How to stop binge eating: find your deeper reason

There are only three things you need to change long term. First, you need to really want it. The second thing is to realise that you can do it. Lastly, you need to learn to like the new healthy changes. If those three things are in place, you will succeed. It is easier said than done, but I believe that it is possible for anyone. Wanting to stop bingeing is one thing, but it is important to make sure that your reasons are deep enough to withstand the brief but instant gratification of bingeing. To be successful, it helps if that ‘want’ is deep and visceral and tapped into the right values. It is unlikely that just wanting to 'be healthier' is enough. The real power lies in finding your deeper reason. That deeper reason is different for everyone. It could be finding peace within yourself, healing self-loathing, forgiving yourself for past trauma, finding your soul mate or pursuing long held but unrequited ambitions.
So tell me what you want, what you really really want” – The Spice Girls. Many of us have gone through life doing what we think we should do. We have ended up doing things that were expected of us, without necessarily choosing to do them. Because we get used to travelling the expected path, it is difficult to step back and realise what we really want, or where we want to go. It can feel alien just to think about what we want. We can get so caught up in others’ expectations, stuck on the treadmill of daily life, that we can easily forget how to listen to our inner values. We forget what we dream of being before we add ‘but’ or ‘I can’t’.
It is so easy for inertia to drive us somewhere we have not chosen to go. I believe that bingeing can be a symptom of the hidden unhappiness inside. Often our life is not aligned with our values and we are often spending a lot of time and energy on things that we do not enjoy. We do not often take time to re-evaluate what we are doing and whether we have actively chosen our route in life. This inner misalignment can cause us to reach for food to numb the discomfort. For many people, a major unexpected life event is needed for us to notice that something is not right. For some it is a near-death experience or major trauma which provides the motivation to take stock of our lives and realise that something needs to change. Unexpected life events have been called lifequakes, which describes the often-catastrophic nature of events which disrupt your planned life path. The impetus to examine what we really want does not need to be so dramatic. It can be enough to decide to take the time to ask yourself.
Life is not linear. Most fairy tales suggest that life goes in one straight line from birth, school, job, marriage, children and so on. As many of our childhoods are full of these stories, they can leave unrealistic expectations in the depths of our mind. The reality for most people is different; life is not a fairy tale. It can be difficult to cope if the plan you had for your life does not happen as you thought it would. Even if sometimes we know deep down something is not right, our mind tries to keep us on the same path, even if our bodies know better. I suffered from debilitating migraines for years before realizing that I was not in a career that aligned with my values and passions. This misalignment can affect the body in many ways, for example about 1 in 5 cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have no identifiable dietary or physical cause. They are thought to be caused by troubling emotions, with symptoms thought to mirror how we feel inside.
Are you giving your mind the time to tell you want you want? When we try to form ourselves into the person that we think a particular employer or family member wants us to be, there is a risk of losing understanding of what you really want. People talk about gut feelings, but it is easy to forget what your intuition sounds like as we often spend a lot of energy ignoring our feelings. It can take a little time to let them in again. In a society of instant gratification and next day delivery, it is easy to get impatient with yourself as the process can take time. One way of finding out is to stop trying so hard. Only then does your mind relax enough, and let down enough defences, to let you know.  Pausing is something we rarely do when we are always rushing around. Often it is not until we stop looking that we get that moment of insight, or the lightbulb going off. While running on the treadmill of daily life, we are not giving our minds the time to tell us.
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”― Carl Jung. Some people say big decisions should be made with the heart and simple decisions with the head. Some people say you should only rely on your intuition and others say you should not rely on your intuition at all. Probably we need use both our intuition (toddler brain) and logical minds (parent brain) and let them both talk to figure it out. One way to get to know yourself is by listening to your feelings and spending some quiet time with your mind. This can be walks, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, fishing, or whatever calming activity works for you.
How do you find out what you want? This values exercise can help you work out what you truly value and whether you are on one of the right paths for you.
  1. Write down what you value, it can be anything.
  2. Write down what you enjoy.
  3. Write down what you find frustrating.
Are you spending most of your time doing something you value and enjoy? Do you spend too much time doing things that you find frustrating? How can you spend more time doing things you value and enjoy?
Aside from quiet time with yourself, there are other ways to help you get in touch with your intuition and to get to know yourself. These tools can often help your conscious mind (head, parent brain) receive messages from your unconscious mind (heart, toddler brain).
  • Dream interpretation is a great way to receive messages from your unconscious mind, which is very difficult to access otherwise. Dream interpretation is central to many well-established and scientifically proven counselling and psychotherapy techniques. You do not need any knowledge about dreams to start. When you remember your dreams, just think about what your dreams mean to you. Are there any messages, feelings, or themes? If you write dreams down, you will often see how they develop over time.
  • Meditation and mindfulness emphasise the importance of being in the moment and have been scientifically proven to improve mental health. You do not necessarily need any training; you can start by just noticing your breath, noting any sounds and thoughts without judgement and experiencing the present moment just as it is.
  • Symbolism: Interpretation of symbols is used as part of many psychological and alternative therapies to uncover underlying thought patterns and identify problematic thoughts. How you feel when looking at images or symbols can help you understand your unconscious mind and can shed light on what is holding you back in life. Tarot can also be used in this way and is believed to be an ancient form of counselling with therapeutic applications.
  • Creativity and art therapy are incredibly successful at treating trauma in both adults and children. The expression of personal ‘life energy’ in ways meaningful to the individual is part of many therapeutic approaches, especially those involving children or the role of childhood experiences. Creative expression can be through environmental causes, art, writing or any methods personal to you.
  • Stories. Simply just telling your story can be incredibly beneficial for releasing stress. This is again a core principle of many therapeutic approaches. This is at least partly why it is so nice having a rant to a good friend!
There are lots of paths up the mountain and the only people who are really stuck are those moaning about the rain the carpark. You may have a clear gut feeling about your deeper why. You may not. If you are not 100% sure then do not worry. There are many paths that can work for you. Decisions can be so stressful because by making one decision, we feel like we are cutting off a lot of other options.  If you are doing something you value, doing things you enjoy as much as you can and doing as few things that annoy you as possible then you are probably going in a good direction. Eventually you are likely to get towards where you want to go. Beware though that there is always another summit over the crest of the mountain, so it helps to enjoy the walk, to stop for lots of tea, and to look at the view.
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.” ― Coco Chanel. Whatever you learn about yourself, it is important to listen to your mind without judgement, otherwise our inner ambitions can just be buried further by food where they can fester and lead to more dissatisfaction. Sometimes what our ‘heart’ may tell us may not align with our own societal expectations of ourselves or what we think we ‘should’ be. It can be very difficult to shed the expectations that have been placed on our shoulders since we were small children and dig out what it is that our inner selves want. If you have a photo of yourself as a small baby, look at it and see what you could have been then, before life shaped you. That baby was the closest to a blank slate that we can ever have. What were you capable of then? What were your dreams?
 “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” – Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart. We may need to accept that we want something that does not align with our societal norms or learnt expectations of ourselves. It might even be something like acknowledging that you are a Mum but you really want to run a business or that you are a career-woman who really wants to be a stay at home Mum. It could be something in between or completely different. The beautiful thing is that it will be unique to you. Finding something that you really believe in and aligning yourself with that is incredibly powerful at easing inner discomfort. Your battle with weight can fade away if you are no longer fighting against yourself every day.
“Understanding is the first step to acceptance and only with acceptance can there be recovery” – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The realization that something needs to change can happen slowly or quickly. Accepting that something needs to change is really empowering. Only by accepting, we can move on as it allows us to move from dwelling on the past into planning for the future.
What do you really want? Let me know how you got on by emailing me at

You can read our other posts here.

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Binge Eating Therapy

I specialise in eating disorders and have 17 years’ experience as a behaviour change and obesity prevention scientist at Cambridge University. I’ve been there and I get it, and now support people with binge eating, emotional eating, weight loss struggles, and bulimia.
I help clients discover and take charge of their hidden eating triggers and transform their relationship with food. Sessions often focus on getting freedom from constant thoughts about food and weight and escaping the cycle of yo-yo dieting and weight gain. Gain understanding about what has prevented you from recovery in the past so you can overcome that, and live life without restriction or bingeing.
I combine counselling, to understand and overcome emotional barriers, with the strategies and tools of health coaching. The combination of counselling and coaching is powerful for making lasting change.

Hear from people who have worked with me...

"Kirsten supported me through a really difficult time when I was using binge-eating to avoid feelings around a relatively new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. My binge-eating had a seriously negative impact on my mental health, self-esteem and relationships. With Kirsten’s help and expertise, I finally have my life back and it changed my life. I cannot thank her enough and fully recommend her services. Thank you Kirsten."

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The information in this website is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr Kirsten Keighley on behalf of Dr Kirsten Keighley Ltd. We recommend you make your own health decisions based on your own research and consultation with a qualified health professional. We recommend that you consult your and your child’s doctor and/or dietician before beginning a new diet or exercise programme.