Most of us have experienced binge eating at least once in our lives. Perhaps you were so hungry after soccer practice you devoured half of what’s in the pantry. Or maybe you controlled that urge to eat the cake for two days, but on day three, you couldn’t help but eat the whole damn thing. A lot of us have been there, which is why it’s important to understand why you binge and how to stop.
What is binge eating?
- Eating faster than usual
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food, even when not hungry
- Eating alone due to embarrassment
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating
Binge eating disorder (BED) is when binge eating occurs at least once a week for at least three months. If you fit this description, I highly suggest you see a doctor. I’ve listed some resources here:
- National Eating Disorder Association
- Recovery Warriors
- ED Referral
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Though it may not seem as serious as anorexia nervosa, it absolutely is an eating disorder and requires treatment. Though this article will be helpful if you do suffer from BED, I highly suggest you seek outside help from a doctor or other appropriate clinician.
Why do we binge?
There are two main reasons why people binge eat. This first is caused by an overly restrictive diet, and the second is due to people using food as a way to cope with their emotions. Let’s discuss each of these points in more detail.
Dietary restrictions include calorie restrictions, food restrictions and time restrictions. People will often use these restrictions to tightly control their carbohydrate or fat intake or regulate how much fast food or dessert they eat. While this isn’t a complete list, these are the most common dietary restrictions.
The issue is that “rules” or “restrictions” surrounding food tend to backfire and lead to binge eating. When your body senses a restriction, whether it is physical or mental, the mind assumes you are in a state of starvation. To keep you alive and well, the body increases your cravings, which can spiral into overeating and binge eating episodes.
Food is commonly used as a way to cope with emotions like boredom, loneliness, anger, stress, anxiety, fear and/or sadness. Some people binge eat when they are feeling happy to amplify those emotions. When these emotions become uncomfortable, binge eating can be a way to cope and feel better, which is why negative emotions can be closely linked to binge eating.
Step 1: Start eating enough food
The first step to recover from binge eating is to make sure you’re eating enough food. This may seem counterintuitive considering the reason most want to stop binge eating is because they want to eat less. But considering the reason why people binge eat, it’s easier to understand why eating more can lead to less binge eating.
The more you restrict, the more you binge. The less you restrict, the less you binge. Ensuring you eat enough calories, eat every few hours, don’t restrict any foods or food groups and avoid skipping meals and/or snacks is essential to overcoming binge eating.
Step 2: Start reintroducing trigger foods
Next, it’s important to start reintroducing trigger foods. These would include foods that you feel “out of control” around and trigger a bingeing episode.
Start by introducing trigger foods you are most comfortable with and slowly work your way to the foods you fear the most. Exposing yourself to a small portion is fine, just make sure you are introducing a trigger food at least once a day. The more often you are exposed to these foods, the more comfortable you will feel around them, and over time, you’ll lose the urge to binge.
Step 3: Find other ways to cope with emotions
After you’ve improved the diet part of binge eating recovery, it’s time to work on finding alternative coping strategies. Many people make the mistake of trying to resist the urge to binge without finding a different strategy to cope with their emotions. Identifying productive and healthy outlets for fulfilling that need are important to eliminate the urges associated with bingeing.
Next time you feel the urge to binge, try out a coping strategy. This could include going for a walk or drive, writing, drawing, taking a long bath, exercising, playing with your dog, listening to soothing music, or doing yoga. Pick an activity you personally enjoy and find calming.
Step 4: Work on body image and self esteem
Finally, it’s important to work on your body image and overall self esteem. When you feel better about your body, you are less likely to restrict your diet or feel negative emotions, both of which can trigger a binge.
There are a variety of ways to improve your body image. Some people find that focusing on the features they like about their body is helpful, while others like to focus on what their body can do versus what it looks like. Do whatever works best for you, we are all different!
To improve self esteem, it can be helpful to start a new hobby or discover new interests. We often think that self esteem comes from what we look like, but in reality, it’s so much more. Finding new passions and skills can help improve your self esteem without focusing on your appearance.
I’m still lost, what else can I do to stop binge eating?
While this article provides a good overview for helping people overcome binge eating, there are definitely a few additional strategies and extra details that can help you stop binge eating for good. If you are interested in more help and want to start feeling normal around food again, check out my products:
My online course and ebook go into detail about all the evidence-based-strategies to stop binge eating. Along with this, the products discuss how to create balanced and filling meals, a step by step guide to reintroducing trigger foods successfully and strategies to improve body image and self esteem.
If you want a free guide that discusses several strategies that can help you overcome binge eating. Plug in your information below to have that guide sent to your inbox:
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!