I've been struggling A LOT with this recently. I would appreciate any thoughts.
I've been "officially" paleo for about two months now. But lately, I've been slipping... a lot. Though I feel much much better - more energy, no sugar crash, etc. - when I eat true paleo, I've been falling back into old eating habits. A major part of this is that I've had issues with compulsive eating pretty much my whole life. So slipping is not just a "cheat", it's binge eating. Carbs and sugar recently (or even cheese, which I cut out of my diet), though when I was doing better about staying paleo it would be nuts or dried fruit.
So I've been reading up about compulsive eating because OH MY GOODNESS I want to work through and fix it. (I'm actually pretty sure I've gained weight in the past two months because of it!) A lot of what I am seeing is that restrictive diets tend to lead to binge eating. That makes sense to me. So is that what is happening to me? Has that happened to any of you? My compulsive eating has gotten quite bad lately, more intense than it ever has been. I don't know if that's because I've been restricting myself with paleo, and then psychologically I want to rebel so I'll overeat something non-paleo like cereal or cookies, or even something on the not-steak-and-veggies side of paleo like nut butters. Or maybe it's unrelated to paleo and more related to my current life situation (which is pretty unhappy).
I've been considering expanding my diet a bit to see what would happen (if I continued to be trapped in binge compulsive eating). This might mean eating non-gluten grains like rice or oats or quinoa; letting myself eat as much fruit and nuts as I want; and maybe eating cheese and milk. Basically, I would just stick with no wheat no sugar and no processed foods, which I'm pretty sure I could do (cause those things really make me FEEL bad). No legumes, either... though I can't say I really miss my tofu or lentils. Do you guys have any thoughts about that? I'd LOOOOOVE any help/input/thoughts before I try. If I'm still eating compulsively/bingeing when I eat those things, then I guess I might have a better idea if paleo is making my disordered eating any worse.
(I don't agree with those people, though, who say you should let yourself have ANYTHING when you're trying to overcome compulsive eating - like cake or cookies or whatever - eating that stuff will just make you want more! I think rice or oats aren't as druglike and addicting.)
Maybe I should add that I generally eat compulsively when I'm feeling bored, alone, unhappy, or dissatisfied. I'm not sure that it even has anything to do with WHAT I'm eating... I mean I'm not one of those people that would ever ever eat a whole tub of ice cream or tons of fast food or something. It's about the actual act of eating, not about the food itself. It just so happens, though, that it's a whole lot easier to overeat carbs or starch or sugar, or nuts. So that's what I tend to go towards.
Thanks in advance! Much love for everyone on this site, I don't feel so alone (or crazy) when I come on here...
Sola, welcome to my world. This is exactly my experience as well. I get torn between the "I need to give myself permission to eat whatever I want" in order to heal food issues, and the thought that if I DO eat whatever I want, I would end up eating sugar, which is addictive, and would put me back on the roller coaster. So therefore I want to put restrictions on myself to allow myself to ONLY eat Paleo, because of the dangers promised by eating non-Paleo.
I've been Paleo since February. And I have been walking the path between those two worlds.
I have learned that when I put those restrictions on myself (I'm ONLY eating Paleo, no excuses), I end up rebelling in a BIG way. And then feel bad that I've eaten bad, and get upset, feel badly about myself, and continue to eat horribly until I manage to pull myself out of it.
I also have found that when I give myself permission to eat whatever, (in the beginning especially) I would eat something non-paleo, I would have more cravings to eat badly. So, yes, that part is true too.
But here is the difference! When I give myself permission, it is easier for me to choose healthier foods. So, instead of "If I'm not going to eat Paleo then I'm going to go really crazy and eat Doritoes + Ben & Jerry's + Coke + whatever and disappear into a black hole" (which is how I react when I "cheat" on my self-imposed restrictions). So, instead of that, I think about it more rationally. Instead of the Doritoes, I go for the hazelnut + rice cracker gluten free crackers. Not paleo, but not Doritoes. Scratches that itch but doesn't put me on the roller coaster. And instead of the Ben & Jerry's, I get coconut ice cream. And instead of the coke, I get coconut water. But it is because I'm free to make those choices. And I know that I can make worse choices.
And yes, sometimes this did lead me down a slippery slope. But then I climbed back up it. I didn't feel so bad about myself because I "cheated", instead I just felt a little disappointed that I wasn't eating the way I wanted. So the level of being mean to myself diminished. And I chose to see every fall as an opportunity, and with every fall, I catch myself quicker, and climb back up quicker.
The thing that I've focused on that has helped is to really listen to my body. Listen to what it actually wants to eat, and not just the habit. Sometimes I reach for unhealthy foods out of habit, but when I listen to my body I realize I don't want that at all. And I also listen to how my body feels afterward. Do I feel sick? Do I feel groggy? How do I feel the next day? The last time I ate a small bag of Cheetos, I felt really sick, and I logged that in my mind, and the next time I had a thought of eating Cheetos, it was easy for me to pass on it, because I knew how it would make me feel, and I didn't want to feel that way.
Yesterday the most amazing thing happened. I was SUPER hungry (due to the days events/choices the only thing I had to eat that day was salad greens + dressing). And Friday's is my night off from cooking, so I'll sometimes bring home some lazy food (like smoked salmon & almond butter). And I gave myself complete permission to eat whatever I wanted. WHATEVER. And I asked myself did I want a burger? No, I really didn't. I walked down the ice cream isle, asking did I want some ice cream or Coconut Ice Cream? Nope, not really.
You know what I wanted? I wanted to have the healthy leftovers that I had waiting at home. But because I was so determined to have SOMETHING I don't usually let myself have, I bought some of the for mentioned rice+nut crackers and some egg nog (single serve in a glass bottle, from a local, sustainable farm) and dark chocolate. And I came home and ate my left overs (and ate a lot, I was HUNGRY). But I didn't eat all the crackers. Or all the chocolate. And I woke up feeling fine, and not bad about myself, and then had a paleo breakfast and got on with my day.
And I know that some day, I won't bother with any of it, and just eat Paleo, because I choose to eat Paleo, and I choose health, and I choose to feel the way Paleo makes me feel. But I have to give myself the right to choose it. And I have to trust myself to choose it. And I know the beauty of Paleo is that it helps you to eat the right choices, because you aren't on a blood sugar roller coaster, because you are eating foods that actually nourish you, and because it just makes SENSE.
Whichever path you decide to take, I wish you much luck and success. The only thing that you really have to do, is not give up on yourself. That is the only way that I've made the progress that I have. Just don't give up.
Personally, and from my experience, sugar causes binge eating. The more sugar I eat, the more sugar I want to eat. Sugar is a metabolic addiction with a direct and powerful pleasure response in the brain. To me, having a slice of cake is like an X smoker having 'just one' cigarette. In such a case, I blame the sugar/nicotine itself and not the nosugar/nocigarette lifestyle as the main source of the problem.
Not to say there aren't other psychological issues potentially in play as well. I am not a psychologist so am hesistant to make comments on other potential behavioral issues. But I do think there is a strong tendency for addicts, including sugar addicts, to make excuses for going back to their addiction, like saying 'I deserve this today' or 'just this once' or 'it's only fair.'
As for a less restrictive approach, I think that depends on the individual. Personally, I have found I can occasionally eat starch like from potatoes, and I can eat whole pieces of fruit at will, without going overboard or becoming over addicted. I can eat some fruit today and tomorrow, I may not feel like eating any fruit at all. So fruit doesn't drive me into an addictive overboard behavior. Nor does it have adverse affects on my weight, nor do I have any blood sugar issues. So I allow fruit. But if fruit had the same effects on me as a slice of cake, as far as triggering of cravings and overeating, then I would not eat it.
You have to find out what works for you. For some, less restriction works. For others, it doesn't. For me, it works with some things but not with others.
I doubt the problem is the food. Having struggled with EXACTLY the kind of dissatisfied binge behavior you mention most of my life, I can say for a fact that change begins in you and your emotions.
For me, eating paleo has made it easier to stay centered and listen to my body- it has even lifted me out of a slightly depressed state. But eating paleo doesn't change the way you feel about yourself.
I know I am a perfectionist, and sometimes, when my life feels painfully imperfect, I turn to food to soothe me. I want to escape my imperfect (nasty, brutish, short...) existence.
Listen to your feelings. When I binge, I really, really don't want to binge. I can hear my body telling me to stop. But I can't stop because I hate myself at that moment and hate my life.
So create a life you want. It all starts with your perception of YOU.
I've never had problems with binge eating, so I can't speak to that part of your question, but I have thought about the psychology of eating a lot, so I do have some stuff to say about that.
My biggest problem has always been not eating, not in a conscious fat phobic anorexia kind of way, but more in the forgetting to eat or, at times, the being repulsed by food kind of way. When I was eating SAD this tendency wreaked havoc on my blood sugar and general well being. When I went vegan, and later raw vegan, it spiraled out of control and into serious orthexia territory. Having a limited diet gave me the excuse (and moral righteousness) to get even worse about it, using the "there is nothing for me to eat" excuse all the time. My weight plummeted, my hormones were all over the place and since I was eating really carb-heavy in addition to sporadically my hypoglycemia got out of control. Throw in the vegan obsession with cleansing and I was almost done for for a long time.
Then I flipped out one day at the restrictions and the attitude and threw myself back into SAD omnivory, prioritizing my mental health over my physical health. Paleo has helped with all of this immensely, but the scars of so many years having such an unhealthy relationship to food are still there. So I do what works for me. I know I can't handle going back to a way of eating that involves a pseudo-religious obsession with purity and sin, so I work hard to not let Paleo become that. I use Paleo eating principles to guide my food choices, not rule them, because psychological well-being is an important piece of health, too. So I don't stress about grain fed meat, or a little sugar being in a curry sauce, or some rice here and there. I eat as clean as I can most of the time and make compromises other times and can't let myself slip into thinking about it as cheating or whatever because that leads to bunch of terrible self-flagellation. When I did that in the past it just made me go bonkers and then think that eating kraft mac and cheese was better than spending my life fearing contamination. Now I have a more moderate approach that is serving me quite well. Maybe someday I'll even be able to get into IF without it triggering a whole bunch of food-avoidance.
I've been low carb/paleo for less than two months now and my metabolism is still shifting. Some days are great; other days I have cravings, especially after exercise or other exertion. But they feel like physical cravings due to wacked out blood sugar, not psychological cravings. I know that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
Although this diet can fix a broken metabolism, there seems to be plenty of evidence that true binge eating is a psychological condition in many cases. That's not to minimize your feelings by telling you that it's all in your head; just to say that the combination of paleo and counseling with someone who specializes in eating disorders could be much more powerful than either approach alone.
Don't cut the cheese. Cheese is honestly what keeps me sane sometimes. If you are at a party and there is nothing paleo, you can have some cheese from the cheese plate. At a restaurant? Order the cheese plate for dessert. Had a bad day? Buy a block of good cheese. Unless you have an autoimmune disorder that is affected by cheese, keeping eating and loving it :)
I've had major binging problems in the past. It took a serious toll on my health. Then I started the paleo diet, and I was still having binging episodes for about 5 months, until I implemented intermittent fasting in my routine. I fast one day once or twice per month, and for some reason, I am way more in touch with what I NEED to make me feel good rather than what I want that in the past has delivered some sick satisfaction in a binge. Also, I think it took my system several months to get used to not eating any cheats. Now when I cheat, I get violently ill. My body can't handle refined sugars and processed foods anymore. So now, when I see Halloween candy, sugar, or any type of bread (all of these used to be HUGE temptations for me) all I think is 'poison. it's poison.' This has been really helpful for staying paleo true. Finally, if I feel in a bingy mood, I eat a ton of whole carrots, or spinach. Then I have fiber belly... and have no desire to saturate some oatmeal with agave and hunker down, which I used to do a lot.
I've struggled with binge eating a lot in the past and I understand that it is not easily overcome. I would yo yo diet and binge and binge and binge. I still struggle with it too (though now only when I take a day or meal off of paleo eating). In my journey to understand the root of my binge eating I did a lot of research and a lot of individual psychological work to help understand my habits and where the drive to eat was coming from.
Along the way I found a series of books that I found to be somewhat of a revelation. For me, getting involved in paleo eating came months after I felt at peace with my binges (a feeling which ultimately would end them). I would highly recommend you read the book "Breaking Free From Emotional Eating" by Geneen Roth. I found it to be extremely helpful and it gave me a new way to look at my eating habits. From there I was able to release myself from the power that food had in my life and have not found paleo to be restrictive because of the way I view my eating choices.
I should note that the book is geared towards women and it's probably not for everyone but it helped me take the steps to control my emotional eating and hopefully it can help you too.
Best of luck to you. I know what a struggle compulsive eating can be.
I agree and can relate to Amanda's description above. Being mentally comfortable with where one is diet-wise is very important, especially for those who have battled with their relationship with food. Paleo guides what I eat about 80% of the time and has helped me become waaaaay less anxious about my food choices. The axiety over food is still there, but I don't think that is a product of a restrictive Paleo diet. It is more of a product of a mental condition/problem/whatever that may or may not necessarily relate to food. It's hard to summarize in one post, but the bottom line is that I can say that the "restrictions" of Paleo are more than likely not your problem. It's your relationship with food (and perhaps other sources of anxiety) that is the underlying problem. For me, Paleo has helped the anxiety.
See my answer here especially the part about aminos and I'll reiterate the part about eating enough fat. I think it's also good to figure out which foods are stronger binge triggers for you. I now reach for potato chips instead of wheat or popcorn (to both of which I am somewhat allergic) and they don't seem to cause that slippery slope effect nearly as drastically. For example, if I break down and order a pizza, I can't just eat a normal portion, I'll eat the whole thing. It's like eating wheat turns off my fullness indicator and turns me into a ravenous bottomless (psychological) pit.
Now I'll admit last night I ate a sandwich, a pint of ice cream, and half a bag of potato chips. I made that choice fairly consciously and by giving myself permission and not beating myself up about it, the cravings didn't continue into today. I ate relatively little today, actually, and also went on a nice long bike ride, which improved my mood far better than the pile of carbs I ate last night. (Note I was not doing cardio to punish myself for overeating!) I'll also admit I cheated (not binged) fairly often last month, and I've been maintaining my health and weight and feel great. Your metabolism may vary, but I think the key is to not make bingeing or cheating an all-or-nothing proposition. That might help with the feeling restricted vs. rebelling against the restriction thing. I make conscious decisions to cheat (and often talk myself out of it), and go on and eat delicious paleo food the rest of the time.
One more thought--eating junk is expensive! My little feast from the convenience store last night cost me $10, which I could have spent on a whole lot more real food. I think of this whenever I balk at paying for grass-fed or at least less crappy meat. I'm on a tight budget and this really really helps me to keep in mind. I was having a pizza craving a few weeks ago, which could easily mean $25 for one meal. So I made myself go to the store instead, where I bought grass-fed butter, and beef and veggies and some 90% dark chocolate and made a nice meal with a tasty dessert (it's impossible for me to binge on 90% chocolate).
It does get better, just keep working on it. And definitely heed the advice that it's not entirely about the food, but about you.