I Can’t Stop Eating Carbs!

CARBOHYDRATES ARE NOT EVIL (1)“Help! I can’t Stop Eating Carbs!!!!!!!!!”

Because you shouldn’t.

“But carbohydrates make me fat!”

I’ve had several clients over the years come in believing this very thing, that eating carbohydrates would make them fat. So, what they would do was go on these all high-protein and high-fat diets, eating only eggs, bacon, butter, steak, water, vodka, and whatever else had very low or no carbohydrates in it for a few days, sometimes a week or two, then having a carb binge, only to beat up on themselves again and again, hating themselves for doing “the wrong thing.” Have you ever done this, or some variation on this?

Well, the truth of the matter is this, you can lose weight very quickly on an extremely low-carb diet. To say that’s not true would be a lie. However, it’s a bad idea. And it almost never works. And I know that because if it did, people would go on a very low-carb diet once, lose all the weight they wanted in a few weeks or months, and never look back.

Your body wants carbohydrates. It really does, and it runs more efficiently on carbohydrates and protein than on protein alone. Which is why starving yourself of carbohydrates will inevitably result in a carbohydrate binge (not to mention the strain it will put on your organs), and for most people, this isn’t usually a binge on garbanzo beans and yams, but on processed boxed foods (think Chips Ahoy, Twinkies, and Ben & Jerry’s).

Let’s look at why very low-carb diets result in quick weight loss. Your body relies on carbohydrates as quick energy, when you starve your body of carbohydrates, it’s going to have to go into your fat stores to burn for energy. Theoretically this sounds great. But, most people don’t get there. This is later on, after a few days when your kidneys have let go of all the water in your body. The initial dramatic weight-loss you experience is water weight, which is why if you eat like one potato chip, and knock your body out of ketosis (a state that very low-carb dieters strive for), and you will hold onto water again and feel as though you’ve gained all the weight back that you lost. This creates a really intense cat & mouse game between you and carbohydrates.

People tend to feel extremely grumpy, depressed and many experience some feeling of a cognitive decline when they are on very low carb diets long term, they have trouble with word recall, experience memory loss and battle with insomnia.  If they are unable to stay on their low carb diet (not unusual) they start bingeing and feel grumpy because they’re bingeing… this is because your brain runs on glucose and depriving your brain of glucose in the form of a low carb diet can make one feel foggy, depressed, lethargic, and all around distressed. Because your brain is running less efficiently and your brain is foggy, it makes you more vulnerable to a binge. And what happens? You binge on lots simple carbohydrates – which then makes you more depressed and more apt to binge more.

When you don’t supply your body with any carbohydrates, it needs to slow down to preserve energy.  This is why when people dramatically  restrict their carbohydrates, they find that they are unable to exercise very much at all,  they find that they are constipated due to lack of fiber, and they often become nauseated from ketosis.  Because glucose stabilizes serotonin levels,  some folks might find that they are depressed.   Because your body runs so inefficiently on a very low carb diet, you will probably find yourself rebounding at some point with a carbohydrate binge.  This sets up a cycle, again and again.

 

I had a client come in telling me, “I once lost 10 pounds in two weeks eating just steak and red wine, I know I can do it again…” and despite how much we worked on integrating healthy carbohydrates into her diet, her belief was that all carbs, in any amount were bad. So if she woke up in the morning and “accidentally” had a piece of toast with her eggs, she believed that her whole day was ruined and would continue throughout the day by eating ice cream, cake, cereal, pasta, whatever she could get her hands on, then use that as proof that carbohydrates were the problem. She would then hate herself. It wasn’t that one piece of toast that started the binge, despite the fact that she told herself that she couldn’t eat any carbohydrates because she was addicted.  It was the belief that she couldn’t eat any carbohydrates and the black and white thinking that triggered the binge. She got so angry at herself every time she ate anything with carbohydrates in it and she got so angry at herself for the binges. Each time she started her diet again, she believed that this time it would be different. This time she could stick to it. Her body didn’t want her to stick to it. And when she didn’t, she blamed herself and her lack of willpower.  Finally, after many, many years of this cycle, she agreed to try something different. She saw that she’d been doing this for so long and now weighed more than she ever had. She agreed that for just one month, just 30 days, she’d work in some balance.  “I’m still not eating pasta or bread!” she told me. “That’s fine,” I told her, “but what about some apples, some sweet potatoes, some onions and peppers, some beans…” She agreed and began bringing unprocessed carbohydrates into her regimen. She decided that for the month she would “eat anything that grew,” which was something that she’d read in Louis Hay’s You can Heal Your Life. Not forever, just for 30 days.

Our start date for her experiment was April 1st of last year and she agreed to go until May 1st without succumbing to the lure of a no-carb diet. Despite the fact that she was allowing herself to eat more, each day was a struggle because she really wanted to give in to her desire to reject carbs. As we discussed it over the month, she realized that a huge part of her wanting to control her carbs so intensely was also a desire to have some control in her life. When she gave that up, it opened up more space for us to discuss in therapy what was actually going on in her life that felt totally out of control, such as her career, her relationship, and some of her friendships. As carbohydrates stopped being the center of her focus, her real life, which was admittedly difficult, became something that she was actually able to focus on in therapy.  Each day in April she let herself experiment with different whole food carbohydrates, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, yams, apples, bananas, avocados, sushi with the rice, and she even ate pasta once or twice without bingeing on it, which shocked her.

The magic that happened in that month was the letting go. As she was able to work on what was really going on inside of her and allow herself to eat really healthy whole foods, she began to let go of bingeing.  Those ten pounds that had been haunting her for years didn’t magically fall off in a month, but about 2 or 3 pounds did. No, it wasn’t the ten pounds in two weeks that she was hoping for, but the promise of that was what kept piling the pounds on year after year after year.

As of right now, she’s not on a no-carb diet, and she’s not on a high carb diet. She is just trying to be nutritionally savvy. She eats whole foods, and exercises and has recently began to feel at peace with her body. She has certainly lost weight and come to a comfortable place for herself physically,  but that’s not what makes this important, what makes it important is that when she stopped obsessing, she was able to come home to herself.

That doesn’t mean that taking care of yourself by choosing not to eat certain refined carbohydrates is a bad thing, however it might be good to reframe your thinking not as a “low-carb” diet but as a “whole foods” way of eating. Allowing yourself healthy whole foods will do nothing but nourish your body. And if you wind up eating a piece of cake or some pasta once in a while, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed miserably, you haven’t knocked yourself out of ketosis and you don’t have to binge. This is just about being good to your body by choosing to bring in healthy whole foods rather than reject carbohydrates totally.

Most people find that they are able to fend off bingeing much more effectively when they reintegrate both carbohydrates and proteins into their daily meals.  So go ahead, eat that potato and let go of the guilt. Carbs are not the enemy, in fact they will make your brain happier, calmer and you will begin to find more peace when you are integrating whole protein, fat and carbohydrates all generously back in to your daily diet.

 

Top Ten Online Resources for Binge Eaters

All Bodies Are Beautiful From around the web, different wonderful resources to help you with eating and body image issues.

1.) Recovery Warriors – Wonderful Pro recovery site with podcasts, resources, and online directory of Eating Disorder professionals.

2.) ED Referral – Not all therapists know how to treat eating disorders, and not all know how to recognize binge eating disorder. If you are looking for someone who understands your needs, this is a great resource.

3.)National Eating Disorder Association– A non-profit group aimed at healing EDs. Lots of inspirational stories, as well as posted research and events.

4.)Binge Eating Disorder Association– An organization aimed at helping people heal from Binge Eating Disorder using a non-diet approach

5. )Pale Reflections– Online support Community

6.) National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders–  A non profit that provides free support groups as well as informational pamphlets and literature.

7.)Association of Professionals Treating Eating Disorders– This is primarily a Bay Area resource that provides low fee treatment for EDs.

8.)Health at Every Size– A group aimed at improving your self love and body acceptance as well as encouraging healthy  eating and exercising habits without dieting or idealizing a different body size or shape.

9.)The Body Positive– An organization aimed at love and positivity toward yourself and your body. It’s aim is to help you gain self love, happiness and good health without telling you that you need to diet in order to get those things.

10.)Beauty is Contagious– Not a resource, but a wonderful Tumblr with lots of images of beautiful bodies in every size and shape.

Bonus 11.)Recover- Shameless Plug! Blog with lots of different article and posts geared at helping you find ways to heal from binge eating and body image issues.

Valentine’s Day Binge

VALENTINES DAY...Because life just isn't complicated enough, is it?

VALENTINES DAY…Because life just isn’t complicated enough, is it?

 

Chocolate binge on Valentine’s Day? You’re not the only one. This day can be challenging for a lot of people, and not just the relationship aspect, but the copious amounts of chocolate candy everywhere!!!!!!!!

In the spirit of loving yourself, take a breath, put the chocolate down, step away from the binge food and forgive yourself. Brush your teeth, take a nice hot bath or shower, and ritually “wash the binge away.”

And, I apologize for the brevity here, but caring for a 3 month old gives me a lack of time (and hands!) to write with, so I bring you– last year’s recycled post.  Recycling is good!

For some it’s a fun excuse to paint your nails red, to buy flowers for your loved ones, to bake cupcakes, and eat chocolate bonbons. But I suspect that for each person who loves Valentine’s Day, there’s a person who hates it. It can just be a really depressing day. So, I propose for those who are on the side of hating Valentine’s Day, to make it National Self Love Day.Ask yourself, “what’s the next loving thing I can do for myself?”  several times on February 14th. Maybe the next loving thing that you can do for yourself will be taking a break from the office and stretching, or putting hand lotion on your hands, or calling your mother/father/best friend/grandma/sponsor, or drinking water. What do you need from yourself to feel love and respect? And if it’s hard for you to feel self love, ask yourself this, “what would I do if I loved myself?”

If there’s no one else in your life right now, and that’s painful for you, rather than allowing February 14th to illuminate that for you– Empower yourself by putting Valentine’s Day in it’s place. Reclaim it as a holiday about couples to holiday about love, and self love is at the root of all love. Embrace everything about you that makes you great!   Let yourself be in love with you for a day. Give yourself flowers!  Cook yourself an amazing dinner, focus on what makes you great and figure out what kinds of self loving things you can do for you.

Friday Q & A- Will My Baby Mind if I Eat Junkfood While I’m Pregnant?

 

BINGE eating while pregnantThis question comes from a reader in Upstate New York.

Question:

I am pregnant and am wondering about the way I am eating . . almost every day I have a pint of frozen yogurt.  It’s a fun treat and I figure it gives me a lot of calcium for the day.  About once a week, I don’t “try” to eat so well . . like yesterday I had potatoes with tons ketchup for breakfast, a big cheese sub with a lot of mayo and a pint of frozen yogurt for lunch, and then for dinner breaded chicken fingers with tons of ketchup and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich . . so then I wake up this morning with a sore stomach.  It’s sore.  I’m almost 13 weeks pregnant and have not begun showing, but last night before bed I was extremely bloated.  Is this okay to do for the baby about once a week?  Usually I make sure I have fruit and vegetables every day . . does the baby “mind” that I ate more than usual and my belly is sore?

Thanks, I’m just very concerned about it . . N.

Answer:

Thanks for the question.  Your baby most probably doesn’t mind on those days that you are overeating. He or she will get exactly what they need from your body for the most part no matter what you put into it.

That being said, it can be risky to eat lots of processed foods while you’re pregnant as Gestational Diabetes is a very real possibility for pregnant women.  Avoiding cravings is challenging during pregnancy, especially those insistent for carbohydrate laden foods. Your body is creating life, and that’s a tough job, it’s basically carbo loading for energy to continue making little kidneys, skin, eyes, a heart, a brain, little fingers and toes, all that good stuff. When you think about the insane job your body is doing, it’s a wonder that you’d want to put anything other than wholly clean, organic foods into your body for the whole 9 months. But for most women, that’s just impossible.  Rather than taking a whole day to eat what you want once per week, you might want to give yourself permission each day to eat a little something that is more of a craving food. So for instance, if you’re craving breaded chicken, you might want to let yourself have a bit of that for dinner along with grilled chicken and a salad or greens and vegetables. Remember to continue getting your fruits and vegetables in each day. The thing about pregnancy is that you can really feel the way you eat pretty instantly. Eating poorly one day will result in pretty bad constipation or other GI issues the next day. Your body is extremely delicate when you are pregnant. It needs lots of care as it’s basically neglecting you and spending all its time creating life.  You will also find that you feel better after your baby comes if you keep yourself super healthy while you’re pregnant. If your doctor approves you for exercise, swimming and prenatal yoga are excellent choices for keeping in shape while you’re pregnant. Birth and labor takes a lot out of you, as does caring for a brand new little one, so coming at it from a  place of strength and health is a great way to feel good after the baby comes.

Thank you so much for writing in. I hope that this answer is 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.

 

Friday Q&A- I can’t stop calorie counting

how do i stop binge eating?Question:
I was wondering if you could give me any advice with my problem. I lost 6 stone 4 years ago calorie counting by writing it down every day.When i got to my target I tried to stop the counting,  but found instead of writing it down it stayed in my head. Every day I worry about my weight and what I’m eating, I log calories of meals in my head but don’t know how many I actually have each day.I think I’m trying to keep track but in a haphazard way and it’s stressing me out.I try so hard not to count but cant seem to manage it. If I eat anything extra or different I try somehow to make it add into another meal I might have that day, so i don’t feel i have overeaten.
I have NOT BINGED OR PURGED or been ANOREXIC.Only had an issue counting
 calories.
I have seen a therapist but they put me on 3 meals and 4 snacks a day regime which hasn’t helped. ( Is this more suited for binge eaters rather than obsessive calorie counting)
I have tried to stop weighing, is that a good idea? I have gone a month without weighing, is the goal to never weigh?
Any advice would be so helpful as I’m rock bottom with this problem.My life has come to a stop and I have a struggle to get out and do normal things. Its as if i become paralyzed when thoughts about counting come into my head, I muddled with what amounts  I should be having. I don’t want to go back to writing them down again as it was not working doing that at the end.
Debra
Answer:
Hi Debra,
Thanks so much for your question. This is a very good example of an eating issue that’s not a straight up  eating disorder, but nonetheless as you stated, it’s incredibly distressing and beginning to take over your life.
Your instincts are right. I agree with you that choosing to quit weighing is a great idea. In fact, trying to stop counting your calories and refrain from weighing and measuring your food is probably best. As you said, you’ve become obsessed with weighing, measuring and counting and if you don’t “do it right” you feel stressed out and distressed.  A way that you can continue to keep some level of control without counting calories or pounds is to begin quantifying your hunger and satiety using a scale.
Before you begin to eat, rate your hunger on a scale from from 0-10.  0 is so hungry you’re practically passing out, 10 is so full you’re vomiting. Eat S L O W L Y— and stop half-way through and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you need? Instead of having a goal for a certainly calorie count, see if you can change your goal to giving your body what it needs. Your body does not want to be uncomfortably full, nor does it want to be empty, it wants to be satisfied. So, rather than looking outside your body to numbers, you might want to look inside your body for cues for what you need. When you eat to your hunger and stop when you’re satisfied (not still hungry but not very full), your body will come a place that is comfortable to you.
If you use a notebook before each meal to record your hunger before the meal, in the middle of the meal and at the end of the meal, you might find that you still feel that sense of control that you had when you were counting calories. Then, as you find that you’re able to stop actually recording the numbers, you will naturally be eating when you are hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied. The numbers won’t be stuck in your head because you’ll be focused on yourself rather than on something outside yourself.
I hope that this is 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.

Reduced Posting Due to Maternity Leave

As you might have noted, I’ve not been posting as often as usual lately. I welcomed a new member of the family last month, one who is very demanding of my time. I will continue to post, just not as often. Happy Holidays to all!

Eating Disorder Therapy

therapy for eating disorderWhat exactly happens when you go to therapy to heal from an eating disorder? What is therapy anyway?

This is the first of a series about different levels of treatment.

Unfortunately, most people who suffer from eating disorders don’t get treatment, either because they don’t have the money, the time or they feel that they should be able to heal from eating disorders all on their own, or that their particular issue isn’t severe enough to warrant treatment. What is important to remember is that it’s always okay to get help. Your eating disorder thrives in isolation and reaching out and getting help is what will heal it. Trying to work through it alone often perpetuates the issue. It doesn’t have to get to the point of totally unmanageable before you ask for support. You don’t have to hit bottom. You don’t have to be vomiting all day long, or starving yourself down to nothing or eating constantly all day to get help. It’s really common for someone to come in and feel embarrassed that they’re asking for help because they feel that they’re “not sick enough” or even “not skinny enough” to qualify for an eating disorder. If food feels hard for you, if you find that you’re simply overthinking eating, if you’re uncomfortable in your body, or you just want someone to talk to in order to suss out your situation  and figure out if you even need help and what kind of help you need, it’s okay to call someone. Going to therapy or to treatment doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you “need help.” Therapy is a place for you to take care of yourself. It gives you time and space to think about your needs and to act on them. It’s a way to take care of yourself.

 

You can choose to see a Psychologist (Psydoc), a Licensed Social Worker, (LCSW), a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, (MFT) or a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LPC) or a Psychiatrist (MD).  Psychiatrists are the only ones who can prescribe medication, but many psychiatrists don’t do counseling. If you need meds, your therapist will usually consult with your psychiatrist, so that you are getting med management one place and therapy elsewhere.

Before a therapist becomes licensed, she or he must see patients a certain amount of hours (usually 3000) and then take some exams in order to be licensed in their state. This process can take anywhere from 3-6 years after finishing from graduate schools. Before getting licensed, these interns are supervised by licensed professionals while seeing clients. If you would like to see an intern, they usually charge much less than those who are licensed.

When you go in for eating disorder treatment with a therapist, they will often want to treat you along with a nutritionist and sometimes a psychiatrist.

So what happens in therapy? That’s difficult to say. First off, a therapist will not fix you. Therapy isn’t a magic cure, but it’s an open space that gives you the opportunity to think about your situation and strategize ways to improve it. There are a million different ways that therapists work to heal eating disorders. My own personal brand of therapy is eclectic integrative, which means I draw from many different modalities of psychotherapy to create  my own brand. I most often utilize a mixture of psychodynamic therapy  – which is more of the classic Freudian approach- where we discuss your family dynamics and past events in your life and how they have contributed to your current ways of existing in the world. This is incredibly helpful because it makes the unconscious conscious. It allows you to understand why you are behaving in ways that you’re behaving rather than purely reacting as you always have. It gives you some perspective and the ability to step outside of yourself so that you can make better choices about your behaviors. This goes well with cognitive behavioral therapy– which then takes your unconscious that you have now made conscious and enables you to make a choice by giving you options of different ways to think about your situation and react toward your situation. I also utilize somatic therapy and mindfulness which both make you more aware of the feelings that you are holding in your body so that you can work with the actual feelings that you are having rather than hiding from them by acting out with food. I also utilize hypnotherapy which is another way of increasing mindfulness and making you aware of your behaviors and the choices you have.

When you start with a therapist you will begin by education your therapist about your specific eating issues, how long you’ve been suffering, what your behaviors are and the severity of them. They might take your weight and find out how many times a day, week, or month you’re bingeing or bingeing and purging. Understanding the severity of your eating disorder is key to understanding what kind of treatment you will need. You might need weekly therapy sessions as well as sessions with a nutritionist and/or group therapy and a psychiatrist, or weekly sessions might be enough. It’s also possible that  you might need a higher level of care, such as an IOP, a PHP, residential treatment or hospitalization. But your therapist can help you to assess that. Sometimes, if you don’t seem to be on track with your healing, you might need a higher level of care as therapy goes on.  With eating disorder treatment, the first course of action is working to reduce the behaviors, as those decrease, you then begin to work on the feelings or the issues that trigger the behaviors. Often, as the symptoms decrease, challenging feelings increase.  I personally believe that it’s very helpful to stay in therapy after the symptoms (eating disorder behaviors) end in order to work deeply on the underlaying issues. This helps to prevent relapse and also helps you to continue moving forward in your life and achieve the things that you couldn’t before because your eating disorder was taking over.

To find a therapist who treats eating disorders, you can look on ED referral, Something Fishy, or  NEDA.

You can also search on Good Therapy or Psychology Today. Look for someone who specializes in treating eating disorders.

It is possible to find low-fee therapy. You might want to call a University near you that probably has students and interns in counseling centers. You might call a local hospital or mental health agency. If that fails, call a local therapist who probably knows where to refer you go.

Next up: IOP (intensive outpatient treatment)

I binged on thanksgiving now what?

Take a breath. Relax. Don’t let it turn into a 4 day binge. Don’t try to compensate today by not eating. Take a nice, long, relaxing walk, drink lots of water and tea today. Eat fruit and salads and make sure that you get all your meals in. Don’t look back. It’s okay! Check out How to Recover from a Binge.

Thanksgiving Redux.

In the spirit of frugality, I’m recycling last year’s Thanksgiving post. Happy Thanksgiving to my Amazing Readers. Prayers and Peace for a wonderful holiday to you all. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Thanksgiving can be a nightmare for anyone dealing with binge eating, bulimia or other compulsive eating issues.  For many people, being around the stress of family coupled with giant amounts of food can be a recipe for acting out excessively with food.  Be prepared before you go to Thanksgiving Dinner.

1.)Have an intention around food and drinking. Think about what you are going to choose to eat and drink and how much. Making this intention will help you to empower yourself around food and alcohol rather than  letting the food take over.  Share this intention with a family member or supportive friend or a therapist.

2.)If you don’t have anyone supportive at the Thanksgiving meal, see if you can bring a a support resource with you, a friend who might be going through recovery with you or someone you feel safe with. If you cannot do that, have a support person who you can talk to on the phone intermittently throughout the meal.

3.)Make sure that you eat a good solid breakfast before you go to Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t show up hungry. If you do, your hunger might take over and squelch your intention.

4.)Just because there are several new and interesting foods there, you don’t have to eat everything. Make sure that you let yourself have a solid dinner, with protein, vegetables and a starch if you wish. If you just snack or graze on a bunch of different foods, you will inevitably wind up feeling unsatisfied, as though you’ve not really had a meal. This could lead to feeling too full and trigger a binge.

5.)Talk to people in rooms away from food. You don’t have to sit on a couch in front of a giant platter of cheese and crackers and nuts and hors d’œuvres talking to your aunt. Try to concentrate on conversations with  people.

6.)Eat slowly and mindfully. It’s not a race to the end. You can enjoy good food and good conversation.

7.)Don’t compulsively overexercise in anticipation of “eating extra calories.”  It will leave you very tired and hungry, again, unable to empower yourself to hold your intention.

8.)Take walks or time outs. Let yourself leave the situation and take mini breaks. Let yourself get away from the stress of the food and the stress of family that sometimes exists.  If it’s too cold or not realistic for you to leave, take your cell phone into another room and say you need to make an important call and talk to your support person.

9.)Bring your journal with you so that you can sit and relax and process your feelings during the meal rather than stuff your feelings.

10.)Bring your ipod with some mediation music or relaxing music that puts you in a calm mood.

11.)Make a gratitude list! Think about what you are grateful for during the holiday.

12.)If there are children there, spend time playing with them. If there are elders there, spend time talking to and getting to know them. Both things that will be enriching and get your mind off of food.

13.)Mediate. Sit quietly in the bathroom for five minutes and take deep slow breaths into your belly. Inhale slowly  to the count of five and exhale slowly to the count of five. This will calm your body and allow you to let go of any stress or anxiety that your body is holding on to.

14.)Remember that if it seems like it might be too hard this year,  you don’t have to go. It’s true, you might let some people down. But you can always explain to them that it’s important for you to take care of yourself in this way this year. If you don’t think that they’d be amenable to this, or you think that they will accuse you of being self centered or self absorbed, don’t offer any explanation that might leave you vulnerable to being shamed or insulted.

For information on how to help a loved one with an eating disorder, please read this article.

I would love to know what kind of intentions people are setting to make their Thanksgiving safe and fun this year. Please don’t hesitate to post your Thanksgiving intentions in the comments. If you have any additional ideas on how to make the holiday safe, please post those as well!

HAPPY HOLIDAY!

Friday Q&A- I’m Pregnant and I can’t Stop Binge Eating

pregnant and binge eatingQuestion: I used to have a huge problem with binge eating, restricting, and overexercising, but I’ve been relatively “clean” for the past 7 years. I’ve been exercising 1/2 hour 3-4 times a week, eating three meals a day, everyday, and my incidences of overeating or undereating are relatively rare. I got to a weight and size that I’m very comfortable with and I’ve felt pretty good food and weight- wise for several years. But then I got pregnant. And suddenly I’m binge eating again. And sometimes restricting, and I’m on exercise restriction as per my doctor, so I’m not even allowed to go swimming, like they say pregnant woman should. I have been eating extremely healthy for years, but all of a sudden, I find myself diving into cookies, cake, soda, pizza, bread, etc. I wish I could stop and just eat normally again. I’m going nuts! Can you help me?- Elissa (New Jersey)

Answer: Hi Elissa,

First off, take a breath. You’re in the realm of normal here. Many women who are in recovery for binge eating or other eating disorders might find that they relapse into bingeing behaviors when pregnant. It’s not uncommon at all. Pregnant woman are hungrier than non-pregnant women. And that hunger can be overwhelming. Especially if you’ve been in remission from an eating disorder for a long time, the feeling of not having any control over your own body can be daunting. You might find that you are eating more than you wanted to and then those old ED feelings of guilt and shame come up which cause you to binge eat.

1.)Never, ever, ever restrict or diet when you are pregnant. This is not the time. It’s okay to use your tools to avoid binge eating, but don’t skip meals, don’t count calories, this is the time to become more mindful of what your body says you need. Let your cravings tell you what to eat in a thoughtful way. Think of your body as having infinite wisdom and use your mind to hone that wisdom. For instance, if you are craving potato chips, your body might be needing some extra salt. Find something healthier that might satisfy that craving, like celery or a hard boiled egg or a piece of cheese or some olives.

2.)Eat when you are hungry, but really, really try to slow down your eating. You will find that as you become more pregnant, it’s more uncomfortable to have food in your belly. So eating fast and furiously will hit you 20 minutes after your finish your meal and you will feel sick. You might want to spread your eating out to 6 or 8 smaller meals a day instead of 3 big ones.

3.)Many women lose weight in their first trimester due to morning sickness. In the second trimester, which is an incredibly growth time for the fetus, you might find yourself being very, very hungry. Don’t try to fight it– let yourself eat and gain the weight that you need to for your baby.

4.)Be careful about what you are eating. Don’t worry about portion sizes when you are pregnant, but do be vigilant about the kinds of foods that you are ingesting. Pregnant women tend to crave lots of carbohydrates. Let yourself have carbs. But follow your cravings but in a thoughtful way. If you are craving cake and cookies and soda, try to eat lots of fruit. Your body might be needing the quick energy of glucose. But because gestational diabetes has become so prevalent, try to reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods.

5.)Do Not Go on a Low Carb Diet when pregnant.  A lot of women find that they have serious meat aversions and just crave lots of fruits and vegetables in pregnancy. Pay attention to your cravings and take them seriously. They exist for an evolutionary reason.  In fact,  Loren Coradain— who created the Paleo diet, a low-carbohydrate diet plan explains why you should not eat low-carb while pregnant : “You probably should increase your fat and carbohydrate consumption, and limit protein to about 20-25% of energy, as higher protein intakes than this may prove to be deleterious to mother and fetus for a variety of physiological reasons. In my next book, I have devoted a chapter to maternal nutrition before, during and after pregnancy and why protein must be limited during pregnancy.

My colleague John Speth (an anthropologist) at the University of Michigan wrote a paper on protein aversion in hunter-gatherer women during pregnancy. Listed below is the abstract: (note the 25% protein energy ceiling!!!)

‘During seasonal or inter-annual periods of food shortage and restricted total calorie intake, ethnographically and ethnohistorically documented human foragers, when possible, under-utilize foods that are high in protein, such as lean meat, in favour of foods with higher lipid or carbohydrate content. Nutritional studies suggest that one reason for this behaviour stems from the fact that pregnant women, particularly at times when their total calorie intake is marginal, may be constrained in the amount of energy they can safely derive from protein sources to levels below about 25% of total calories. Protein intakes above this threshold may affect pregnancy outcome through decreased mass at birth and increased perinatal morbidity and mortality. This paper briefly outlines the evidence for the existence of an upper safe limit to total protein intake in pregnancy, and then discusses several facets of the issue that remain poorly understood. The paper ends by raising two basic questions directed especially toward specialists in primate and human nutrition: is this protein threshold real and demographically significant in modern human foraging populations? If so, does an analogous threshold affect pregnant female chimpanzees? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, we can then begin to explore systematically the consequences such a threshold might have for the diet and behaviour of early hominids.’2

The physiological basis for this aversion stems from a reduced rate of urea synthesis during pregnancy that is evident in early gestation1 as well as increases in the stress hormone cortisol3. Hence, pregnant women should include more carbohydrate and fat (i.e. fattier meats) in their diets and limit dietary protein to no more than 20-25% of their total caloric intake.”

6.)Let yourself indulge in “forbidden foods” sometimes, but keep your portions controlled. Don’t rely on those things for sustenance. Use healthy foods to nurture you and your growing fetus. For instance, if you are craving cookies, first have an apple or orange, and a piece of cheese, then, if you are still craving the cookie, rather than a giant bag of cookies, have one serving which might be more like 2 cookies. Put the rest of the bag in the freezer.
7.)If you are on exercise restriction, let yourself be on exercise restriction. Ask your doctor what that means. Can you take walks? If so, walking for 20-30 minutes each day can be wonderful. If not, please take it seriously and don’t exercise.
8.)It feels like forever, but remember that pregnancy is a very temporary state (unless you’re a Duggar). It’s also a challenging state where your body doesn’t feel like your own. Just take each day as it comes and try to make the best choices that you can. Sometimes you will and some days you won’t. Don’t beat yourself up. Pregnancy and food choices are hard for everyone, because your body is no longer your own, and your choices won’t feel like your own either.  Be gentle with yourself.  You are not the only one in this position, figuring out the “right” way to eat when you are pregnant is tough. Remember that there is no “right” way despite what a million websites will tell you. You might need to gain more or less weight than the weight charts indicate. Continue to utilize mindful eating and try to be gentle with yourself. Try not to overeat and don’t undereat. Just do the best that you can and know that each new hour is an opportunity for you to do the right thing.
I hope that this is helpful for you. Please do feel free to email again or send a comment if you have further thoughts or questions on this.
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.