Binge eating is a common struggle among young women and men. This is especially true among those with body image issues and those who are chronic dieters. I definitely used to fit into this category, but with a few changes, I stopped binge eating, and you can too!
While binge eating is common, it doesn’t mean it is incurable! In fact, binge eating is very treatable with just a few lifestyle changes.
As for myself, I had struggled with binge eating from my late high school years, well into college. I was able to fully recover my senior year of college, but not on purpose. I began to change how I viewed food and dieting, and switched from a regimented, strict diet plan, to a more intuitive eating approach.
Because of this, I was able to stop binge eating completely, as well as stop thinking about food all the time and having controllable cravings. In this article, I will outline specially what I changed in my diet and mindset changes that truly transformed my relationship with food.
What is binge eating?
Before we jump into how I stopped binge eating, let’s discuss what binge eating is and what it may look like. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, there are several characteristics that distinguishes binge eating from overeating. This is an important distinction to make.
Here are a few characteristics of binge eating:
- Within a two hour period
- An amount of food larger than what most would eat within that period
- Lack of control over eating during the episode
- Binge eating is associated with three of more of the following:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating a large amount when not hungry
- Eating alone due to embarrassment
- Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty afterwards
If this sounds like you, it’s likely that you are experiencing binge eating rather than overeating. A few of the biggest distinctions include the amount of food consumed, lack of control over eating, pace of eating and feelings of shame or embarrassment.
While binge eating is more serious than overeating, it’s not impossible to treat. In fact, binge eating can be successfully treated and there is several effective treatment options for the condition.
Even though I personally was not treated in a professional setting, I coincidentally followed a very similar treatment plan compared to what is recommended. If you are interested in learning more about the evidenced based treatments available, I highly recommend these books:
Why are you binge eating in the first place?
There are several reasons you may be binge eating in the first place. While everyone is different, there are typically three different reasons you body is pushing you to binge eat on a regular basis.
I highly suggest reading through each reason and determining which category you fit under. It’s very likely that you relate to all three reasons!
Reason 1: You aren’t eating enough in general
The first reason you are binge eating may be that you aren’t eating enough in general. I know what you are thinking, well I binge eat almost every day, doesn’t that mean I’m eating too much?
Well, many binge eaters tend to fall into the binge-restrict cycle. This means that they binge, feel guilt, and then restrict their intake to “make up” for the calories eaten in the binge.
While this may seem like a good idea, this is really going to hold you back from recovery. The more you are restricting your overall calorie intake, the more your body will push you to binge eat. Your body doesn’t understand that you want to lose weight. Instead, it wants to preserve as much fat as possible in case you go through a period of starvation. And yes, when you diet or restrict, your body thinks this is a period of starvation.
Therefore, the more you restrict your caloric intake, the more your body will push you to find more food and eat, eat, eat. No, your body isn’t working against you. In fact, it’s working so hard to help prevent starvation!
Reason 2: You are avoiding or restricting certain foods
Another reason you may be binge eating has to due with the avoidance of certain foods. For example, if you refuse to eat candy or desserts because you always binge on them, you actually put yourself into a position where you are more likely to binge on them.
We aren’t exactly sure why this occurs, but the evidence is clear. The more you avoid or restrict a certain food or food category, the more likely you are to binge on that particular food.
There are several studies backing this up. When exposed to higher calorie foods, dieters are far more likely to overeat these foods and other high calorie foods presented compared to non dieters. Because of previous restriction in their diet, resisting the temptation to overeat becomes much more difficult for dieters.
Reason 3: You are using food as a way to cope with negative emotions
The final reason you may be binge eating has to do with using food to cope with emotions, especially negative ones. Do you tend to binge when you feel stressed? Lonely? Bored? Sad? While it’s normal to use food to cope with emotions every once in a while, if it becomes the only way you know how to cope, it can become an issue.
Food is incredibly comforting, and guarantees that quick mood boost. While it’s enjoyable and reliable, using it constantly as a way to feel better, without confronting the true root of your emotions, proves problematic.
Along with this, many people may binge eat to heighten already good emotions, such as excitement and joy. Whatever way you use food, know that they are plenty of other ways to boost mood and feel better (that work long term)!
How I Stopped Binge Eating (6 Steps)
1. I stopped avoiding “off limits” foods
To begin with, I stopped labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and started eating everything in moderation. This was a huge step for me. I had gone through periods of being a vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, dairy free, gluten free, grain free, paleo, you name it.
These were not only in the pursuit of weight loss, but also due to gut issues and bad acne.
I was constantly experimenting with different kinds of diets to see what worked, and surprising, nothing worked. And these strict diets made my binge eating even worse. When presented with foods that were “off limits”, I lost control and I binged on them. This would lead me to feeling physically uncomfortable, but also guilty and filled with shame.
After years of failure and years of fearing certain foods due to thinking they will exacerbate my health issues, I finally decided enough was enough.
I began looking into intuitive eating and started including all kinds of foods into my diet. Slowly, my binge eating began to lessen, and I started to enjoy food again. I also discovered that my gut issues were due to a parasite, not any food intolerances, and my acne slowly began to disappear (still unsure what caused this).
I also found that my weight remained the same, I didn’t gain a ton of weight like I had expected to. Incorporating all foods into my diet, including sugary desserts and fried foods, helped me stop viewing certain foods as “bad” or “off limits” and was truly the biggest step for me to stop binge eating.
2. I started eating regularly
Next, I stopped going long periods between eating a meal or snack. This helped to ensure I was eating regularly and never got overly hungry (which can trigger binge eating).
I started honing in on my hunger cues to know when to eat. Whenever I felt a hunger pang, I knew I needed to get something in my system within the next 30 minutes. To achieve this, I started keeping snacks in my backpack or purse or ensured I was fueling every 3-4 hours to avoid feeling hungry.
If you have a hard time reading your hunger cues, I suggest starting by planning your meals and snacks so you never go more than 4 hours without eating. This was a game changer for me. Since extreme feelings of hunger often triggered binges for me, eating regularly was a huge change that helped me recover.
3. I made sure I was eating enough
Next, I started to make sure I was eating enough food in general. And this wasn’t just making sure I was eating enough calories, but also ensuring I was getting in my carbs, fats, protein and fiber.
I started choosing meals and snacks that included all of these components as much as possible. I stopped trying to restrict my carb or fat intake and started eating meals that left me full and satisfied (instead of still craving more).
This not only contributed to me feeling less hunger throughout the day, but I also had less cravings, which both lead to less binge eating.
4. I used alternative coping strategies to deal with emotions
A huge contributor to binge eating is negative emotions. Food is often used to cope with these emotions, and is a great short term fix. But in the long term, it can be more damaging than helpful.
I found that finding alternative ways to dealing with my negative emotions was another factor that helped me recover from binge eating. Along with this, I started reading self help books, meditating and using exercise as ways to improve my mood and start feeling better overall.
It can be helpful to start brainstorming ways you can cope with your negative emotions that don’t involve emotional eating.
Here are some examples that may be helpful:
- Going for a long walk
- Calling a friend or family member
- Going to a local coffee shop and reading
- Going to the beach or pool
- Working on a creative project
- Paint your nails or doing a facial
Keep some ideas on the back of your mind and try them when you are tempted to eat emotionally. Along with this, work on your overall mental health and perform self care rituals often!
5. I improved my body image issues
When my binge eating was at its peak, my body image was at its lowest. I hated my body and how I looked and I was constantly daydreaming of having a skinnier body.
This just fueled my binge eating more. I was constantly on a diet, trying to lose weight and cut back on what I ate. Whenever I gave in and binged, I would not only feel guilt about the binge, but I would also panic about how the binge would affect my body. And I would feel guilty about how I don’t have any self control.
This led to a binge restrict cycle that persisted for years.
When I learned how to improve my body image, my dieting efforts decreased, and I finally stopped binge eating. Now, I have learned to love my body, even if I gain a few pounds. Because of this, I have no desire to lose weight or change my body shape. And that is one of the ways I stopped binge eating.
6. I started focusing on my other passions
Finally, I started focusing on other things that had nothing to do with my diet or my body shape. I started this website, started seeing my now boyfriend, and was focused on school and my friendships.
Thinking about dieting and weight loss was a small part of my life, and then it slowly disappeared from my life. If you feel as though you are obsessed with how you look and what you eat, I challenge you to seek out other passions.
Join a club, start an exciting project, start playing a sport you love again, volunteer, get a part time job. Seek out activities you enjoy and genuinely care about and you will find that your over obsession with weight and food will soon disappear.
Final Thoughts: How I stopped binge eating
In the end, I stopped binge eating because I stopped restricting myself, I started to appreciate my body shape, I found ways to cope with negative emotions and I started focusing on my other passions.
If you are able to achieve these things, you will find that your binge eating will disappear, or at least decrease significantly. While it’s not an easy road, healing your relationship with food is well worth it in the long run, I promise you!
If you need some extra guidance to overcome binge eating, I have an online course, Binge Free + Flourishing, that steps you through eight proven steps to stop binge eating for good. This course is self paced and affordable, especially for those who can’t afford 1:1 counseling.
I also offer a variety of counseling services. These are all done in a virtual setting. I offer individual counseling as well as small group counseling. Click here to learn more about either of these services to see which would be a better fit for you.