Have you ever been told by a medical professional or simply heard the popular theory that a binge eating disorder is a mechanism you have developed as a coping strategy? Kathryn Hansen disagrees wholeheartedly with this theory and explains all in The Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide – a follow up to Hansen’s first book – Brain Over Binge. Boldly stating that this book “will not make you whole, happy, emotionally satisfied, or at peace with yourself and your body” but goes onto explain that “putting aside binge eating can certainly bring you closer to achieving these goals.”
According to Hansen, there are only two goals you need to achieve to recover from binge eating disorder.
- Dismiss urges to binge
- Eat adequately
If you can achieve these two things, every day “you will no longer be bulimic, you will no longer have binge eating disorder.” I can only imagine this will either entice or infuriate anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder. Having never experienced one and being fascinated by the way the human brain works I was able to read on with curiosity and a side of scepticism.
The first and most repeated sentiment of this recovery guide, is quite simply, the reason you binge is that you have an urge to binge.
It’s not because you are stressed, have poor to non-existent coping strategies or you are repressing childhood traumas. You quite simply have an urge to binge. Controversial? Maybe. Over simplistic? Definitely. But that’s how Hansen wants you to view your recovery. To boil it down to it’s simplest, truest and rawest form. This may have painted a picture of a tough, military-style approach towards recovery but there is a nurturing tone throughout as the reader is encouraged to get to a ‘brain-based’ way of thinking.
So why should you understand more about your primitive brain and less about your childhood traumas?
One contributing factor, Hansen believes, is dopamine. Most of us have heard about the effects of dopamine and we have probably got some basic understanding that the release of it simply makes us feel good. However, Hansen references several new clinical studies that now cite “dopamine is not responsible for the direct experience of pleasure itself; it is instead responsible for motivating us to seek pleasure”.
So how is this relevant to binge eating? Well, it explains that dopamine can be a motivator for your binging, but once dopamine has played its part – in that it’s motivated you to binge, those feel-good feelings are gone and you are left feeling ashamed perhaps with a resolve to never want to binge again and yet you can’t stop this cycle. This is because dopamine is triggering the urge to binge. Let’s remember Hansen believes, the urge to binge is why you binge. Hansen likens this feeling to being tricked repeatedly without learning the lesson that it makes you feel terrible.
Throughout the book, there are plenty of prompting questions and spaces to write as you explore with curiosity your urges to binge.
Time spent getting to know your urges is worthwhile, so you can be prepared for them when they arise. You then move onto learning to resist those urges. Progressing next onto distinguishing between your urge voice and simply, your voice.
One aspect that fascinated me was learning how our “primitive brain has no language of its own” so it hijacks our conscious brain, borrowing its language. That’s why an urge to binge feels very real and extremely convincing even though, ultimately it does not feel good. Doesn’t this make perfect sense as to why your ‘unwell’ voice can seem so believable? It’s literally coercing you with all the reason and rationale your well-voice uses.
Replace the 'urge to binge' with any other unwell habit - drinking/drugs/negative self-talk and there’s a compelling reason to understand more about your brain.
I felt there were many times throughout the book you could replace terminology to suit other negative habits, however, Hansen resists this parallel drawing. This is a specialised book, solely about recovering from binge eating disorder and bulimia. I respect this intentional and mindful approach to stay focused on the topic.
This book might be helpful for those who have tried talking therapy and found it hasn’t helped or improved their binge eating or bulimia. Those who have maxed out on the navel-gazing nature of traditional therapy. The book is hefty and filled with clinical – albeit accessible – explanations of the workings of our brain, imploring you to take from it only the parts you need, explaining “more is not always better”.
You have to want recovery otherwise Hansen asks you to put this and any other recovery book for that matter, aside.
Perhaps her definition of recovery could guide you;
“…it means that, on the whole, you have a desire to be free of this problem. You have to know that your current behaviour is holding you back from living the life you want. You don’t have to try to convince yourself that life will be great after you recover, because there is certainly no guarantee of that; but you do have to believe that what you have now isn’t what you truly want. What you have now feels appealing sometimes – because of the primal wanting and primal liking that stem from the lower brain – but that’s different from being who you truly want to be and doing what you truly enjoy doing.”
Side Note From Emmy
While I agree that learning about how our brain works is important, I also strongly believe that most (if not all) people have experienced some form of trauma – it is vital to get to the root of this to be able to understand and treat the problem(s). I also disagree with Hansen – eating disorders are a manifestation of our minds becoming unwell – in my experience, an eating disorder has become a coping strategy where the sufferer has used the symptoms of their illness as a way of managing and coping with their traumatic experiences. If you would like to read more from about bulimia and/or binge eating there are some helpful articles over on my clinic’s blog here, here, here and here.
Meet Our Contributor
Tuesday Hope is an actress and writer.
Her first short film Same Mistakes, is about a woman confronting her anxiety issues for the first time, whilst also dealing with the intricacies of modern day booty calls. Tuesday starred in it along with actress Kelby Keenan. The short is currently in post production.
Originally from Yorkshire, Tuesday moved to London after gaining a place at The Arts Educational School of Acting and has been working across commercials and voiceovers since graduating.
Newcastle United supporter, semi-dedicated book club attendee, occasional brow model, currently living in East London contemplating the commitments that come with adopting a house rabbit.