What is happening in your brain when you experience a binge, and how can you use this knowledge to heal your relationship with food?
Dr. Kari Anderson is a binge-eating expert. She’s a licensed professional counsellor and has a doctorate in behavioral health. She runs her own practice that specializes in helping others heal from issues with food, body, and trauma – and she’s authored three books that focus on healing from bingeing.
We spoke with Dr. Kari and she broke down exactly what is happening in the brain when you binge, along with some practical and attainable advice to conquer binge eating.
Here are 3 key lessons from Dr. Kari Anderson on overcoming binge eating:
1. Food Is Not The Enemy
Really, it’s not. Food is not the problem. You are not the problem. Food is simply nourishment and energy for your body.
It’s easy to lose sight of this in the midst of diet culture and living with an eating disorder. But there is nothing wrong with eating food, including foods you like and enjoy. Dr. Kari explains how she realized that food is not the enemy:
”Food has really become a life force for my work. Food is medicine, it’s what keeps me feeling good and gives me clarity of mind and energy. So I look at food now as something that is important and good for me. I need food in order to be my best self. It takes a real healing to go from something that you’re misusing or substituting for safety into something that fuels your new life .” – Dr. Kari Anderson
Move toward food instead of away from it. You can embrace it instead of making it the enemy. Food is your fuel for building a better life. A life of peace, hope, and abundance.
2. Notice Your Feelings In Your Body
It can be SO hard to stop a binge when you’re in the moment. Your primal brain has kicked into full gear, and it feels like all-or-nothing. That’s why Dr. Kari suggests using the tools of mindfulness and grounding in these moments to help re-direct the cycle.
When you feel an urge to binge, or you’re feeling any type of distress or fear – take a quick moment to notice where you feel it in your body. For Dr. Kari, when she experiences anxiety, her throat and chest tighten up and her heart starts to beat faster. She feels an energy in her chest area. Or when she feels shame, it feels like she’s been kicked in the stomach and had the breath knocked out of her.
Notice what you feel in your body when the urge to binge comes up. And instead of being afraid of these sensations, just regard it as information. Nothing more, nothing less.
“It’s part of mindfulness. You use that information to shift the energy back to baseline. So you can use breath work, and ground your senses to focus more on what’s going on externally rather than just the sensations going on internally” – Dr. Kari Anderson
Noticing where you feel your emotions in your body helps to take you out of your head. Following this up with grounding can help you further. Give this a try next time you feel an urge to binge. It throws a wrench in the cycle. Even if you still follow through with the binge, be gentle with yourself and know that you did something important. Change doesn’t happen over night. It’s finding small opportunities to disrupt the pattern and celebrating micro wins that will result in big changes in the long run. Eventually, your brain will understand that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to food.
3. Create Your Sanctuary
Living with binge eating disorder and/or facing weight stigma can be anxiety-inducing and traumatic. Dr. Kari helps us understand the importance of creating a sanctuary for yourself to decompress while you heal. She has a strong desire to help others understand the importance of having a soft place to land when dealing with food and body difficulties.
So create a sanctuary for yourself. It can be a physical space to relax your senses, or maybe your sanctuary comes in the form of having safe people. It is a place you can come and go to so that you’re not always having to be ready to defend or protect yourself.
“Your sanctuary should be somewhere you can completely relax, because your body wants to find something that is going to help you feel safe and regulate. And if you don’t have that, you’re going to turn to food.” – Dr. Kari Anderson
How do you create your sanctuary? It starts with you. You can be with the safest people in the safest environment in the world, but it won’t mean much if it’s not safe in your own mind and heart first and foremost. Create your own inner sanctuary by changing your self-talk to a nurturing, self compassionate, and safe voice.
From there, you can work on creating safety around you. Maybe it’s in the form of setting boundaries, or by making changes in your home or work environment. Kari also tells us about the importance of touch and eye contact in regulating our brains and emotions, whether that’s with a person or a pet. So maybe your sanctuary is snuggling up with a sweet furry friend. Remember that above all, you can create safety for yourself in your own mind and heart. Give yourself a soft place to land with self-compassion and self-kindness.