The 1200 Calories a Day Myth

1200 calories per day diet

Have you ever gone online to find out how many calories you should be eating to lose a certain amount of weight and the calculator spits out something like “you should be eating 1200 calories a day to lose 10 pounds by… ” whenever? The fact that a 1200 calorie per day diet is healthy is an evil myth.  

The idea behind the 1200 calorie diet is that it is enough calories to allow your body to keep up with all its essential functions while allowing you to lose weight in the fastest possible amount of time. It’s the lowest you can go without your organs shutting down and your body becoming very ill.   The only problem is that 1200 calories per day actually is starving for many, many people. The methodology is so fundamentally flawed, yet, somehow, that number became magic in the diet world. 

A long, long time ago, when I was still dealing with lot of my own disordered eating, I saw a nutritionist who asked me how much I was eating. I told her that I made sure I got 1200 calories each day. She said to me, “The World Health Organization defines anything under 1500 calories per day as starvation.” I can’t find that statistic anywhere in the literature. I’ve been looking for it for years, but it’s not findable. If anyone finds it, please point it out to me. 

I’ve had lots of clients come in who have been bingeing, who have lost their periods, who have lost hair, who all have physical symptoms of anorexia from living on a 1200 calorie diet for multiple months or even a year or more. Here’s the way the pattern usually goes. A client comes in and tells me she can’t stop bingeing, that she feels hopeless and out of control because she has been bingeing uncontrollably for months. She then tells me that she got her weight down very low by following a 1200 calorie diet. But then something happened, she fell off her diet, started bingeing and has now desperately been trying to get back on her 1200 calorie regimen.

Now here’s the thing, given how many reputable sources recommend a 1200 calorie per day diet for weight loss, you wouldn’t expect that someone who has been following these recommendations would be suffering symptoms of anorexia such as amenorrhea, hair loss, food obsession and binge eating, Yet they do. The problem is, when you eat a very low calorie diet, you will lose weight initially but your body will adjust and your metabolism will slow way down to compensate for the lack of calories.  Because your metabolism is so slow, the 1200 calories per day will level out and your body will stop losing weight after an adjustment period.

Because you will be starving, you will start to eat more and probably start bingeing.  Then, rather than blame the diet, you will blame yourself. You will tell yourself that you are to blame because you couldn’t stay on your diet. You will try again and again to get back to that 1200 calorie per day diet. Because you’ve had the initial “reward” of weight loss, you will believe that you can replicate it by getting back to the 1200 calorie per day diet and getting your body back to where it was when you originally lost the weight. It will be difficult though because your body will be afraid of starvation and when you are tired, or emotional or your defenses are down, you will binge again. You will beat yourself up for it saying that it’s all your fault and that you can’t understand why you were able to do it once but you can’t do it again.  I see this happen again and again and again. If it weren’t a typical pattern, people would have gone on one 1200 calorie diet once in their life and never had to do it again.  It’s almost like an addictive drug cycle. You repeat the same behavior again and again to achieve that initial high, but it’s unattainable now. 

Low calorie dieting creates adrenal fatigue, high stress issues (which can trigger emotional eating) and food obsession. It can also create additional stress for those who feel that they cannot do things socially because they are afraid of the food.  In fact, studies have shown that a 1200 calorie per day diet leads to weight gain by increasing cortisol levels and emotional distress. 

Eating 1200 calories per day is not sustainable in the long run, though you will lose weight initially, will wind up gaining more weight than you lost. 

  • because your metabolism will slow down in order to sustain your low calorie intake
  • because you will most likely binge

If you are even a little bit active (that means doing more than just laying in bed all day), this low calorie amount will lead to increased hormonal stress levels and there is a good chance that you will lose your hair, lose your period, and lose bone density.

There are 30 year old women who sustain themselves on low calorie diets and wind up with the bone density of 80 year old women. I know, I see them in my practice all the time. 

A 1200 calorie diet is not sustainable. In fact, when I went online to find more information about it, I found tons and tons of forums with people talking about how much weight they lost on their 1200 calorie diets, but they gained the weight back and needed to get back to it. That should be a red flag for everyone.  You are not alone. This kind of caloric restriction works for almost nobody. 

So how to find a comfortable weight for your body in a healthy way?  

Don’t restrict your calories. 

Make sure that you are eating more high density nutrition foods than low density nutrition foods

Don’t let yourself get very hungry nor very full. 

BE PATIENT  Finding your body’s healthy weight is a game of patience and loving kindness. The 1200 calorie game is tempting because it’s quick weight loss but it can set up years of dysfunctional eating and body distress. When you allow yourself to slowly let yourself settle in to the body that your body wants to be, the body that feels wonderful and healthy, you will find peace. 


Yes you should eat 1200 calories

Why 1200 calories is so wrong

The Calorie Theory, Prove it Or Lose It

An Open Apology to my Former Weight Loss Clients

1200 Calories- Sophia Herbst

How to deal with Boredom in Recovery

Boredom and Binge Eating

“God,” she told me, “it’s not that I WANT to keep binge eating, but when I’m not bingeing, I’m just so fucking bored…” 

It’s true, boredom is the enemy of recovery. 

Stella, a new client of mine was explaining to me why she continued to binge each night despite having lots of tools, support and repeated attempts at recovery. I understood what she meant.

The binge was exciting. Although she hated the feeling afterward, she couldn’t resist that desire. She began to feel it at 4pm. She couldn’t wait to get home from work and sit alone in front of the television while digging into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a baguette with brie. The idea of going home to nothing, nothing to do, no one to talk to, nothing exciting planned, just watching television or reading and going to sleep without bingeing was stressful for her.  She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.  Not only was bingeing exciting, but the after effects of bingeing were exciting, planning her next diet, counting all her calories down to a T, keeping her mind occupied. What would it be like if she didn’t have the binge to look forward to? What would it be like if she wasn’t dieting or picking out smaller clothes, or  looking forward to the moment when she would be at her goal weight, what would it be like?  She couldn’t imagine her life. It seemed dreadful. Full of nothing. Nothing to look forward to, not looking forward to food, not looking forward to being skinny. Bingeing gave her life meaning, direction and a path. 

So let’s dissect this for a moment, there are a few different components going on here:

1. Stella’s binges take on a hugely addictive cycle, when Stella thinks about bingeing at 4pm, her nucleus accumbens (pleasure center of the brain) lights up and she becomes excited for the binge. Anyone with a drug or alcohol addiction can tell you the same thing, they start to become aroused and excited even thinking about their drug of choice. For instance, a cocaine addict begins to fantasize about doing cocaine later that evening. Even though they are at work, their brain begins to release dopamine just by thinking about the cocaine.  Imagine that, just by thinking about bingeing, your brain begins to actually pull you into the binge. Now that’s rough. What a let down it would be to make the choice not to binge. 

2. Stella feels that bingeing and restricting give her life meaning, Stella is also a diet addict, so whenever she begins to feel bad about herself, she starts to fantasize about what she’s going to look like when she hits 120 pounds, how her jeans are going to fit, how her body is going to feel, who is going to pay attention to her, who will notice her, who she will start dating and the fun things she is going to do, She keeps thinking about these things but does not initiate any fun into her life because she is waiting to lose weight. This makes her life terribly boring. She refuses to do anything until… which makes bingeing a very compelling pastime. It is her only pastime.

3. She is in a very tricky cycle of deprivation and self loathing. I understand why she wants to binge at night because the alternative is so much more difficult to swallow, being alone with her thoughts. My old supervisor once told me that boredom was actually a coverup for a more difficult emotion that we didn’t want to deal with. In Stella’s case, those emotions are loneliness, a sense of unworthiness, and a deep fear of having nothing ever. She is lonely because she doesn’t want to be around people, she doesn’t want to be around people because she feels that she is “too fat” to be around people, she says that once she loses weight, she will start to spend time with people. Losing weight won’t ultimately change her sense of worthiness. She is a worthy and beautiful human being now. Being skinny won’t change that, it also won’t change the way she feels about herself.  Letting yourself out of the trance of unworthiness is an inside job, not a matter of changing who you are, but about allowing yourself to be who you are now. 

So what should one do here?

1 Remember that boredom is the enemy of recovery, but that boredom won’t kill you. Though  the sense of boredom might be alleviated by bingeing, it is alleviated because it is replaced by a sense of shame, self-disdain, anger, and an uncomfortable feeling in your body. The alternative is certainly not the easier pill to swallow. 

2. Make plans for the evenings — even if you are not leaving the house, even if your plans are something like sitting home and painting your toenails while watching a movie or having a phone date with a good friend, or painting or writing, or doing anything else other than being alone with your wallet or your binge foods. 

3. Notice when the desire to binge comes no matter how early in the day it is and begin to reach out for support.  Send a note to a friend or support person and let them know that you are in the danger zone for later tonight and tell them what your safety plan is for that evening. Have them check in with you later that night. 

4. Recognize that you can have a really nice evening without bingeing. Take note of how much better you feel when you don’t binge than when you do. Breath into that sense, feel it in your bones. 

5. When you feel that tingly feeling of dopamine being released into your body when you think about bingeing, try to slow yourself down and tell yourself that you don’t need to binge – that you don’t have to follow this urge and desire– just because it has initiated, doesn’t mean that you have to follow it, you can choose not to. The good news is that after a few weeks of not following that dopamine initiation, the urges decrease quite a bit as does the desire to binge. 

Further Resources

Radical Acceptance– a cure of the trance of unworthiness

OA online– to find support folks

Eating Disorders Anonymous– to find support folks





The New Binge Eating Miracle Drug

Medicine background I’ve had a lot of people ask me to talk about Vyvanse, which is being touted as the new miracle drug for binge eating. The New York Times ran an article about it last month and lots of folks have been calling me and asking me if I recommend it. 

Before I discuss my thoughts and feelings about the drug itself, lets discuss what it is. Vyvanse is an ADHD drug and it’s an amphetamine. It’s been used for years for folks with ADHD. So, these ADHD drugs are cognitive enhancers, meaning they increase focus and decrease impulsive behaviors. If you’ve ever seen a kid before and after his (or her) ADHD meds, you know how different they show up with an amphetamine in their system. It works the same with BED, it increases focus and decreases impulsive behaviors, so one is less driven by their desires and urges, and for many folks it will decrease bingeing and help them find some peace around food. 

 That being said, I do have some feelings about it.  The very first is that amphetamines have been prescribed and abused for weight loss for decades. Most people with BED don’t purely have Binge Eating Disorder, they also deal with severe food restriction, exercise addiction and obsessive dieting, so being on this drug might feed their desire to restrict. Without the drive to eat, they might find themselves depriving themselves of food or not eating at all. 

And although I’m saying this theoretically – the truth is, that I know of a lot of women who abused drugs like Ritalin and Adderal to keep themselves from eating- and when I was in college, I was definitely one of them.  

 If someone is taking this to stop binge eating, they will also need to learn how to use mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy to stop binge eating because when they stop taking the medication, their impulses will return because they are not getting the dopamine effect that they were getting from the drug.


Next, it’s not a benign drug, it’s an amphetamine which does have addictive consequences, so people with BED might be switching out one addiction for another. There are also side effects to consider like sleeping issues, anxiety, constipation, and others, but those are the main side effects that have a massive contraindication for people with BED.

 So do I recommend it? I don’t know. I have heard from a few women that it’s been heaven for them- that they feel finally free of their urges to binge. As with all medicine, you have to weigh the risks with the benefits.  I definitely wouldn’t say that I’m against it, but I think it would better for very short term use, to get over the hump of BED and teach you that you actually can be free those urges and impulses, but at the same time, learn through therapy how to stop those behaviors.

If you have tried Vyvanse for binge eating- please do share your experiences and what it’s been like for you in the comments. Thanks!

10 Ways to Train your Brain to Stop Overeating

10 Ways to Train your Brain to Stop Overeating

top ten ways to train your brain

train your brain to stop overeating


You know how sometimes it’s not even noon but you know that you are going to have a binge when you get home from work that night? You begin planning it, thinking about what stores you’re going to go to, what foods you’re going to get, where you are going to eat it, what you’re going to do when you eat it, what it will feel like in your mouth, what you will be doing while you’re bingeing (will you be watching television? will you be searching the web? will you be on the phone? or will you just be sitting alone with the food?) You begin to get excited and your amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for emotional reaction) lights up with excitement. Just the anticipation and desire of a binge creates activity in your brain that basically brings you to the binge. So your actual binge starts about hours, sometimes even days before the binge starts. It’s those first thoughts about it, the anticipation which just carries itself and basically makes you feel as though you don’t have a choice. The thoughts of bingeing carry you straight to your binge. But that’s not the only thing that the anticipation does. Just think about food and you flood dopamine into your nucleus accumbens (the pleasure center of the brain) which then excites you, calms you and motivates you to go for the food that you are thinking about.  Just like the drug addict who starts to think about cocaine which then motivates them to score their drug of choice despite whatever dangers lurk. So, not only are you addicted to the binge, and those pleasurable feelings that come with it, but you are actually addicted to the process of bingeing, the thoughts about food, the plans that you make to get food, the thoughts about food. Each thought that you have has a biochemical reaction.

Which makes quitting binge eating as difficult (or more difficult) than quitting heroin or cocaine. When food is your drug of choice, you can’t just stop eating, you have to learn to stop overeating and stop abusing food.


When you first have those thoughts and the pleasure center in your brain begins to light up with anticipation (it’s not unlike the process of flirting, or hooking up with someone pre-sex or orgasm), it feels as though it’s over. You’re going to binge. However, when you check in with yourself and say, “oh yeah, there are those thoughts again, I’m planning my binge…” you can slow yourself down. You can tell yourself that just because you are planning your binge, doesn’t mean that you have to go through with it. Just because the process part of the addiction has begun does not mean that you have to go through with it. Remember, this is the SAME EXACT function that cocaine addicts go through before they score their drug, it’s the same process that sex addicts go through when they are looking for a prostitute, it’s the same process that gambling addicts go through when they are selling their wedding ring for money to put in a slot machine.

So what we want to do here is slow your brain waaaayyyy down. Even though it’s just noon and you are at work in front of your computer, your mind is at home in the refrigerator or in front of the television with a pizza.

So what can you do?

1. First, recognize “oh, I’m having THOSE thoughts again…” And say it out loud, “there is that urge to binge…”

2. Remind yourself, “I’m not in the middle of the binge yet, I’m right here at my desk.”

3. Ground yourself, look at your feet on the floor, look at your hands, put your hand over your heart and breath into your belly. Be where you are, not where your mind is taking you.

4. Remind yourself why you don’t want to be on the other side of the binge. Think to yourself, “I don’t want to be in bed tonight with my belly hurting, feeling bloated and uncomfortable, I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning feeling bad.” Then let yourself feel those bad feelings of how you feel after a binge. Reliving them will be a deterrent for you.

5. Think about alternatives, think about what it would be like to wake up the next morning without a binge, let that process excite your mind. Imagine yourself eating a healthy dinner in a healthy way and see yourself in bed that night feeling comfortable and waking up the next morning with a spring in your step.

6. Plan something equally relaxing for that evening ie: date with friend, bubble bath, taking a long walk outside while listening to music or podcast

7. Call someone and tell them that you have a binge planned and you don’t want to go through with it.

8. Get on the forum and ask for support.

9. Remind yourself that you have a choice. It doesn’t feel like you do, but you do, the thoughts and the desire can’t make you binge, they are just thoughts and desire. You have thoughts and desires a million times a day that you don’t act on.

10. Calm your brain down and slow down your thinking with deep breathing and meditation.

Eating disorders are notoriously rough because they hit you on lots of different levels, process addiction, food/sugar addiction, trauma relief, bad habit… there are a million different reasons that people binge, but if you can bring some mindfulness into the equation, you have an amazing chance of not only being able to stop overeating over and over, but also from recovering and not having to deal with the urges and the pain of bingeing anymore.

Friday Q & A- Help I’m addicted to sugar! How can I stop eating sugar?

sugar addictionThis comes to us from a reader in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Q- So I’m pretty sure that I’m a sugar addict. I’ve been in treatment for years to deal with my eating disorder. It started as anorexia when I was in high school. Spun into bulimia when I was in college. When I was 22, I went into  rehab for my eating disorder where all sugar was off limits. When I got out of treatment, I stayed off of sugar for like 4 years. For the past year and a half, I’ve been eating sugar again, and not in a healthy way. I’ve been bingeing on it. I’m not purging, which is great, but every time I try to get back off sugar, I last for like maybe 2 or 3 days, then I’ll have an insane binge. I want to quit again for good. My current therapist says that sugar addiction is a myth and wants me to learn to eat it in moderation. But I can’t! I really can’t. And I definitely feel better when I’m off sugar. When I’m eating sugar, my head is foggy, I’m bloated and tired, I think about it all the time, where to get it, what I’m going to do with it, how to stop eating it,  my skin breaks out, and I’m lethargic. When I’m off sugar, I’m calmer, more relaxed, more focused and happier. Do you think that sugar addiction real?  How can I give up sugar once and for all? -Rebecca

Answer:  Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for your question and I want to tell you that there is no easy answer to this. I understand your therapist’s perspective on this.  Many eating disorder treatment programs shun the addiction model and believe that restricting particular foods is what leads to bingeing, purging, and anorexia. Many programs will even take patients out for dinner as part of treatment and have them order dessert to learn to integrate sweets in a healthy and moderate way.   However, the 12-step model of recovery does believe in the addiction model and programs like OA will support abstinence not just from a behavior, but also from a particular substance (sugar, white flour, etc.)  The recovery community is at odds as to which model to follow.  There have been many studies done,  but there has been no consensus on whether sugar addiction is real or not.

That being said,  there is evidence of sugar addiction.  In a 2003 study published in Brain Briefings, it was found that rats exhibited identical behaviors toward sugar that follow the addiction model in humans, which are bingeing, withdrawal and craving.  They doubled their intake and began bingeing on it after having it restricted from them, which of course it what happens to people when they diet and restrict calories then come in contact with lots of candy, ice cream or baked goods. According to Takash Yamamoto, in his  May 2003 study “Brain mechanisms of sweetness and palatability of sugars” published in Nutrition Reviews, Sugar and the taste of sweet stimulate the brain by activating beta endorphin receptor sites, which are the same chemicals activated by heroin and morphine. However, a literature review published in 2010,  in Clinical Nutrition Journal states that there is no support  that sugar may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders.

So, although there’s no real consensus from the scientific community, in your email you state When I’m eating sugar, my head is foggy, I’m bloated and tired, I think about it all the time, where to get it, what I’m going to do with it, how to stop eating it..  That statement alone can describe someone dealing with a crippling addiction.  So, is sugar addiction real? I think that for you it certainly feels real.

So that brings us to another question, do you have to give up sugar completely? I am always hesitant to go for the all-or-nothing approach. I do like to encourage people to learn to eat sugar moderately. Sometimes I’ll have someone bring in their binge food to the office and eat it slowly, very slowly to see what comes up for them emotionally when they eat that food. We then discuss it, and as they s-l-o-w-l-y eat the food, they begin to take the power away from it and reclaim their own power. They then make a plan as to how they will eat the rest of the night and what they will do to take care of themselves. This act of eating sugar in a contemplative way, without the fury and the madness, and then walking away from it, can change your belief about yourself around it. If you can physically walk away from it, even once, then the addiction is broken. Then you know that you have the power, not the sugar.   That’s an exercise in mindfulness.

But it is true that some people find avoiding sugar altogether much easier than using mindfulness to gain power over the sugar. And it’s true, it’s a practice.  But it is possible to find peace around sugar whether you decide to give it up completely or to find some moderation with it.  Below is a list I created to help you to give up sugar if that’s what you would truly like to do.

How to Give Up Sugar

1.)Eat fruit! Your body needs glucose. Some anti-sugar advocates will say that you need nothing but meat. Even our first food, breast milk is very, very sweet. We need glucose to give us energy, rebuild our cells and keep us going. Don’t eschew fruit in attempts to let go of sugar.

2.)Take it one day at a time. Don’t say, “I am giving up sugar forever,” say “I won’t eat sugar just for today.”

3.)Don’t be all-or-nothing about it. Just because you eat one cookie, that doesn’t mean that your body has to continue on a sugar binge. You can choose to make the next thing that you put in your mouth be something healthy, or nothing at all for a few hours until you’re ready for your next meal.

4.)Meditate! Try hypnosis for sugar addiction.

5.)Try to get more healthy fats into your diet. By adding Omega-3 fatty acids, or olive oil to your salads, or even a teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil, you might find that your cravings decrease.

6.)Try supplements:

B-Vitamins help regulate serotonin levels to elevate mood and decrease binge episodes

Chromium 200 mcg per day – when needed for sugar cravings. Helps insulin to get into your cells to regulate glucose so that your hormones stop sending messages to your brain that you need more sugar.

Manganese– 10 Mg per day helps the transport and metabolism of glucose. It stabilizes blood sugar to reduce sugar cravings

Magnesium– 500 mg per day- calms the body and the brain while stabilizing glucose levels which can wildly fluctuate when a person is bingeing on sugar. When magnesium levels are stable, cravings decrease.

Zinc– 15mg- per day- helps to regulate appetite

5-HTP– 200 mg per day in the evening- or whenever you have the urge to binge. The precursor to serotonin will  suppress your appetite and relax you to take the anxiety away from the binge.

L-Glutamine- 500 mg when needed no more than 3 times per day. When you are having a strong sugar craving, take 500 mg of L-Glutamine or open a capsule and put the powder on your tongue. L-glutamine is an amino acid that is converted into food for the brain.

7.)Stabilize your blood sugar by eating protein with every meal and eating bits of protein between meals. When you’re not having blood sugar dips, your body won’t crave sugar.

8.)Drink teas, like peppermint or chamomile when you’re having a sugar craving.

9.)Get support. Consider getting into an eating disorder group at ANAD to address these issues and get support for your mind, body and spirit.

10.)Use fruit like raisins and bananas and spices like cinnamon and cloves to “sweeten” things like plain yogurt or oatmeal.

Thank you for your question, and I hope that this has been helpful.

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Ten Myths About Binge Eating Disorder

Ten Myths About Binge Eating1. All binge eaters are obese

Completely untrue. In fact most of the people I see in my practice are considered a “normal weight.”  Food is their drug and bingeing is something they do in private and something people will go at lengths to hide, including maintaining a normal weight. In fact, I’ve  had clients who were downright skinny but who binged on food often and felt completely out of control with it.

2. All obese people are binge eaters

Actually, binge eating affects 8% of the obese population. Which means that 92% of obese people are NOT affected by binge eating.  In fact, despite the media’s belief that all fat people are unhealthy, there are many, many people who are both fat and fit. 

3. People who binge eat need more will power and self-control

People who binge eat usually have incredibly amounts of will power and self control. And though this is not true for every binge eater, for the most part, people who binge eat tend to be extremely high achieving and controlled in many aspects of their lives, including controlling their food. It’s this control that tends to sometimes backfire causing an all out rebellion against  the person’s inner critic. What a person who binge eats actually needs is more self compassion and support, not more rules and self control. Learning to support oneself in a positive way, not in a pejorative way will empower the binge eater feel more comfortable around food and less likely to be overpowered by an all out binge.

4. People who binge eat purge by vomiting

Not everyone who binge eats purges by vomiting. Some people compensate by over exercising, some compensate by fasting, some compensate by dieting, some compensate by taking laxatives, and some don’t compensate at all.

5. Binge eating is a bad habit and not a true disorder

Binge eating is more complex than simply a bad habit, it’s actually an impulse control issue, although it is not technically classified as and impulse control disorder.  However, using similar techniques as are used in certain other ICDs (like compulsive shopping) binge eating can be healed.  I’ve seen wonders done with DBT and mindfulness training.

6. Men don’t binge eat

Actually, Binge Eating Disorder affects 2% of men.  However, men don’t tend to get help as often as women. In fact, it’s stigmatized as a woman’s issues, so men tend to shy away from support and feel that they have to just stop or do it alone. In his blog about healing from binge eating, Alan Standish says, “Guys, Binge Eating Disorder affects us just as much as it does women. Don’t be embarrassed.”

7. Binge eating is incurable

It’s really not as grim as it’s made out to be. In healing from binge eating, you really heal your life in so many different ways. You become more organized in your thinking and more thoughtful and mindful. You can come to a place where you are able to let go of your feelings and fears about food. Food becomes nurturing instead of the enemy. I’ve seen it happen over and over again with my clients and that has certainly been my own experience.

8.Binge eating is caused by chronic emptiness

Just because you are binge eater, it doesn’t mean that you are broken. It doesn’t mean that you have a bottomless pit that you will never fill. However, having binge eating disorder can feel hopeless and you might feel as though you are totally out of control and a total mess. But you’re not. You need support, you need compassion and you need some help to get you passed it.

9. Drinking a glass of wine can help curb binge eating

Sometimes people will have a drink in order to calm down the urge to binge eat. But it often backfires. This is what I call “the solution becoming the problem.” If you drink to feel more in control, your problem might then become the drink. And more often than not, people wind up bingeing if they have drank too much- if not that night, then certainly the next morning to deal with a hangover and the shame that often accompanies it.

10. Quitting carbohydrates can help stop binge eating

No. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t. I’m very much a proponent of eating whole foods as much as possible and eschewing processed foods for the most part. So, eating lots of foods out of a box, probably not the best idea for overall health, however, unless you have sugar issues (as in hypoglycemia or diabetes)- it is not advisable to give up fruits and vegetables- even yams and potatoes. Your body runs more efficiently when you are eating a variety of whole foods. If you wind up on a very low carb diet, it’s likely that you might find yourself bingeing on carbs. It’s not because you have no lack of control, it’s because your cells are screaming for glucose and your body will push you into getting what it  needs for survival!

A recovery story

I’ve been seeing *Emily in therapy for four years. She has written her recovery story and agreed to have it posted.

I actually remember the first time I binged and purged. I was in eighth grade and we were at Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house. My grandma used to make these huge elaborate meals, with like 5 or 6 different pies and all sorts of mashed potatoes and stuffing. My cousin Jenny, who is a year older than me, was there. She was like, everyone’s princess.  Everyone was soooo excited because Jenny had  made the cheerleading squad at her high school and she was in the homecoming court. Up until that year, me and Jenny had always sat there during Thanksgiving and giggle and eat all the pies together. But this year, she barely paid attention to me.  She wore these tight  jeans and kept her portions small. She was like a real teenager.  My mother looked at her admirably and said she was so proud of how beautiful Jenny had become. She also said that it was smart to watch her figure now that she was no longer a little girl. My mom then looked at me and said nothing as I scarfed down my third piece of pie. I had never really thought about it before. I mean that’s what we did on Thanksgiving. We ate my Grandma’s pies. Even my Grandma turned against me. “Eat less pie Emily! Be more like Jenny. Look how thin and gorgeous she is now!”  I felt horrible. My own (not name brand) jeans were unbuttoned to make room for my swollen belly and I felt how greasy my hair and skin had become.  After dinner, I excused myself to the bathroom and I don’t know how or why, but I began searching through the medicine cabinet. That’s when I saw the chocolate ex-lax. I knew what they did and I knew that I could use them to get rid of the pie. I don’t know how I knew to use them. I guess I’d heard of it somewhere… and so I took three pills. I remember thinking that I should take more than it said on the back, but I didn’t want anyone to notice that they were gone.  The laxatives kicked in that night. I sat up all night running to the bathroom. And although my stomach felt ravaged and I was in terrible pain, after my bathroom  trips, I would step on the scale and see how much weight I’d lost. It was amazing to me that the pounds were just dropping off. And that’s how it started.  Later that week, I made myself throw up after eating a milkshake and onion rings from Burger King.

And that was my descent into the dark years of bingeing, purging, taking laxatives, and starving myself. I kept trying to be more like my cousin Jenny who showed up at Thanksgiving every year more and more beautiful, with perfect grades, the captain of cheerleading, with a football player boyfriend. And me, I became more and more isolated. I had put on a lot of weight and I wore all black, smoked cigarettes and had kept my hair dyed black and pierced everything I could. I didn’t really have a boyfriend, though I did sleep with a lot of boys, but no one wanted to get serious with me. I kidded myself into thinking that I didn’t care. But I was depressed. Really depressed. I used to cut myself on the arms and legs sometimes, just so that I could emote because I felt, I believed that I was completely alone. My grandparents seemed to tolerate me, but didn’t have a lot of interest or pride in me. And my mother sort of seemed disgusted by me. She knew about my activities with boys and told me that I had no self-respect.  Food was a lot of what comforted me. I would eat full pizzas on my own after school and wash them down with diet cokes. I’d go days eating nothing, just drinking coffee and diet coke and eating pixie sticks to keep me going. Then I’d collapse, cut school and go to the donut store and eat a dozen donuts in the parking lot, wash them down with diet coke and laxatives, then throw up in the bathroom of the gas station, and then drive around town buying food to binge on and find gas station bathrooms to purge in.  I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like my cousin Jenny. I wanted people to love me and I wanted to be beautiful and cared for. I thought that if I could get thin enough, I’d be okay. But my bingeing and purging  continued all through high school, and shockingly, I still was able to get good enough grades to get into college.

I stopped purging in college, but became addicted to diet pills, marijuana, and sometimes even cocaine to keep me from eating. I finally lost all the weight I wanted to, but my body was breaking down. I suffered three fractures by the second semester of my sophomore year. I realized then that I had to stop with my eating disorder. But I couldn’t. I had no idea how to eat normally. I tried to eat three meals a day, but it always ended with me bingeing. I managed to stop purging, but I was still bingeing and then restricting. I did manage to graduate from college, but my grades really weren’t very good. I barely went to class and when I did, I didn’t pay attention or get much out of my classes. I really wasted my mother’s money.

After college, I tried a variety of things to help me lose weight. I tried different diets, I tried nutritionists, I tried a 12 step group with a food plan. But all of those things made me just binge when I fell off my food plans or diets.  Eventually, I decided to start seeing a therapist. I knew I had an eating disorder and was ready for help. It was really hard at first because I felt like my therapist just couldn’t help me with the thing I most needed help with– I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to stop bingeing. I told her to just tell me what to do and fix me. She gave me lots of assignments, many of them were about eating 3 meals a day, whatever I wanted, but I had to eat mindfully. She sent me to a nutritionist who specialized in treating eating disorders, and she also recommended that I see a psychiatrist to help me get some meds that might help with my depression.  I spent a lot of money. A serious amount of money between all those specialists. But I was desperate. 

Talking to my therapist really felt like a relief. We talked through a lot of the pain, depression, and through a lot of my childhood.  I realized that a lot of my eating disorder wasn’t about the food and it wasn’t about me getting thin. It was about me feeling really badly about myself. My Dad left my Mom and I when I was 5 years old, and I always thought it was my fault. The more I began to understand how I felt completely flawed my whole life, the more I understand that it was a myth– a story that I told myself. And that through that myth that I had conceptualized in my 5 year old mind, I began to act the way I believed I was. I tried desperately to get love and attention from men, but ultimately, I felt so worthless, that I let them treat me like crap– letting them have sex with me then ignore me the next day. My mother said I had no self respect, and she was right. But she never taught me how to respect myself. She never quite let me think I was worthy of love and admiration. I wasn’t any less smart or less beautiful than Jenny, I just believed I was. She had a mother and a father at home. I had no Dad and a Mom who was angry and felt rejected and resentful. She came into therapy with me several times as we discussed her own feelings of being worthless after my Dad left her for a much younger woman.   As I began to understand my own sense of worth, I started to try and take better care of myself. I learned to sit with my feelings, I learned to HOLD myself with respect. That was huge. I didn’t have to be super witty, nor did I have to do everything for everybody to make them like me. I didn’t have to be anything. I just had to respect myself. And so as I did, my eating disorder began to have less of a hold on me. As I talked through all those things, I realized that the drive to be thin was really just a drive to be accepted. So I learned to accept myself. It has been really hard for me to accept all those lost years, it’s like my whole teen years and most of my 20s were stolen by my eating disorder. But in learning to accept, I’m just trying to respectfully mourn those lost years.

I’ve been 100% free from any eating disorder behaviors since September 18th, 2010. That was the day before my 28th birthday. I am not afraid of Ed any longer. I know that I have the tools to work through whatever life should hand me. And if I do relapse, I know that I can’t lose the recovery that I have. 

*Name has been changed.

If you have a recovery story that you would like to be published, please send it to bingeeatingtherapy (at)

Don’t do a lot. Do a little.

I have this client. This smart, beautiful, funny, compassionate, wonderful client who has been suffering with food issues for a very, very long time. Once every few months, she has a plan. She’s going to cut out sugar, she’s going to do yoga 3 times a week, she’s going to meditate daily, she’s going to go to the gym after work each day.  But in the next session, the one after she comes in and tells me these things, she admits that she’s not done anything different.

She’s not uncommon. Not even a little bit.  Do you ever do this? Do you decide that you’re going to do a total 180? That you’re going to stop eating sugar, that you’re going to exercise every day, that you’re going to keep your house spotless, that you’re never going to drink alcohol again, that you’ll never smoke another cigarette, that you’ll take your vitamins daily, that you’re going to take your eye makeup off every night and start a perfect skin care regimen, that you’re going to stop biting your nails, and you’ll never snap at your mother/father/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/children, that you’re going to read the Sunday Times cover to cover every week,  that you’re going to stop overspending, that you’re never ever going to binge again, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Fill in the blank.

It’s too much. You set yourself up for failure this way. Choose one small thing and do it for one month. Then, add something else. For instance, if you want to get into yoga, decide that you’re going to do one yoga class a week for 30 days. Then, after the 30 days, move onto 2 yoga classes a week. Then, after those 30 days are over, try for one sugar free day per week, then try for two sugar free days per week.  Decide to floss your teeth every other night for a month, then move to every night, then add in a skincare regimen every other night, then every night.  Just let yourself transform slowly. It’s easier and more sustainable.

Doing a little will set you up for success rather than failure. And you can become what you want to become. Slow is what makes things stick. When you do everything at once, chances are, things will return to the way they were.

What is one little thing that you can do for the next 30 days? I guarantee that doing one little thing will help you feel a lot different.

Friday Q & A – Everytime I smoke Pot, I binge eat- Help!

i binge eat every time I smoke potQuestion: Everytime I smoke pot, I binge eat. I really wish that I didn’t, is there something I can do to prevent this?


Your brain contains cannabinoid receptors, which are specialized proteins that react to particular stimuli to produce results such as pleasure, pain relief, and hunger. The THC in marijuana is the number one stimuli that acts on cannabinoid receptors. Your body produces endogenous cannabinoids, receptors inside your body which send a signal to your brain that it’s time to eat. Those endogenous cannabinoids are abundant in your hypothalmus, which is the part of your brain that regulates appetite.  So, when you smoke marijuana, you don’t just think you’re hungry, you are really, really hungry and you really want to eat. And, because your inhibitions are suppressed, using your tools to deal with binge eating is close to impossible.

So, that being said, you might want to limit or quit your marijuana use. As with binge eating, you might want to look at why you are choosing to smoke. Is it because you are trying not to deal with some very difficult feelings? Are you hiding from something? Is it recreational- done for fun? Is it social- something that you do to bond with friends? Is it something that you believe you need for a medical purpose?

So, the quick answer is, if you want to prevent the binge eating that comes with smoking pot, you should probably not introduce the binge eating trigger. Some triggers are hard to avoid, ie: talking to you Mom on the phone, passing by a certain bakery that’s right next to your apartment. Some are easy, ie: smoking marijuana, looking at your ex-boyfriend’s facebook page.  If you decide that you want to stop using marijuana, but are finding that it’s hard to avoid it, even if you want to, you might want to check out an MA meeting and get the support that you need from others who have gone through it.

Magically, I have several clients who suffered terribly with binge eating and found that as soon as they quit using weed, the bingeing just stopped. They later realized that it wasn’t the binge eating that was a problem, it was the marijuana. Best of luck to you.