Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating Programs and Training

An Inside Out Approach to Binge Eating

Michelle May


Most people we work with who struggle with binge eating have tried countless diets in an attempt to regain control. But diets are an Outside > In approach: An outside “expert” tells you when, what, and how much to eat. This often leads to obsession then feelings of deprivation, cravings, bingeing, and guilt! Am I Hungry? is an Inside Out approach to binge eating: We guide you to identify why you want to eat in the first place then recognize and trust your inner wisdom to meet your true needs.


I love the Disney Pixar “emotion picture,” Inside Out because it “gave voice” to the emotions we often experience but sometimes have difficulty identifying. Learning to notice the “voices” in our heads is one of the essential steps for healing emotional eating and recovering from Binge Eating Disorder (BED). It is an inside-out approach to binge eating!

Disney Pixar Inside-Out characters

The movie Inside Out gave our emotions voices, personalities, and characteristics. We can do something similar to  help us detach from the emotional drivers of binge eating enough to observe them more objectively with curiosity.

This is one of the techniques we use in the small group therapy portion of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program and Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Retreat.

Let me set this up for you. In this excerpt from Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating (page 70), Dr. Kari Anderson and I write:

Watching thoughts and choosing which ones to pay attention to is a powerful way to interrupt an automatic sequence of events. However, it can be challenging at first because people who struggle with binge eating may be in the habit of judging their thoughts, leading to an emotionally charged internal dialogue. It may seem like there’s an angel sitting on one shoulder and a devil sitting on the other. They whisper in your ears like an old cartoon: good versus evil.

The Insistent Binge Voice

During one of our Mindful Eating for Binge Eating therapy groups, participants are asked to give their Binge Voice, Restrictive Voice, and Self-Care Voice names, personalities, and a voice.

We all had a good laugh when one retreat participant said her Binge Voice sounds like this very insistent character from Family Guy:

Recognizing your “voices”

A participant in our research study on the Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program (1) gave us permission to share the pictures she had drawn of her Binge Voice, Restrictive Voice, and Self-Care Voice.

My Binge Voice

My-Binge-VoiceIn the drawing of her Binge Voice, she wrote what the voice says to her.

What a fat, ugly, worthless failure you are.

You can’t stick with anything anyway.

Might as well eat the whole thing.

You’ve blown it again!

You are such a loser!

People who binge eat are sometimes trying to escape painful thoughts and emotions. When she identified the cruel things her Binge Voice says to her, it was easy to understand why she would turn to food to try to escape these thoughts!

My Restrictive Voice

My-Restrictive-VoiceIn the drawing of her angelic-appearing Restrictive Voice, she wrote that the voice says:

Starving yourself means you will lose lots of weight and you’ll be so slim and beautiful.

You are so good!

Binge eating often has a strong restrictive component (an outside-in approach) that contributes to the Binge-Repent-Repeat Cycle.

My Self-Care Voice

My-Self-Care-VoiceHer drawing of her Self-Care Voice which resembles a smiling young girl. The voice says:

Enjoy it. Appreciate it.

There is plenty. Abundance abounds.

I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you, no matter what.

You are beautiful and lovable, and worth taking good care of.

This gentle, compassionate self-care voice is supportive, loving, and encouraging.

Developing Your Self-Care Voice

The point of all of this is to become more objectively aware of the thoughts, beliefs, memories, and feelings that sit at the control panel of your mind, pushing your buttons and controlling your behaviors. With this awareness, you can choose which voice to pay attention to and nurture.

Taking an inside-out approach to binge eating to heal your relationship with food and your body ultimately means nurturing your Self-Care Voice who is unconditionally compassionate, validating, and has your highest good at heart. The Self-Care voice mediates the dialogue between the Binge Voice and the Restrictive Voice, encouraging you to trust and choose your true nature.

(1) Anderson, K., & May, M. (2012). The Mindful Eating Cycle: Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. Arizona State University, Doctor of Behavioral Health, Culminating Project. (Abstract: http://www.amihungry.com/pdf/MindfulEatingCycleTreatmentForBingeEatingAbstract.pdf.)

This article is updated from a previous version.

If you enjoyed this article, here are three more to help you:

What is the difference between emotional eating and binge eating?

Binge eating disorder and dieting: Often two sides of the same coin

Nicole’s Story: Recovery from Binge Eating Disorder – “I deserve it!”

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8 thoughts on “An Inside Out Approach to Binge Eating”

  1. I already receive your emails. If your seminars were not on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, I would consider attending, possibly on a regular basis. My zip code is 91302.

    1. Thanks Gretchen. I really do think it is helpful to be able to listen to these compelling, sometimes insistent “voices” as if they are outside of ourselves so it is easier to realize that they are NOT us, so we can choose to listen to them or not.

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