lyndi cohen dietitian and nutritionist talking about her experience with binge eating disorder
  • January 18, 2023

Episode 22: Recovering from Binge Eating (with Lyndi Cohen)

Today we are chatting to Lyndi Cohen who is a media dietitian, best selling author, podcast host and well known […]

Today we are chatting to Lyndi Cohen who is a media dietitian, best selling author, podcast host and well known as the Nude Nutritionist on Instagram about her experience recovering from binge eating. She is most well known for calling out nutrition nonsense online and promoting healthy body image.

 

 

In this episode we dive into her journey with binge eating and how she recovered it, and how you too can heal your relationship with food.

 

lyndi cohen dietitian and nutritionist

 

Q1: What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Lyndi: There’s a lot that people don’t know about me but one of the most frequent questions I get is “are you American?” and I’m not. I was born in South Africa and moved to Australia when I was 4 so I’m very Australian but I just seem to have an American twang.

 

Q2: Can you tell us about your journey with binge eating?

Lyndi: If I really wind back, it probably started when I was about 5. I have a memory standing in ballet class in a pink leotard in front of a mirror and I remember looking at myself compared to the other girls who were just very up and down whereas I already had some curves and my thighs touched.

Then at 11 years was when I started to actually feel like my weight was a problem. My mum suggested that maybe I should go see a nutritionist and I thought this sounded like a great idea. So, I went to the appointment, and she assured me that this wasn’t a diet, it was a “healthy eating plan” but it was 100% a diet. Even though I was well within a healthy weight range, she said to me “I understand you want to be thin” with no respect for body image.

From this point I started weighing and measuring out my food and recording the calories. I used to have to go in for regular weigh ins and if I’d lost weight I had been good, and if I didn’t then I wasn’t good. It got very disordered very quickly and the real challenge was that no one thought I had an eating disorder because I didn’t look like what other people though an eating disorder looked like. Instead, my behaviours were encouraged, and I was congratulated for losing weight which just fuelled my disordered behaviours more.

Over the next 10 years from ages 11 to 21 I dieted myself into obsession and binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder for me came on slowly and gradually. I would be so dedicated to losing weight that I wouldn’t eat enough during the day. Then, I’d come home from school and be ravenously hungry and while no one else was home I’d binge on all the foods that I had not allowed myself to eat and even the foods I did. So, I would binge on things like cucumbers and carrots just as easily as things like peanut butter, bread, frozen foods  and bowls of cereal. My body was lacking calories and energy and the permission to eat those things so when no one was looking I’d eat as much of these foods as I possibly could.

The secretive aspect to this was really important to this. My family was really trying to support me to lose weight because they thought this was the right thing to do. Because of this, I didn’t want to feel ashamed by eating in front of them. To me it felt like everyone else was allowed to eat all the foods, but I was not, so I’d eat when no one was around, and I’d even replace the packets of food I’d eaten to hide the evidence.

 

 

The binge eating got progressively worse by increasing in intensity and frequency. So, initially it was happening only once a week but the height of it, I was binging multiple times per day. And the intensity heightened too. Sometimes the only reason I would stop was because someone came home, or I ran out money to buy more food.

I felt so alone and ashamed as though I was a failure. I felt as if everyone else was so self-controlled around food whereas I was somehow flawed. It wasn’t until much later that I learnt that binge eating is such a normal, natural, and common reaction to restriction and control over food. There was nothing ever wrong with me, but these life changing realisations only happened after I was 21.

The breaking point for me was age 21. After a decade of dieting, I was now at a point where I was the largest size in clothes I had ever been even though I was the most dedicated to losing weight that I’d ever been. At one point I even cut my hair to try and weigh less at a weekly weigh in with my nutritionist. Then, I got to this point at 21 where I was standing in a change room trying to find a dress for a friend’s 21st and I just thought, “I shouldn’t hate myself so much”, “I shouldn’t loathe trying to find something to wear” and “this shouldn’t feel like a punishment”. Something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t articulate it yet. At that point binge eating was not part of eating disorder diagnostic criteria and we didn’t really know it existed yet.

At this point (age 21), I had already finished my degree to be a dietitian and I had done the degree for all the wrong reasons. At 17 all I had thought was “what is a profession that I can do that is going to fuel my disordered eating and force me to be a certain weight so that people will want to come see me”. It was then though dietetics and learning about nutrition that I learned that food is about so much more than calories in calories out. It is about so much more than just what you weigh which so liberating to me.  

So then at age 21, this all started coming out and I decided I needed help. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right and was on the disordered spectrum. I immediately booked an appointment with a doctor, the first one I could get, and he just said he thought I had anxiety and prescribed me some medication for it which we very important for me in my recovery journey and I did take them for many years. But he also then proceeded to recommend to me another diet to help with my weight loss. It implied that If I had just tried harder to lose weight, I would have succeeded which just reinforced all the things that I had feared my entire life. But I walked out of there and just thought “screw you and everyone else who had told me I was the wrong weight and just needed to try harder”. I had given up my entire life to trying to lose weight yet here I was categorically obese, and I felt so ashamed.

After that I appointment, I drove away and started taking the anti-anxiety medication but also booked a psychologist appointment for myself on my own accord because I knew there was something bigger going on. At this point, as a dietitian I knew I couldn’t practice the way I’d been taught – just dishing out diets and eating disorder advice pretending that its weight loss advice. So, instead I started learning about how I could practice differently and that’s when I stumbled upon intuitive eating. I self-taught myself first to heal my own relationship with food before I started seeing clients.

Over the next 4 years I started to recover from binge eating disorder. It was a very slow recovery as binge eating recovery is. The binges are still a part of you – you can’t stop binge eating without binge eating and that was hard for me to realise. But the binges were becoming less intense and less frequent. I started to notice the binges were less controlling over my life which was how I knew I was on the right track. I was doing this all alone with no support and in those 4 years of my recovery, binge eating disorder was finally recognised and added to the diagnostic criteria which finally gave me validation.

Now, about 10 years on from that day in the change room, I never binge eat anymore. When I do eat emotionally eat, I have awareness and there is no lack of control or shame associated. The reason I share this, is to show that full recovery is possible.

Binge eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder by a landslide and many more people go undiagnosed because they think their binge eating is just a flaw within themselves rather than an eating disorder. Something everyone needs to know is that it is the diet that has failed you, you have not failed the diet.

 

Kiah: Your story also really highlights how important it is not to comment on people’s bodies. It essentially just makes people think that the only thing that is good about themselves is their body and what they look like

 

Lyndi: For so many years I sought that validation and every time I saw someone I needed them to comment on how I looked. When they didn’t comment on my weight I felt like I had gained weight, and this propelled me to go harder. People would say “you look like you’ve lost weight” and just assume it was somehow a compliment, but we never know what is going on under the surface and what we are endorsing. It is so much safer just to not comment on how someone looks. How I look is the least important part about me.  

 

lyndi cohen dietitian and nutritionist talking about her experience with binge eating disorder

 

Q3: How do you respond to and navigate comments that people make about your body in everyday life?

Lyndi: These days I have very clear boundaries around it. My close family and friends know not to comment on how I look but strangers still do. Especially now that I’m pregnant, I get a lot of comments like “you’re huge”, “it must be twins” or “you must be due at any moment”. I just remind myself that I look exactly the way that I should look.

If it’s a close person making a comment such as “you look like you’ve lost weight”, I just respond with “oh have I? I haven’t been trying to lose weight, I’ve just been stressed or x y z”. I try and just bring them back down to earth about the fact that these comments aren’t a compliment. I haven’t been brave enough yet to say, “hey I don’t love that you say that”.

But what is more important than what I say to them is my internal monologue. I know that that isn’t an ok thing to say, and I don’t think they are inherently trying to imply anything about my weight.

 

Meg: Comments about people’s bodies are just a reflection of how they think about themselves and society in general.

 

Lyndi: Exactly, we often judge other people’s bodies on the exact parts that we ourselves feel most self-conscious about.

 

Q4: Just to touch on your recovery journey a little more. You mentioned that a lot of it was self-taught. For our listeners that identify with some of the things that you have said, do you have any recommendations on how they can get started on their own recovery journey?

Lyndi: Number 1 tip is don’t do it by yourself. It took me many years to recover from binge eating and it was a very messing process because I was just shooting in the dark and completely alone. There are now so many resources available and things that you can do.

For me personally, I have a program available called Keep it Real which I designed to help you reduce and eventually stop binge eating. You can do this with or without a dietitian because I essentially become your dietitian.

However, having a dietitian who you see one on one (whether you also do my program or not) is also really beneficial. I recommend finding someone who specialises in binge eating specifically rather than just going for anyone. Same goes for a psychologist.

The other big thing to remember is that recovery is a slow process. There is no quick fix, and you will have relapses when you binge, and this is normal. But, rather than seeing a binge as a failure, instead use each binge as a new opportunity to learn. Think about why the binge happened – for example did you restrict during the day or were you feeling more emotional. So instead, each binge becomes a new step forward to remove the guilt.

 

 

Q5: What is something you are most proud of or have accomplished.

Lyndi: Liking myself. I don’t always like myself, but I always chose to come back to liking myself. Body acceptance is very much like yoga, it is a practice. You are never going to be always free of bad body image days but if you are someone who is at least able to accept your imperfections, that is one of the most powerful things you can do.

As far as new years resolutions go, what if there was a year that you just dedicated to likely yourself and being kind to yourself? I personally did this, and it had a huge impact on how much I like myself.

 

Kiah: What do you feel like was most pivotal to that? What kind of things did you try to do?

 

Lyndi: There are so many things! One really important thing was fixing my wardrobe. So, buying underwear in a larger size and buying a larger bra so that I felt comfortable in them, and my wardrobe didn’t trigger me when I got dressed each morning. I stopped buying clothes that I needed to lose weight to fit into.

Another big thing was starting to recognise negative self-talk when it was coming in and then shutting it down.

We also need to consider the people we surround ourselves with – including the people we follow online. You are not only a product of the 5 closest people to you, but you are also now a product of your Instagram feed. Expand who you follow to find different interesting people to follow and discover new hobbies.

 

Q6: As someone who works in the media, what is some of the most common misinformation that you see?

Lyndi: I talk about this quite a bit in my new book as well as how it works being a media dietitian.

Essentially, what happens is I will get a producer call me saying there is a TV segment they want me to do such as “best Christmas puddings under 100 calories” and then I will usually counter with a different less diet culture-based pitch. Usually, they decline my angle and find someone else to do it.

The online world is very similar. I will get a journalist call me asking for a quote on something and if it isn’t the quote they wanted, they won’t include it. Often the pitches I get aren’t something I want to engage in. For instance, on one occasion, I was asked to comment on weight I thought certain celebrities were.

But going beyond this to discuss how misinformation is spread online, the key thing to know about what I call ‘wellness wankery’, is that is comes from a seed of truth that is then blown out of proportion. This makes it difficult to separate what is true and what is false.

Journalists have tight deadlines meaning that often they have little time to properly fact check and make sure their ‘experts’ giving quotes on the topic, are actually legit and evidence based. Over time more and more journalists will start to churn out similar, catchy articles on the topic and this is how misinformation is spread. The more you see something, the more you believe that it must be fact.

 

Q7: Please tell us about your new book, ‘Your Weight Is Not the Problem’ – what’s the philosophy/messaging behind it?

Lyndi: I made this book because my entire life I have been told that my weight is a problem and I know so many of us feel that if we just fixed our weight we would be so much better, happier, and successful. We spend so long focusing on trying to ‘fix’ something that doesn’t even need to be fixed.

This book talks about:

  • the psychology of eating
  • how not to have such a fixation on food
  • how a fixation on food only makes us struggle more
  • binge eating and emotional eating
  • how to add in healthy habits that aren’t diets in disguise
  • becoming aware of all your diet rules (even if you aren’t aware if them) that are stopping you from eating intuitively
  • body image
  • raising kids who like their bodies and eat healthily without the diet culture
  • stopping the perpetuation of diet culture

 

lyndi cohen and her book 'your weight is not the problem'

 

Q8: Your top 3 tips for anyone who is healing their relationship with food

Lyndi:

1: Stop fixating on the food you ‘aren’t allowed’ to eat or shouldn’t eat as much of.

  • Instead focus on crowding – what foods can we try and include MORE of into our diet

 

2: It’s not worth it wasting 95% of your life to weigh less

  • Start by clearing out your closet to only include clothes that fit you

 

3: When adding in a new healthy habit, make sure that it isn’t dieting.

  • Three questions you can ask yourself to work this out are:
    • Does this help bring me to be closer to the person I want to be?
    • Is it sustainable – can I do this for the rest of my life? Or at least the next 5 years.
    • The enjoyment factor – if I didn’t lose weight as a result of this change, would I still do it.

 

Finally, where can we find you?

Instagram: @nude_nutritionist

Book: Your Weight Is Not the Problem – out January 10th everywhere books are sold

Podcast: No Wellness Wankery

Website: https://www.lyndicohen.com/

The Keep it Real Program for binge and emotional eating (use the code podcast for 20% off)

Back to Basics App with hundreds of recipes (with easy integration into the Woolworths shopping app), mindset tips, healthy habits and more!

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS

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