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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.

SO HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE ADDICTION PIECE OF ALL THIS IN ORDER TO STOP OVEREATING?

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.