Monday 10 February 2014

Brain Over Binge

~ Abigail Legge

Kathryn separates the ‘Rational brain’ (the sophisticated, logical part of your brain, which seeks fulfilment and prizes self-control) from the ‘Irrational brain’ (the instinctive, illogical, driving force in your brain, conditioned to produce base urges -- hunger, tiredness, etc.) She sees binge eating and bulimia as arising out of a conflict between the two brains, where the Rational brain tries to restrict food intake; the Irrational brain picks up on this restriction and reacts by producing urges to binge. So without even realising it, it's easy to enter into a cycle that looks something like this:

  • The Rational brain decides to restrict the body’s food intake.

  • The body is deprived of essential nutrients and sends panic signals to the brain.

  • The Irrational brain picks up on these signals and produces urges to binge.

  • The Irrational brain wins out over the Rational brain (it's linked to the basic human survival instinct!)

  • You binge and the Irrational brain is (for the moment) satisfied.

  • The Rational brain tries to regain control and ‘atone’ for the binge; this can be through a ‘purge’ of some description, or through a pledge to ‘start over’ in the morning.

When someone repeatedly deprives their body of essential nutrients, the Irrational brain gets used to producing binge urges. The brain is very adept at developing habits -- and that’s exactly what bingeing becomes: a habit. The person will then feel urges to binge even when they’ve eaten an adequate amount, when they haven’t over-exercised, when they’ve had a generally happy day. Sometimes binges don’t necessarily have to be triggered by anything. Your brain has simply got used to regularly sending out urges to binge, and continues to do so even when you’ve stopped restricting.

In her book, Kathryn shares some of the things that helped her through her recovery: when she felt an urge to binge, she found it helpful to do the following:

  • Find a quiet place.

  • Understand that the binge urges are produced by your Irrational brain. You cannot reason with them. They are just urges and they cannot make you act. Only your Rational self can do that.

  • Sit quietly and distance yourself emotionally from your Irrational thoughts. Observe them, acknowledge that they are there, but do not act on them.

  • Wait for as long as it takes until the urges go away (be prepared: this could take an hour or two!)

The key is making sure you distance yourself emotionally from your Irrational urges, and understanding that only you, your Rational self, have the power to act. So try not to act on the urges and have faith: they won’t stick around forever!

What’s really interesting is that, right at the end of the book, Kathryn explains that recovery isn't about trying to solve everything at once. She’s still a perfectionist, still suffers from low self-esteem sometimes and doesn’t always wake up happy and motivated and raring to go every single morning. But that's ok. She didn’t have to transform herself from the inside out in order to recover from her eating disorder. Kicking bulimia out the way has helped her gain a sense of proportion in her life which she never possessed before and her issues are now infinitely easier to deal with than when every day was overshadowed by her eating disorder.

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