Curbing Binge Eating
Jenny was a new client a few years back. She started training four to five times per week consistently. She ate a healthy diet, most of the time. After three weeks of training and not seeing the scale budge, Jenny came to me with frustration. She did not understand why she wasn’t seeing her expected results when she was training consistently and “eating really well”. She began to wonder if she was eating too little, incorrect foods, or eating at the wrong times. Was there a supplement missing from her diet? What changes needed to be made in order for her to see results? I asked her to log her food intake and activity as accurately as possible for one week. Her narrative held true Monday through Friday—but Friday night started a new food trend that is less than ideal when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. Jenny’s menu for Friday consisted of pizza, beer, and Ice cream before bed. On Saturday, she attended a tailgate where bratwursts, chips, and beer were the food of choice. During the game, Jenny indulged in some popcorn, a giant soft pretzel, and a large coke that she shared with her boyfriend. Sunday involved a brunch after church that consisted of sausage, bacon, French toast, syrup, hash browns, and mimosas to drink. For Sunday dinner, Jenny and a friend tried out a new Italian place in town that involved a creamy pasta dish, bread, and a glass of wine. The next week was set to start on Monday and she immediately jumped back into a healthy meal lifestyle that she needed to make her weight changes. Breakfast was either an egg white, feta, and spinach scramble or smoothie made with Greek yogurt, whey protein, strawberries and spinach. Lunch was roasted chicken or salmon, roasted mixed veggies, and a small potato. Dinner would vary a bit more but was always reasonable, and included a lean protein source and a few servings of veggies.
This is a very common scenario that I see with clients as well as in myself at different times in the past. The research tells us that when self-reporting food intake, we tend to overestimate good choices we make and underestimate poor food choices (sometimes by as much as 50%). It’s important to realize that one to three days of poor eating can totally erase four to five days of “perfect” eating, especially if you are a smaller female whose Basal Metabolic Rate is lower. I’ve met with women who are positive they are eating less than 1200 calories per day five days per week and don’t realize the consequences of two days of eating 2400+ calories. The problem is that we often either give up, or restrict our already good eating days even further to try to get the scale to budge. This causes most people to feel even more deprived and then the weekend eating ramps up even more. In some cases, we may find ourselves stuffing our faces with our kids Halloween candy when no one is looking and telling ourselves we’ll eat better on Monday. If this sounds like a familiar experience, here are some things I’ve found to be useful for both myself and many clients.
Get Busy: Nothing helps curve bad eating than keeping yourself busy. Ever heard someone say they forgot to eat? That type of comment is typically coming from someone who is busy with work, being active, or doing household chores or projects. Rarely will you have someone binging their favorite Netflix series forget to eat. The clients I’ve worked with (particularly the ones who’ve lost and maintained more than 10% of their body weight) have been most successful when weight training three to four days per week and add additional cardio (walking, bike riding, kayaking, etc.) the other three to four days per week for 30-60 minutes. I don’t believe that the extra caloric expenditure from these activities are the prime driver of weight loss and keeping it off. Research shows that exercise by itself is a poor driver of weight loss. Instead, if you’re behind on some household projects or lawn care, then fill your day with those things. Eat when you are truly hungry, but fill the rest of the time with business until your compulsion to eat has subsided.
Plan: Most individuals who get serious about their nutrition quickly find that preparing food in advance and having some sort of menu planned out ahead of time plays huge dividends in their adherence to improved eating patterns. However, people normally only meal plan Monday through Friday. Extra planning that is needed for the weekend could be a missing step when achieving weight loss goals. You don’t have to have every aspect of your life planned out. Rather, pick one meal each day to plan and prepare for ahead of time. If you have plans to go out to dinner at some point, pick the place ahead of time, look at the menu, and make your ordering decision before you go to the restaurant. If the portions are large or calorie dense, order a to go box when you place your order and have the wait staff put half your food in the box when they bring it out.
Reflect: If you struggle with a strong compulsion to eat, food could potentially be a coping mechanism. Eating when you are not actually hungry or eating past the point of being full could be major setbacks in your goal reaching. Take time to reflect upon yourself and ask why you need to eat the way you have been. Did your parents take you for ice cream as a kid to make you feel better after being upset? Does eating make you happy or elevate your mood long term? In some cases, the assistance of a good mental health professional may be an invaluable asset to help work through this.
Our Pro Coach program offered through Precision Nutrition here at Fenton Fitness helps to work through this and countless other issues that hold people back from reaching their ideal body composition goals. Contact Program Director for more information. Jeff@fentonfitness.com or 810-750-0351
Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1