed up so I’m going to completely go to town on it. You get so restricted and use all your will power that you eventually give in.
Once you give in, the heavens open. One biscuit turns into a pack of biscuits. A scoop of Ben & Jerry’s turns into the full tub. A bowl of cereal turns into the full package. I’ve been there before and I know the feeling!
In fact, in summer 2020 I tried (and unfortunately failed twice) out an extremely challenging program called “75 Hard” which didn’t allow any ‘cheat meals’ or any alcohol for the duration of the program – 75 days.
Usually, my nutrition is pretty consistent and 90% of the time, I’m eating nutrient dense foods and enjoying them. However, like everyone, I do enjoy small treats here and there from time to time. For instance, something like a piece of chocolate post-workout which I’d look forward to having to keep me satisfied as basic as it might sound. On Saturday evenings occasionally I’d have a pizza or some ice-cream or my weakness – some cereal! You get the point!
Do I eat these foods all the time? No! But occasionally I would sprinkle them in here and there and in the grand scheme of things, they don’t affect my progress.
When I jumped into this program, completely cutting out all of these foods was challenging. I suddenly craved chocolate more than ever! I started thinking about pizza’s and having bowls of cereals much more than I previously would’ve!
When I didn’t complete all of the criteria for the program on day 42 (it happened to me twice on this same day the two times I did it!), guess what happened afterwards? I went on a binge. I assure you, I wasn’t using MyFitnessPal on those days, but if I did track my intake, I would imagine my calorie count was as high as 8,000 – 10,000. I had bowls upon bowls of cereal. Chocolate – lots of chocolate! Ice-cream, biscuits – you name it! Everything I could get my hands on!
The feeling of guilt and shame I felt afterwards was awful. And it’s not a nice place to be in. The next day I felt (and looked) terrible. I weighed myself the following morning and I had increased my weight by 4Kg overnight! I’m educated enough to know that most of that was weight I was carrying from stored carbohydrates (which was gone 2 days later). However, I also did know that I needed to change something – starting with my mindset.
Note: if you are emotionally tied to what the scale is telling you, do not weigh yourself. In other words, if you feel happy when the number goes down, or sad/angry when it goes up, then get off the scale! I do not place much value on it so this wasn’t an issue for me. This might be different for someone else.
Mindset Shifts - Foods Don't Have Morals
If this has happened to you in the past or you can resonate with it, you are not alone! It is a very common struggle!
And I don’t like to say ‘fix it’ because ‘fix it’ implies something is wrong with you. Binge eating doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, it just means you’re human. It’s not normal, but it’s common.
The most important thing I want to say first about this is that if you struggle with binge eating, there are people who are specialists who can work with you to teach you how to stop binge eating. If you are nervous, anxious, or worried about being judged or not knowing what to do, go see a specialist.
Now regarding our mindset - it is important to address it in relation to binge eating. If you classify foods as “good” or “bad” it brings with it negative connotations around food. Food’s don’t have morals. There are no “good” or “bad” foods per se. There is no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” food.
Categorise foods as low nutrient or high nutrient foods. Low calorie or high calorie foods.
And I say this because when people are binge eating, a lot of the time the issue is that they eat something that they think is bad, and then this is the negative pattern they go in:
The process of eating something they deem as bad then continues the negative cycle of “I screwed up, I might as well keep screwing up.” And that is SO, so important to understand.
Everything is okay in moderation. Creating this moderation control will help you a lot.
Always Something > All Or Nothing
For anyone starting out a program, I can understand how difficult it could be if you were to have that “all or nothing” mentality and be too restrictive in your diet. Why?
Because most people have never gone a week without having some chocolate or some ice-cream or pizza. Why do you suddenly expect yourself to be able to last 6 weeks or 12 weeks or whatever the duration of your program is without having any of these things?
From my own coaching experience, usually around the three-week mark is when the novelty of starting something new ends. Our will power is being pushed to the limit. And just like when you exercise, the more you work your muscles, the more exhausted they become, your will power is the same.
There’s only so much tension you will power can accumulate before it reaches boiling point. And when we do reach boiling point, that’s when we break out and start eating all of those foods we deprived ourselves from having which results in binge eating.
Binge eating can be avoided by implementing flexible dieting instead. Flexible dieting is when you get 80-90% of the calories you eat from nutrient dense foods leaving you with about 10%-20% of your calories to have more flexibility with. With flexible dieting, it helps develop the mindset that there are no foods off-limit. If you strategically include the foods in your diet in moderation and your calories are in check, you can still tone up and improve your body composition.
Having a flexible approach gets you out of the mindset that things need to be “perfect” and helps reinforce the concept that always something is better than all or nothing. Your relationship with food will be a huge part of your life and lifestyle. Don’t stress out over enjoying yourself. Going 100% all in on your diet isn’t perfection. It’s prison.
Some people like to have a treat at the weekend and be pretty disciplined during the week.
My preference is to micro-dose your favourite foods throughout the week. This way, you’re keeping yourself satisfied on a daily basis rather than saving yourself for a bigger blowout (if this happens to you) at the weekend.
Binge Eating Triggers
Before I share some strategies of how to stop yourself from binge eating, it is important to understand the most common triggers.
Binge eating usually arises out of one of four emotions (or maybe a combination of them): Think HALT – Am I:
In my example above, I wasn’t hungry or tired but I was angry and felt somewhat lonely after failing to complete the program! Other times in the past, I may have been hungry or equally as common – tired. Either way, it’s important to be aware of your emotions and usually binge eating does arise out of one of the four emotions above.
How To Stop Yourself From Binge Eating
If you feel one of these emotions or feel like you have an urge to binge, try some of these tips:
Why are these strategies effective? Because a lot of the decisions we make are based on instinct to change the way we feel. Usually this is for temporary pleasure. All of the above require you to delay the action by either distracting yourself or pausing in the moment to be more present.
If you can catch yourself in the moment you’re tempted to binge, slow down your thinking and bring yourself back to the present, you will find it much easier to manage.
And finally remember,
If you do go on a binge, it’s time to reset. You binged out on Saturday evening? Fair enough. Don’t let it roll into Sunday. If it does happen, there’s no point beating yourself up about it. The most important thing is you do not quit! You can’t change the past but you can change what you do going forward.
If you are starting a new fitness program and were thinking about going for that ‘all or nothing approach,’ my only advice is be careful of the potential drawbacks.
Hopefully after reading this you might be more open to having a flexible and lenient approach which in turn will increase your chances of adherence and sticking to it which ultimately is the most important thing!
Accept that you can’t always be “all or nothing” and instead aim for “always something.”
This will help you get out of the restrictive dieting mindset, reduce the likelihood of you binge eating and increase your overall enjoyment levels.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this beneficial.
Reference: Syatt, J (2018): How to Stop Binge Eating
What To Do Next
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If we are a good fit, we can get working on your personalised program so you can finally make the changes you’ve always wanted.
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Adrian McDonnell -
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