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

How to end weight cycling (and beat that plateau!)

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced yo yo dieting, or more technically referred to as “weight cycling.” Simply put, dieting to successfully lose a significant amount of weight in a fairly short amount of time followed by weight regain and often additional pounds.

Have you ever wondered just how many times you can repeat this process before your body has had enough? Or if it’s even a healthy thing to do? Sure, you know that extra weight isn’t a good thing, but you also know that regaining large amounts of weight isn’t, either. And why bother going on a diet if you know the end result will be a number on the scale much higher than when you started? But what other choice do you have?

Eventually there will be a quitting point for your body. You’ve probably already noticed with each dieting attempt it’s becoming more difficult to lose weight – you don’t lose as much or lose it as fast. And no, regaining large amounts of extra weight is not very good for your body at all, it increases your fat to lean tissue ratio and in recent studies, it’s tough on your cardiovascular system, too.

When you lose weight, it’s inevitable that you will lose some of your muscles mass. This equates to a slower metabolism in the long run since fat burns a lot less calories at rest than muscle does (and as a wild guess here, I’m assuming you aren’t hitting the gym when you’ve stopped following your diet, so your muscle gets replaced with fat when you start regaining the weight.) So in this case, it would have been better for you to have never tried losing weight in the first place.

The fact is, statistically 90% of dieters who lose weight WITHOUT bariatric surgery will regain their weight loss within the following year. Discouraging, I know. But some of this starts with having realistic weight loss expectations to begin with. So let’s start there.

A realistic rate of weight loss is, on average, 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. If you weigh closer to 300 pounds or more, than it’s 1% of your body weight weekly (so 3 pounds a week, 4 for 400 pounds, etc.) And most will begin to see a weight loss plateau around a 5-10% weight loss. What does this mean? It means you will begin to see a dramatic slowing in weight loss results or even a complete halt sometime between there. Those who have more to lose (if you are over 300 pounds to start with) may not see this plateau until you’ve lost closer to 20% of your initial weight. But rest assured, it’s coming.

What do you do when that happens? Realize that your efforts to lose weight worked and that your body is responding in the way that it should.  And then accept that you may only see the scale drop by a pound or so per month for a while instead of per week like you are used to. Unfortunately, this is when most people begin to get frustrated and feel like what they are doing is no longer working and so they throw in the towel. That’s a dangerous place to be because you are at high risk to regain the weight to begin with. Your body is in a bit of a metabolic mess and very prone to weight gain because it has not had time to adjust to the new, lower weight you. Throwing in the towel on healthy eating habits and exercise is the worst thing you can do. Instead, do these four things and you will end the yo yo cycle while continuing to see results:

1. Consider lowering your carbohydrate intake to 130 grams per day if you are not already following a low carb diet.

2. Be sure you are consuming plenty of protein at all of your meals – 30 grams is the magic number for most.

3. Exercise a minimum of 45 minutes daily. This is the absolute minimum requirement as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for prevention of weight regain. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)

4. Be sure you are drinking a minimum of 8-10 cups of water per day.

Lastly, if you are doing the above things and you can’t get out of it, try keeping track of your food intake for a few days using an online record keeping system like sparkpeople or myfitnesspal (both free and easy to use) to get an objective take on what you are consuming. I once worked with a woman who swore up and down she was only consuming 1200 calories per day. When she finally decided to track it, she was mortified to find out she was actually consuming 2400 per day. That’s twice as much!

You can also consider a weight loss aid, such as an appetite suppressant. I talk about your options in a previous post here, available through your doctor and natural options that you can contact me about if interested in learning more.

Once you understand that this is a lifelong effort, you will begin to understand that there is no such thing as going “on” a diet (because that means eventually you are going “off” a diet) but rather, changing your lifestyle.

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

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you wish you were a butterfly?

Every spring, my backyard is overtaken by little fuzzy, black caterpillars. They aren’t cute. I don’t like bugs, but my boys are fascinated. They break out their critter cage and create temporary “pets,” eagerly awaiting the cocooning stage in hopes for a moth or butterfly.

Last year, we made it to the cocoon stage but they never flourished. So this year, I did a little research to find out how we can do things more successfully. In the process, I realized many of us are focused on the butterfly stage of life, not realizing we are missing out on some of the best moments right now, in our caterpillar stage.

Here are some things I learned:

Caterpillars don’t live very long. In fact, most of them don’t survive long enough to create a cocoon and transform to the end goal. If they aren’t eaten up by another animal or insect or destroyed by the weather elements, they will survive a couple of weeks to a couple of months before they are ready to cocoon themselves. Most people are like this. They quit before total transformation takes place because somewhere along the line, they let the troubles of life swallow them up and destroy their hopes and dreams rather t
an strengthen them for a greater purpose.

However, caterpillars focus on nothing else but to prepare themselves for transformation. They do this by eating as much as possible, several times their weight even. Once they are in the cocoon, they stay there for a few weeks to transform. When they reach the point of flying, they live only days to weeks. Their entire life is focused on the shortest part.

Is that how you are living? Focused on where you think your butterfly stage of life should be? You’re so frustrated with the fact that you aren’t there yet, that you’re missing out on this important stage of growth. The longest stage of your life is right now. When the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, they’ve arrived and their growth is over. Why are we then in such a rush to get there when we still have so much more preparation to do?

Another thing I learned from last year is that caterpillars don’t like to be pulled out of their element. We kept our critters indoors and within 24 hours, they all had spun themselves into a cocoon of comfort. They weren’t
ready though, and they never transformed so they just died. This year, we are keeping them outside and they are still thriving, eating the leaves and preparing themselves. It’s been a week and no sign of a cocoon yet.

What happens to you when you are pulled out of your comfort zone? Do you immediately cocoon yourself into a bubble of protection and stop growing before your time is up? Or do you push forward because you know you still have a lot of growing to do? We cocoon when we stop showing up, stop learning, when we quit, when we let our difficulties define us, when we refuse to forgive, refuse to try new things, and when we become bitter because we aren’t in that place we think we should be.

Where does that bitterness come from? I think often it comes from comparison. The caterpillars we have in our backyard aren’t very much to look at it. They’re just little black fuzzy worm-like creatures. But some caterpillars are absolutely beautiful and unique. Frankly, they don’t need to be butterflies to attract attention. We all know someone like that, don’t we? We think they’ve reached that pinnacle point of life because they seem to have it all together and they look fantastic. You may even be one of those people yourself. You show everyone that you’ve got it all together, but inside you know you have a lot you still need to work on.

You’re in the longest stage of life right here, right now. While you may not be in the same struggles all of the time, accept that you are learning and growing from each one of them. One day, they will create a beautiful butterfly out of you and it will be called your legacy. Create a good one.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD


Your body is going to fight you on this

I know if I could just get on the treadmill (which, by the way is making a fantastic clothes hanger currently), I would lose the weight I want to. So why can’t I?

My problem is, I can’t stick to a diet. I like food too much.

I don’t have enough discipline.

I don’t have enough willpower. 

Any of these sound familiar? I know there are a lot of other reasons that lead to weight loss failure over and over again. But the above are not valid. In fact, they are just different versions of you blaming yourself and beating yourself up for a physiological response that frankly, you have zero control over. What angers me though, is that the dieting industry capitalizes on this and continues to throw it in your face with more programs, gimmicks, books, pills, exercise equipment, blenders, vitamins, injections, and lies to make you think it’s easy, if you’d just have enough willpower and get over yourself.

Here’s why I’m calling them out:

Our bodies are uniquely designed to promote weight stabilization. This means even though our food intake may vary from day to day, generally speaking, our weight does not vary widely on a day to day basis. Thus, in times of extreme calorie deprivation (i.e. meal skipping), our body will compensate by slowing down the metabolic rate to conserve calorie expenditure. This is why skipping meals are usually ineffective at causing weight loss. But our body also signals us with hormones to tell us when it is time to eat and when we’ve had enough at each meal. These hormones, called ghrelin and leptin, are responsible for appetite regulation. When we override our body’s signals (i.e. leptin is produced to tell us we are full) because a food is tasty by overeating, that’s when weight gain occurs. Especially when we are doing nothing to burn off the extra calories consumed.

But here’s the thing. In several studies, including one in 2002, when blood plasma levels of ghrelin were taken in obese subjects after a 17% initial weight loss, they found a 24% increase in ghrelin levels. Translation: they were HUNGRY. Hungrier than when they started. Why? Because their body was fighting them to put all that hard earned weight loss back on!! What’s even more disheartening, when you lose weight, there is less of you to maintain, and this means a slower metabolism (i.e. you are burning less calories in spite of feeling like you are starving to death.) So if you feel like you gain weight just by LOOKING at that slice of pizza, you probably are.

Sounds crappy, huh? Because it is. The world of weight loss is very grim. To date, weight loss surgery is the only long term strategy that yields weight loss even close to what most people have set for their goal. This includes not only a number on the scale (when asked, most people desire to lose around 50% of their initial body weight), but also health-related such as resolution of diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea. For someone who has these serious health issues and their body mass index is above 35 and especially if their body mass index is above 40, it is something to seriously consider. Weight loss surgery usually results in a 25-35% initial weight loss that stays off long term. Why? One reason was demonstrated in the same study referenced above. Gastric Bypass resulted in a 77% reduction of ghrelin production. Translation: they weren’t hungry!! While the study didn’t include those who had Sleeve Gastrectomy, the results are similar as it does remove the part of the stomach that produces ghrelin. (As a side note, the laparoscopic adjustable band does not have this affect at all as the stomach remains in tact.)

But what if you’re not a candidate for surgery? Or you aren’t ready to take that step in your life yet? It changes every aspect of your life, after all. You could go on a crash diet, you’ve probably done it before. I’ve met many of you who have lost at least 50-100lbs at one time or another in your lifetime. But how are you going to keep yourself from gaining it all back this time? Biology is not on your side.

For starters, get a plan to fight back when your body starts resisting your efforts. It’s going to fight you every step of the way. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to find people who are in places of life that I want to be in and do what they do. For the person wanting to maintain significant weight loss off long term, the ones to follow have registered themselves on the National Weight Control Registry and recorded their daily habits. YES, it’s that easy for you to see what they are doing!!  Here are some common behaviors, according to the registry findings:

  • 78% eat breakfast every day
  • 75% weigh themselves at least once a week
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week
  • 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day

Second, don’t be afraid of appetite suppressants. But I’m going to suggest if you choose to use some of the synthetic ones available on the market, that you choose one that can be recommended and prescribed by your doctor who is knowledgeable in this subject AND you use them sparingly during the weight loss phase. You will need them more during your weight maintenance phase when your ghrelin levels are in overproduction and you are starving. If you use them too early on, you risk becoming tolerant of them and then they are useless to you when you really need them.

If you are interested in a natural option that can be used during and after, I have seen amazing results with the use of essential oils such as grapefruit, peppermint, lemon, ginger, and cinnamon in combination with each other. The benefit of natural options is that they work to bring the body into balance and are always working with the body in it’s ever changing state, something you need during times of significant weight loss. For more information, be sure to contact me and I would be happy to discuss more with you to see if it’s a right fit for your goals.

Lastly, realize that this is a journey and you need to be flexible with not only your expectations, but yourself. Weight loss is challenging and the dieting industry capitalizes on the self doubt and guilty feelings that many of you feel. In short, it actually doesn’t matter how you lose the weight. What matters is that you have a good plan in place to keep it off.

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

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN

“I can’t tie my shoes”

I’ve heard that phrase a lot.

From my 7 year old son who is amateur at best at this new skill.

From my 4 year old son who hasn’t yet learned the bunny ear technique.

From the well groomed, successful business woman who feels like a failure because of this one thing in her life.

From the mom who happily helps her children tie their shoes, who adore her to pieces by the way, but she can’t help herself.

From the retired police officer who once risked his life do save theirs and now he feels helpless.

From the young woman still trying to figure out her place in the world and yet getting through her closet seems like enough for each day.

This one tiny phrase is enough to self destruct anyone’s dignity and pride. While often it’s not the hallmark of “enough is enough,” I hear it said enough that it affects the life a person struggling with their weight. It’s a small sign of how this has affected life. What what was once taken for granted, has been taken away.

It’s not just that. I once worked with a young mom who wanted nothing more than to sit in the middle of the floor with her toddler and not have to worry about whether or not there was a piece of furniture around that she could use to hoist herself up when it was time to stand. Or just worry about getting up, period.

I worked with a young woman who plopped down in my office and crossed her legs with a huge grin on her face as if she had won the lottery of life. She had. And I knew exactly why she was so happy. She hadn’t crossed her legs in six years. Little things.

I often ask people what they’re motivation is for getting the weight off. Usually their first response is (and what you may be thinking right now) “I want too feel better,” or “I want more energy,” or “I want to get rid of my diabetes.” But that’s never the answer I’m looking for. Because when you’re in the mess of it, frustrated that you’ve worked so hard all week for one measly pound, you’re gonna need more than “to feel better.” Eating a box of cookies will make you feel better too.

It can be small. “I want to tie my shoes.” Or big. “I want to play with my grandkids. On the floor. For hours.” Or ambitious. “I want to hike the Appalachian trail like I did 50 pounds ago.” Whatever it is, realize that if it is causing enough pain in your life right now, it will push you to succeed at your goal.

Love yourself enough this Valentine’s day to figure out what that motivator is for you. As quoted by Dr. Michael Beckwith, visionary founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center, “The pain pushes until the vision pulls.” You will find the vision of yourself in due time – that person with the energy and health that you desire. But for now, let’s focus on tying your shoes.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD

When the angry mirror reflects pale

The first line of a poem I wrote when I was fifteen. Elbow deep into an eating disorder.

When I was fourteen years old, I overhead a well meaning neighbor tell my dad that his daughters “were getting a little round around the middle” and that maybe he should have them do some outside chores. Fourteen year old girls are already self-conscious. Make that very self-conscious about their looks. That neighbor didn’t cause anything, but they did affirm what that insecure teenage girl was hoping not to be true.

She’s fat. She’s not good enough. What she sees in the magazines are not at all what she sees in the mirror. Everything is out of her control. Except what she puts in her mouth. Nobody can tell her what to put in her mouth.

I remember over the next several weeks devising a very restrictive weight loss diet for myself. I wasn’t down with a “round” middle. I think I was an aspiring dietitian from the start, before I knew anything about meal planning. Just be thankful you weren’t a client of mine when I was fourteen!

Over the next 3 months, I lost about forty pounds. Of note, I have a twin sister and we had always been a similar weight up until this point. It happened so fast my family didn’t catch on until I was fully holding myself prisoner to my thoughts. It was pretty evident to everyone at school, all of our family members, and all of our friends. Aside from the whispers I could hear, no one said a word to me. And I was okay with that. Confronting people with hard stuff is hard.

Some of you are telling yourself similar things, too.

“That food is off limits for you. Eat it and you will surely gain five pounds overnight.” You have safe foods and if you go off plan, you are going to pay in self loathing guilt trips.

“Your day is determined by the number on the scale. Lose weight, you can relax,” (at least until breakfast). “If you gain weight, you will need to punish yourself with twenty extra minutes on the treadmill.”

“Wear that outfit because it hides your body.”

For someone with an eating disorder, multiply those thoughts times 100 and circulate them 24/7. The panic that sets in when food is presented that’s off limits, the fear of being caught exercising late at night to work off those extra calories, constantly hiding the anguish under baggy clothes, and the depression are enough to make life unliveable. People with anorexia do get to a  point where they know they shouldn’t lose anymore weight, but the fear of gaining even a pound is so strong that they’d rather continue to disappear.

I’ve been asked many times in my life why I became a Dietitian. I’ve never told the truth. This is my story. In three months, I turned my teenage years upside down along with my family’s and took over three years to recover from with the help of a Dietitian, a Psychiatrist, and God whom I didn’t even know at the time.

He’s always there to help you even if you pay Him no attention. Seek Him and allow yourself to rest on His strength.

Many of you have similar struggles. You aren’t good enough, you hate your body and you punish yourself for it on a daily basis. I may not know what it’s like to be overweight, but I know this struggle. I know it well. I apologize for keeping it to myself all of these years. If I’m going to be of any help to those of you that follow me so faithfully, you need to know my heart and why I really do what I do.

I’ll leave you with my high school poem, a place I happily won’t go back to, but still understand.


When the angry mirror reflected pale,

She mended my shattered heart;

Told me that if I just listened,

My disturbances would dissolve.

She didn’t tell me the payment

Would be much more than I could carry-

The heavy weight on my soul

Replaced by another, much heavier.

I thrived to her golden rules:

Hunger pains do not hurt,

Protruding bones are attractive,

Sacrifice everything to vanish.

She told me a lie:

I would be dominant when I disappeared.

I didn’t know it was

She who stretched the infuriated mirage;

She shackled me to her deceptions,

She became me.

My anorexia and myself.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD

Something happened. These aren’t crabby patties. Or eggplant patties.

I promised I would report back how my attempt at eggplant patties turned out. Let’s just say they were supposed to look like this: 

Eggplant Patties

And they ended up looking like this: crabby pattys

To get my children to at least taste them, I told them they were “Sponge Bob’s” beloved “crabby patties.” They believed that as much as my husband and I believed they looked like that first picture. But guess what? We all ate them. Because they tasted GOOD. Well, not my three year old, Declan. But that’s normal. It coulda been served straight from Sponge Bob himself and I still don’t think he woulda ate them. I don’t claim to be a pediatric dietitian. I’m just a mom trying to get her kids to like real food. But that’s another post for another day.

I’m gonna go on a tangent here and ask, why do we all try so hard to look like that proverbial eggplant patty only to come out feeling like the ones all flat and messed up? I know some of you reading this today are looking for the answer to reaching successful weight loss because you know that’s my specialty and you can’t tell me the last time you weren’t either losing or regaining weight. You probably have three or more clothing sizes in your closet to accommodate the stages.

Get off the vacillating pendulum. Do it today. I promise you, I have seen it hundreds of times and you may be one of them. You have dieted your way to your current weight. It’s the highest weight you’ve ever been. Who is your middle of the pendulum, rationale-minded person? You know, the person that doesn’t have to follow a restrictive diet only to get fed up and swing the other way and regain it all back? Then start over when the jeans get too tight again? Let me help you find her. Let me help you find him. The middle person isn’t picture perfect. That’s what this blog is really about. Taking small steps, one at a time, and really REALLY sticking with them.

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN