How to Stop Binge Eating Your Goals Away

Recently, If I’m being honest, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder that has lasted a few years.

It feels dramatic calling it that, but now that the cycle has ended, I can see what a dangerous and harmful cycle it was.

I had a serious problem with binging and I had no concept of moderation.

I had an all or nothing dieting mindset and it was destroying my self-esteem, confidence, and most of all it was harming my body.

I’d eat faultless for five days (maybe six, if I was feeling like a self-controlled Jedi) and then binge until I was close to sickness. I thought, “I deserve this cheat day”.

Though sometimes I didn’t even last a day and I would have something that wasn’t “diet-friendly” and I would decide “cheat day” came early. One cookie, turned into a bag of cookies. A bowl of ice cream into a tub of ice cream.

Turns out the very thing I was doing doing for sanity made me feel more insane because I felt out of control with my eating and ultimately my health.

Have you ever felt like this?

Unless it’s part of the diet you follow, like the slow-carb diet, I personally see and have experienced nothing beneficial about having cheat days or meals and the guilt that often goes along with them.

What can be helpful about labeling yourself “A Cheater”?

For a long time I wondered if there was a better way. And friends, I’m glad to say I’ve found it.

Why Moderation Isn’t A Naughty Word

We buy a book, read about a diet, and become indoctrinated to believe some foods are good and some foods are evil. Some are “clean” and some are “unclean”.

Ok, it’s obvious some foods are more nutritionally dense than others and some should be eaten regularly while others more sparingly.

But unless you have allergies, intolerances or other health issues, I don’t believe you should have to exclude any foods out of your diet 100% of the time.

If you’ve struggled with an “all or nothing” mindset that’s led to an unhealthy relationship with food, then moderation in your diet may just be the thing you need.

Having foods you enjoy, in moderation, allows you to be consistent and stay on track with your health goals long-term. I never understood this and for years I was spinning my wheels wondering why nothing was working.

The key: It’s not about being more strict, but being more relaxed (and strategic).

How to Be Flexible Without Ruining Your Progress

photo credit: metromani via photopin cc

photo credit: metromani via photopin cc

I’ve tried (almost) every diet under the sun and I’ve finally found something that works for me.

I follow something similar to what blogger and author, Chris Kresser, calls the 80/20 rules.

80% of the time I’m strict with how I eat. 20% of the time I kick my heels up. (More specifically I follow a way of eating called Flexible Dieting)

These percentages may change day-to-day but I try and keep the principle the same. Of course you don’t want your moderation to stall your progress, so how do we eat the cake and have the flat stomach?

Here’s what I’ve found to be the most helpful for me:

Become aware of how much you eat.

How much you eat will often determine more about your size and health than what you eat. Don’t believe me? Recently a science teacher set out to eat only McDonalds for 3 months.

He could eat whatever he wanted on the menu, he just had a daily calorie goal to keep too. He tracked how much he ate. The results: He lost weight and more surprisingly, gained health.

I’m not telling you to go eat McDonalds for months (though I believe fast food can be eaten, in moderation, while still staying healthy and lean). 

I want you to just become more aware of how much you eat.

For years I was gaining weight while eating what was said to be a really nutritious diet. I didn’t understand being in a calorie deficit is the key to weight loss.

By tracking how much you eat you can be flexible, have your favorite foods in moderation, all the while knowing they won’t derail your progress or health.

I love the way I eat now. It’s sustainable long-term and helps me reach my goals. It has also helped me to quit dieting for good.

I also personally track everything I eat and I enjoy it because it gives me a lot of control over my health and body. I do so on my phone using myfitnesspal.

Remember this: One bowl of ice cream won’t make you fat just like one salad won’t make you skinny.


Question: How has an “all or nothing” diet mindset affected you? Could you benefit from flexibility in your diet?

Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition and is our lead macro coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see our personal coaching options.
Last Updated: June 30, 2019

11 Comments

  1. Banshee

    I’m glad you found something that works for you! I am only three months into a long-term weight loss project but there are some foods I just don’t allow in my house because I am pretty sure will eat too much of them. The “moderation” thing sounds good, but for me it just turns out to be a big fat rationalization.
    Maybe I will think differently at some point. I will do what works for me now. Luckily I’m retired and live a simple quiet life. I think that helps.
    Best of health to you!

    Reply
  2. VeggieMom66

    I have been a health and nutrition hobbyist for years. I have been all over the internet and have seen people who are lean, “glowing”, and “finally healthy” from nearly every type of diet: vegan, vegan low fat raw, vegan high fat raw, primal, paleo, vegetarian, portion control, low carb, high carb, flexitarian, flexible dieting, etc. I’ve also studied the diets of the world’s Blue Zones and have come to the following (not earth shattering) conclusions: vegetables come first, the order of everything is argued about (but it really should be whole foods based…that’s not just a fluffy catch word.”

    When push comes to shove, it really does come down to discipline. Your diet works for you Dan, but I can say that having any sugar simply makes me want more and more and more sugar. Your quote

    ‘Remember this: One bowl of ice cream won’t make you fat just like one salad won’t make you skinny.

    may be true, but the problem is that it is wayyyy easier to say yes to the bowl of ice cream than it is to say no,. In ordre to lose weight and maintain it, you have to say “no” way more often than you can say “yes.” That’s why I think it’s more important to add super healthy food to ones’ diet before attempting to drop all the fries and donuts..the more veggies you’re eating, the less you crave the junk…. and, thus, there is less of a battle.

    I mostly agree with you though…life is to short to never have pizza on a Saturday night or eat your grandma’s delightful zucchini bread. My own personal struggle is learning how to keep the “reasonable” indulgence from turning into a three month downward spiral 🙁

    Reply
    • JamesF

      So insightful.

      I was pondering the other day how the emergence of the sugar industry in the last few hundred years may well be one reason why life expectancy has (possibly) hit its peak. Just think of how prevalent Type 2 diabetes is now.

      And nutrition isn’t just about nutrition. It’s about trying to figure out how to choose well in an environment that makes it almost (but not quite) impossible.

      Reply
    • Dan Bolton

      Great thoughts and thanks for being honest!
      What does moderation look like for you?

      I’m interested to know as it seems like you’ve done a bit of experimenting 😉

      Reply
  3. Daniel Wagle

    I usually “cheat” when I go out to eat. Usually it is at a salad bar restaurant. I will eat a lot of vegetables but then eat a lot of bread. I just went to one today, but I loaded up on vegetables and tried very hard to go easy on the bread and the desserts. I do track my food usually, but when there are “cheat meals,” I do lose track, but I try to limit prepared salads, which of course have more fat as do the breads and desserts. I will eat some sunflower seeds for fat to absorb the nutrients in the salad, but not drench my salad in salad dressing. In other words, I try to go easy on the starches and the fats. When I don’t, my weight edges up a bit for a few days and I have to exercise quite a bit to get it to go down again. I don’t agree with people who claim one cannot “out workout” overeating. I always am able to, but I can’t keep on bingeing and still “out workout” my overindulgence. Once I get back to my maintenance calorie level and continue to exercise, my weight usually goes back down after a few days. When I do track my food, I can budget in some treats. I don’t treat anything as “off limits,” except for meats which I strictly avoid because of the cruelty issues involved. I minimize dairy and eggs and I am trying to really minimize processed sweets, but eat healthier ones made with whole wheat flour, sweetened with dates and no processed oils in them. I don’t avoid either fats or carbs per se, but simply budget for both. I am mostly of the “calories in, calories out” school and thought and don’t think either fat or carbs makes a person fat, but rather calorie surpluses.

    Reply
    • Dan Bolton

      There are some awesome strategies there, Daniel!
      What kind of exercise do you do to burn the extra cals off?

      Reply
      • Daniel Wagle

        Since this is usually on my day off from work, I will go for a 30 mile bike ride, as well as a 3 mile brisk walk. I always exercise everyday, and so it gets “out worked out.”

        Reply
  4. spectra311

    I did experiment with doing “cheat days”, but it didn’t work well for me. Mostly, it was because I never really planned what I’d eat on those days and I’d eat, say, 3/4 of a pan of chocolate-frosted rice krispies treats and a pint of ice cream. What seems to work better for me is to eat very healthy about 80-90% of the day and allow myself a daily treat that is just purely for fun–a handful of Skittles or a couple of marshmallows or something like that. It keeps me from going hogwild and because I no longer eat massive quantities of these junk foods, I don’t have the same cravings for them that I used to.

    Reply
  5. Ted

    Lots of great points Dan and this may help a lot of people who go crazy on cheat days and “undo” all they’ve done the week before as far as weight loss is concerned.

    However, people are different and personally it wasn’t until I “discovered” the concept of cheat days did I change my body. I was never overweight, but I could never get the definition I wanted. I ate in moderation and if I wanted a cookie, I’d have one. I tried to eat healthier, but still ate bread everyday, refined sugar everyday, and didn’t understand the concept of “bad fats”.

    Anyway, long story short, I discovered the concept of eating healthy; cutting out refined sugars and simple carbs 5 days a week and 2 days a week eating whatever I wanted. Personally, I’ve always been pretty disciplined where food is concerned, so on the weekends I could just have 1 or 2 cookies and not the “whole batch” I’d be satisfied with a bowl of ice cream and not feel the need to eat the whole carton.

    After eating this way for a few months I experienced really noticeable changes in my body. This was about 4 years ago now. Last fall I became less strict and began eating more sugar and carbs during the holidays and what not and the pounds started to creep back on, so I’m now doing a low carb diet for 6 days a week and allow one “cheat day” 3 full weeks in and I’m back to my pre-holiday weight”

    So all this to say that I agree that this can be disastrous for some, but for others like myself the cheat day concept works pretty well. It really boils down to a person’s relationship with food and if they are prone to binge eating or not. Those prone to binge eating should definitely take your advice. And like you said the most important thing is understanding the amount of calories you are eating and the amount that is needed for weight loss to occur.

    Reply
    • Dan Bolton

      That’s awesome, and really fascinating! Glad to hear it’s working for you.

      I think this is key – “I’ve always been pretty disciplined where food is concerned”. It sounds like you really do have a great relationship with food (What a weird sentence that is ha).

      In my experience (Personal and observing others) I’ve never really seen peoples cheat days match what you’re describing. For example one of my friends recently, after a few days of eating well, decided he deserved a cheat meal. He posted a pic on instagram: 4 sodas, A block of chocolate, A big bag of candy and 2 bags of chips. He polished it all off. Needless to say he’s not currently losing weight.

      While I’m a huge fan of Tim Ferriss he describes, in the 4 hour body, his cheat day where he eats until he feels sick, so that he won’t go near that food for the rest of the week. I followed his diet for a while. The problem? When I’d go to a friends house and my meal wasn’t slow-carb friendly my “cheat day mindset” would kick in.

      All that to say I honestly haven’t seen many examples like yours. It definitely wasn’t for me but If it’s working and you enjoy than keep it up!

      Reply
      • Ted

        I know a few other people like me, but I would agree that most people tend to overindulge when it comes to food, so cheat days wouldn’t be for them. Perhaps all the people who have developed “cheat day” diets, were never overweight to begin with?

        Reply