Avoiding The Feared Food Binge
I am no stranger to the concept of binge eating and the overwhelming guilt that it can cause. On the heels of a bad day, boredom, or a “simple” over-indulgence, consuming copious amounts of whatever junk is available is the quickest way for me to send my dietary ambitions off the rails and throw myself in to a mire of pity and despair. Rarely are the results of the occasional binge as bad as I perceive, but the emotional stress that I suffer often takes days to overcome and has the ill effect of perpetuating the negative body image of which I am afflicted. However, observing a few dietary strategies has allowed me to avoid the majority of binge opportunities and have gone a long way in improving my health and, more importantly, preventing complete mental destruction. By eating multiple times a day, remaining conscious of my portion sizes and allowing myself to occasionally indulge in a modest “treat”, I can reduce the potential for dietary suicide and maintain a positive disposition towards food and myself.
Let the Nutrients Flow
Eating a solid breakfast, lunch and dinner, with modest snacks sprinkled in between, prevents me from getting too hungry and can reduce the probability that I will participate in destructive eating behavior. This strategy was recently demonstrated as valuable in a study that found healthy dietary habits to be associated with lower levels of body fat. The positive results of slowly eating several meals throughout the day are consistent with several previous studies, but what sets this one apart is that the study administrators took into consideration physical activity and were still able to confirm the association between meal frequency and body fat. The authors also observed that those who limited their physical activity were better able to control body fat than those who skipped meals when eating a quality breakfast. Further, another recent study demonstrated that individuals who, either advertently or inadvertently, observed short term “fasts” were more likely to begin their next meal with and consume more calorically dense, traditionally unhealthy foods. Snacks or not, absolutely no skipping meals!
Here are a few ideas and suggestions for snacking healthfully from the previous post “Taking Back the Snack” that will help you feed your body the consistent stream of nutrition that it desires.
Devil in the Details: Portion Control
The fact that we need to remain conscientious of how much we consume is fairly intuitive, but it is probably the most difficult measure to observe when attempting to lose and maintain weight loss. First of all, practicing restraint goes against evolutionary adaptation and the concept of food scarcity. Before there was a McDonalds at every intersection, meals were hard to come by and our ancestors would gorge themselves when food was available in order to help them get through less abundant times. This stinks because we haven’t yet been able to shuck the tendency to overeat when food is made easily available. Adding another dimension to the difficulty in portion control, Harvard scholar Pierre Chandon, recently demonstrated that the brain is inherently bad at geometry and accurately gauging serving size and units of increasing measure. According to Pierre, “we tend to underestimate the increase in size of any object,” which makes it difficult for us to grasp the consequence of consuming a Mega Gulp as opposed to the “modest” (sarcasm) Big Gulp. On top of these evolutionary setbacks, the majority of us are predisposed to price sensitivity and naturally gravitate to fiscally prudent food decisions. Frugal and ambitious by nature, when was the last time we were able to turn down the supersized offer and stop yourself after half the sleeve of flash fried taters?
The hardest strategy for me to adopt, but the one I have found more indispensable than the others, is allowing the occasional, modest treat to satisfy my sweet tooth and prevent the shame spiral that follows inhaling enough cake to feed a small village. Reinforcing this idea, a recently published study illustrates the value of occasionally indulging in sweets to reduce cravings and help maintain weight loss. When study participants consumed a small, sugary treat early in the day, they reported feeling less hungry and were subject to fewer cravings throughout the day. According to study administrators, “the goal of a weight loss diet should not only be weight reduction, but also the reduction of hunger and cravings to help prevent weight regain,” and occasionally indulging is a beneficial tool in any weight loss strategy. I firmly believe that if we receive no pleasure from our food and adhere to an exclusionary diet, we will not be able to sustain our healthy weight loss strategies and will cut ourselves off from the positive energy that food can provide our mind and body.
Stimulate Your Brain?
This idea doesn’t qualify as one of my recommendations, but I found it particularly interesting as an alternative to dietary modification in addressing compulsive overconsumption. Addressing the lack of available treatments for the neural basis of binge eating, physicians at the University of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) implanted devices similar to a pace maker in mice to ascertain the impact of delivering electronic pulses to the region of the brain that often malfunctions in binge eaters. When the device was “on”, there was a significant reduction in food consumption, which led study administrators to conclude that, although “brain surgery for obesity treatment is a controversial idea…binge eating is a common feature of obese patients that is often associated with suboptimal treatment outcomes,” of which brain stimulation may be able to overcome. Bordering on science fiction, I feel a lot more comfortable simply snacking and indulging modestly to help me maintain a healthy diet.
These are just a few of the strategies that have helped me to stay lean and maintain high energy levels (without resorting to a lobotomy) and I encourage you to experiment and implement those that work best for you. Knowing how detrimental binge eating is to my physical and mental well-being, I must remain steadfast in my approach to maintaining healthy dietary habits so that I can be “present” in life and provide my loved ones with the care and affection that I believe important.