4 ways to conquer binge eating

Many people struggle with this and it ruins the best of intentions to lose weight or even just maintain your weight. You could be going along happily in your life and then boom, it hits. You know, that hard to ignore urge to binge until you’ve overdone it that ultimately ends in regret, guilt, and food restriction and/or self punishment. What if you could stop yourself before it even happens? It’s possible.

But first, let’s define what a binge truly is. Technically it’s when you are eating something that elicits the feeling of loss of control until you’ve eaten more than is a desired reasonable amount. The quantity and food varies from person to person. Person A could define a personal binge as eating 3 doughnuts while person B could define their personal binge as not until they’ve consumed the whole dozen of doughnuts. Person A could define a personal binge as consuming two servings of potato chips while person B could define their binge as eating the entire family size bag. Make sense? We all have different thresholds in this. No judgement for any quantity, it’s more about when you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self control that leads to feelings of guilt and self punishment. That’s no good for anyone.

So let’s talk about some ways to combat it:

  1. Know your triggers. Understand what sets you off in the first place and then avoid it or prepare for it when necessary. Does going to a party trigger you to binge on the chip bowl? Plan ahead of time and know that you simply can’t hang out around the food table. Does having a giant tub of ice cream in your freezer trigger you to indulge in the entire thing as soon as you’re home alone? Don’t buy it! Does having an argument with your spouse trigger you to run to the pantry and dive into the chocolate chip cookies? Put a post-it note on your pantry door that reminds you to stop and take a few deep breathes before you’re so quick to start eating when food is not what you really need at that moment.
    • Understand this, every habit we have is part of a chain that has multiple links. Each link is attached to the next that produces a result. The key is for you to break the link that results in a binge. It only takes one alteration, like a post-it note, to put a kink in that chain and direct you to a different activity.
  2. Exercise regularly. When we exercise on a regular basis, it keeps a steady stream of endorphins going in our system and helps keep our mood stabilized. It also helps us sleep better and thus, make better decisions throughout the day. Ever been sleep deprived for a few days? Remember how emotional and irrational you were? This is a high risk time for binging. In general, those who exercise just feel better about their health and body and have an easier time maintaining their weight overall.
  3. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. If you are going to skip any meal of the day, don’t let it be this one! Really work hard to eat within 2 hours of waking up and strive for 25-30 grams of protein at that meal. This helps stabilize blood sugars, control hunger later in the day, and thus keeps your mood more even making it less likely for a binge later on. Also, usually when we start our day off healthy, we are more likely to keep it going than when we started our day off not so great (say, with a sugary, high calorie breakfast).
  4. Avoid going more than 3-5 hours without eating. This one just makes sense. If you let yourself get too hungry and the setting is right, a binge is inevitable. Plan for high protein snacks such as cheese sticks, yogurt, deli meat, nuts or high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and veggies to fill in the gaps when meals are spread far apart. Find some other options here.

Lastly, this will be a work in progress for you if you have struggled with binge eating for a long time. The tips I’ve given you will help the person who struggles with occasional episodes of binge eating that they relate to either unhealthy emotions or certain situations that act as triggers for them. I am not referring to someone who has a recognized binge eating disorder which is characterized by behaviors far beyond what is described in this blog post. If you find yourself preplanning binge episodes, eating large quantities of food (in the multiple thousand calorie range) in very short periods of time, purposely eating alone out of embarrassment over the quantity of food eaten, and feelings of “zoning out” and even forgetting what food was consumed during these episodes, you may have an eating disorder and I encourage you to seek professional help from a licensed counselor.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Could you go 30 days without sugar?

We just finished a 30 day no sugar challenge in my online community. The results were pretty amazing. Weight loss plateaus were broken, shopping habits were changed, and more importantly, carbohydrates were no longer demonized.

What do I mean by this?

In the beginning, there was some confusion about what was okay and what was not. The challenge was meant to be a simple one – no added sugars of any kind (including honey, table sugar – white, brown, etc, agave, maple syrup) and no refined or processed carbohydrates. The first one was pretty easy to grasp. The second category was more difficult because, in the dieting world, we become conditioned to categorizing foods into two groups: carbohydrates (bad) and everything else (good).

It was a fun learning process. This was the list of disallowed foods in addition to added sugars: 
-chips/french fries (anything that’s made from a potato but isn’t an actual potato)
-pretzels
-cookies/brownies
-sweetened coffee creamer
-candy
-crackers
-cake/snack cakes/snack bars
-white pasta (whole grain is fine, couscous which is a tiny form of pasta is also good, quinoa also good)
-white breads and buns (whole grains are fine)
-white bagels and english muffins
-white waffles (there are very few whole grain waffle varieties available)

-white rice (again, whole grain/wild is good)-most cereals (oats/oatmeal and whole grain cereals like oat bran are fine)-ice cream/sherbet/popsicles (try frozen fruit)

The learning process began when we found snack items, like granola bars and cereal, that listed the initial ingredient as “whole grain” and other ingredients that were natural and whole. They were allowed. It was also okay to eat white potatoes and corn – because, HELLO! These are real food! Nothing processed there!

I know what you may be thinking, why no honey? Because that’s what everyone else was thinking, too. It’s got beneficial health properties so why wasn’t it included? But as my friend and fellow challenger said, “we are trying to get rid of the sugar monster!” And when consumed, honey is still converted into sugar, still tastes sweet, and still activates that addiction that is sparked in most of us to keep eating more. That was the whole point of this challenge. To stop the powerful addiction that is sugar. I talk about this more in a previous post – if you ever wondered if it’s a real thing, it is.

 The other thing you may have noticed is that this was the only thing that was changed for the entire 30 days and RESULTS HAPPENED.  I did that on purpose. Oftentimes, it seems like there are more decisions that need to happen to make a real difference. Why didn’t the challenge include choosing more lean means, cutting out fried foods, or eating more fruits and veggies? While all of that stuff is important to a healthy diet, I don’t think as many would have stuck it out if they had to change it all in the 30 days.

 Pick one thing to change and surprise yourself at how consistent you are and what kind of results you get because of it.

For their specific results and testimonies, head over here and check it out!

P.S. The challenge in our group is over. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a go. We’d love to have and support you if you’re game! Go ahead and join my free online support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Anxious eating & why it’s the worst!

I used to think I wasn’t an emotional eater. That I couldn’t understand the concept of eating when you’re sad, lonely, angry, overly stressed, or even bored. Until I found myself devouring a bag of m&ms down into my anxious stomach.

Anxiety. Most of us feel it at some time or another. It’s our body’s healthy response to imminent danger. Except when there is none. And then we’re just sitting there fearing the world around us but we really don’t know what is making us want to jump out of our own skin. So why food? It’s a distraction. And a damn good one at that.

Anxiety is really uncomfortable. Our world gives us so many reasons to feel it more often than not. The symptoms range from a flipping stomach, mild or severe headache, pounding heart, shaky hands, sweating, inability to focus, crying, irrational fear. None of these symptoms are easy to sit in. And multiply them by ten during an anxiety attack. The most common reason for ER visits in the U.S. is due to chest pain, which is often caused by anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks from unsuspecting individuals that think they are having a heart attack. I believe this is why many people fall into drug and alcohol addiction or otherwise. Escaping it consumes the thoughts of an anxious person.

And then there’s food. High carbohydrate, high fat, sugary food to be exact. Why? Because it triggers a dopamine response similar to narcotic-like drugs that lessens the anxiety. But, exactly like a drug, over time the brain becomes less stimulated by the food and needs more to experience the same effect. This is why people can feel like they’re addicted to sugar. In a sense, they are.

How can you get rid of it without becoming addicted to an unhealthy habit? I was taught by a psychologist that the best way was to ride it out. Sounds crazy right? But in reality, an anxiety attack isn’t going to kill you like a heart attack and it WILL eventually end. The fear that leads to the unhealthy habit to make it end NOW is that it will NEVER end. But rest assured, most anxiety attacks end in an average of 10 minutes.

What about that nagging, everyday anxiety that many of us feel until we’re elbow deep into a bag of potato chips? Personally, I’ve found listening to music, prayer, and deep breaths with citrus essential oils to be most helpful. If you don’t have citrus essential oils, a fresh cut orange, lemon, or grapefruit will do. Studies have indicated that most adults take shallow breathes from our sternum. However, as children, we start out taking deep, slow breathes from our abdomens – about six per minute. This is how we are naturally built. But as we age and life happens, we take quicker, shorter breaths that feed less oxygen into our nervous systems. No wonder stress has such a damaging physical effect on our bodies!

For other types of emotions I’ve recommended journaling. For the anxious person this isn’t always realistic due to the inability to focus. So try simpler tasks like coloring, painting, and going for a short walk. Thing is, as I’ve said in my previous posts on the subject of emotional eating, you won’t know what works until you give it a shot. We all know eating works. But if you’re reading my posts, I’m guessing you want to get away from that.

Let me know in the comments what you discover works for you, whether in this post or not and let’s help each other!

Looking for a community of support? Request to be added to my online group here.

Sugar is an addiction

Duh. I know you know that. At least on some level because you probably are addicted to it yourself. Many of us are.

Once you get that taste for sugar it’s really really hard to untaste it. In recent years studies have confirmed that when somebody eats sugar it lights up the same centers in the brain that make us feel good as if we had just taken a drug like cocaine or heroin. So if you are consuming sugar, then you really are getting a dopamine response which triggers actions in your body that make you feel good, relax you, and leave you wanting more.

But it’s not long-lasting and eventually you’re going to be craving that feeling again.  It feels good. And worse much like somebody who is addicted to a drug, eventually you’re going to require more and more of it to get the same feeling, which has also been suggested in recent studies.

It’s why so many of us can’t quite kick the soda habit. Fun fact: Coca Cola was named after cocaine because at one point it did contain cocaine. That has since been replaced with caffeine (arguably equally as addictive) and high fructose corn syrup. Next time you’re around people between the hours of two and four PM, observe their behavior and probably your own, too. It’s what I like to call the “3 o’clock low”. This is when people start looking for coffee, soda and a snack. The snack is something like chips, cookies, crackers, or something high in carbs and low in protein. Everyone wants/needs a sugar high to make it to dinner time (or at least to clock out time.)

It’s not a secret that this isn’t good for the body. But what do you do about it? It’s possibly the most common and most difficult habit standing in the way of my clients and their health goals.

Eliminate it. That’s right. I said it. Cold turkey. In many addictions, weaning is the way to go because of withdrawal dangers. But not in this case. Even small amounts of sugar prove to keep the brain stimulated and wanting more. Can you really eat just eat one Hershey kiss? One Oreo? Ten potato chips? One doughnut? A one inch square brownie? 1/4 cup m&ms? Five crackers? You get my point.

I love me some coffee. But I’ve learned to have it without sugar. That includes the substitutes too. Why? Because when we have sweet tasting things, we are signaling our brains that a feel good response is coming. Except it doesn’t with zero calorie sweeteners because they don’t illicit the dopamine response. So guess what? You start looking for something that will. We all want to feel good. Especially when stressed, sad, mad, bored, or in pain. And dopamine does the job well.

So ya, cold turkey. Will you magically no longer want to eat sugar anymore? Not quite. Physically, it’s going to take your body about two solid weeks to move on from the cravings. In a rat study done at Princeton, there were withdrawal symptoms including chattering teeth and heightened anxiety which kept them staying in one place rather than exploring as rats normally do.

Emotionally, you’re going to need to find another means to deal with it. Trial and error. Some find emotional peace in journaling. Others in a new hobby (or revisiting an old one). There’s also meditation, talking to trusted friends, taking a walk outside, reading, my favorite – essential oils, and the list goes on. We live in a world with lots of options. Options that aren’t as readily available as food. But they’re there. And not all of them work. That’s why I said trial and error. You will find something that works better than food, without the guilt. Without the calories.

Let me know in the comments what you’re trying. What works, what doesn’t.

P.S. Looking for online support with like minded women? You may be interested in joining my Facebook group for support from women and moms trying to get healthy and lose weight just like you!

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD

Why you aren’t thinking before you act

I  know, the title sounds a bit judgmental. But hear me out. I’m going to ask you a few questions and then you can decide if you agree with me or not.

  1. Think about the last time someone asked you to do something or help them with something. Did you say yes or no? And did you answer they way you wanted to?
  2. Think about the last time you were bored. Really bored. Can you remember such a time? How did you handle it? What did you do to fill the space?
  3. When was the last time you unplugged for an entire day? a few hours? one hour? You didn’t look at your phone, computer, the television, it was all turned OFF. Not just on silent, completely off, airplane mode, no internet, nada. And there was no one around but you and your thoughts.

White space. Does that exist anymore? The vast majority of those reading this, myself included, will answer question 1 with a “yes” and then a “no.” They will answer question 2 with a “no”  because the void was filled quickly with mindless activities like scrolling through Facebook, computer games, watching YouTube videos, netflix, or more harmful activities like emotional eating or even drinking alcohol to stuff the emotions that tend to surface during whitespace. Which is why most, if not all, reading this will answer question 3 with a “never.”

This post was inspired by a concept I learned in a book I’m currently reading titled, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It talks about taking time off or “think weeks.” Did you know some of the most successful people in the world have done this for decades? Even in today’s most socially, electronically connected world? Even during the busiest, highest growth times in their businesses? It’s true. Bill Gates takes two, one week long “think weeks” a year unplugged where even family is banned. It is during those times he gets his ideas and can actually collect his thoughts that have propelled his ongoing success. Others that take similar “think weeks” are Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Amazing, huh?img_4402

But it isn’t natural. In fact, in a fairly recent study (2014), individuals were given a choice to sit in solitude with their thoughts for 15 minutes or to take a painful electric shock to their ankles to get out of it. An overwhelming majority chose the shock collar (66% of men and 25% of women). Furthermore, the study participants reported having unpleasant experiences when they were alone with themselves regardless if they were allowed to read or allowed access to the internet. It’s no wonder stress eating, alcoholism, and drug addiction are so prevalent. We don’t want to face our emotions. And outside substances do a pretty good short term job at distracting and frankly, stuffing them down and away. I’ve addressed specifically emotional eating in past posts as this is my area of expertise.

The bottom line is, we want human connection with others. But at the same time, it’s good for our well-being to take time to think so that we can healthily co-exist with others.

So, let me know in the comments. Will you be planning a “think week” anytime soon, or at least a “think day?”

For those of you struggling with what to eat and how to balance it all without feeling hungry while steadily losing weight, check out my new meal plan at a limited time only greatly reduced cost right here.