Jonathon Sumner pic
Podcast

134. From Trying To Get “Shredded” To Binge Eating with Jonathon Sumner; @BingeDietitian

October 4, 2023

Ryann Nicole

Hi, I’m Ryann.

Your Not-So-Average Food Freedom Therapist & Virtual Coach. As a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Certified Nutritionist with a BA in Psychology, and a MA in Professional Counseling, yes I do a little of the "so how does that make you feel".

But my ultimate goal is to provide you with the resources you need, in an easy-to-understand way, on healing your disordered relationship with food and your body. 

TOp categories
Get The Free 5 Steps To Stop Binge Eating Guide
Download Now

Binge Eating

Healthy Habits

Body Image

Emotional Eating

Mental Health 


Connect with Jonathon

📲 Instagram: @bingedietitian

📲 TikTok: @bingedietitian

🖥 Youtube: @bingedietitian

🖥 Website: bingedietitian.com

Episode Transcript

Ryann

Hello, everybody, welcome back. I have Jonathon with us today. Do you go by Jonathan completely?

Jonathon

Yes, Jonathon or Jon, any would do.

Ryann

I have Jonathon with us and I am so excited to have him share his story. I have been following Jonathan for, I want to say about eight months now, connected. And I was like, I need you on my podcast. And then life got crazy. I got pregnant. And now we’re finally getting around to it. So Jonathon, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. I know that I’ve heard snippets of your story here and there, but I’m really excited to be able to hear all of it today. 

Jonathon

Yeah, thank you so much, Ryann. Congratulations on your pregnancy. 

Ryann

Thank you. Thank you. So let’s just go to the beginning. Like, when did all of this start for you? And then what happened? Take us through it.

Jonathon

So for those who don’t know, my name is Jonathan, I’m a dietitian, and I support people who are struggling with binge eating, and I, just like Ryann, struggle with binge eating in the past. So, this initially started when I was studying to become a dietitian, when I was a student dietitian in university. Back then, before university, I was often eating with my parents, with my mum, with my brothers, and food wasn’t much of an issue. 

We were eating food, we were just serving our own portions, and then when I moved to uni that’s when I started to live alone and then I had so much freedom. Food was not being cooked for me there’s like frequent takeaways, you live right next to kebab shops, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and you’re just surrounded by other people who are just finding themselves in university. They’re just trying to discover who they are, trying to discover more about how to cook. They’re very conscious about their body image and that even as me as a dietitian it just passed on to me. In university you want to stand out and back then I was like really into the gym weightlifting. 

Before uni I wasn’t so interested in changing my body shape I was interested in getting stronger but since starting university then that’s when I started to become quite focused on my looks because there’s so much comparison. I don’t know if you struggle with that when you’re studying there’s so much comparison in college or in uni, university in the UK. Comparison is literally the thief of joy, but it’s the thing that you think you need to do to improve, to stand out, to impress other people. 

So fast forward to that, where it became binge eating, is because I wanted to get shredded. For those who don’t know what shredded means, it roughly means getting such a low body fat to where you have like six pack, even for men, eight pack if that’s even possible for some people. So I wanted to do that because no one told me that was physiologically unhealthy. I was still in my first year of dietetics, no one told me this would have like intense negative mental consequences, so I just went for it. And it was extremely hard for me to sustain because dietetics 101, if you want to lose weight and continue to lose weight, you need to reduce your calories and then you hit the plateau and then reduce your calories again, you hit a plateau and each time you go lower in that plateau to reduce your calories to continue weight loss, you have to take out more happiness from your life. 

So it got to the point where I was having black coffee for breakfast, bland boiled chicken breast with salad and then for dinner, that’s where I have my big meal because for those people who are into the gym, you probably might have heard of, if it fits your macros, you’ve probably heard of that, right?

Yeah, so if it fits your macros, basically, whatever you eat, it’s all a numbers game. You can still lose weight even if you’re eating pizzas, as long as you’re eating below the calorie point. It starts to become like controlled binges. I try my best to eat below that calorie limit to lose weight. I only continue it for like three, four days, that one meal a day, quote unquote, diet. 

And then in a snap of a finger, it starts to turn into binge eating episodes. I eat, I’m not gonna really talk about the calories but like way over the energy limit of what I’ve been eating and I would just be eating on autopilot and I would start to feel quite full, really really full. I’d like to say 10 out of 10 Christmas dinner full but since it’s like leftovers and I want to clear everything out I don’t want anyone to see it. Even my hallmates, I don’t want people to see like little bits of pizza in the fridge because as a dietitian they might be thinking, oh you’re eating pizza as a dietitian?

There’s two boxes there, there’s boxes of chips, kebabs, what’s going on? I thought you’re meant to be the gold standard of diet culture or something like that. So keynotes of like binge eating is like eating in secret then falling into guilt and then I would just keep on continuing this because I was trying to chase weight loss or at least try to maintain this weight loss and then I was in just such a crossroad, like, is it really worth it having these binge eating episodes? I wouldn’t even go to bed after these binge eating episodes lying down because I was so full and I was having like really intense heartburn. And there’s so many physical consequences of binge eating that people don’t even talk about, like heartburn, gastro issues, bloating, on top of the mental issues.

Ryann

 I mean, when you say that this started when you were studying to become a dietitian, what was it like for you to be like, I’m studying to know more about this profession and at the same time, I’m struggling with food?

Jonathon

Back then, I was a first year dietitian student. So this topic of eating disorders, or disordered eating, it wasn’t mentioned in first year. And I feel like it should be really mentioned in first year at the start. So I didn’t think it was a problem. I thought it was just something you had to do, like one meal a day diets. I was actually in my mind back then, I was thinking, okay, maybe I should do a one day fast and then next day try a one meal a day. It sounds really, really intense and a bit crazy now thinking back at it, but I didn’t really think it was a problem back then. And I don’t know if you come across a number of people who initially didn’t think their binge eating was a problem.

Ryann

100%. I feel like I was the queen of that, saying that the binges are the problem. Like I’m the problem. My discipline is the problem. My willpower is the problem. It’s not the binges. It is me. I’m the problem. And every time post binge, and I’m sure you did this too, it was like, I’m never going to do that again. Like tomorrow I’m going to be good. We’re not going to go there. Like this is the last hurrah. And like now it’s time to get serious.

Jonathon

Yeah, absolutely. And coming from men’s point of view, it’s not exclusively for men, but I think in my personal opinion, from my perspective, with men and the gym, you often think like if you’re having binge eating episodes or even simply overeating episodes, then you’re feeling guilty and you’re not sticking to this diet, then you feel like you’re going to be perceived as weak-willed, lazy. You often see even whole YouTube videos on like motivation videos, compilation of people talking about, well if you want it bad enough then you will get it. If there’s a will, there’s a way. And I was thinking to myself, oh well I don’t have any willpower at the moment. I’m so exhausted. 

Ryann

Or just don’t buy the food. Just don’t buy the food. And I remember being like, but you don’t understand I’m not buying food. And then I’m either eating my roommate’s food, I am driving chaotically somewhere in the middle of the night to get food, or I’m shoving whatever I have in my house that makes absolutely no sense into my mouth.

Jonathon

People might be thinking, if they’re thinking right now, like, oh, well, the solution is to move houses, to live into a food desert where there’s no food around. But the thing is, we have food delivery apps. If the urge to binge, no matter what you do, is so strong, you’re just going to be fully into your emotional state. All of your logic state just goes out the window because you’re so into the emotional state. You probably might even like have the urge to go to the Play Store and then download it and then wait for it to be downloaded, a few minutes, okay, I’m going to order this and everything. So avoiding food, cutting all the food out from your cupboard is not going to help.

Ryann

Not at all. You said binge episodes a lot. What specifically were those like for you?

Jonathon

You mean the symptoms?

Ryann

Yeah, like what was that experience?

Jonathon

It was really, really difficult because the more I went through this cycle, my self-esteem was like, ooh, just going lower and lower and lower. After a binge, I promised to myself, today’s the day I’m going to eat perfectly. I’m going to avoid this. Today’s the day I’m gonna promise to myself to make this change. And then you don’t do it. You promise yourself again, then you don’t do it. And it’s just chipping away at your self-esteem. It’s not about willpower.

Ryann

The amount of times that I told myself today is the day.

Jonathon

Yeah, today is the day.

Ryann

Today is the day. Oh my gosh. So because it was so heavily fitness started for you, I’m curious now, hindsight, some of the maybe behaviors that you were engaging in that are so normalized that you were like, this isn’t a problem, like this isn’t gonna cause any harm. What were some of the things that are normalized or were normalized that you can see now at face value?

Jonathon

Initially, it started from a fitness point of view, but going back to the diet, the things that have been normalized was my eating habits. So, it’s just funny and a bit strange to look back at it, but I was getting breakfast, no snacks, no lunch. I consider it no lunch, and then no snacks, just one big, gigantic dinner. Now I’m eating regularly. Breakfast, mid-morning snack if I have the time, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and some people might be thinking, oh, there’s so much to eat. But the thing is, like, back then, looking back, it was difficult to transition to this, but it’s more about finding that balance. 

Because when I was binge eating, either having feast or famine, nothing for breakfast or just a coffee for breakfast, and then dinner, binge, I had this distorted mindset of what a meal looked like. I thought I had to have each meal really, really uncomfortably full. So when I told myself I had to have these regular meals, it doesn’t have to be gigantic, you just have to be comfortably full. You don’t have to be sickly full, but you don’t have to be eating a horse full. 

So now, my eating habits, breakfast, lunch and dinner, I have it consistently. And I don’t have much guilt eating these foods. It’s a really, really big leap of faith. You have to trust your body. It’s all about changing your mindset. Because back then, for me, I thought binge eating was a lack of willpower. But in reality, binge eating was a symptom of deprivation. Your body’s telling yourself, like, alarm, alarm! There’s no food, we don’t know when the next food is coming in. 

Because I tell people that, yeah, your brain might know that breakfast is maybe 8 or 9-ish, lunch is 12-ish, dinner is roughly 6pm-ish. But your stomach doesn’t know that. If your stomach senses nothing coming in, or maybe just black coffee for breakfast coming in, and then some salad leaves coming in for lunch, then gigantic meal for dinner, then it’s just going to habituate itself to these habits. Like, okay, this is the new meal time. No food in the day, just one big meal. Okay, I’m going to teach you to not feel hungry in the morning, and then I’m going to make you feel extremely hungry at dinner time, which is why some people might say, I’m not really a breakfast person. But are you not really a breakfast person? Or has your body gotten used to this? Right? Pattern.

 So going on from that, I eat normal meals now, my workouts are not so focused on trying to look a certain way, it’s now about trying to feel stronger. The next time I try to go to the gym, I try to improve my lifts and it’s extremely satisfying and it also encourages me to know that in order for me to improve my lifts, like if I want to do a bench press and improve my lifts next session, I need to fuel my body. It’s extremely important if you’re into the gym to focus on what you can build, what you can improve. If you’re running then try to fuel yourself to see how far you can run next time because there’s so many people who are under fueled athletes. 

Ryann

Yeah so going off of that that’s a perfect segue because I want to loop back around to the beginning when you said that this all started from a desire to get shredded. Where did that desire come from? Like, what were the messages that you got growing up? Where did you learn that your current body wasn’t enough and you needed to be shredded? Like, where did that come from?

Jonathon

It’s good you brought that back. The idea of being shredded, not usual lingo people talk about in the street. As I was trying to improve my knowledge of weightlifting and going to the gym and nutrition, I would follow these bodybuilding youtubers every now and then maybe once or twice a year They would shred down try to lean down as much as possible to join these bodybuilding shows and there was one youtuber I’m not gonna point any names He would encourage viewers in YouTube to join him in this Shredding trying to lean down as much as possible for two months with him and I thought to myself, okay, this is good accountability I’ll shred down to a very very low body fat together with this YouTuber, because he quote-unquote looks good, so I’ll join him. 

So I joined that. It seemed good on the surface, like encouraging, but I was just a victim of having this intense mindset. I didn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with what to do after a binge, or like these intense urges. I didn’t have the proper mindset about the idea of a relationship with food. Even dieticians don’t have much knowledge on disordered eating or eating disorders. I didn’t, even as a student. So it’s about awareness of, okay, when is this a problem? Because I wasn’t aware of this scale of amazing relationship with food and disordered eating, eating disorders. And I was leaning closer to the disordered eating and eating disorders scale, but I didn’t know anything about it.

Ryann

When you realized what you were doing was binging?

Jonathon

I told my friends about this, they’re colleagues now, but student dietitians, my co-student dietitians, because when you’re first year, you’ll have to do research a lot. And in my first year, I was so focused on gut health. Another person was so keen on like eating disorders. Another person was very keen on something else. So I told one of my friends, I’m doing this shredding event, and it’s really fun to do it, but it’s quite difficult. Do you have any tips?

 I’m just having one gigantic meal in the evening and I feel extremely guilty. I can’t stop. I’m having really bad heartburn. And then he was the one who pointed out to me saying like, oh, that’s not the way it’s meant to be. It’s meant to be sustainable. Although shredding down is very difficult mentally and physically, like that Jonathan is really, really the wrong way. It’s not sustainable. And I think you should dial it back. You should get out of this mindset. 

You should have regular meals. I want you to forget completely about this shredding event and get back to what you’re eating previously. Regular meals, including the foods you crave. He was the one who pointed that out and I was extremely grateful because awareness is the first step to change and if he didn’t tell me about that, that it was a problem, it would have probably spiraled into a full-on eating disorder. 

Ryann

So you were open to hearing what he had to say. 

Jonathon

Yeah, in Dietetics 101, they tell us the first thing is to accept feedback from other people. If someone says like, jump into a carnivore diet, and you don’t know much about it, don’t take it at face value. Research, research, research the pros and cons. I was very open to my friend, and he pointed me to actually the research that’s literally right behind you. Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribble and the others. I read it for a little bit, and there’s so much wording, but I think I might be dyslexic. So I listened to the audio book, but it’s amazing. It’s amazing. So that’s where I found out it was actually a problem.

Ryann

When you started reading that book, what were some of the things that you changed that helped with the binges?

Jonathon

When I implemented listening to my body, what my body needed, rather than like my fitness file following this extremely low energy diet, it was a bit shaky. I was like, oh, this is so difficult having a breakfast and then having lunch and then having dinner. But I wasn’t heavily at the end of the binge eating disorder scale. I was more on disordered eating. I didn’t have many people around me. I didn’t have many close friends back then because this is new in uni. I was only like three months in to university and I didn’t have a good firm foundation of friends who knew I was binging. Looking in hindsight, it was quite a privilege, extremely privileged that not many people knew about it, but in hindsight I should have told more people about it.

 If you’re struggling with binge eating, if you’re feeling guilty with food, that’s one thing to talk about to know that it’s a problem. So intuitive eating, I listened to what my body needed and to focus that my body is my temple. To some people that might sound really cringy but it literally is your temple and it’s your fuel for literally everything. Once I started to see my body as this thing that carries me around, helps me lift amazing weights, not the strongest weightlifter in the world but once you realize what your body is capable of doing, how your body is capable of getting stronger, improving and so many things, then I realized okay this is the new me. 

I kind of had to grieve my old self. Not to ignore these issues, but to accept in the book. It talks about like accepting your past self, accepting that, okay, this is the season in my life, I’m not going to ignore that none of this ever happened. I’m going to accept this story has happened, but now I’m going to focus on this new chapter in my life where I’m going to thrive. And you can’t thrive if you’re cutting out happiness from your life, cutting out the foods you love in your life, the foods that give you nostalgic memories, the foods you ate with your family members, with your brothers, you can’t thrive and focus on what you really want in life when food’s on your mind 24-7. So it was a very, very big leap of faith, but it was the best leap of faith I’ve ever taken, yeah.

Ryann

And I so appreciate you saying that because I think that obviously when you’re working through a lot of this, body stuff comes up a lot. And the desire to be in a different body, the ideal body that you’ve created in your head, it’s hard to let go of. And I think going back to your point of living in that way is not necessarily thriving. And the question that I always give to people is, if you could have that body, but with that body, it meant, like you said, the black coffee, the boiled chicken breast and that’s it like is that enough for you Is that enough for you? And I know for some people they say that is enough and that’s the kind of life that I want to live But for me, that’s not I can’t make that decision You can’t make that decision but just like you were like this isn’t enough for me

Jonathon

I don’t know if you heard of this saying is this dream body actually your dream body if it’s a nightmare to achieve. Have you heard of that?

Ryann

I haven’t, but that hits. That hits. What made you ultimately move into being a binge eating dietician?

Jonathon

This didn’t pop up immediately as a student, but like once I graduated to become a dietician, I always wanted to do something in the area of improving someone’s relationship with food and I was like considering for a while and I was thinking, huh, I’m not sure where I would fit in and then I just looked back into my dietetic life, my relationship with food. 

Oh, I did struggle with extreme guilt trying to get shredded because there’s amazing women like you who are supporting people with binge eating but what about the guys who are struggling with binge eating? I’m sure you amazingly help out guys as well but you need to raise awareness that other guys struggle with binge eating. From my point of view, like in a gym based setting, in a weightlifting setting, there are people who are like struggling with trying to reduce their energy intake, calories, it’s literally just energy. So energy intake. People are trying to reduce their energy intake. 

It’s summertime and some people might have felt like, oh I missed my chance to get shredded. I’m gonna reduce my calories as much as possible. I’m gonna cut out this, I’m gonna probably like fast for like two or three days so I can catch up with summertime and look shredded in the beach and it’s nice for me to tell other people no it’s not worth it. I’ve been there, it’s not worth just having black coffee or like falling into guilt, shame, embarrassment, not being able to lie down after a binge eating episode because you’re so full you might be having heartburn. You’re just propped up leaning back and you just like fall asleep. You’re almost like falling asleep standing up. 

Having intense bloating, stomach discomfort, it’s not worth it. And I believe that most people shouldn’t be following bodybuilders who are like doing shredding seasons if you’re someone who’s not trained to be an actual bodybuilder. Because these people only stay at this point shredded for like two days and then they try to get back to baseline as soon as possible in the safest way because so many people fall into eating disorders after these shredding episodes and some people don’t even know it’s an eating disorder. Some people fall into so many other things.

Ryann

I was gonna say, I mean, even those that are trained professionally or do this professionally, I’m sure you have the same where I have so many of them reaching out to me and being like, I’m so ashamed, I don’t know why I’m struggling with this and there’s no way that I could tell anybody about this it’s just one of those things where it’s like hush hush I’m not going to talk about it because look at all these accomplishments that I’ve been able to do with my body but I can’t imagine. 

Jonathon

Yeah have you heard some PT’s, personal trainers or fitness enthusiasts they often say I need to keep this body right now even though it’s a nightmare to maintain because my body is my business card. Have you ever heard of that one? Or something similar?

Ryann

Yeah, and then it makes me so sad because I’m like, are you really just here for the body? Like, I know you have so much more to offer and that was the biggest thing that I had to shift and learn too, was that I’m not just here to be looked at. I’m not just here to shrink my, like, I want more than that. I want to offer more, I want to do more, I want to be more. 

Jonathon

They say your body is the least interesting thing about you.

Ryann

Totally. For anybody who is currently just in the trenches, they are struggling, they’re in the depths of their binge eating right now, feeling like I just don’t know how I’m gonna get out of this, that I know that I don’t want to live this way anymore, what advice would you have for that?

Jonathon

It is possible to get out of binge eating episodes. When you grew up as a child, we didn’t struggle with binge eating episodes. And if you do, by the way, I really apologize that you struggle with that. But this is a learned skill, binge eating, and there’s nothing wrong with you. If you’re struggling with binge eating, you’re not weak-willed, you’re not lazy, you’re not incompetent. And I really apologize if any other people have been saying that to you, but this can be resolved. If we have this mindset that binge eating is simply your body telling your brain, alarm bells, alarm bells, we don’t know when food is coming in, we only see like one big meal a day, when are we going to have some consistency? 

So we need to think that binge eating is not anything to do with our personality, about our emotions, it’s not anything to do with how lazy we are or anything, it’s simply our body’s way of protecting ourselves. Our body is literally trying to keep you alive. So it’s telling your body, I need more nutrition. So if you’re providing yourself nutrition, psychologically, physically, and emotionally, and having great coping mechanisms, which Ryann is amazing at sharing, then your body is going to be like, okay, alarm bells are going to turn off, everything’s back to normal. It’s learned to binge eat but you can unlearn it. You can tell your body that everything’s safe. 

Ryann

I love that because I think that there can be this fear of am I gonna have these urges forever and knowing that those alarm bells do go away can be really really helpful and just knowing that it’s gonna be tough work at first but it does get easier. It will get easier. It’s very difficult at first, but we’ve been through it.

Jonathon

Right. We know you can do it. 

Ryann

Yes. In honor of the Food Freedom Lab, what does food freedom mean to you? 

Jonathon

Food freedom means to me, basically not thinking about food right after you’ve eaten some food. Because oftentimes when you’re struggling with a disordered relationship with food, whilst you’re eating a meal, you’re probably thinking about, oh, what am I going to have next? Or I’m going to restrict this. Oh, I’m going to buffet with my family later on, which I do. So food freedom means to me that you only think about food whilst you’re eating. In between that, you’re living your life. That’s what food freedom is.

Ryann

I love that. In between my meals, I’m living my life. That’s good. Jonathan, if anybody wants to connect with you, learn from you, just see more from you, where can they find you?

Jonathon

So you can find me on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, at BingeDietitian and my website is BingeDietitian.com but there’s tons of binge eating recovery professionals and there’s no shortage of people who are struggling with binge eating. We need to raise awareness and fight the battle all together. 

Ryann

Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing all about Jonathan and being so vulnerable and opening up and sharing your story. I so appreciate you taking the time and being here. And it just, it means a lot.

Jonathon

Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Ryann.

Grab A Free Resource

kickstart your journey to food freedom

free guide

free CHALLENGE

free lesson

Instagram

Your Not-So-Average Food Freedom Therapist & Virtual Coach

@itsryannnicole