Is “Brain Over Binge” The Cure You’ve Been Waiting For?

January 5, 2019

Alexandra, Binge Eating, Blog, Eating Disorders

Kathryn Hansen’s book Brain Over Binge has been around for a few years (published in 2016). The book is still super popular, and several you-tubers have stated it cured their binge eating. I’m all for people working through their disordered eating I think it’s great if folks were able to move through their eating patterns. Having read the book I think Hansen has some great points but I do worry about a “one size fit’s all” approach to eating disorders. There is never just one solution to a problem. Any eating disorder, including binge eating is unique to the individual. Here are my thoughts on the book. What I agree with, don’t agree with & my own recommendations for successful, long-term eating disorder recovery.

What I Agree With

Hansen does a great job of outlining the binge-cycle. She also introduces the reader to basic mindfulness concepts & how to use these to cope with the urge to binge. She also does a nice job of introducing the reader to what she calls “intuition-based eating” (her spin on intuitive eating). Hansen encourages the reader to view the urge to binge as a habit and “neurological junk” programming the brain has picked up. Hansen explains that the binge cycle goes something like this; tension builds, you binge, feelings of calm flood the brain. Then anxiety picks back up and you may cope to binge. Without intervention the cycle continues. She encourages readers to cope by recognizing that the urge to binge is just a habitual pattern the brain has picked up on. She encourages readers to separate this “neurological junk” as part of the “lower brain”. She then encourages readers to develop their “higher brain’’ to resist the urge to binge. She describes techniques such as noticing your thoughts and recognizing they are just thoughts. She encourages the reader to just notice v. acting on the thoughts (this is the foundation of what we call mindfulness).

Developing new thinking patterns & skills to manage the urge to binge are important parts of recovery. I often use mindfulness techniques with my clients to start to identify and change old thinking patterns. (You can learn more about mindfulness in my #can mindfulness help you get your sexy back? Blog post). I also like Hansen’s use of intuitive eating concepts (which she renames as intuition -based eating). If you’re interested in this concept check “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reysch.

What the Book Misses

I agree with the basic binge-cycle that Hansen outlines and I often use the Mindfulness in my clinical practice. However, it concerns me that Hansen takes a DIY/one size fits all approach to recovery. The majority of the individuals I work with are not suffering with binge eating disorder as a stand-alone issue. Many folks are also struggling with anxiety, memories of abuse or medical complications that are a result of their eating disorder. Because each person’s story is unique, each person also needs a unique treatment approach. Furthermore, viewing binge eating disorder as “neurological junk” brushes over the body image issues that many folks are struggling with. I often tell my clients that our behaviors are only the tip of the iceberg. It’s great if we can stop binge eating. But if we’re not also developing skills to cope with our underlying anxiety, or healing from the traumas we’ve experienced it’s likely we’ll develop other unhealthy habits to cope with our overwhelming feelings.

What’s Needed for Recovery

For most folks a team approach is needed to tackle an eating disorder. This typically includes a therapist, dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and primary care doctor. A primary care doctor is needed to monitor your physical symptoms. Eating disorders have a major impact on your physical health and it’s important you’re working with a doctor to make sure any medical conditions you have are being treated. A dietitian who specializes in eating disorders is essential for working with you to heal your relationship with food. A dietitian will monitor your weight and food intake. He or she won’t tell you what you can or can’t eat or have you count calories. Your counselor will work with you to help you heal your body image, reduce feelings of anxiety and cope with any past abusive or traumatic experiences that may be impacting your self-confidence. Because an eating disorder impacts your physical, mental and emotional heath it’s important that you have a team on your side, that can work together, with you, to fight your eating disorder.

My Conclusion?

Brain over Binge has clearly been a great resource for many people, and that’s awesome! I think Hansen does an admirable job of re-wording several concepts in clear, easy to understand ways. If you want to learn more about binge eating and mindfulness, it’s worth reading. However, I don’t believe that eating disorder recovery is a DIY process. When the stakes are this high, I can’t encourage anyone to gamble with their health. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder working with a qualified team is your best bet for successful, long term recovery.

by Alex House