Posts tagged #binge eating recovery

Mindfulness and Brain Science - Why Mindfulness helps people overcome binge eating, emotional eating, and more

For a long time, I told myself I wasn’t a meditator.  I had countless attempts at meditating only to find quieting my mind to be so difficult. Sure, I had heard why it was useful for you but it wasn’t until I worked with my first meditation teachers that it became a habit for me.  I realized it was a mix of technique & accountability that helped me to finally make it a habit.

One of the interesting “side effects” of meditating more for me was improving my eating habits, actually.  I found that meditation helped me to feel more calm and centered, making wiser more centered choices rather than to be compulsive and emotional with choices (hello emotional eating).  It took some time and practice to become a habit but each time I practiced it became easier and easier.

I often use mindfulness as a tool these days to help my clients overcome binge eating, overeating, emotional eating, and more.  As shared in my last post, mindfulness has a vast array of benefits including but not limited to: a greater sense of peace and calm, the ability to weather strong emotions, and the ability to make wiser, more rational choices.

When I first started, I could feel a visceral difference when I got centered and meditated in simply how I felt.  Later on, I learned more about the neuroscience which helped me to buy even more into the habit of meditation.

As discussed in a previous blog post, we can think of two separate brains when it comes to retraining binge eating and compulsive overeating. First, we have our animal brains (i.e. limbic system) which is our emotional brain, the seat of our habits loops. Second, we have our sane brains (i.e. prefrontal cortex) where we make wiser choices, plan for the future, and so on.  When we meditate and focus our attention, we actually are strengthening the pre-frontal cortex, associated with these wiser decisions.  Like a muscle, what we use, we strength and what we don’t use, we lose.  Over time, we can strengthen our ability to stay centered and calm even in stressful events and times where we normally would act compulsively and emotionally from the animal brain, which might look like stuffing our face with fries.

One of the main tools I use with my clients is mindfulness because it actually strengthens our ability to make wiser choices. Research has shown that mindfulness has been proven to dramatically decrease instances of binge eating and compulsive eating.


So how do you start developing a practice of mindfulness? In my work, I usually start my clients with developing a basic meditation practice. There are plenty of free resources out there or you can consider looking for a meditation teacher or group. In my work, combining mindfulness with coaching, nutrition, etc. have been the keys to help my clients stop binge eating for good.

Mindfulness - A Practice that Can Help You Beat Binge Eating & Emotional Eating

I recently finished up a course on Mindful Eating through Mindfulness Based Eating Awareness Program (MB-EAT), which was developed by Dr. Jean Kristeller.  I decided to participate in order to deepen my own understanding and knowledge of mindfulness as a means to break free from the diet culture and have a  more peaceful relationship with food.

What is mindfulness, you ask?  Mindfulness is simply the act of being fully present.  Our minds are often thinking about the past or imagining the future rather than being FULLY in the present moment.  Mindfulness itself has its roots in Buddhist meditation (Vipassana) and is a key element in many spiritual practices & religions.  But whether you are spiritual or not, in a world full of distractions, 24/7 connectivity through our cell phones and the internet, mindfulness is definitely becoming more challenging and equally more more important.

The Connection Between Sleep, Binge Eating & Weight Gain

**BEEP BEEP BEEP**

“UGHH…” I thought to myself… ” After more seconds, my boyfriend then proceeded to climb over me to turn off the alarm that was meant to signal it was time for me to get up.

Even this morning, I had planned to get up early to blog and work on some items for my clients but after realizing the even the caffeine from my boyfriend’s Chai Tea wasn’t helping, I soon realized how sleep deprived I was and that I had been staying up late for combination of things this week, including but not limited to dance classes, hanging out with my boyfriend, watching countless videos on Instagram, and binge watching the entire 3rd season of “Stranger Things” (yes, so guilty here, even coaches have things they can consistently improve upon!)

I know for a fact that when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m less productive with work, make poorer decisions, and find myself in more mind-numbing situations, such as scrolling through Facebook or watching hours of TV.  Lack of sleep just seems to compound on itself… You feel so tired that you’re less efficient, meaning you may stay up later to get something done or get more distracted, and hence continues the cycle of feeling like *SHIT*.  (Also, have you ever thought to yourself, if someone says to you, “You look tired.. That they’re actually saying you look like SHIT?” Anyways, I digress :D ...).

This brings me to my point… I have found that sleep to be one of the keystone habits that set everything else in your life up for success.  Whether you’re cranking it out at the gym, working hard in the office, or taking care of kids, you need sleep. It’s the time our bodies have for rest, rejuvenation and repair.


In fact, when we look at the connection between lack of sleep, binge eating, and weight gain, we find countless anecdotes and studies that show:

  • Lack of sleep increases cravings and and especially for high-calorie foods 

  • Lack of sleep has affects on our mood - which may lead you to overeat, binge, or take it out on your significant other

  • Lack of sleep impacts our effectiveness in everything - our ability to reason, to complete our workouts, and to communicate and be present at work and at home

When I look back on the days, when I personally struggled with nighttime binge eating, I realize how insidious the cycle was.  When I’d stay up late to finish an assignment, I would often use food to keep me company and stay awake. Since my willpower was lower at the end of the day, I would often binge or overeat.  At some point, eating at night became such a habit that even if I didn’t have a good reason to stay up, I would find myself picking from the fridge and (I was embarrassed to say) picking food from my roommates.  Eating late would then disrupt my sleep even set me up to be even more tired and feeling disgusted the next day.

I am so very glad that this pattern is something that does not affect me today.  I would argue that sleep is one of the most important habits to prioritize if you’re looking beat binge eating and improve your eating habits.

So here are my recommendations to improve the quality of your sleep:

  1. Examine your current habits.  Then make your plan to improve your sleep duration and/or quality.

Whenever we want to change something, we first have to understand where we are.  I recommend taking some time to reflect on your current habits. What time do you tend to go to bed?  What are you doing before bedtime? How easy is it for you to fall asleep at night? What time do you tend to get up?  How do you feel in the morning when you get up? Are you energized and alert? Do you wake up without the alarm clock? Or when the alarm goes off do you snooze and roll over?  If it’s the latter, you could use more sleep!

On average, people need anywhere from 7-8 hours of sleep; however, we are all different so this would require a bit of experimentation.  I would recommend to start with planning out your bedtime at least 8 hours from the time you wake up, then seeing if after a week if you wake up naturally before or after the alarm clock.  If you find you go to bed at 11, with the plan of waking up at 7 am, but keep waking up at 6:30 am, this probably means your body needs 7.5 hours optimally.

If you find yourself staying up late often and not being able to give yourself the full 8 hours to sleep, I recommend examining why this is happening and what you are doing during this time.  Are you staying up late watching TV, working on assignments for school or work, and/or eating? How is this serving you? Or if it’s not, what might you do to change the situation?

  1. Increase your blue light exposure during the day and decrease it at night.

Blue light is essentially like caffeine for your brain.  The sun is the biggest producer of blue light, so as the sun sets in the evening, it turns on our hormones, specifically melatonin, to signal that it’s time to sleep.  Fast forward to modern day, where we have 24/7 exposure to blue light from our laptops, computers, and televisions, the natural signals that our bodies produce for sleep 

So I recommend spending some time in the sunlight each day to increase your blue light exposure or investing in one of those artificial bright lights, especially if you live in an area with limited sun exposure like Seattle where I currently reside.

At night, turn off you electronics 2 hours before bed time.  You can also look into certain applications that turn off the blue light on your devices.  Lastly, I’m personally experimenting with blue light glasses, which you can put on at dusk to limit your blue light exposure.  (Now that Stranger things is done… I myself will be putting this back into practice)

2.  Stop eating at least 2 hours before bed time

Many people feel uncomfortable and are unable to sleep well if they are too full from eating.  I recommend refraining from eating within 2 hours of bedtime. Some people prefer to go to bed a “little hungry,” while others (including myself) prefer a neutral state (“I’m neither hungry nor full, not really thinking about food”).  Plan out your meals so that you can honor your bedtime.  

If you struggle with night time eating, it’s time to take a look at your eating habits during the day… Are you getting enough food earlier in the day or are you starving yourself and then reaching for whatever you can find in the evening?  

3.  Get moving!  But not too close to bedtime

Exercise has been scientifically proven to improve sleep quality and duration.  However, for some people, exercising too close to bedtime can lead to disrupted sleep (this includes yours truly).  In general, aim to end intense exercise at least 2 before sleep and experiment to find which activities you can do more close to bedtime (perhaps yoga) vs. would be better for earlier in the day.

4.  Create your winding down routine and make it a habit

I find that certain activities riles me up, while others calm me down.  If you’re having issues with getting to bed on time, perhaps it’s time to examine what you’re doing leading up to sleep.  My personal favorite is something I picked up from another coach, which is to read fiction in the evening. I find it’s a nice way to escape the day-to-day care and relax before bedtime.

I’ve also found that meditation at night is a great way to calm my chattering mind down.  In fact, before I discovered meditation, I would often struggle with sleepless nights where my brain was chattering loudly.  Apps like Insight Timer offer free meditations that you can use to calm your mind.

6.  Seek professional help if needed

Seek help from a qualified doctor, therapist, or coach if needed.  You deserve a good night’s rest!

So if you or anyone you know has ever uttered, “Sleep is for the weak!” I think it’s time to challenge those beliefs.  Sleep is for the powerful and the sexy. It sets everything else up for success - so why not sleep your way to the top?  Also, if you’re looking to change your eating habits and beat binge eating, the first steps may just be to get a good night’s rest tonight!