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Intermittent Fasting and Binge Eating

Intermittent Fasting - A cure for binge eating disorder or just new fangled dumbness?

Intermittent Fasting: 

The newest  old thing with a fancy name. 

I have been getting lots of emails recently asking me if Intermittent Fasting is helpful for people with Binge Eating Issues. I have lots of thoughts, but I want to start by telling you about my early experiences with IF. 

The very first time I learned about intermittent fasting was in 1985. I was in 5th grade and my best friend’s upstairs neighbor, who was in 6th grade had lost 13 pounds through intermittent fasting. I mean, we were children and it was 1985 so it wasn’t really intermittent fasting, it was that Shoshana drank a cup of tea for breakfast,  a diet coke for lunch and then whatever her parents gave her for dinner.  I thought that sounded CRAZY! But then in 7th grade, when my hips and breasts started coming in and my period started, I thought that I would try it. Of course it wasn’t called intermittent fasting back then. It was called  “the diet that we all went on so that our parents wouldn’t know that we were dieting.”

Puberty, incidentally is a high risk time for girls to begin eating disorders. That’s because in order to start menstruating, girls’ bodies begin to put on body fat and the changes that take place can seem sudden and out of control. I remember for sure that when I began maturing, my mother made many comments about how my body was changing and that I’d better watch out because once I got my period, weight would be impossible to lose. Wow! Crazy messaging!  But I believed it and wanted to do whatever I could to stop that cycle. So I went on Shoshana’s special diet of tea for breakfast, diet coke for lunch and dinner was whatever my mother gave me. 

Nowadays, you can’t open your computer or look at your phone without seeing something about intermittent fasting. An eating disorder for adolescent girls turned into a way of life for tech bros. People have written books about it, people sell programs, apps, meal plans… it’s just the next diet plan that people are looking to cash in on. I mean, Shoshana Kaufman could have written a book back in 1985, it would be called “How To Diet Without Your Parents Finding Out.”

Intermittent Fasting: Or How to Diet Without Your Parents Finding Out By Shoshana Kaufman – Grade 6. P.S.24, Bronx, NY 1985

Chapter One – Don’t Eat Breakfast

Chapter Two– Don’t Eat Lunch

Chapter Three- Eat Whatever Your Parents make you for dinner

Often I will write about certain diets and I’ll be attacked by people for having a differing opinion about them. I wrote a post about low carb diets some years ago and got attacked by the low carb mafia. Really nasty, nasty emails and comments. Here’s the thing… this is a blog for people who are trying to recover from an eating disorder. And for people who have eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors, these kinds of rulesy eating plans are always contraindicated.  However, there are so many promises that intermittent fasting makes that people are being led to believe that it’s a panacea for all that ails them. 

Intermittent fasting has lots of promises behind it:

Promise #1. You will become “clear-headed” and able to concentrate better if you’re not worried about eating.

My thoughts: Are you able to concentrate when you’re hungry? I’m not. In fact all I can think about is food. I remember being in school as a kid during my restriction days and just zoning out while I fantasized about food. I did this in college too and early on in my adult life when I was still in my eating disorder. In fact, the more I restricted, the less engaged in life I was because I was just focused on not eating and fantasizing about food and what I would eat when I finally let myself eat! 

Are there people who are clear-headed? I’m not sure, but what I do know for sure is that my anorexic patients do come to a place of feeling almost ethereal when they’re not eating. Why? It’s likely because their brain and their organs are beginning to shut down. Their body is using less energy and trying to conserve what it has to use. 

Promise #2. It gives you lots of energy. 

My thoughts: Well, as someone who was an athlete in high school and continues to be athletic now, I can tell you for sure that not eating NEVER gave me more energy. On the days that I would do Shoshana’s diet, I was super sluggish in swim practice. On the days that I did eat breakfast, I would fly through the water. As I got older and started running, I had the same experience. A banana goes a long way before a morning run. A run on an empty stomach in the morning is nothing but a way to run out of gas immediately. Again, I have no idea why people would suggest that their energy is increased. My suspicion is that if you are someone who wakes up and eats a very large and difficult to digest breakfast that creates more sluggishness in your day-to-day, then this would be an improvement. Yet that can also be solved with mindful eating, figuring out what gives your body energy and vitality through your own self-experimentation and trial and error. For instance, I’ve figured out that breakfast cereal will leave me feeling sluggish and hungry, but eggs and cheese and fruit carries me straight through my morning and holds me until lunch. That’s something I had to figure out on my own, not something that someone else could tell me. Your body, your needs. It’s okay to experiment until YOU find what works for YOUR body. No one else can tell you that. 

Promise #3. You will lose weight effortlessly

My thoughts: Now here’s when we come to the Binge Eating Disorder issue. When I did Shoshana’s diet, I was very, very, very likely to binge at night. And honestly, I did that crazy diet for many years. I did it from the age of 12 until I was in my early 20’s. Not every day of course, but I did it often and I binged pretty much every day. It was awful.  And did I lose weight? Actually, no I gained a good amount of weight because of the bingeing. 

If you have an eating disorder, intermittent fasting is likely not the right path for you. Here are the reasons: 

People with eating disorders tend to have black and white thinking. Thus, if you are planning to restrict your food for a set amount of time and then you “mess up,” it’s likely that it will trigger some extreme behaviors, like either a binge or compensatory exercise or a purge or a long period of restriction. 

People with eating disorders teeter between extremes so a full day of not eating could often lead to an evening of binge eating. 

People with eating disorders will often go to extremes to “get it right” even if their body tells them that they need to eat, so they might either completely ignore the cues of their bodies or they might engage in dangerous behaviors (like drugs or excessive coffee drinking) to ensure that they stick to their goals. 

Read How Intermittent Fasting Triggered my Binge Eating Disorder

Do I think that there is anything valuable about Intermittent Fasting? 

If you have a propensity toward eating disorders, I’m going to say that no, intermittent fasting is nothing more than the same diet you went on in elementary school that started this whole disordered eating thing to begin with. You could have written the book and sold the items. Intermittent fasting teaches you how to ignore your body’s cues for hunger. And those of us with disordered eating have known how to do that for years. And we know what happens when we ignore our bodies’ cues for hunger – when we are tired, our body fights back and we binge.  Perhaps for people who eat mindlessly all the time, a day or two of intermittent fasting might help them to hear their bodies’ cues for hunger and learn what that feels like, but beyond that, I don’t believe that this is the best new thing. I think that people have found a way to package an eating disorder into a new fangled diet with a fancy name.

What intermittent fasting does is the same thing that all diets do, it takes away choice – and in that taking away of choice, people feel safer around food. It creates a structure where they can control their food intake. As Soren Kierkegaard said,  “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom…” and it’s true. People become so overwhelmed with choice around food and diets, that this feels like an easy way to take away the choice and limit their food intake. 

As always, my opinion remains – listen to your body, give it what it needs when it needs it.  You CAN trust your body to guide you toward what it needs to be healthy. Your body knows. I can promise you that. You might not always get it right, but the closer you listen, the better you will get to know your body. Your body has so much wisdom. Unlike 1000 or even 100 years ago, food is readily available to you and so you have the opportunity to give it yummy, nourishing food when it needs it. 

Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting and binge eating
Intermittent Fasting and binge eating
Intermittent Fasting and binge eating

Intermittent Fasting and binge eating

intermittent fasting and binge eating

 

How to Stop Night Eating

How to Stop Night Eating

 

How to Stop Night Eating

How to Stop Night Eating

Do you ever feel like you can’t go to sleep unless you eat a ton of food even if you’ve had a balance dinner? Do you lie awake thinking about food, unable to relax until your belly is so full that you pass out into a food coma?  Do you find yourself up late at night grazing through cupboards, or even waking up in the middle of the night and finding that you can’t go back to sleep without eating something? If so, you’re not alone.

Night Eating Syndrome (NES) affects millions of people in this country. Although it can be similar to binge eating- it can also differ in that there is not always a gigantic binge, but several episodes of grazing throughout the night. NES often corresponds with anxiety and insomnia. There are theories that for people with NES,  serotonin levels decrease in the evening causing snacking on heavily carbohydrate laden foods to help the body relax and get ready for bed.

Though it’s challenging, the following steps can help train your brain on how to stop night eating:

1. The first thing I ask people when I know that they are struggling with night eating is “are you getting enough food throughout the day?” and “Are you struggling with trying to be good during the day only to “ruin” all your “good work” from the day with an evening binge? If so, your daytime strategies of morally pure eating might be contributing to your binges. When you loosen the reins during the day and allow yourself to eat what your body wants and needs, you are less likely to binge at night when the guards are tired and asleep at the gate.

                       Make sure that you are getting at least three, hearty and healthy meals each day with snacks                          when you need them.  

                      Definitely make sure to eat breakfast.  This can help to establish healthy daytime eating                                 patterns to ensure that blood sugar and serotonin levels remain steady throughout the day.

Generally, many people with NES are afraid to eat normally during the day since they get most of their calories at night. The irony is however, that if you eat during the day, you might find that you need less food in the evenings. Just ensuring that you are getting appropriate and proper nutrition during the day can help you stop night eating. 

2.Consider a high fat, high protein snack such as full-fat Greek yogurt or a glass of whole milk in the evening to quell sugar cravings and increase tryptophan levels.  My favorite it Coconut Cream Chocolate Pudding. This has a good mixture of fat and carbohydrates that will stave off sugar cravings and lull you into a nice sleep. To make this put coconut cream into a blender with 3-4 medjool dates and a tablespoon of sugar free cocoa. Blend it all together for 2-3 minutes. You’ll have a nourishing desert that will also prevent binges. 

3. Keep a journal next to your bed and each night, before you go to sleep, write in it.  Write about your day, your fears, anxiety, anger, sadness, joy, excitement, whatever, just write and move your emotions through you.

4. Relax in a hot bath with Epsom salts for about 20 minutes prior to bed. Hot water is good medicine and the epsom salts will relax your muscles to ensure restful sleep. 

5. If you wake up in the middle of the night, before you get out of bed, grab for your journal and write in it. You might write your dreams, your thoughts, your anxiety… whatever it is, just get it out and then lay back down. 

6. When you go to sleep at night, turn off all the lights and television. Sleep with a sleeping mask and earplugs in order to ensure deep sleep.

7. Put a piece of  duct tape across your bedroom door so that you don’t unconsciously get up and walk to the kitchen. The tape will snap you out of your trance so that you can bring some consciousness to the choice to get up and go eat.

8. Put a large BREATHE sign on or in your refrigerator so that you can remember to stop, take a breath and think about what you’re doing, think about whether you are hungry or just doing this out of habit. 

9. If it makes you feel safer, consider a lock or timer on your refrigerator or cupboards. This is not to restrict you, it’s to help you feel safe- if you know that you don’t have access to food, you might just stay in bed and get the sleep you need rather than spending time rummaging through the refrigerator or cupboards for food.  If it feels restrictive or punishing, don’t do it. This is not to punish you, this is to help you find safety in your house. 

11. Talk to your doctor, acupuncturist or Naturopath about taking a supplement such as Magnesium Gluconate, LOW DOSE melatonin, tryptophan5-HTP, Relora or GABA at night to increase calm, decrease night eating behaviors and help with sleep.

12. Try this guided meditation for insomnia. 

Learning to stop night eating is challenging because it is so unconscious, but helping your body and mind relax while increasing consciousness  of the behavior can help quell it.

Friday Q&A – I Can’t Stop Eating at Night


Q & A Friday

Today’s question is a pretty common one: 

Question:

Dear Leora,

My problem is that I do awesome all day, I don’t binge at all and I eat three solid meals and I exercise moderately, I’m not restricting, I’m not dieting… none of that.  Night times suck though. I’ve finished eating, I’m not hungry at all, I sit down and put on Netflix and before I know it, I’m at the refrigerator. First it’s a piece of cake or some ice cream or a bowl of cereal, and then I’m up again. I’m up and down about ten times and I can’t stop myself. Before I know it, it’s after 10,  I’m totally full, I’m nauseous and I go to sleep depressed. What am I going to do? Can you help me?

-Karen from New Orleans

Answer

Hi Karen,

You are not alone.  This evening eating is definitely a tough one for many people who have binge eating issues. There are a few different ways to go about it. First off, we have to consider what is going on at night.

1. There are some theories that for some people, serotonin dips at night and so they binge eat to help them raise their serotonin levels. Eating high carbohydrate foods increases serotonin levels because it makes tryptophan more readily available which is an amino acid which is a pre-cursor to serotonin. Other ways to naturally increase serotonin levels are to eat tryptophan rich foods– which would be a glass of (full fat) milk, pumpkin seeds, mozzarella cheese or turkey. Here is a list of high tryptophan foods.

Another possibility is to talk to your health care provider about taking a supplement such as 5-HTP or Tryptophan which are both amino acids that are precursors to serotonin. These can help you relax in the evening when you have that anxious need to binge. Definitely check with your doctor before taking these, especially if you are already on an anti-depressant or other medication.

2. Your pattern seems habitual also. In the evenings you have a routine. You have become habituated to bingeing at night to help you get to sleep. So in some sense, you have to let yourself be uncomfortable for a while as you break that habit. Ways to break habits including interrupting your routine. And for that, you need to make a plan and put effort into it. For instance, if you want to start a new habit of going to the gym every morning, it’s much easier to do that if you put your gym clothes out at night and pack your gym bag before you go to sleep. Then in the morning, it’s much easier to follow the breadcrumbs of getting up and going.  So, think about other ways to break up your routine after diner. For instance, instead of sitting on the couch watching Netflix, perhaps you can get into a bath with epsom salts (this is my very favorite thing to do at night) or lay down in your room and read a book. Make sure that’s all set up for you– that’s how you can follow the breadcrumbs– put the epsom salts in the bathroom, put the book on your bed. Or, you can make plans ahead of time to meet someone after dinner or have a phone/Skype date planned. You definitely want to something that breaks up the routine of the things that you had previously been doing.  You also want to make sure that you have the plan in place ahead of time, otherwise you’re more likely to follow the path (routine) that you’re used to.

3. Look underneath the habit and think about what it is that you are trying to gain by bingeing. Are you actually hungry? Did you not eat enough that day? Are you trying to calm down your body and mind? Are you trying to quell anxiety? The truth of the matter is that most addictive behaviors are used to try to manage anxiety. So think about other ways that you can let go of anxiety in the present. Because eating is a sensory experience, doing things that involve moving your body reduce anxiety and urges to binge. There are a few yoga poses that are easy and release anxiety.

The first is child’s pose which is super calming for both your mind and for your digestion:yoga to stop binge eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there is Viparita Karani (legs up on the wall) as simple as it sounds which good for reducing anxiety, depression and insomnia:

yoga for binge eating

 

 

 

 

I also recommend checking out 10 Ways To Shut Down at Night without Binge Eating.  Try some of these things out and let me know how you’re doing. If things don’t improve, email me again and we’ll brainstorm.

I hope that this response was helpful for you. Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? 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. Are you interested in online therapy or coaching to deal with your eating disorder? Please contact me to discuss getting started. 

Friday Q & A– I can’t sleep unless I binge

I can't sleep unless I bingeThis question comes from a reader in North Carolina.

Question:

Please help me, every night I binge. It’s not that I want to, I just can’t sleep unless I do. I sit there in bed, tossing and turning, and I can resist for hours, but I still won’t sleep. I can usually make it till midnight, then I have to get out of bed and eat whatever I can.  Even if there’s nothing good in the house like chips or ice cream,  I’ll eat cans of beans and bread and frozen dinners until I’m full. I’ll binge on foods that aren’t even tasty or good. I just want to eat. I really need help! I can’t live like this anymore.- Deborah in NC

Answer:

Hi Deborah,

I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. It sounds very, very difficult. However, it’s not uncommon. I have a few thoughts.

1.)Are you eating enough during the day? Often people try to restrict during the day time and by the time the evening falls, they are ravenous. Make sure that you are getting at least 3 substantial meals every day.

2.)It also sounds like you are dealing with anxiety. You are tossing and turning and not able to sleep, and the thing that soothes your anxiety is a binge.

If you are in fact getting enough to eat during the day, the next thing to do is begin to look at your sleeping pattern and your anxiety.

Other things to consider:

1.) Are you heading to sleep too early? Is it possible that your natural bedtime is closer to 11 or 12 and you’re putting yourself to bed early and trying to force yourself to sleep at a time that causes anxiety about sleep? Perhaps you might try to relax and watch a tv show that you like or sit in bed and read a book for an hour or two before you shut the lights out. This might help you to fall into some natural fatigue rather than forcing it.

2.)Are you giving yourself a buffer between your day and sleep?  You need space to unwind between your day and going to sleep. Sometimes people can lay in bed and ruminate about what they have to do, what they did and what went wrong.  Give your brain time to settle down and decompress from the day.

3.)Remember that sleep is a natural biological function and you don’t need a binge to sleep, but your anxiety about bingeing and whether or not you will is keeping you up.

4.)Allow yourself a snack before you go to bed. Preferably something warm, like hot tea with maybe some cheese or something high in protein. Definitely give yourself some food so that you know that you’ve eaten without having to get up and go for a binge.

5.)You might want to talk to your doctor or therapist about insomnia/anxiety and begin to work on that.

6.)Look at your caffeine intake. Often, cutting back to just 1-2 caffeinated drinks a day, and none after noon can help with sleep and anxiety. That includes soda, black tea, coffee and even chocolate.

7.)It’s important for you to do your own research or talk to your doctor about this, but often Calms Forte can be a helpful and innocuous remedy to help sleep come a bit easier.

8.)Put a sign on the pantry/refrigerator with reminders that you don’t need to binge to sleep, that you can fall asleep naturally without bingeing. That way, when you come to your kitchen at night, it might jar your consciousness a bit and help you to make a more informed decision about your intent.

I hope that this was helpful. Good Luck.

Warmly,

Leora

If anyone else has any advice, please do post in the comments section.

Friday Q & A- I can’t stop binge eating at night, help!

please help me stop night eatingQuestion: Submitted via email by Theresa in Marrero, Louisiana

At least once or twice a week, late at night I binge eat.  I feel as if I cannot stop and it’s everything unhealthy that I can get my hands on.  Afterwards I feel horrible about myself, worthless.  I am 50 years old and up until five years ago weight was never really an issue with me.  Going through menopause and making the big “5-0″……is terribly depressing not to mention the unpleasant symptoms of menopause in and of itself.  I often think why bother, I’m old, middle aged, what does it matter anyway?  I realize though that all women, no matter what stage of life they’re in wants to feel good about themselves.  I don’t have to be 20, 30 or 40 again…….I just want this self destructive binge eating to stop completely.  I can go a few days with no binge eating and feel really great about myself, fight those urges, wake up and feel good that I “beat it”.  I’m usually extremely tired when I do this also.  Although not always. I do computer work and often up late at night. It’s embarrassing because very often I have to hurry and replace the foods I’ve completely emptied out, like ice-cream, chips, peanuts.  For example last weekend my husband bought some ice cream.  He ate a small bowl of it. Later on that night, when he was sleeping, I kept eating and eating and eating on this ice cream and realized it was almost all gone!  I had to hurry and replace it even going as far as to make it look like it did when he took some out!  I’m amazed at how my husband and daughter can open a bag of chips and eat maybe five and close the bag up and maybe not even eat anymore for a week or two later. I on the other hand, keep thinking about it……and not satisfied until I’ve killed the rest of the bag! I never realized how very hard it is to actually fight these binge eating urges.  Any tips on how I can fight these urges.  I’m not usually hungry when I do this, sometimes maybe a little hungry but not starving enough to tear into food like I do!

Hi Theresa,

Thanks so much for your question. It sounds like you’re really struggling and adding the symptoms of menopause into the mix can only be compounding your issue.

First off, I think that it’s important for you to open up to your husband about what’s been happening. It’s certainly not his job to control your eating or fix it. However, it’s obvious that you are going through a tough time and getting support around it and talking about it rather than having it locked up inside and trying desperately to hide your tracks is a great way to begin to work through it.

You’ve also identified that you do this at night and often you do this when you are very tired. When you’re tired, it’s really difficult to fight the urges. I wonder if you can perhaps put post-it notes on your computer or on the pantry or freezer that say something like, “remember to rest,” and when you are about to grab some food, tell yourself that you are allowed to eat, but first you have to lay down for 20 minutes and rest your body.

You can also elicit a support team for yourself. Here are a list of Overeaters Anonymous meetings that are online and many are in the middle of the night so they’re right there when you need to reach out get support.

Make sure that you eat a good healthy dinner each night, and make sure that you have adequate amounts of protein (like chicken or beef) at your evening meal. This will keep you sated.

You say that you work until late in the evening. Is it possible that eating is a distraction? A way for you to take a break or procrastinate work? You might try giving yourself non-eating breaks during work. You might stretch a bit or take a walk, or watch tv, or do something enjoyable that gives you a break from working.

Let yourself stop working and do something relaxing before you go to bed, such as taking a shower or bath, or knitting, or reading a fun book. You need some separation between work and bed. That is often difficult to get when people work from home. It’s super important that you let yourself unwind and find non-food ways to do that.

Drink warm milk when you are wanting to put something else in your mouth. It’s an old remedy for sleep and relaxation, but the fat and the protein will help curb your cravings as well. The ritual of sitting and doing something relaxing will help alleviate the compulsive urge. Brush your teeth afterwards and try to let yourself relax a bit. Sometimes just interrupting the binge can help stop it.

You might also consider talking to a naturopath or acupuncturist to learn about some ways to relieve the symptoms of menopause. You can also find some tips here and here and here.

Good Luck!

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.