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Bulimia Recovery #24 - Top 2 Reasons You Binge (And how to stop them!)
January 31, 2012

The Top 2 Reasons Why You Binge (and how to eliminate them!)

When I was suffering from bulimia, it felt as though there were 2 people living in my head...

One was the positive Shaye, the Shaye who wanted to fight bulimia and recover no matter what. This was the Shaye who knew that she did not want to binge and knew that it would only make her feel bad about herself... This Shaye was the old Shaye... The Shaye I liked and wanted to see more of!

Then there was the other Shaye. The bulimic Shaye who cared about bingeing and getting it out... and that was it.

When the bulimic Shaye was around, nothing and nobody could get in my way. I would lie, cheat and steal to binge. It was as though my mind had been hijacked by an animal on the desperate prowl for food.

I did not like this version of me, but in the moment, I felt powerless to fight it.

Now I was a smart girl. I knew that the likelihood that my mind had been possessed by a food-crazy animal was very minimal. I did not know why I binged. I did not understand why my binge urges always got the best of me. It's exactly as one of the girls in The Bulimia Recovery Community put it this morning "It's almost schizophrenic, because it is certainly not my real voice or intentions!"

It was only in my recovery and as I began to research bulimia and binge eating, that I began to understand the real reasons behind my binge eating...


1 - The Cause of my Binge Eating Cycle

As a little gymnast, I developed the belief that being thin was important. If I was thin, it was more likely that I could become an Olympic Champion one day! With this thought in mind, I began to restrict my food. Restricting happened easily because I had a focus... I could see that gold medal hanging around my neck!

What I could not see back then is how the act of dieting would spiral out of control and cause me to spend all of my teenage years lost in bulimia.

By dieting I was sending dangerous messages to a primitive part of my brain that is responsible for basic biological functions and survival. This part of the brain is called the sub cortex. I was giving my sub cortex the message - "There is a famine"

The sub cortex, or primitive brain is not one that thinks rationally. It can not think "This is a diet, not a famine!" It can only think "FAMINE, threat to life" and the response to this message is "Be on the look out for food at all times" and "eat every time you get the chance" and "Eat energy dense sugary, fatty foods so that you can build up a supply of energy"

Dieting sent dangerous messages to my primitive brain and caused my first binge urges. This was way back when I was a little kid trying to lose weight for the sport I loved.

I can see it so clearly now... and in the years that I have been helping others recover from bulimia, I have seen the same scene played out time and time again...

Young girl or guy decides to diet to lose weight. Diet grows increasingly extreme until they give in and break their diet. They feel tremendous guilt and promise that they will not fall off their diet again. They do fall off, time and time again... and the falls get more and more extreme until full binge eating is in place. To deal with the guilt, they purge. Bulimia is born.


2 - What Maintained My Binge Urges

As I got older and moved on from the sports that urged me to stay thin, I did gain weight and lost much of my desire to diet. But my binge eating was still completely out of control... and was getting worse and worse.

If I was no longer sending messages of famine to my sub-cortex, then why was I experiencing these out of control binge urges?

The answer lay in the physical makeup of my brain...

Over the years that I had been bingeing, purging and starving, I developed real physical connections in my brain (called neural pathways) that cemented this cycle into my mind as a habit. This neural pathway habit was so strong, that at times, it felt like there was somebody else in my head willing me to binge.

I was not binge eating to try and block out past trauma. I was not binge eating because I was mentally ill... I was binge eating because I had developed a loud and chaotic habit that screamed at me every time I tried to push it away.

The good news is though, that just as these neural pathway connections made me stuck in bulimia... The same features of my brain have enabled me to become a completely normal eater... In fact, probably the most normal eater I know!

This is because, just as we can create neural pathway connections that draw us to bulimia, we can break down those connections and build new ones. We can build new connections that make us function in a completely normal, relaxed and peaceful way around food. It's a beautiful feature of the brain that I am in constant awe of!

It was the re-wiring of my neural pathways that helped me forget how to be bulimic!

The trick to re-wiring neural pathways is simple, in theory... You need to practice eating normally The repetition of this will form new and healthy habits in your brain. Okay, I know this is easier said than done... But there are tools that you can use to help you get there, which I'll go over below.


The First Step to Eliminating Binge Urges and Getting Your Life Back!

The first step to eliminating binge urges is to begin structured eating...

I talk about structured eating thoroughly in The Bulimia Recovery Program's recovery guide. If you are not a member, you can get an introduction to structured eating here.

Structured eating will...

  • Help your famine-conscious sub-cortex to reduce it's loud shouts for food by offering it regular meals and snacks (This will help it to believe that there is no longer a threat of famine).
  • Re-wire your neural pathways into the habit of eating regularly and eating normal quantities.

Structured eating is an essential step in bulimia recovery... I have seen so many girls resist it, thinking it's too simple to be helpful... Or not 'deep' enough! Only to try it weeks later and begin using it in their successful recoveries! Of course, structured eating takes persistence. Falling off your eating plan is common early on in recovery, but the key is to always jump back on board... Be persistent!

A wonderful member of The Bulimia Recovery Program gave some excellent support this morning in response to another girls post... She said...

"Sounds like your biggest challenge is your eating, and like many of us who started out here, it can be VERY difficult learning to stomach a meal and keep it down. But you will and can do it! Structured Eating is SO SO important. Planning your meals and snacks will calm your brain, preparing them and eating them slowly, peacefully will allow you to feel satisfied until your next meal/snack."

She hit the nail on the head... Structured eating will help to calm your brain :)



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Sending you lots of love and recovery vibes!

xox Shaye

P.S. I'd just like to say a big Hello and Welcome to all the new girls in The Bulimia Recovery Program and Community. Opening up and seeking help is not easy... but it I swear that all the challenges are completely worthwhile - the peace and tranquility that comes with recovery is priceless! Please use our amazing community to your advantage... it's as Izzy said the other day "I love it, I log on whenever I can, it's so nice to read everyone's progress and everyone has such a good attitude and it's so pro recovery. A security blanket!!"

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