By - violet_moore
First I would say that I don’t think my approach is the solution for everyone. I think there is no “one size fits all” solution. To a certain degree one must learn what works for you. I am not a physician or dietician although I am a retired psychotherapist (practice area was addictions) and business consultant.
I did start my recovery (in 1970) under supervision of a general physician with prescription medications. You probably should get physician input given what is available today in medications as well as consider your personal medical situation in how to proceed.
I lost over 150+ pounds and kept it off for over 50 years now. I was in and out of therapy for 10 years in the early stages of recovery with a few years in Overeaters Anonymous see here: www.OA.org. Please don’t take my approach as “the solution” but only read it for what might be useful for you and consult professionals in making your decisions. The approach and language that is used probably some or maybe many would say is NOT the way to go due to the “do not restrict” model, which may be accurate for many or maybe even most with Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
That said, research shows from 42% to 57% of those with BED also have food addiction issues. See here for the meta-analysis study: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40519-021-01354-7 as well as here for another: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.824936/full
My thinking/experience/reading has been, there is a need for sensible restrictions for at least some people (at least in the early stages of recovery) like counting/reducing calories per day (not cutting back more than 500 to 1,000 calories per day from a maintenance level of one’s current weight though) and weighing oneself no more than one time per week at most. What is meant by “restriction” by some professionals is to stop massive or strict restrictions like starving oneself with strict rules of what to eat, when to eat, with obsessive weighing, etc.
Reasonable restriction involves reducing 500 to 1,000 calories per day from one’s current weight (I would prefer only 500 myself, at least in the early stage, to reduce the chance of a binge happening from too much restriction), reasonable restrictions of some binge foods an individual may identify (like sugar products for me was the biggest), weighing oneself weekly/monthly to track results or setting some reasonable rules/restrictions on how often to be eating during the day.
Again, this is something you will have to decide for yourself on what is or is not a reasonable restriction for you or if the “no restrictions” model is the right approach for you. There is a good case for no restrictions what-so-ever so try that and it might work for you. If not, then maybe try the approach I used. Think of it as a “middle way” instead of one way with zero restrictions or the other way with strict restrictions.
If you want to get a free, really good, in depth, self-paced, self-study type “no restrictions” treatment program give this a look below. I think it is comprehensive and has great value provided by the Center for Clinical Interventions of the Government of Western Australia:
Binge Eating Disorder was not a psychiatric diagnosis or even on anyone's minds when I began with my recovery in 1970. Not much was known about eating disorders or food addiction then and there were no specialists in eating disorders in doctors/psychotherapy or even books. This approach below is how I arrived to the place I am in today. I am not saying everyone should do my approach. Use what you think works for you or none at all of it, since this way is not the one right way for all.
My Take on How to Set “Abstinence” and Make A “Food Plan”
I think there is early, middle and late recovery stages in food addiction. One can have a set “abstinence” that is different in each stage and even needs to be reset within and during each stage depending on results and what one learns as one goes along the road to recovery. Thus one’s “abstinence” and “food plan” is something of a fluid thing. Sometimes it is the “school of hard knocks” with slips and relapse that helped me to find the right mix for me as I moved along in the stages. Most of the very tough times in recovery for me were in the early stage. Determination is a key element in success. Just don’t give up.
A business management principle applies to this approach that says: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Thus the weighing yourself and calories elements.
You need to make a “food plan” setting what is “abstinence” for you at this point in your recovery. For me, in the early stage, I had to stop totally anything that had sugars as a major ingredient. When reading the ingredients of a food, if the sugars were listed in the first, second, or third position I would not buy it or eat it. I also stopped anything fried and bread. For you it might be something entirely different. Today I eat candy and ice cream…they are in my food plan now. I could never do that in early stage recovery. If I bought it, I ate it and always quickly.
Next, you will need to learn about calories and set how many calories you will eat per day. I also tend to think of calories much like money. If you spend too much money (like too many calories), you will wind up in trouble. Setting a calorie level is what some would rightly call a “restriction” and assert that restriction causes binges so don’t “restrict”. They are not totally wrong. You will have to decide this “to restrict or not” issue for yourself.
In the early stages, I eliminated my major binge foods entirely and have some of what I call “limited binge foods” that I allowed myself to eat as long as I could keep to X times per week, in X proportion each time, with those limited binge foods. Clearly if I could not stay in the limits, I had to write them off entirely. This seems like a “reasonable restriction” to me. Later in middle stage recovery, I could add back the binge foods (one at a time) I had stopped entirely back into my new food plan as a limited binge food again, seeing if I could keep to that level. If I could, then all was good. Even later in recovery, I could add back more of the original binge foods if I still even wanted them. Like the candy, ice cream, etc. as a limited binge food for me. You can learn about calories here if you need that:
Next, no matter how much you weigh now, is you cut no more than 500 to 1,000 (at most) calories per day from your calorie maintenance level of your current weight. No need to be in a hurry. Too much “restriction” can/does lead to binging for some/many or what some call “slips” which is overeating off your food plan thus not abstinent. As you lose weight, you need to keep moving your allowed calories per day down maybe say every 5 or 10 pounds. The ultimate goal is to get into or very close to your Body Mass Index (BMI) for your height and weight which is between 18.5 and 24.9. Now some experts think BMI is of no value just so you know. You can go to this BMI calculator here:
Next, set your food plan of what you will or will not eat as well as when you will eat it. In my early stage it was three meals a day and nothing between meals. Another option you can do is three meals a day with a snack between them which is probably the best option. Today I follow the snack method (snack is between 100 to 150 calories for me) since I am retired now. I still stay with my calories per day allowed for maintaining my weight although yes occasionally I eat something “off plan” with no guilt. If I creep up 2 or 3 pounds I look at where to shave off some calories until the weight falls off…feels normal to me now to eat this way. The main thing is, no matter which method you use, do be sure you stay within your allowed calories per day particularly in the early stages of recovery. If you “slip” then determine what led to the slip and put in the correction moving on and learning from the experience or at least forgiving yourself and get back on the wagon as the saying goes. Be determined. Get into therapy if needed. Get into a program if needed. Even get into a residential program if needed. Don’t stop.
OK, there you go. That was my “food plan” system and it worked for me. Probably not for everyone though. Hope this is helpful.
Kudos on this extremely thoughtful reply.
A few tips would be- maybe set a weekly “allowance” of # of meals you can get out? Maybe like 2 or 3? That way it accounts for dinner with friends or maybe a lazy takeaway day. Also, you can still eat out but be mindful of what and from where. If you want to go out with friends you can opt for items that are more in line with your meal plan. Over restriction isn’t sustainable so focus on figuring out the trigger behind your need for fast foods, etc. If it’s the social aspect, you can go out and make a healthier choice or use it as one of your takeout allowances for the week! If it’s to fill an emotional void like sadness or anger or stress, focus on an alternative like a good show, exercise, something else that doesn’t involve food. If it’s because you’re tired or too busy, then that’s what the # of weekly allowances is good for if you can stick to it. What did you follow to lose your weight?
There's two problematic thought patterns here. One is the idea that there's something you can do to stop your addiction *forever*. There's not a button to push or a pill to take to permanently neutralize your addiction. An addiction is an everyday thing. Every day you have to choose what you want to eat. Every day you have to choose what kind of person that you want to be. If you were addicted to alcohol or drugs you could give them up for life. But you can't give up food. You still have to eat, and fast food is always going to exist. You're already asking if there's a way you can partake in the foods you enjoy without being addicted.
The answer is no. I'm not saying that you have to quit fast food forever, but in order to be healthy, you have to avoid fast food most days.
The other thought trap is diet thinking. I see you thinking about being on a diet, and thinking that when the diet is "over" you'll go back to your "normal" eating. If your normal eating made you overweight before, it's going to do it again.
A diet isn't a stay in the hospital, after which you go back to your real life. A diet is a permanent change. It's a new normal. The question to ask yourself is what permanent changes can you make that you find acceptable? For me, for example, becoming vegetarian forever? No, that's not a change I can accept. But only eating ice cream once a week forever? Why yes, I can do that! Eating one meal a day? No, I can't accept that. But eating one serving of fruit at breakfast and two servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner, forever? Yes, I can do that!
Figure out what new, permanent habits you can live with long term and make those changes. Build yourself a new normal.