Binge Eating Disorder – Why diets aren’t working (Leslie Schilling Interview)

Binge Eating Disorder – Why diets aren’t working (Leslie Schilling Interview)

Leslie Schilling

I recently heard dietician/nutritionist, Leslie Schilling, speak at the NSCA National Conference.  She instantly wooed me with her Southern drawl, love of food, and “anti-diet” approach (a dietician against diets?! What's not to love?).  Of course, I commenced to immediate stalking, and cornered her for an interview ;)  ~Kiki 

EM2WL: Your session at the conference “When Diets Don't Work” focused on Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  Can you explain to our readers what BED is?

Leslie: A diet, whether it is the first or fiftieth, could be the trigger to a life-altering or even life-threatening eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, these illnesses can affect people of any race, age, sex, or size. Last year, the most common yet under recognized disorder received an official diagnosis code.  Now those suffering with BED can no longer be overlooked.  BED is associated with the following signs: recurrent binging (once a week for more than 3 months), eating larger than normal amounts of food in a short period of time, and lack of control during the binge episode.  According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, BED may affect 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and as many as 40% of all those seeking weight loss treatments.


EM2WL:  Other than lack of purging/excessive exercise, what separates BED from Bulimia and Anorexia?

Leslie: There is no compensatory behavior like over exercising, restricting or “getting rid” of food (purging in any way).


EM2WL:  I wonder if it is possible to have this disorder and not know it.  A lot of people refer to “cheat meals,” justifying overeating on the weekends after “being good” all week.  Does this type of diet mentality have any bearings on developing BED?

Leslie: Yes, it is possible to have BED and not realize it. Dieting over the years, as well as a common culture of “diet-mentality,” may mask an underlying problem. Many of us overeat from time to time, and even eat when we are not hungry. Those with binge eating disorder, however, eat for reasons not always associated with hunger. For example, people suffering from BED may use food to reward themselves, or to escape emotions associated with grief or anxiety, stressful situations, anger, hurtful memories or even past traumas.

My philosophy about “cheat meals” is simple. If what you’re doing requires that you “cheat,” I don’t believe it’s a sustainable or healthy. You could absolutely be eating better than you once did, but perspective matters. I believe in an 80/20 approach which I define as eating whole and low-ingredient foods most of the time and comfortably blending it with pleasurable foods that may or may not have a high nutritional value. Like, I have this thing with cupcakes…

My philosophy about “cheat meals” is simple. If what you’re doing requires that you “cheat,” I don’t believe it’s a sustainable or healthy. 

EM2WL:  Would you consider an overindulgence, say eating an 2 or 3 servings of a favorite dessert, a binge?  How can we distinguish between an overindulgence v a binge?

Leslie: It’s possible I could eat two cupcakes here and there. I likely over-indulged and won’t do that again for a long time. A binge may look like 4, 6, or even a dozen cupcakes but it really depends on the person and the motivation.

Here’s an example—If I eat an extra cupcake because Aunt Betty makes amazing strawberry cupcakes, it may be a simple indulgence. If I’m eating 2, 4, etc.. of Aunt Betty’s cupcakes because my boss said something horrible to me—I’m “using” food and therefore, potentially binging.


EM2WL:  The term 'emotional eating' is used quite a bit with regard to challenges faced when trying to lose weight. Is this just another label for BED?

Leslie: Normal eaters sometimes eat for emotional reasons vs. physiological hunger. However, when you find yourself eating for reasons other than hunger frequently, it’s possible there could be some form of disordered eating going on, like BED.

If someone is over “using” food, it’s possible to teach them the tools to recognize and redirect those behaviors. Once they improve those behaviors, it’s very likely that weight loss becomes a side-effect.

EM2WL:  You mentioned that if the shame-based approach worked, that the problem might not be as widespread. How does the media, trainers, friends, or parents contribute to the shame-based approach to fat loss? And how does that play into BED?

Leslie: Many of us who work in the field of disordered eating say “if shame worked, no one would have a weight issue.” Making someone feel bad about themselves is NEVER productive. Our “war” on obesity has become a war against people, real people, like you and me, with real life problems. I like to think you catch more flies with honey. Being caring and non-judgmental opens the door to sustainable change. Here's one of my favorite quotes.

Nobody really gets anywhere “shouldn't’” on themselves. When we feel the pressure to change things like our bodies, our diets or exercise routine, it’s important that trainers, dietitians, parents, health professionals, etc… use an approach that moves someone towards making healthy decisions for themselves. I rarely support someone’s goal of “weight loss.” I discuss what’s going on with their food, lack of food, over “use” of food, and help them set goals that promote lasting healthy behaviors. If someone is over “using” food, it’s possible to teach them the tools to recognize and redirect those behaviors. Once they improve those behaviors, it’s very likely that weight loss becomes a side-effect.


EM2WL:  If someone suspects they might have BED is there anything they can do on their own to treat the disorder?

Leslie: It’s unlikely, yet not impossible. It’s about the food and NOT about the food at the same time. A successful team usually includes an experienced mental health professional along with an experienced dietitian (one who works with BED/emotional eating).

If you’re wondering if you may need a little help, you can absolutely start by helping yourself. Keeping a food journal (no calories, numbers, etc) to record when you eat, what you eat and how you’re feeling (am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired?). An individual non-judgmental investigation of how you’re using food can provide tremendous insight.


EM2WL:  As a dietitian, what do you feel the biggest flaw is in the “eat less, workout more” philosophy?

Leslie: If it were as simple as eat less, work out more, I think most every person on the planet would have mastered the food and weight thing by now. We often assume it’s all about energy in and energy out. It’s not really when you think about all the other factors that influence our body weight & eating—emotions, endocrine issues, body types, dieting history, fitness levels, and so on…

I love giving this example. Say you have a 50 calorie snack and a 150 calorie snack. If you’re simply eating based on a quantity (calorie) approach, it’s very possible you’ll pick the fat-free, sugar-free chemical soufflé. If you eat based on a quality approach, you’re more likely to pick the higher energy choice—almonds—ingredient: almonds.

Leslie Schilling - Supper Solution

EM2WL:  You have a new dinner menu service launching soon, deets please!! What awesomeness should we expect from Your Supper Solution?

Leslie: I’m incredibly excited about this launch! Earlier this year I’d enrolled in a business development course because I needed direction for my next steps as an entrepreneur. As you know, I'm a registered dietitian/nutritionist but I was stuck. This desire to do something that could positively impact people on a larger scale was really eating at me. I didn't know if I needed to focus on expanding my private practice, speaking engagements, write a book, or what. The lack of clarity was incredibly frustrating.

As I was doing my homework (which I loved because I’m a total geek), it came to me. I rock planning a menu like nobody's business and I realized that planning has been a major part of what I've been helping people with for the last 10 years.

Many people can cook, follow a recipe and shop but most HATE the planning. So, I've created Your Supper Solution—an online monthly membership service that delivers weekly dinner menus. It’s a balanced, back-to-basics, real food approach to getting supper solved! Menus roll out August 1st! Here’s a quick video about it.

EM2WL:  Sweet!  You know I'm already on the pre-launch list, lol.  Where else can our readers read/see/hear more from you?





Meal Planning Website:

Memphis-based Private Practice Website:




Leslie Schilling

Leslie Schilling

Leslie is a master’s level, registered, and licensed dietitian/nutritionist who specializes in wellness, disordered eating, sports nutrition, and the prevention of chronic dieting. She received her Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees from Appalachian State University in NC. Leslie owns Schilling Nutrition Therapy, LLC, a Memphis-based nutrition counseling practice, and is the creator of Your Supper Solution.

She is a member of Sport, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN), Behavioral Health Nutrition (BHN), Nutrition Entrepreneurs (NE) Practice Groups of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee (EDCT), and The National Speakers Association (NSA).

Leslie has served as an adjunct instructor in the Graduate Nutrition Program at the University of Memphis. She has also been invited to provide her humorous, down-to-Earth nutrition programs and presentations to groups and professionals across the nation. In addition, she writes for local media, professional, and consumer publications. Whether it is through appearing on a television show, speaking to a crowd, or writing, Leslie inspires those she encounters to get back-to-the-basics with food and make self-care a priority through planning.

Disordered Eating: The New Normal

Disordered Eating: The New Normal


Dani Shugart

Dani Shugart

After following Dani for some time, I was so excited to finally have an opportunity to get into her head a bit deeper.  This figure competitor knows firsthand the dangers of disordered eating and helps her clients break the cycle and rebuild their relationship with food.

EM2WL: Thanks again, Dani, for agreeing to be interviewed. Just to give everyone a brief background, you started lifting in high school which led to competing and winning several competitions, most recently taking first place in novice and third place in open at this year's Axis Labs Northern Colorado's figure competition. You've also authored several articles and recently published The Sound of Secrets: End Disordered Eating, recounting your sister's battle with the disease.  Why did you feel the need to write this book?

Dani: I wrote this book after losing my big sister. She struggled with anorexia for nearly two decades, and a few months after her death it occurred to me that my sister’s struggle, though extreme, started somewhere fairly benign, at a place where a lot of women find themselves now.

I wrote the book to stop women (and men) from going down that same route, and to help them break out of the eating habits that make them feel and look miserable.

The Sound of Secrets by Dani ShugartE: In your book you labeled disordered eating as the new normal. How do you think society has come to this state?

D: I don’t know if we can blame any one thing. It would be easy to point the finger at Photoshop, the media, and the underrepresentation of strong, healthy bodies. But I think it’s more complicated than that.

I have to wonder if the rise in disordered eating is just a backlash (a strong and adverse reaction) to the rise in obesity. Maybe people are just trying to avoid becoming the norm but going about it in counterproductive ways. There’s a general misunderstanding about how to be lean and healthy for the long haul.

Another thing that might have something to do with it is the increasing availability and consumption of hyperpalatable, processed foods. The salt/sugar/fat trifecta makes a lot of people compulsive overeaters. (It had that effect on me.) And when people want to be thin, yet become addicted to foods that do the opposite, they resort to compensatory actions instead of building a healthier relationship with foods that nourish.

Any level of disordered eating is a thief of our happiness, sanity, health, time, self respect, and potential.

E: Do you feel that many of today's popular diets like paleo or IF contribute to the problem? What are your thoughts on IIFYM?

D: I think modern diets are just a symptom of a problem that’s already there. Sure, they can contribute to it and overcomplicate it, but diets are not where the problem begins. The problem begins in the mind, and it begins with our perception of what will make us healthy, fit, lean, and happy long term. Those who are obsessed with weighing less at the expense of their health are at risk for disordered eating, no matter what diet they subscribe to.

IIFYM (like many dieting strategies) can be beneficial or harmful depending on what your mindset is when using it. If you’re really focused on nourishing yourself then it can be used for good. It has its place, but it’s not a way of life. Counting and measuring everything you eat for your lifetime is insanity. Are you going to take scales and measuring cups with you everywhere you go? At some point you have to trust your ability to eye-ball an appropriate amount of food, and then eat according to your hunger. At some point you have to trust that your metabolism will work in your favor and use everything you consume.

Another thing — avoiding hyper-palatable food, the stuff that’s engineered to make you eat more, is a good idea. But I don’t see that as dieting, just self-defense. And filling your body up with what you know will nourish and satiate, is the best way to take care of yourself and become leaner in the process. No diet necessary.

At some point you have to trust yourself


E: When most people think of disordered eating, images of purging or extreme restrictive dieting come to mind. Would you consider behavior where someone regularly over indulges on the weekend and then tries to ‘burn it off' or restrict calories afterward to be disordered eating?

D: Yes, this is definitely disordered. Anytime you overindulge and then try to compensate for it, you’re engaging in what I described in the book as the “binge-punish” cycle.

When working with clients, I also refer to it as the Good Girl/ Bad Girl cycle or Good Boy/Bad Boy cycle. People perceive their behavior as “bad” when they lose control, and then they perceive their behavior as “good” the next day when they try to undo the damage. A lot of folks go through this cycle every single day and don’t realize it’s disordered… all they see is the weight gain that happens as a result. So when I work with clients who are want to lose weight we have to address this cycle first.

E: In your book you describe the 5 phases of the binge-punish cycle which start with highly addictive engineered foods and ends with bingeing. What are some ways people can break this cycle?

D: There are so many ways to break the cycle and they all depend on the person. But here are three that I often use with clients:

Breaking the cycle begins when you have the most control. If you end the day famished and tired, you’ll be more likely to default to whatever behavior is easiest or most habitual. This often means choosing the most convenient food – whatever it may be. So if you’re used to eating food that makes you crave more, you’re going to grab that in a moment of weakness. To break the cycle, nourish yourself early and often, and you’ll prevent the need to reach for things that don’t serve you.

Break free from disordered eatingAnother way to break the cycle is just to make sure that your (home and work) environment accommodates it. Make sure you have healthy go-to foods available everywhere you are so that even if you are tempted to seek foods that trigger more eating, you have another easily available option.

Another way to break the cycle is to find out why you’re eating. Is your reason for eating physical or psychological? Check in with yourself and ask, “Am I eating this because I’m really hungry, or am I looking for a distraction and mental relief?” Strong emotions can start the cycle, and if you can get down to the bottom of WHY you’re reaching for food in the first place, then you can begin to establish strategies to deal with these emotions aside from food.

E: How important is it to have self compassion when trying to break free from disordered eating?

D: Self compassion doesn’t come naturally for most of us because we operate under the assumption that if you’re hard on yourself you’ll be more successful. This is a giant misconception and I think it’s what keeps people locked in their disordered eating.

Fighting against yourself instead of fighting on the same team makes it much harder to reach your goals. Once people really grasp this, they’re able to help themselves and break free. Self compassion is getting on your own team, and I think it’s essential for success.

For those that are suffering from disordered eating what are some steps they can take toward rebuilding their mindset about food?

Seek understanding. Find resources (books, coaches, articles, other people) that can help you change your mindset. Focus on changing your thinking and behavior instead of your macros and calories.

Women tend to get excited by weight loss no matter how it's accomplished.

E: Fitness and strength training have obviously been a big part of your life. At EM2WL we encourage women to lift heavy weights and often run into the ‘fear of getting bulky' objection. What do you say to women when faced with a similar concern?

Woman Weight Training At GymD: This is one of my favorite things to address. If you’re trying to change your disordered eating you have to change your disordered thinking. See if you can let go of the smallness goal because ironically, the strategies that make you weigh less initially are the same exact ones that either backfire and make you gain weight in the long run, or enslave you in a life of wasting away.

When you lose weight without building muscle you become a “smaller” person. And as such, you have to eat fewer and fewer calories (otherwise you’ll go right back to the same weight you were). But muscle changes that. It makes you expend more energy, and it requires you to consume more energy to grow.

Muscle not only ups your metabolism it also makes you look leaner. No matter how much weight you’re carrying, muscle will change the shape of your body like nothing else. And in order to have muscle definition, you have to have muscle. There’s no way around it.

E: Thanks again Dani! How can our readers hear more from/follow you?

D: Thanks for letting me share! Get in touch! Here’s where you can find me:





Photos credit:

Intuitive Eating: Weaning off Calorie Counting

Intuitive Eating: Weaning off Calorie Counting

Q: I've been tracking my food and counting my macros for about a year now.  I'm loving the results I'm seeing, but weighing and measuring everything, counting calories and reading labels sometimes makes me feel a bit obsessive, even though I know I'm eating plenty.  Do I have to track my food indefinitely?

A: Absolutely not!  In fact, one of our goals for you is to learn to eat intuitively! 

EM2WL doesn't recommend calorie counting as merely a way of restricting food, but rather as a means to determine if you are eating ENOUGH!  Using a calorie counter like My Fitness Pal can be a great tool for educating yourself about the calorie and macronutrient breakdown of different foods.  It doesn't take long to familiarize yourself with proper portion sizes and an understanding of setting up meals that will help you reach your macro goals by the end of the day.  Many of our clients that begin tracking their food are surprised to learn they are eating far too little.

Photo credit: Stuart Miles

Photo credit: Stuart Miles

The ultimate goal of tracking food, however, is to trust yourself enough to eat intuitively, even without the security of tracking every macronutrient.  Keeping a food log provides an opportunity to educate yourself about how to adequately fuel your body.  After a short time period, you are likely to find the best way to set up your meals to reach your daily macronutrient goals. You will probably find what foods make you feel your best, and which foods you'd be better off avoiding or eating less frequently.  You will probably find that for the most part, the staples of your eating plan are fairly similar from day to day.

If you're used to keeping pretty accurate food logs, it can feel pretty overwhelming to make the journey to intuitive eating, but it's well worth it in the long-term.  Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, think about implementing small baby steps with the long-term goal being eating intuitively.

1. Keep a food journal, but don't count calories

If you're afraid that a break from logging will turn into an all-holds-barred eating fest, keep yourself accountable by keeping a food journal while you make the transition. Don't worry about writing down amounts, but do jot down times and foods consumed, along with a few notes about how different meals make you feel.  Are you satisfied after each meal?  Struggling with emotional eating?  Notice you don't feel so hot after a particular meal? Struggling to get through workouts? All these observations can help you to make informed decisions about making a few simple tweaks to your eating plan.

2. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues

In addition to paying attention to how different meals make you feel, make sure that eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied, but not overstuffed. This may seem too obvious and simple to even mention, but for those who have spent a long time dieting, counting calories, and/or eating at specified times, it can be difficult to discern when you are hungry and full.

3. Log late in the day


Photo credit: Praisaeng

Another approach that can be helpful is to eat intuitively throughout the day and then check how you've done once you're done eating for the day.  You may choose to continue to weigh and measure foods during this transition, but remember the ultimate goal is to rely less on weighing and measuring foods and learn how to trust yourself to make decisions about food choices and portion sizes.  It may be helpful to continue to weigh and measure “big ticket” items like fats and starchy carbs during this time, and eyeball things like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables since they have less potential to be overeaten.

The following rule of thumb might be helpful to remember:

1/2 cup rice or grains=1/2 baseball

1 1/2 ounces cheese=4 game dice

2 tablespoons nut butter=1 ping pong ball

3 ounces lean meat=deck of cards

1/4 cup dried fruit or nuts=1 large egg

1 tablespoon butter=1 game dice

1 cup cereal=1 fist also has a pretty awesome visual guide for eyeballing your macros.

4. Check your “eyeballing” occasionally 

Occasionally, after you've already portioned your food, check in with your digital food scale to make sure you're still on track.  Hopefully, you will be pleasantly surprised that your portion sizes are pretty spot-on!  If not, a few days of getting back to weighing and measuring should get you back on the right track.

5.  Take a short break from logging 

If a break from logging food makes you extremely uncomfortable, consider taking just one or two meals per week off.  Over time, you might be able to extend this time into a full day, and over time you are sure to find that you are trusting yourself more and more comfortable with eating intuitively.


Photo credit: lamnee

6. Don't give up! 

Be patient with yourself and forgive yourself if you run into some bumps along the road.  Those things that are truly worth it in the end rarely come without a few obstacles.  Ultimately, you are sure to enjoy the freedom you find from being able to eat intuitively.  If you seem to be struggling to stay on track, you can always go back to logging for a few days.  Remember there's no time limit here and this is your journey!  You can take as much time as you need to accomplish your goal.  We look forward to hearing your success stories!




Becca is a busy mother five children ages 9 to 17. About seven years ago, she embarked on a journey to health and fitness that resulted in the loss of approximately 100 pounds. Today, she is a competitive powerlifter and strongwoman who loves ice cream and deadlifts.  As an ISSA certified personal trainer, she is passionate about helping women to get started on a lifestyle of strength and fitness.


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