Thank you Elena, for taking the time to offer your guidance to the LornaFit Community.
- Do the challenges surrounding binge eating differ between your younger clients and those who are over 40?
Yes. My younger clients face their own set of unique challenges. With women over 40 some unique challenges to them might be:
- Increased risk of insulin resistance and metabolic disorders as we age. So if someone is currently struggling with that, their hunger and metabolic hormones may be more out of whack and that may influence their binge eating.
- Many women over 40 have a long history of dieting, one of the biggest risk factors for binge eating, which means their problem goes pretty deep and might require more digging or deeper healing!
- More fear around eating enough because they have received the message that they should inherently be eating less as they age.
- Body image issues, which are also a big risk factor for binge eating, may be more deeply entrenched. These issues typically start in childhood/teenage years so if we carry that bad relationship to our bodies for decades that can make it more challenging to heal!
- This is a generalization and not always true, but women over 40 may tend to have more responsibilities to others at this point in their lives (more likely to be married, have kids, career, etc.) which can decrease their own self-care. Eating enough, resting enough, exploring their relationship to food and exercise, doing exercise they enjoy, all of this can be hard to have the time/energy for if they are already juggling a lot of responsibilities or people they are taking care of.
Like I said though, my younger clients have their own set of challenges, and younger or older – it is 100% possible to recover from binge eating and I see it happen every day in my private practice with people of all ages!!
- Like you, I speak about focusing on the ‘long game’ & sustainable goals. How do you communicate this to your clients?
For my clients, it might be a little different than what people typically hear.
My client’s biggest issue that is underlying their binge eating is an unhealthy obsession with eating and exercising “perfectly”, as well as controlling their weight. They’ve been dieting for a long time and their bodies need a break. So, in the short term they need to step out of their comfort zone and face some big fears:
- Eating more
- Listening to their hunger
- Breaking food rules
- Not using exercise to earn food or compensate for eating
- Stop dieting
- Trust in their body and the weight range it likes to be in naturally
To name a few.
Part of the way I coach them through this so they can take the scary steps they need to heal is by reminding them that this is about their long-term health.
They are shifting their definition of health and happiness to include more than just weight and having the physique they think they “should” have.
They are embracing true holistic health – which has to include their relationship to food, their mental health, their relationships, their social connection, and their quality of life. Not to mention all the physical health effects that chronic dieting has on hormones, digestion, metabolism, thyroid health, etc.
I communicate to them that I understand and see their fears around weight gain and giving up some of these controlling behaviors around food and their bodies. And I remind them that by facing the discomfort and doing the work now, they are setting themselves up for a healthier, happier future.
I also communicate to them WHY obsession and excessive control around food, exercise and our weight is not healthy or sustainable. Taking a flexible approach and being okay with not being “perfect” all the time allows them to still have health/fitness goals without sacrificing family time, social events, sleep, or their mental health! Which ultimately means that these goals are ACTUALLY healthy vs obsessive, which often makes things no longer healthy.
- What are the most common messages we women see or hear about food that do more harm than good?
That we should be striving to eat as little calories as possible.
That it’s normal or healthy to be dieting all the time.
That it’s normal or healthy to be constantly focusing on and “managing” our weights.
That we inherently need less food than men. Not every woman inherently needs less than every man.
That fasting is just as (or more) beneficial for us as it is for men. Fasting can be damaging for women because of the way our bodies work compared to men.
That sugar is evil and addictive.
That we need to “control” our PMS cravings.
That as we age we need to be increasingly aware of and more “diligent” about our weight.
- How can we become aware of the cycle of binging and the triggers that cause it & then create healthy habits in its place?
My approach to solving binge eating is less trigger-focused and more root-cause-focused.
A trigger may be something like a stressful day.
A root cause may be something like chronic dieting.
When we address the root cause (say chronic dieting in this case) by re-learning how to listen to hunger and fullness cues and properly nourish our bodies with gentle nutrition instead of rigid restriction – bingeing no longer happens in response to these triggers.
Emotional/mental health work often needs to be done in conjunction, to find other coping strategies to deal with negative emotions.
My suggestion would be to bring awareness to how you are feeding yourself but also your mindset around food.
On the physical side of things ask yourself:
Am I going long periods without eating throughout the day? Am I skipping meals? Am I unnecessarily eliminating foods or food groups? Am I feeling hungry but not allowing myself to eat?
On the mental side of things ask yourself:
Am I attaching guilt, shame or fear to certain foods? Am I setting rules around “healthy eating” or exercise that don’t allow me to go out, be present with the people I love, and enjoy my life without anxiety? Am I speaking compassionately to myself about my body and my eating or am I speaking to myself with disrespect and constant criticism?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then these are points to work on to help solve the binge eating.
- Can those who are prone to binging get to a place where they don’t struggle or constantly think about food? How can this be done?
Oh HELL YES!
It can be done, by addressing the mental and physical root causes of the binge eating.
Usually these will be some combination of:
Physical restriction – under eating calories, macro- or micronutrients
Mental restriction – having a black-and-white, fearful, weight and appearance focused mindset around food.
Poor self-worth and body image – attaching too much of your worth and value to how you look and how much you weigh. Focusing on weight, size and appearance at the expense of other important aspects of mental and physical health.
Lacking other coping mechanisms for dealing with negative emotions, aside from food. Food can be comfort, a way we express and share love, a way to connect, bond, etc. But as with anything we need a diverse array of coping mechanisms to lean on for dealing with our complex human issues.
There are many things that go into healing each of these issues but they may include:
- Stopping dieting and learning how to eat intuitively
- Identifying and challenging rules and fears around food and exercise
- Increasing calories, carbohydrates, and fats (sometimes protein and vegetables but I find that typically women who binge are very focused on eating these foods already, sometimes excessively)
- Identifying restrictive, disordered, judgmental, fearful, guilty, disrespectful thought patterns regarding food, exercise and body image and reframing them to healthier thought patterns
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-based therapy, other forms of talk therapy
- Working with a coach or healthcare practitioner who specializes in disordered eating, relationships to food, body image, chronic dieting, intuitive eating
Hope this helps! Wishing you all the best!
Elena Kunicki, registered dietician