Name: Nia Shanks
Occupation: Personal trainer, health writer, and leader of the "lift like a girl" revolution.
If you've ever been through a physical transformation, your get-fit story probably goes a little something like this:
In an effort to improve your health, lose some body fat, and sculpt muscle, you started to eat better and exercise. You wanted to look good and feel great, so you made some changes to your nutrition habits. It started off with some simple changes, like reducing the amount of junk food you ate and drinking more water. After a few weeks, you started achieving results. It was working!
To ensure you kept losing fat, you began to read more information about nutrition, how to get leaner, and how to build more muscle. What you read helped you understand your aesthetic potential. So, you restricted your calories, tracked everything you ate, and even eliminated entire food groups. You made every effort possible to eat only clean foods. Sometimes, you had a cheat meal, but only if it was scheduled.
And so on.
Many people can keep things moving in this positive direction, and they're able to stay healthy and fit for the rest of their lives. Others, however, like myself, struggle to maintain balance, and begin to have problems with disordered eating.
The Binge-Eating Cycle
In the case of my fit story, I constantly obsessed over food. I got to the point where I was always thinking about my next meal. Social gatherings and going out to restaurants became a pain because I'd either have to tweak everything I ordered to fit my diet standards, or I just couldn't find anything "on plan." While everyone else ordered their meals in a carefree manner, I was silently panicking over the calorie count and wondering if the vegetables I ordered "plain" were really going to be butter- and oil-free.
I noticed other changes, too. My life revolved around the gym. I was constantly weighing myself, and despite how much success I achieved with my physique, I kept finding more "flaws" to fix.
Because I controlled what I ate so precisely, when I was around food I found myself losing control. I started to eat huge quantities of things I had deemed "unclean" or "forbidden." I'd eat way past being full, and eat when I wasn't hungry. I'd even binge eat things I didn't even like!
Then, in an effort to undo the "damage," I restricted my calorie intake even more and worked out harder and longer, but these behaviors just led to another bout of binge eating. This vicious cycle only gained steam, and things got progressively worse, until I was able to break the cycle.
The Cycle Starts
I've found that the catalyst for disordered eating for many people, myself included, is a very strict diet and fitness regimen.
Please don't mistake me. I'm not saying everyone will develop disordered eating habits if they follow a health and fitness regimen. I have several friends who thrive on meal plans and absolutely love them. I also know plenty of people who prefer a strict diet because it suits their preferences.
However, there are some people, like me, who can't tolerate anything more than flexible, simple guidelines without being thrown into disordered eating habits. Tell me to "avoid this food at all costs" or have me counting calories and I'll quickly tailspin back into my binge-eating spiral. If you struggle or have struggled with binge eating, you know how difficult it is to break the cycle. Don't give up! Here are some ways to break free and rediscover a healthy relationship with food!
How To Beat Binge Eating
Simplify your meal plan
In my experience, following an all-or-nothing approach to nutrition can indirectly lead to binge eating. To combat this, simplify your nutrition program. Instead of counting calories and following stringent macro ratios, opt instead for some simple, flexible nutrition guidelines that can be sustained in the long term.
Here's a glimpse of the simple nutrition guidelines I practice:
- Eat real, whole foods most of the time.
- Eat when physically hungry.
- Eat slowly (seriously, slow down).
- Stop eating when satisfied but not stuffed.
- Enjoy your favorite not-so-healthy foods when you truly crave them (approximately 10-20 percent of the time).
Know that there is no quick-fix
It's imperative to understand that we don't develop disordered and binge-eating habits in a single day, so we can't expect to break free from them in a day or a week. It's human nature to want immediate results, but it's just not realistic.
Don't think about beating your binge-eating habit immediately. Focus instead on the actions you can take on a daily basis to get you to that outcome. If you have a bad day, don't freak out. Progress is hardly ever linear. If you plan for some backward steps, you can rest assured that you're still making progress, even if it momentarily feels like you aren't.
The most important thing to remember is to stay consistent. Apply the above guidelines and try your best to follow them over and over. Consistency builds momentum and leads to long-lasting results and habits.
Train to get strong, not shredded
At the height of my binge-eating habits, my workouts were all about burning as many calories as possible. I started to hate working out. My gym sessions were nothing more than a form of punishment for a recent binge.
In order to break the cycle, that negative mentality must change. Stop using workouts as punishment and start making them about becoming the strongest version of yourself. Don't worry about burning calories, and instead focus on your performance and what your body can do.
Training to get stronger and perform better will help you recognize that your body is an amazing machine capable of incredible feats. How your body looks is just a small part of being fit and healthy. Training for strength will not only help you reprogram how you look at fitness, it will show you that workouts can actually be fun, inspiring, and interesting.
Using your workouts as opportunities to better your performance will show you that food is a necessary fuel, not a problem that has to be solved. Instead of worrying about how few calories you should eat in order to lose weight, you can concentrate on fueling your body so it performs at its best.
Reach out for help
Seek the assistance of a qualified professional. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. It could likely be the one step you take that has the biggest impact. I suggest looking for someone in your area who is qualified to help individuals who may struggle to find a healthy relationship with food.
If you would like more information about binge eating and how to beat it, check out my book "33 Ways to Break Free from Binge Eating." It provides simple, practical, and effective tips for regaining a good relationship with food, loving your body, and developing an enjoyable, sustainable health and fitness regimen.