We Asked An Expert How To Stop Binge Eating Once And For All

Dr. Glenn Livingston recently guest starred on our Diet Starts Tomorrow podcast to talk about his book, Never Binge Again. He’s a veteran psychologist who had a very serious problem with binge eating for many years. It wasn’t an issue when he was young and working out for a few hours each day, but when he got older, got married, and became a psychologist, he no longer had the time to work out. He did, however, continue to eat whatever the hell he wanted. And he couldn’t stop. Hitting close to home yet?

Dr. Livingston began to look into why he couldn’t stop himself from giving in to his food desires. He funded a large survey in which he found there were emotional patterns associated with particular foods. He dug deeper, and discovered that in today’s society with all these luxuries at our fingertips (cough Seamless cough) we “definitely are being overstimulated with pleasure that evolution didn’t prepare us for.” Damn.

Glenn calls these “pleasure buttons” that we’re constantly giving into. He realized he had to find a way to recognize these buttons so he could ignore them. And he did. Cue Never Binge Again.

What are the main theories you espouse in the book?
It’s less of a theory and really more just a way to clear all the misinformation and noise which prevents people from eating well today. The research suggests addiction is not a disease, even though that’s the prevailing notion. We can choose what does and doesn’t go in our mouth. And while whole, natural foods tend to work much better to create permanently thin people, most of us don’t have to give things up entirely either. If we take the time to think through the dangerous triggers for us in terms of particular foods, situations, and thoughts, we can decide beforehand what we want to do about them.

I advocate for identifying your triggers, defining clear rules for how you want to behave when they come up. Then listening carefully for that crazy inner voice that tells you to break those rules. When you recognize it, you can ignore it.

Why did you choose to nickname your lizard brain the “inner pig”?
I did this to differentiate it from my human identity. Also, so that I wouldn’t think of it as something I was supposed to love and nurture, like an inner wounded child. You need to dominate your lizard brain in the same way an alpha wolf dominates a challenger for leadership. The appropriate attitude is “step out of line and I’ll kill you!” As a side note, even though you can’t, and shouldn’t try to, excise your lizard brain from your anatomy.

How do you actually go about creating a food plan? Are there certain rules you recommend to include or avoid for different types of struggles?
It’s very individual. I suggest people break it into four categories, though—things you will never do again, things you will always do, things you will do in certain conditions, and things you can do in an unrestricted manner. I offer a set of food plan templates in the free reader bonus section on my website. There are multiple examples to get you started, regardless of the type of diet you’re on.

What are some of the pitfalls of this method? Where have people gotten derailed in the past?
Most people are very frightened of the words “never” and “always”. The thing is, our lizard brains act like 2-year-olds. So we present our food plans as if they are set in stone, even though it would be ludicrous to assume that we’re never going to change them. We can change them, but only with serious forethought and consideration. I recommend at least a half hour’s journaling process followed by a 24 to 48-hour delay before allowing the change to take effect. This moves the food decisions into your higher brain and prevents you from acting on impulse. You can still eat anything you want—nobody is restricting you—it’s a matter of what you consider healthy and what consequences and tradeoffs you are willing to make.

How do people overcome the challenges associated with this process?
When you make a mistake, you need to learn how to forgive yourself with dignity and start again quickly. Don’t let five cupcakes turn into 15 (or 50). You need to figure out the specific loophole in your food rules that your Pig took advantage of… or the Squeal (irrational lie) it used to get you to break your best plans. Then, you can fix those loopholes and disempower the Squeals by identifying the illogical element of them.

What kind of outcomes have you seen with your patients, people you’ve coached, and people who have read ‘Never Binge Again’?
Almost miraculous when people stick with it. Not just weight loss, but it’s the mental freedom which brings people the most happiness. Their life is no longer all about obsessing about food because they’ve identified and disempowered the dangerous triggers. Now they can think about other things, be more present, enjoy their loved ones, and get back to living their lives and pursuing their goals.

For more on Dr. Livingston’s advice about binge eating, check out his new book Never Binge Again, and for more real af diet talk you won’t hear anywhere else, follow Diet Starts Tomorrow.

Images: Brooke Lark / Unsplash