Why? Because it’s when diets are attempted. And dieting is one of the three main risk factors in you getting Binge Eating Disorder.

Food psychology coach Laura Lloyd explains how our self-expectations set us up to binge eat.

January is not statistically proven to be bingey. But, anecdotally. From – ahem – the scientific study of my life. 

I’ll talk more about what we do know, from actual studies, about binge eating disorder, in a minute. But first, back to my life. 

Cos the thing is, I didn’t even attempt a diet in January. And still I binged. Why? 

  • Just that whiff of a thought: “I’ll be good from now on”, is enough to set me off.  
  • January is when I try hardest to fling myself into renewed efforts to lose the Holiday weight. It’s when I have self-wishes for thinnnerness that get established as nagging self-expectations to ‘do better’ and ‘become better’. 
  • Expectations that I’ll begin that half marathon training (true example, not even exaggerating) – but my family got Covid and isolated, so now it’s 26th January and I have been for one walk. One walk, people. 
  • Expectations that I’ll stop eating sugar so much now that Christmas is over. While an opposing voice in my head is tired of talking to myself about sugar and now that I’m trying switch from holiday/isolation mode to a new daily school/work routine for myself and my family, it feels like there’s plenty of excuses and justifications why the long-suffering parent would deserve a treat. 
  • Expectations that I’ll get up early and nail my damn life like a New Year badass. 
  • I attempt biggest ambitious work goals. And then experience fear and self-doubt and confusion as I try to actually action them.
  • I have all my resolutions to be a better person in the back of my mind – to educate myself more about my kids’ developmental quirks, or organise more 1:1 and dates.

And guess what – all starts are faulty. And disappointing. And amateur. That’s how we begin. It just doesn’t look IRL like it does in our heads. 

And even that whiff of ‘needing to get grip on my eating’ creates the perfect Petri dish for a binge to grow in. 

When it’s 3pm, and I have to go pick up the kids, and I feel like I haven’t achieved all the things on my list (I feel mildly inadequate and disappointed with myself, and then eat a bunch of cookies emotionally). 

When it’s supper, and I haven’t been for the run I wanted to (strange how that hour to run just didn’t materialise), so I might as well eat risotto until I need to zonk out asleep). Recognise that ‘F*** It!’ thinking?

When it’s after-supper, and I had a plan to work late, or go to my own classes or coaching, and the hard talk in my head is all duty and ‘have to’ about it, and the kids are naked on my bed riding each other like horses instead of brushing their teeth, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by the mess. Secretly eating more cookies to ‘give me energy’.

Funny how my brain doesn’t tell me I need to sneak lunch box treats to ‘give me some body fat’. 

So, I have had some binges. Big deal. I’m not a binge eater any more, I’m just someone who occasionally binges.

It surfaces as a red flag in my life occasionally. It’s mostly insignificant. 

I’m not scared when it happens any more. I don’t judge myself – even for the gained weight.

I don’t ignore it either. It’s important information from my inner being. 

Matter of fact, scientifically, OK OK you got me, there isn’t a study that I found that said January is a worse month.

But what we do know from genuine psychology studies is this: 

30% of people who are looking into weight loss treatments (like diets, y’all) could technically be diagnosed with binge eating disorder. 

The three factors that raise your risk of binge eating disorder are: 

  1. Family history
  2. Psychological issues, and most significantly – 
  3. Dieting

You may not be obese and be a binge eater, but 2 out of 3 binge eaters classify as obese.

Woman eats cereal

So what do statisticians classify as a binge for the purposes of binge eating disorder?

Well, this is interesting, because in my opinion many of us experience binges without reaching this threshold. 

“Most binges involve the consumption of more than 1,000 calories, with a quarter of binges exceeding 2,000 calories.” – this is from the Walden Eating Disorders web site. 

Back in the day, when I was binge eating regularly and bulimic for phases too, this scale of binge might have been ‘me’. 

But these days, what I call binges FOR ME is less pronounced. It might be: 

  • Taking an unplanned cookie telling myself one won’t hurt, and then another, about 7 times in a row. 
  • Eating something ‘treaty’ but then finding it wasn’t as pleasurable as I had hoped, and then eating a bunch of random things like cheese and crackers, chips and dips, naughty cereal, weird honey and chocolate powder mixes, all while hunting for the end-of-the-rainbow pleasure I’m seeking.
  • Knowing that I’ll be undisturbed for a while or be alone and having a little plan in my head ahead of time to indulge in a way that my brain sells to me as being luxurious or ‘giving myself something’.  

For my clients, it might be sitting down in front of Netflix with an unlimited bunch of snacks at the end of each day. 

It might be planning to eat a healthy supper and then saying ‘Whatever!’ and ordering enough take out for two and eating it until they feel self-disgust. 

What I want to suggest to you – and I don’t want to discourage you from seeking medical help if you feel you’re in that category – is that YOU GET TO DECIDE what binge eating looks like for you.

You can decide if you feel you binge. It doesn’t have to warrant a medical diagnosis or a full-on label “I’m a binge eater”, for you to pay attention to your binge habit and work towards figuring it out. 

You’ll likely recognise thoughts like: 

  • “Once I start, I can’t seem to stop”
  • “OMG I’m totally out of control”
  • “F*** It, I’ll just eat it all and get it out of my system/out the house”

But you know I said that ’starting things’ – like all that we attempt in January – naturally looks pretty disappointing and ropey at first? 

That’s really important. We expect ourselves to do things perfectly from the off. 

We are conditioned from our years of dieting to expect ourselves to do things with a lot of intention, and concentration, and determination, and full ‘new-diet, new-me’ optimism and enthusiasm at first, and with all the gusto of our unspent willpower on our side, and then for it to be about knuckling down and keeping doing it, staying accountable, using grit to tenaciously and doggedly work towards our goal, until we finally get there. 

Yah, that’s not really how change happens.

That’s more how diets happen and then at some point your willpower burns out and your routine gets messed up and you forget to make it so important and you ‘fall off the wagon’ or it Peters out. 

But in reality, for many of us, that first stage doesn’t even look like going ‘all out’ and hitting it with full willpower and gusto. 

That’s because real change happens differently to how we expect it to. (So does success actually). 

It’s more like: 

At first, it’s 20/80. We know what we’re aiming for, and we do it seldom, but the other 80% of the time is really important – and can be depressing if we’re hard on ourselves for it – because we are more aware of what we’re doing ‘wrong’ than when we stayed in denial or depression, and didn’t dare to embark on a goal. 

January, you only get things right 20% of the time (contrast with your !00% expectation) and you’re hyper-aware of where you’d like to be. 

It’s important you handle this right in your head. You need to think: 

“At least I’m bringing all this eating onto my radar”

“I’m being honest with myself, that’s what counts”

“I notice that I do that habit a lot, so that’s on my list to work on.”

“Here’s something I’m glad I did do today [however small]…”

If you think: 

“Look at me, I can’t even do a few weeks right”. 

“I failed again, and I always have, and I always will”. 

“F*** it, I’ll start over tomorrow”. 

“I can’t control my eating”. 

You’ll probably binge. 

Patience, friend. Real habit change isn’t achieved by blitzing a new way of life and trying to do all the things. 

That’s why in my coaching, I tend to coach clients over a longer period of time, and take up less of their time each week. We make small changes, and bed each of them in, so that we are building maintenance first, and then weight loss FROM that. 

Then, where most programmes say “OK, now it’s over to you to just keep it up” (and you don’t, and you revert to old habits and regain the weight and then think that attempt is over) I keep coaching you until you’re 100% sure you can maintain your new weight for life. 

In my coaching, after spending some time on the Groundwork getting strong for our weight loss and appetite regulation attempt, we then go right into the detail of binge eating, restriction thinking, and how to unwind that pattern. 

We keep working on your binges until they are either diminished to insignificance, or finished with. It’s doable, realistic and backed by behavioural science. 

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