The Maintenance Library - Brain Over Binge

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02-24-2013, 04:08 PM
Hey, all! We've been discussing some things about "Brain Over Binge" by Kathryn Hansen in a few other threads so I thought I'd start a discussion thread on its own. This way it'll be easier for others to find.

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book - I've just started the section on re-examining therapy concepts and "normal eating."

My thoughts so far:
1. Overall very, very interesting and a different perspective (scientific, based on brain research) than I have ever heard before on why binging happens. The whole time I was reading those sections on neuroplasticity I was thinking of neurodoc and was glad to see her chime in on the other thread!

2. I am more than a little troubled by the relentless statements of personal accountability . . . which, to many, could veer into shame territory. Yes, I know that I use my "voluntary muscles" to put excess food into my mouth. Yes, I realize that it is central to the author's thesis that we realize that we (our "higher brain" as she terms it) are in charge and make the ultimate decision. And I do think that there is a habit and habit-forming aspect to binging. BUT. For many who feel so much shame already, this message could be damaging.

3. I don't binge regularly - certainly not as often as Hansen did. I don't live in perpetual fear of a binge (although I do avoid sugar and wheat, and occasionally alcohol, as trigger foods). But I know that urge that she talks about so often and I have no idea HOW to separate myself from that urge. To view it and observe it without paying attention to it. It sounds lovely. How do I get there? :)

Hopefully this will get the ball rolling a bit more as people want to join in on the discussion!

02-25-2013, 03:14 PM
This thread ( might interest you!

I'm interested in reading it but am worried that reading about binging will make me start binging again...

Shannon in ATL
02-26-2013, 05:07 PM
Ah, here this thread is! I couldn't find it.

I'm about 1/3 of the way through the book. I'm just past where she is asking if she is really recovered.

So, here are my thoughts so far.

1. I guess that technically I'm not considered a binger by the official definition, as it references consuming larger amounts of food than others would in the same time, and everything usually references 1000s of calories. I often have what I would call an out of control eating incident that is less than 500 calories. Though I just read this on the Mayo Clinic sight - "Binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food. Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, overeating crosses the line to binge-eating disorder and it becomes a regular occurrence, usually done in secret." I've had people in groups on control and binging tell me I don't binge eat, I just overeat often. Well, I tend to disagree, though I know that sets some people off. I mindlessly stand and eat until I can't eat anymore, I go back and back and back and back. While doing that I often count out 10 pretzels or measure out serving after serving. Does that make me not really binging and just over indulging? Maybe. Either way, I completely feel out of control and driven by the eating. The food is the only thing I can think about until it consumes every spare second I have. So, for the purpose of this I'll call in binging, but I know some would disagree.

2. Can it really be so easy as to say that some part of my brain is telling me I need to eat because I've trained it to do so and I should just ignore it? Is that what she is saying? Is that right? I agree Jen that saying "It is your fault, just stop it" can make people feel shamed. I have to say, reading it like that made me feel pretty ashamed of the whole thing honestly. I started thinking of the steps I take to acquire the food when I'm out of control and felt that much worse. If I am making a choice to do it then why can't I just stop it?

That is all I have so far.

02-28-2013, 09:41 PM
There are moments that I can disengage self from behavior the way she describes- sort of take a step back from the obsessive part of my brain and just "listen" to it without being swayed. I guess I do this when I, say, look at a clothing catalog and see something I really like but I don't really need it. I can "hear" my "lower brain" (ugh; I hate that term) saying I need it, I can afford it, won't it look so cute, etc. but it's just stray thoughts that don't amount to much. I honestly don't know why it's so relatively easy to ignore the "buy buy buy" desire in that instance but it's so hard to ignore the "eat eat eat" voice, which feels much more like a compulsion. When it's about food rather than shopping (or, say, being so mad at someone that I want to hurt them- a rare but real event), I can do the disengagement trick from time to time, but only sporadically, when I am in the right "frame of mind" (already feeling in control, not too hungry, and determined to prevail).

And I agree with Shannon, that for me what makes it a binge is the feeling of compulsion, the not being able to stop when I feel like it but only when there's physical pain or exhaustion, rather than the number of calories or volume of food eaten.

I wish that simply creating detachment from my compulsion were all it took to stop it, but I think I already understood that binge behavior is fundamentally irrational, set in motion by "animal" desire and habit rather than by deep-seated anxiety, insecurity or low self-worth. Knowledge is power, but for me, it doesn't seem to have led to an ability to create the superego-over-id paradigm that she experienced.

03-02-2013, 09:05 AM
krampus - Thanks for the link to the other thread! I had looked at it, but went ahead and decided to open this one because so many maintainers and future maintainers check out this subforum, and also because I think there are aspects of the book that maintainers have some insight on; i.e. beginning to binge only after being on a restrictive diet.

Andrea, thanks for chiming in. I really appreciated your catalog/shopping analogy; for some reason, that really clicked with me. I can do the same thing in that case: I "dissociate" my desire for the thing with the reality of not being able to buy it, and it the desire quickly goes without any sort of compulsion to buy. Of course, I've never had any sort of problem with shopping. In fact, I kind of hate it. :)

As far calling it the "lower brain," I can understand how that term would bother a neuroscientist! Years ago, here on 3FC, someone - I can't remember who - called that voice their "inner 2 year old" and that name has stuck for me. Sometimes she throws a tantrum, and maybe my binges are me giving in? I've never connected those 2 things until reading this book.

Shannon - How is your reading coming? I, also, wouldn't fit the clinical definition of BED but I know a binge when I've had it. It's about the feeling of control (or lack thereof) and that's a binge for me, regardless of the frequency or number of calories consumed.

Now that I've finished the book, here is one question that keeps running through my brain: Was it inevitable that I would have started binging, once I started to lose weight through"restrictive" dieting? That's her term, but it's accurate for me - even though I didn't eliminate food groups when I started counting calories, I did cut my calories down substantially. I kept my calories at 1400 for most of my weight loss and, although I don't know for sure, they were probably upwards of 2000-2500 per day before that.

If I'd known binging was a possible side effect of losing weight, could I have avoided it somehow?

Shannon in ATL
03-03-2013, 01:36 AM
I'm almost exactly halfway through the book now. I'm looking back to try to vision if I binged before my diet change, and I gave to say yes and no. I remember sitting more than once with a plate full of raw cookie dough bites and mini Reeses cups at my apartment years ago, no feeling of loss of control. Same with the 30 ounce cup I used to fill with dry cereal as a teenager and snack on. I would hide food as a young person, but I don't remember binging on it, just hoarding it. Did my current behavior come from dieting? It very well could have. I bitterly resent sometimes not being able to just eat a thing without worrying about it. I tire of the routine, the restriction, the structure. Yet I crave the structure to stay sane, aelways have.

Now I binge on the food and sometimes still hoard it. Thursday I felt good - felt slim in the morning, had eaten well all week, exercised. Then Thursday night something happened to emotionally set me off and I dropped 850 calories in half an hour in candy. And I had to walk downstairs twice to get more. I felt my 'lower brain' calling for it, I tried to ignore it and feed it instead. It really was my inner two year old having a tantrum, and I let her win. Knowing I had a busy food weekend coming up and had a good budget I needed to keep going into it I shot myself in the foot anyway.

I'm not making the click to being able to ignore it, but I can completely see that I have taught myself patterns. I am very susceptible to patterns and routine. Is that from the OCD or the addictive personality I struggle with, or both?

Andrea - i like the shopping reference. I can also usually avoid that. I can also resist throwing my phone against the wall - both messages from my 'lower brain'. Why can't I ignore the food all the time? Because sometimes I can.

Jen - i don't know that binging is an inevitable side effect to dieting. Could we have avoided it? I don't know. We both made slow, healthy changes without eliminating anything as best as I can tell. What set it off, just the lifestyle change itself?

03-06-2013, 02:13 PM
I bought this book in Amazon a few months ago. I got about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way through and stopped.

It just didn't do it for me. She had yet to get into what supposedly cured her, but I disliked how she seemed to completely dismiss outside factors as why she was doing what she did to herself. I appreciate that she felt therapy wasn't working for her, and I can give her props for at least getting that far. I certainly haven't ever asked for help in my 14 years of the binge cycle.

That being said, I didn't like how much she made it to be her problem, her issue, even her choice, and therefore her fault. She talks so badly about the person she was as a binger, being selfish etc, It bothered me.

Maybe I don't want to take responsibility for my actions? Perhaps. But I feel like if it was such a simple solution "just stop"...well, maybe more people wouldn't suffer.

Anyway, I never finised the book, which is rare for me. The last book I didn't complete was the zombie version of pride & prejudice, so let's leave my review of the book with that comparison!

03-06-2013, 05:46 PM
I think responsibility in terms of addiction and compulsion is a difficult thing. Yes, it's a sickness but it's also a choice. I've binged (maybe not in the classic sense in a long time, but I've done a lot of 'slow binging'). I've smoked. And while I didn't necessarily feel strong enough to stop doing it, I was aware enough to seek help but chose not to.

My father is a recovering alcoholic. He eventually made the choice to stop, but he never made that choice when I was a kid. Was he sick? Yes. Was he a crap dad because of the choices he made? Yes.

Shannon in ATL
03-07-2013, 04:23 PM
Bex, I'm just over halfway through now I think and I'm finding some of the same things. I'm not sure if I agree that it is all choice. I feel pretty out of control sometimes, but am I making the choice to do it? Do I just not want to face my own choices? Maybe. I'm at the part now where she is talking about her recovery and it is all "I decided this" and "I'll never do that again", she comes off somewhat self righteous in her 'cure'. I wonder what will happen to her if she does slip back?

On the other hand - I have to get up and get the food I'm eating, somewhere in there is some kind of choice.

03-07-2013, 06:01 PM
I guess its just when I binge I don't feel like I even have a choice, althought I do like what Almostme says...I have made a choice not to seek help.

But again, I did ask for help once when I was 14. I told my mom I was eating and throwing up, and what was her advice? "Well, just stop."

I don't think I've met anyone who can understand that a 5'2 female is capable of eating 5k calories in a matter of 90 minutes and that when its happening the only way I can stop it is if I actually poison the food.

03-08-2013, 01:29 PM
I kept my calories at 1400 for most of my weight loss and, although I don't know for sure, they were probably upwards of 2000-2500 per day before that.

If I'd known binging was a possible side effect of losing weight, could I have avoided it somehow?


And 1400 is extremely low for an adult female. In the Minnesota Starvation study, the men were put on 1500 calories a day and were deemed as "semi-STARVED." And these men began bingeing on 8-10,000 calories for the first time in their lives.

03-08-2013, 04:15 PM

And 1400 is extremely low for an adult female. In the Minnesota Starvation study, the men were put on 1500 calories a day and were deemed as "semi-STARVED." And these men began bingeing on 8-10,000 calories for the first time in their lives.

Oh, yes, the good old Minnesota Starvation experiment. The first time I heard about it (after having lost maybe 50 pounds, and making peace with my 1400 nutritious calories) I was astounded. What I was willingly doing to myself was considered starvation!

I've thought about this a lot, though. How should I have done it? I'm 5'1". I was over 200 pounds. Obviously my calories needed to be cut. Should I have done it more gradually? I made (and still make) excellent nutritional choices with my allotted calories. I'm not aiming for some ridiculously low goal weight. I'm barely within normal BMI and my waist/hip ratio is right at .8, which just at the line of acceptable. I work out, my muscle tone is good . . . what should I have done, physically or mentally, to avoid the binging trap?

I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm genuinely asking. Maybe it's too late for me but it's not too late for others, if we can figure out how to do it better.

03-08-2013, 08:11 PM

And 1400 is extremely low for an adult female. In the Minnesota Starvation study, the men were put on 1500 calories a day and were deemed as "semi-STARVED." And these men began bingeing on 8-10,000 calories for the first time in their lives.

1400 calories a day is not too low for a small boned woman who is 5' tall. As a matter of fact it is a little too high if I wish to maintain my loss.

03-08-2013, 11:59 PM
Well, I'm gonna starve the **** out of myself. 280lbs hurts!

Talk to the head, because the knees ain't listening.

03-09-2013, 02:29 AM
I am extremely comfortable at 1200 calls a day. I'm not hungry as long as I eat frequently. Then again, I am very small framed and simply should weight abiut 105 lbs

03-30-2013, 09:39 PM
I have to tell you, the Brain Over Binge book was EXACTLY what I needed!
I have been a binge eater since age 13, and I am almost 53 now. That's 40 years of bondage. I have done therapy, OA, WW, South Beach Diet, Shrink Yourself...on and on. I read this book on Feb 26 and from that day one I have been totally binge free. One month and counting!!

03-31-2013, 11:48 AM
I have to tell you, the Brain Over Binge book was EXACTLY what I needed!
I have been a binge eater since age 13, and I am almost 53 now. That's 40 years of bondage. I have done therapy, OA, WW, South Beach Diet, Shrink Yourself...on and on. I read this book on Feb 26 and from that day one I have been totally binge free. One month and counting!!

Slenderella, that is AMAZING! I am so happy for you!

03-31-2013, 02:13 PM
I read most of the book, and I just don't get what is so special about the cure. Basically, she is touting willpower and forming a habit, right? She's saying that when we succumb to binge after binge, the neural transmitters in our brain are "trained" so to speak, to desire that binge when given the right triggers. Am I right about that? What am I missing here?

I'm happy that this worked for, Slenderella; I think it has worked for others, too, if I judge by the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes, I think that even a simple solution just "clicks" right with us sometimes; I wish the advice in her book would click with me. I realized while reading her book that I may not be a "binger" to the degree that she describes herself (e.g., I never would eat food I didn't like just for the sake of eating; I wouldn't eat the amount of food she ate, even though I definitely overeat, etc.). However, I definitely have disordered eating/thinking about food and would like to rid myself of that.

04-03-2013, 01:38 PM
I didn't get it either. After i read the book, i tried to tell myself to stop binging, but it didn't work.

08-04-2013, 06:47 AM
I read it months ago, so I'm not sure anymore of all its exact contents, but the way I understood it, it's not a matter of "willpower" but of detachment. I understood it as "look at the urge not in an emotional, but in a scientific way." As if I was looking at an experiment unfolding, and analysing its process along the way. It wasn't about exerting willpower, telling myself "don't binge!", or anything like that. It was more like questioning the process: "I'm having a urge now. Am I hungry? No. Do I need to eat because I'm starving? No. Am I having a specific problem (emotional, financial, etc.) right now? Yes? Will eating do anything to solve my financial problem? No, on the contrary, it'll just cost more money. So is there any point in bingeing, anyway? No." The more I addressed the issue, the more it felt completely stupid and useless, and since I don't like doing stupid and pointless things, I usually ended up not bingeing.

(But, as I said in the other thread linked to above, I was also "helped" last year by teeth problems, so urges or no urges, I had no physical means of eating, and I just didn't even have a choice anyway.)

I hope this helps.

08-12-2013, 05:23 PM
Those who weren't helped by the book are not alone. I get it. Totally. I do. But getting it is different from feeling it or acting on it. I was left feeling that I am a far more emotional and illogical creature than the author of this book, as if Mr. Spock were trying to help me with my binges. Talking myself through a logical sequence gives me no more help than completing a proof in geometry would.

08-18-2013, 10:06 AM
Detachment works for some things and not others depending on who you are. I was able to detach from my anxiety disorder, for instance, but have used 12 step recovery for other things. I later learned that the guy who wrote my anxiety book (Albert Ellis) wrote a "little book" of rationalist addiction recovery and was Susan Powter's guru. That kind of bothered me, but it worked, so why look a gift horse in the mouth? 12 step also worked, though I consider relief of depression and codependency my main victories there and abstinence from chocolate a side effect. I did reach my high weight in that state, but it was 212 and not morbid obesity.

I have wondered about whether I had Binge disorder, or if I fell into the range of average behavior. I would eat large quantities, but I was not distressed by it.* I thought I was fit and fat, and I worked in scrubs so how was I to know different?

*Now if we go back to what preceded 12 step recovery, I guess I was starting to worry about how much I was eating then. I had a breadmaker habit. I could make a parody: Breading Bad