Since I wrote Brain over Binge, I’ve noticed that the most common reason people give me for continuing to binge (after reading the book) is that they aren’t sure they really want to quit. Even though they may understand why they binge, even though they can recognize the irrational thoughts of the lower brain; they can’t quite convince themselves to ignore those thoughts, because they feel like they may actually want to keep binge eating.
If you believe you truly don’t want to quit, you might think there is no line of separation between your higher self and your lower brain; you might have a hard time convincing yourself that the part of your brain urging you to binge isn’t the real you; you might identify with the messages from your lower brain and believe that you want what it wants. In my book, I wrote that I unquestionably agree with traditional therapy on one thing: the first step in recovery is wanting to recover. Nothing is going to help you quit until you are willing to to stand up against what afflicts you. Others can educate you about the dangers of your behavior, they can help support you in your decision to quit, they can give you tools to use for when you decide to quit; but they cannot make the decision for you. You have to make that decision for yourself. The problem with traditional therapy is, once a patient wants to quit, she is put through a long, complex, and unnecessarily difficult recovery process that often doesn’t lead to a cessation of binge eating.
Wanting to recover doesn’t mean you have to be unwaveringly certain about it at every moment, especially in the beginning. But, it does mean you have to have some sense that you do not want to continue down your current path. I tend to believe that anyone who has read my book or any other eating disorder recovery book, or anyone who has sought out therapy or OA, or any other form of treatment for their eating disorder does not truly want to keep binge eating. If you truly wanted to keep up your behavior, why would you even bother trying to help yourself? Yes, there may still be a part of you that wants to binge, but overthinking whether or not you really, really want to recover I think can be unproductive and delay recovery. Binge eating produces harmful, uncomfortable, and shameful effects and that naturally lead to a desire to quit; and if you are reading this, you most likely already have that desire even if you may still doubt it at times. In this post, I’ll address how you might be able to overcome what you perceive as yourself not wanting to quit, and I’ll also give some suggestions for those who absolutely can’t convince themselves that they desire recovery.
I believe the most likely reason for feeling like you don’t want to quit is because your lower/animal brain is tricking you into believing that you don’t. A good test to see if this is the case for you is to ask yourself how you feel after a binge. Do you regret it? Do you wish you could go back and make a different choice? Do you feel ashamed of your behavior? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it was never you
that wanted to binge. If you
truly wanted to binge, you wouldn’t have regret afterward. You would simply do it, enjoy it, and move on without being affected much at all. I think this is best illustrated by the example of smokers. Some smokers have absolutely no guilt about what they do, and don’t give much of a thought to the health risks. They simply enjoy their cigarettes, without any plans to stop enjoying them. Other smokers seem to resolve to quit daily, and tell themselves that every pack is going to be their last. If the first type of smoker were to receive all the tools he/she needed to quit, it wouldn’t do any good because he/she wouldn’t want to use them. But the second type of smoker would welcome and benefit greatly from those tools.
However, even for the smoker who truly wants to quit (and likewise for the binge eater who desires recovery), it isn’t always going to feel like he/she desires recovery. Sometimes the temptation of a cigarette/binge may take over, and the person will forget why they ever wanted to quit in the first place. This is because of the drive from the lower brain, which can be very deceptive. I know for me, the most intriguing reason my lower brain gave me to binge was that it didn’t matter what part of my brain generated the urges, that I wanted to binge nonetheless. That was the hardest reason to separate myself from, because if I slipped back into believing “I” truly wanted to binge, acting on the urge would have been soon to follow. That’s why I think it’s so important to be able to dismiss ANY thought or feeling encouraging binge eating as the neurological junk that it is. This includes those voices that tell you that it’s worth it, and that it is really you that wants to binge.
It only makes sense that your lower brain would try to convince you that it is really you who likes and wants to binge. It feels threatened, and wants you to hold on to the habit for dear life. Remember that the lower brain doesn’t remember pain, so when you are experiencing an urge to binge, you are only going to remember the pleasure of binge eating. The lower brain won’t remind you of the regret, remorse, guilt, uncomfortable fullness, or the exhaustion of purging; and trying to think about those things when you are experiencing an urge will not convince or deter your lower brain. Your job is only to experience all of that wanting/longing/desire/”logical” reasons for a binge with detachment and without acting on your thoughts/feelings. After the urge subsides, you’ll again realize that you certainly don’t want to binge, and you’ll remember all the reasons why you don’t want to; and you’ll be so glad you weren’t tempted into believing your lower brain.
A reader asked me a great question recently, which was: “Do you believe in stopping acting on the urges to binge before you fully want to?” Simply put, yes; but I’ll explain in a little more detail. First of all, like I explained above, whenever you decide to quit, you will never fully
want to. There will always be the resistance of the lower brain which wants to cling to the habit/pleasure. Since your urges make you want to binge, you aren’t going to fully
want to stop until after you stop, and the urges begin to go away. So, ultimately it can be a matter of taking that leap to stop acting on the urges, and disregarding any thoughts/feelings that tell you that you don’t want to stop; and then, and only then will you realize that you never truly wanted or needed it.
For me, the excitement/amazement I felt at finally being able to control my behavior seemed to quickly override any nagging desires to continue the habit. I think this is because I tried to experience any feelings of not wanting to quit as part of my binge-created brain-wiring problem. Those feelings did not indicate my true feelings, but my lower brain’s. I’ve written this in a previous blog post, but I believe an important thing to remember is that no matter how much you want to quit or how well you separate yourself from the urges; at first, there are going to be times when binge eating seems very appealing. I think it’s important to accept that, and realize that at times, you may indeed feel deprived and unmotivated. However, it’s not really you that’s deprived – you are depriving your lower brain and a life-draining habit, and you are getting stronger with each conquered urge. I believe that once you can get some traction and resist several urges to binge, your desire to put this behind you will eclipse any desire to continue the habit, leaving you wondering why you ever thought you might want to keep binge eating.
But, what do you do if you’ve tried that and you still feel like you don’t want to quit? What if you feel you are like the first type of smoker I mentioned – without much regret about your behavior or any real longing to live addiction-free? If this is the case for you, I have three suggestions.
First, you could try to take a big leap and quit anyway. Even though you may feel one and the same with the lower brain, you could still ignore any thought encouraging you to binge, knowing that those thoughts will eventually fall silent. Even though you desire to continue binge eating, you still have control of your voluntary muscle movements, and are still capable of not acting on urges to binge. You can tell yourself that yes, right now you do desire to continue binge eating, but you can’t. Feel sorry for yourself for a while if you need to. It’s hard to realize that we can’t have what we desire, whether we are talking about binge eating or other facets of our lives. It’s human nature to have desires, but those desires can’t always be realized, and shouldn’t always be realized. This might seem like a depressing thought to you, but I believe that once some time has gone by, the desire to recover that you didn’t have can appear. You’ll realize how much time and money you wasted by being caught up in binge eating, and as the urges fade, you’ll realize that the pleasure you got from it was never worth it anyway. It’s like walking away from a bad relationship even though you truly love the person. It takes courage, strength, and it hurts; but you soon realize you are better off without that person in your life.
My second suggestion is to seek “readiness” therapy to try to find that desire to quit within yourself. As I mentioned in Ch. 35, “Bridges to Traditional Therapy,” psychodynamic therapy could possibly be used for this purpose. My book is truly intended for people who realize they have a problem and want to recover from it—or, at least, part of them wants to recover. But for those who do not feel any pull toward recovery, who are complacent in their behavior, who don’t have any desire to give it up – the separation between the self and the binge-created brain-wiring problem is irrelevant. Psychodynamic therapy could help someone find a spark of the true self who wants to recover.
I’m not talking about “finding the true self” in the sense of becoming fulfilled and developing a cohesive identity prior to stopping binge eating, because this could put off recovery for a very long time. I’m talking about using therapy as a way to catch a glimpse of a part of yourself that wants to move on. Therapy isn’t the only avenue to help you find this part of yourself. Finding things you enjoy that are incompatible with binge eating may help, volunteering to help those less fortunate than you also many help you realize a bigger picture, or reflecting on your life and creating goals for the future might give you a desire to let go of your problem. The catch in this is: why would someone go to therapy or do anything to find the desire to quit if they don’t think they’ll ever want to quit? Like the previous suggestion, it would take courage and strength to begin trying to find that desire despite your doubts.
My last suggestion is to realize you do have free choice. I would never recommend that someone continue to binge, but I do not agree with the way traditional eating disorder and addiction treatment today tends to label people with disorders/diseases when they actually have no desire to quit and are exercising free choice. As Jack Trimpey says in Rational Recovery
, “self-intoxication is a basic freedom, an individual liberty.” (RR, pg. 59). Rational Recovery
takes a more hard-hitting approach toward those who don’t want to quit, which I needed at the time I read it. I needed someone to tell me that if I wanted to keep doing it, I could, but I could no longer hide behind a “disease” label or the idea that I needed to sort out a lot of other problems before I could quit. If I were to continue to binge because I wanted to, that would be my choice, and I would have to own it.
There were countless eating disorder resources that told me otherwise – that told me it wasn’t a choice, that I was diseased, that I was justified to continue binge eating because it was serving a purpose in my life/helping me cope with problems/fulfilling my unmet emotional needs. When I believed those things, it did make me feel a little better about myself for continuing to binge because I felt less culpable, but what did that get me? Learning all the ways I was justified to continue binge eating didn’t do anything to take the binge eating away, and binge eating made me miserable. It was better to take a one-time ego hit and realize that I was responsible, and then accept that responsibility to quit – even if there were times when I didn’t quite feel like I wanted to.