How I Stopped Binge Eating: Pulling My Head Out of the Sand of Diet Culture

how I stopped binge eating without restricting my diet or denying my hunger ever again

Before I share how I stopped binge eating, you need to be prepared for some irony. Instead of creating more rules around what I shouldn’t eat, which is usually the gold standard for addressing binge eating behavior, I actually decided to give up dieting completely — and it helped curb my binges.

I am not a perfect eater (what does that even mean, anyway?) and I will never claim to be. I don’t think that we can “cure” overeating patterns for good, but we can greatly diminish them through psychology.

My approach to stop compulsive eating is called Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, and it’s rooted in eating psychology and spirituality. The inner work is how I stopped binge eating — and the fact that I don’t have to restrict my diet or deny my hunger is a major plus.

Before we dig into the steps I took to stop binge eating, let’s look at how unhealthy my relationship with food used to be. Then I’ll share 5 steps you can take to address your own unwanted eating patterns.

Why “Flat Belly Days” Fueled My Binge Eating

Women’s Health magazine used to be my go-to source for health tips. (I know, we’re already off to a bad start.) At the time, I didn’t know it was extreme diet culture propaganda keeping me stuck in the restrict-binge cycle. I did not know these were the reasons why I was binge eating in the first place.

Inside each issue was a spread titled “Your Flat-Belly Day” that outlined a 1-day meal plan under 1,400 calories. At the time, I had no idea that it was useless to obsessively count calories because it neglects the psychological reasons for overeating. I had not yet discovered the compelling reasons why diets don’t work!

I did not know that clinical evidence shows that, over the long-term, dieting is linked with weight gain, not weight loss — with some studies even show that dieting makes you predisposed to regain even more weight than before![1], [2]

But back then, before I knew all the compelling reasons not to restrict your diet, I was always enchanted by these Flat-Belly Days. I would read them and wonder what my body would look like if I ate that way every day. Once again, I had no idea that restricting your diet actually slows down your metabolism (and we’ll dig into that soon).[3]

Logically, I knew that I couldn’t and shouldn’t. But my desperate, burning desire for a thin body always surpassed logic. I ended up trying these “Flat Belly Days” many, many times; and they would always turn out the same way…

The Root Cause of Binge Eating: Restriction and “Good Intentions”

On my Flat-Belly Days, I always started with a small, healthy breakfast, a similarly small, healthy lunch, and a sorry excuse for a midafternoon snack. By the time midafternoon was over, I was really hungry and pretty cranky.

Food was constantly on my mind, and now I was craving unhealthy stuff even more than normal. At the time, I thought it was a lack of willpower. Now I know the science behind it: the body is wired to dump hormones during periods of perceived famine (i.e. restriction) in order to increase the desire to eat.[4]

An enormous body of clinical evidence shows that your body is wired to feel even hungrier and crave less-nutritious foods (namely 'hyperpalatable' foods, or those high in fat, salt, carbs, or sugar) when you restrict your diet.[5], [6], [7]

But again, at the time, I didn’t know these things yet. I thought I just lacked discipline and that’s why I binged. On days where I would restrict my diet, it would always play out the same way:

By the time dinner rolled around, all I wanted was a chicken and black bean burrito. But that wasn’t in the meal plan, so instead I would eat a salad that, although beautiful and delicious, left me unsatisfied.

As the night creeped on, my hunger only grew – even though I had finished eating the “entire day’s worth of food” (according to diet-culture-propaganda Women’s Health Magazine). In my attempt to not sabotage all my effort, I try to quell my post-dinner cravings with a piece of fruit.

Surely this 100-calorie piece of fruit won’t push me over the edge….

When “Good Behavior” Leads to “Binge Behavior”

how a binge starts: with good intentions but a far cry from adequate food
what a binge becomes: finally eating the thing you wanted along with all the other things

Although my intentions were pure, after 30 minutes I would be back in the kitchen looking for more tiny bites to try and satisfy my raging hunger. First I had something small like a handful of pretzels. When that didn’t satisfy me, I’d go for something slightly more substantial like a handful of almonds.

“Surely these little snacks won’t undo my entire day,” I thought…

Once I would climb into bed around 10:30pm, I thought that I won. I made it to the finish line without eating a large amount of food (which is actually a normal amount of food) and I would wake up the next day feeling great.

Except, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep because food was exceptionally on my mind. (Remember those hormones the body dumps to increase the desire for food?) After an hour and a half of struggling to fall asleep, I wouldn’t be able to take it anymore.

At midnight, I’d get up, walk into the kitchen and open the fridge. I’d pull out some leftovers and eat the entire thing.

It was probably 800 calories, which put me well over what is actually a ‘normal’ caloric intake for one day. Plus it happened at night. Plus I created a ton of unnecessary stress and wasted willpower trying to resist the foods that my body wanted in the first place. This is what binge eating is. Now, how can we climb out of this awful cycle?

How I Stopped Binge Eating without Dieting Ever Again

The path I took to stop binge eating was unique. After plenty of trial and error, I took everything I learned and tied it all together into Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, my approach to stopping compulsive eating rooted purely in psychological and spiritual practices.

There’s a lot that goes into Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, but there are 5 steps you can take to get started that I will outline next. To illustrate how I stopped binge eating, we need to go back to the basics.

1. Stop dieting and counting calories

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If every restriction results in a binge, the best way to stop binge eating is to stop restricting. When I first stopped dieting, I was amazed at how little I overate. It blew my mind. (Coming from a background of Women’s Health magazine, no wonder!)

But I wasn’t super committed when I first tried to stop. I was too afraid of gaining weight, so I only tried it for one month. The first 3 weeks were smooth sailing, but once the last week came around, my binges returned.

I knew the freedom was almost over, so “Last Supper Eating” pushed me right back into binge eating. (This is the second stage of giving up dieting, by the way, and we can get stuck in it if we don’t fully commit to the process.)

Once I saw the undeniable correlation between restricting my dieting and binge eating, that’s when I gave up dieting for good.

2. Be intentional about developing emotional tolerance

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Behind every binge is a feeling that we don’t want to feel.

Sometimes it’s obvious, like with depression, where binges are the epitome of “comfort eating.” We detach from the emotional body because we don’t want to feel the sharp edges of emotion.

To me, the ‘skill’ of resisting adequate food is useless. Similarly, the ‘skill’ of resisting our emotion is also useless because an authentic life requires both good and bad emotion. Instead of resisting emotion, what if we leaned into them, embraced them, and actually allowed them space?

This is the premise behind my tool to stop binge eating called the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️. It involves making space for your emotions in the precise moment where you want to eat when you’re not hungry. While that may sound too simple to work, it can effectively stop a binge in its tracks.

Here’s my most-watched video on how to do it (keep in mind that this was filmed in 2018 while I was still very new to YouTube).

how to stop a binge in its tracks with the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️

This practice embodies how I stopped binge eating because it has nothing to do with food. Instead, it helps you build emotional tolerance, which is the ability to be uncomfortable without being swept into compulsion by it.

3. Heal your metabolism from the damage of too much restriction

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Restrictive diets and the constant calorie-counting can take a toll on your metabolism, causing it to slow down. If you have been trying to eat like I was back in the day, you can actually heal your metabolism by eating more food on purpose.

When we listen to our body’s signals of hunger and fullness and nourish ourselves with an adequate amount of food, we can support our metabolism. Once the body perceives that food is abundant and no longer scarce, it can stop dumping hormones that cause metabolism to slow down. Instead, it can ramp metabolism up.

This helps restore hormonal balance, such as the release of the satiety hormone leptin, which signals fullness, satisfaction, and that our energy needs are being met. Speaking of satisfaction…

4. Eat the foods you actually want to begin with

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Feeling full but not satisfied after eating can be puzzling, especially if you’ve struggled with binge eating. While physical fullness and emotional satisfaction don’t always align, understanding the reasons behind this disconnect is crucial for overcoming binge eating.

Differentiating between fullness and satisfaction is the first step. Fullness is the physical sensation of being satiated, while satisfaction is the emotional contentment derived from eating what truly appeals to you.

Dieting and restrictive eating patterns often worsen the gap between fullness and satisfaction. By adhering to external rules and denying ourselves the foods we crave, we compromise our ability to experience both physical and emotional fulfillment. Embracing intuitive eating and listening to our body’s cues can help bridge this gap and overcome binge eating.

5. Discover the subconscious beliefs causing self-sabotage

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Giving up dieting and practicing the SDF were crucial to how I stopped binge eating, but they aren’t the only steps. Another cornerstone of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness is uncovering any subconscious beliefs that fuel self-sabotage around food. This is at the heart of the ‘inner work.’

When our internal belief system and external actions don’t match, self-sabotage happens.

My workbook on stopping self-sabotage, Why We Do the Things We Do, can help you pinpoint any limiting beliefs that might be getting in the way. Although you might have an idea of where you are stuck, separating your thoughts onto paper allows for an extra layer of insight.

Have you ever started journaling and wrote down something surprising and thought to yourself, “Wow, I didn’t even know I thought that.” That’s the idea behind Why We Do the Things We Do. It shines a spotlight in the hard-to-see areas of our psyche.

How I Stopped Binge Eating & How You Can Too

My journey to stop binge eating has been rooted in a deep belief in the power of the human spirit and psyche. I discovered that diets and calorie-counting only perpetuate the restrict-binge cycle, keeping us trapped in an unhealthy relationship with food. That’s why I turned my attention inward.

I let go of dieting and counting calories, and instead worked on my emotional tolerance through the Stop, Drop, & Feel method to stop binge eating. This allowed me to embrace and process my emotions without turning to food for comfort. I hope you will join me on this life-changing journey.

You deserve to live a life free from the grips of binge eating. Embrace the power of your own inner wisdom and ditch the food rules. You will find enormous self-empowerment in the process.

To learn even more about the psychology of eating, check out my freebies below. They explain absolutely everything about Psycho-Spiritual Wellness and the path to feeling normal around food.

  1. Lowe, Michael R et al. “Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain.” Frontiers in psychology 4 577. 2 Sep. 2013, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00577
  2. El Ghoch, Marwan et al. “Weight cycling in adults with severe obesity: A longitudinal study.” Nutrition & dietetics: the journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia 75,3 (2018): 256-262. doi:10.1111/1747-0080.12387
  3. Kouda, Katsuyasu et al. “Metabolic response to short-term 4-day energy restriction in a controlled study.” Environmental health and preventive medicine 11,2 (2006): 89-92. doi:10.1007/BF02898148
  4. Derous, Davina et al. “The effects of graded levels of calorie restriction: VI. Impact of short-term graded calorie restriction on transcriptomic responses of the hypothalamic hunger and circadian signaling pathways.” Aging 8,4 (2016): 642-63. doi:10.18632/aging.100895
  5. Cameron, Jameason D et al. “Energy depletion by diet or aerobic exercise alone: impact of energy deficit modality on appetite parameters.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 103,4 (2016): 1008-16. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.115584
  6. Thomas, Elizabeth A et al. “Eating-related behaviors and appetite during energy imbalance in obese-prone and obese-resistant individuals.” Appetite 65 (2013): 96-102. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.01.015
  7. Tschöp, M et al. “Ghrelin induces adiposity in rodents.” Nature 407,6806 (2000): 908-13. doi:10.1038/35038090

Keep It Going: Get The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating (Free Ebook)

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plus a free 6 day email course in psycho-spiritual wellness

Dive into the world of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness with my free ebook. The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating (13 pages, beautifully illustrated). It’s a great next step towards stopping compulsive eating without dieting ever again.

You’ll also receive a complimentary 5-day email course in my philosophies, enriching your journey with profound insights and practical tips to stop overeating. Each email is a new step towards transforming your relationship with food.

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Ready to dive even deeper into your journey of self-discovery? I proudly present my most celebrated workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do. This 75-page digital workbook reveals your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating. By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up.

Some say ‘feel it to heal it’ but this workbook takes it a step deeper and helps you ‘see it to heal it.’ If you’re the kind of person who logically knows how to live a healthy lifestyle but you compulsively do the opposite, this workbook will illuminate what’s standing in the way. Then, you know exactly where to focus your energy.

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7 thoughts on "How I Stopped Binge Eating: Pulling My Head Out of the Sand of Diet Culture"

  1. Sophiasays:

    This was soooooo helpful!!

  2. Elizabethsays:

    Thank you so much! I’ve never stopped to ask myself why I even fell into this trap to begin with. I will definitely be using this method from now on!

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      I’m so glad it was helpful Elizabeth!

  3. Mary Clairesays:

    I am a therapist and even I struggle with my own feelings. I literally feel like I have put such a mask over my underlying feelings that cause me to binge eat and covered them so well that they are unreachable. I hope I can find them and feel them so I can overcome this cycle that has taken over.
    Thank you for your insight!

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Thank you so much for opening up and sharing this Mary! I admire your awareness and willingness to look into these uncomfortable places.

  4. Amysays:

    A lot of this is about stopping yourself from binging or emotional eating. But what happens when you fail? What if one day you are particularly less successful, and you do binge. Even if you manage to stop the binge part way through, how do you deal with those feelings of failure?

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      With compassion. So much compassion. In my book and newsletters I talk a lot about giving yourself grace on the days where you just can’t SDF, or just can’t [insert task that your brain is mad at you for doing or not doing]. It always comes back to compassion.

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