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15 Helpful Tips to Overcome Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder (BED) is considered the most common feeding and eating disorder in the United States (1).

BED is about more than food, it’s a recognized psychological condition. That means people with the disorder will likely need a treatment plan designed by a medical professional to overcome it.

People who are diagnosed with BED experience episodes of eating unusually large amounts, even when they’re not hungry. After an episode, they may feel a strong sense of guilt or shame.

Regular binge episodes can lead to weight gain, which can contribute to health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can try — both at home and with the help of a professional — to reduce episodes of binge eating.

Here are 15 tips to help overcome binge eating.

1. Ditch the diet

Fad diets can often be very unhealthy, and studies show that overly restrictive eating methods may trigger episodes of binge eating.

For example, one study in 496 adolescent girls found that fasting was associated with a higher risk of binge eating (2).

Similarly, another study in 103 women noticed that abstaining from certain foods resulted in increased cravings and a higher risk of overeating (3).

Instead of following diets that focus on cutting out entire food groups or significantly slashing calorie intake to lose weight quickly, focus on making healthy changes.

Eat more whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and moderate your intake of treats rather than excluding them from your diet altogether. This can help reduce binge eating and promote better health.

Summary Studies show that fasting or eliminating certain foods from your diet may be associated with increased cravings and overeating. Focus on eating healthy foods instead of dieting or cutting out certain foods completely.

2. Avoid skipping meals

Setting a regular eating schedule and sticking to it is one of the most effective ways to overcome binge eating.

Skipping meals can contribute to cravings and increase the risk of overeating.

One small, 2-month study showed that eating one large meal per day increased levels of blood sugar and the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin to a greater extent than eating three meals per day (4).

Another study in 38 people found that adhering to a regular eating pattern was associated with a decreased frequency of binge eating (5).

Try setting a regular eating schedule and sticking to it.

Summary Adhering to a regular eating pattern can reduce the risk of overeating and may be associated with lower levels of ghrelin and fasting blood sugar.

3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that involves listening to your body and paying attention to how you feel at the moment.

This technique can prevent overeating by helping a person learn to recognize when they no longer feel hungry.

One review of 14 studies found that practicing mindfulness meditation decreased the incidence of binge eating and emotional eating (6).

Another small study showed that combining mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy may improve eating behavior and self-awareness (7).

Try listening to your body to recognize when hunger tapers off. Additionally, try to eat slowly and enjoy food to promote healthy eating behaviors.

Summary Practicing mindfulness can help you recognize when you’re no longer hungry, which can improve your eating behaviors and reduce the incidence of binge eating.

4. Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is a simple yet effective way to curb cravings and stop overeating.

In fact, studies show that increasing water intake could be linked to decreased hunger and calorie intake.

For example, one study in 24 older adults found that drinking 17 ounces (500 ml) of water before eating a meal decreased the number of calories consumed by 13%, compared with a control group (8).

Similarly, another study in older adults showed that drinking 13–17 ounces (375–500 ml) of water 30 minutes before a meal significantly decreased hunger and calorie intake while increasing feelings of fullness during the day (9).

Other studies indicate that drinking more water can boost metabolism and weight loss (10, 11).

The amount of water each person should drink daily depends on various factors. Thus, it’s best to listen to your body and drink when you feel thirsty to ensure you’re staying well hydrated.

Summary Drinking more water can keep you feeling full to decrease calorie intake and prevent binge eating.

5. Try yoga

Yoga is a practice that incorporates both the body and mind by using specific breathing exercises, poses, and meditation to reduce stress and enhance relaxation.

Studies indicate that yoga can help encourage healthy eating habits and reduce the risk of emotional eating.

One small study in 50 people with BED showed that practicing yoga for 12 weeks led to a significant reduction in binging (12).

Another study in 20 girls found that combining yoga with outpatient eating disorder treatment decreased depression, anxiety, and body image disturbances — all of which could be factors involved in emotional eating (13).

Research also shows that yoga can decrease levels of stress hormones like cortisol to keep stress under control and prevent binge eating (14, 15).

Try joining a local yoga studio to start adding this type of exercise to your routine. You can also use online resources and videos to practice at home.

Summary Yoga can help prevent binge eating and may reduce common triggers like stress, depression, and anxiety.

6. Eat more fiber

Fiber moves slowly through your digestive tract, keeping you feeling full longer (16).

Some research suggests that increasing fiber intake could cut cravings, reduce appetite, and food intake.

One small, 2-week study found that supplementing twice daily with a type of fiber found in vegetables decreased hunger and calorie intake while increasing fullness (17).

Another study in 10 adults showed that taking 16 grams of prebiotic fiber daily increased levels of specific hormones that influence satiety and significantly reduced feelings of hunger (18).

Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are just a few fiber-rich foods that can keep you feeling full.

Summary Fiber can help keep you feeling full to reduce calorie intake and feelings of hunger.

7. Clean out the kitchen

Having lots of junk food or trigger foods in the kitchen can make it much easier to binge eat.

Conversely, keeping healthy foods on hand can reduce your risk of emotional eating by limiting the number of unhealthy options.

Start by clearing out processed snack foods like chips, candies, and pre-packaged convenience foods and swapping them for healthier alternatives.

Stocking your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, protein-rich foods, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can improve your diet and reduce your risk of binge eating unhealthy foods.

Summary Removing unhealthy foods from your kitchen and stocking up on healthy alternatives can improve diet quality and make it harder to binge eat.

8. Start hitting the gym

Studies indicate that adding exercise to your routine could prevent binge eating.

For instance, one 6-month study in 77 people showed that increasing weekly exercise frequency stopped binge eating in 81% of participants (19).

Another study in 84 women found that pairing cognitive behavioral therapy with regular exercise was significantly more effective at reducing the frequency of binge eating than therapy alone (20).

Plus, other research suggests that exercise can decrease stress levels and enhance mood to prevent emotional eating (21).

Walking, running, swimming, biking, and playing sports are just a few different forms of physical activity that can help relieve stress and reduce binge eating.

Summary Studies show that exercising can reduce the risk of binge eating and decrease stress levels.

9. Eat breakfast every day

Starting each day off with a healthy breakfast might reduce the risk of binge eating later in the day.

Several studies have found that maintaining a regular eating pattern is associated with less binge eating and lower levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates feelings of hunger (4, 5).

Plus, filling up on the right foods can keep you feeling full to curb cravings and reduce hunger throughout the day.

For example, one study in 15 people found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced levels of ghrelin to a greater extent than eating a high carb breakfast (22).

Meanwhile, eating fiber- and protein-rich oatmeal was shown to improve appetite control and promote fullness in another study in 48 people (23).

Try combining a few fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, with a good source of protein to avoid overeating.

Summary Eating a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast can prevent cravings and keep you satisfied throughout the morning.

10. Get enough sleep

Sleep affects your hunger levels and appetite, and sleep deprivation may be linked to binge eating.

In fact, one study in 146 people found that those with BED reported significantly more symptoms of insomnia than people without a history of this condition (24).

Another large study showed that shorter sleep duration was associated with higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lower levels of leptin — the hormone responsible for promoting fullness.

Additionally, sleeping less than 8 hours per night was linked to higher body weight (25).

Aim to squeeze in at least 8 hours per night to keep your appetite in check and reduce your risk of binge eating.

Summary BED may be linked to increased symptoms of insomnia. Sleep deprivation has been shown to alter the levels of hormones that affect hunger and appetite.

11. Keep a food and mood journal

Keeping a food and mood journal that tracks what you eat and how you feel can be an effective tool. It can help identify potential emotional and food triggers and promote healthier eating habits.

One study in 17 people showed that using an online self-help program that involved keeping a food diary was associated with fewer self-reported episodes of binge eating (26).

Several other studies also suggest that tracking your intake may be linked to increased weight loss and aid long-term weight management (27, 28, 29).

To get started, simply start recording what you eat and how you feel each day using either a journal or app.

Summary Food and mood journals can help identify triggers to address potential problems. Studies show that using a food diary is associated with fewer episodes of binge eating, as well as increased weight loss.

12. Find someone to talk to

Talking to a friend or peer when you feel like binging may help reduce your likelihood of overeating.

One study in 101 adolescents undergoing sleeve gastrectomy showed that reliable social support was associated with less binge eating (30).

Another study in 125 women with obesity found that better social support was linked to decreased binge eating severity (31).

A good social support system is thought to reduce the impact of stress, which may help decrease your risk of other coping habits like emotional eating (32, 33).

Next time you feel like binge eating, pick up the phone and call a trusted friend or family member. If you don’t have someone to talk to, eating disorder helplines are available free of charge.

Summary A good social support system may be linked to decreased binge eating and stress.

13. Increase your protein intake

Upping your intake of protein-rich foods can keep you feeling full and help control your appetite.

One study in 19 people showed that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% led to significant reductions in body weight and fat mass, as well as decreased daily calorie intake by an average of 441 calories (34).

Similarly, another study found that following a high-protein diet enhanced metabolism, promoted feelings of fullness, and increased levels of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone known for its ability to suppress appetite (35).

Try including at least one good source of protein — such as meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, or legumes — in each meal and enjoy high-protein snacks when you feel hungry to keep cravings at bay.

Summary Increasing your protein intake has been shown to decrease calorie intake, enhance feelings of fullness, and increase levels of GLP-1, a hormone that can help suppress appetite.

14. Plan meals

Planning meals can help ensure that you have healthy ingredients on hand to prepare nutritious meals. Also, measuring out portion sizes and putting the remainder of food away may help you avoid triggering a binge.

In fact, one study in over 40,000 adults showed that meal planning was associated with improvements in diet quality and variety, as well as a lower risk of obesity (36).

Meal planning also makes it easier to stick to a regular eating pattern, which has been linked to a decreased frequency of binge eating (5).

Set aside an hour or two each week to plan out a weekly rotation for your meals.

Summary Meal planning has been associated with improvements in diet quality and variety. It can also make sticking to a regular eating pattern easier and ensure that you have healthy ingredients on hand at all times.

15. Seek help

While the strategies above can be helpful, oftentimes a treatment plan designed by a professional is needed to help overcome binging.

Treatment for BED can involve different types of therapy or medications to help get binging under control and treat any underlying causes or symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, the most effective form of therapy, explores the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and eating patterns and then develops strategies to modify your behavior (37).

Other types of therapy used to treat binge eating include dialectical behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and behavioral weight loss therapy (37).

Antidepressants, antiepileptic drugs, and certain stimulants are also sometimes used to treat BED, though more research is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of these medications (38, 39).

Summary Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered an effective treatment method for binge eating. Other types of therapy and certain medications can also be used.

The bottom line

BED is a recognized psychological condition that affects millions of people around the world.

However, it’s possible to overcome it with the right treatment plan and healthy lifestyle modifications.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on Sept. 17, 2018. Its current publication date reflects an update, which includes a medical review by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD.

Binge Eating Disorder

Do you struggle with binge eating? Learn about the symptoms of compulsive overeating and what you can do to stop it.

All of us eat too much from time to time. But if you regularly overeat while feeling out of control and powerless to stop, you may be suffering from binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is a common eating disorder where you frequently eat large amounts of food while feeling powerless to stop and extremely distressed during or after eating. You may eat to the point of discomfort, then be plagued by feelings of guilt, shame, or depression afterwards, beat yourself up for your lack of self-control, or worry about what compulsive eating will do to your body.

Binge eating disorder typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood, often after a major diet. During a binge, you may eat even when you’re not hungry and continue eating long after you’re full. You may also binge so fast you barely register what you’re eating or tasting. Unlike bulimia, however, there are no regular attempts to “make up” for the binges through vomiting, fasting, or over-exercising.

You may find that binge eating is comforting for a brief moment, helping to ease unpleasant emotions or feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety. But then reality sets back in and you’re flooded with feelings of regret and self-loathing. Binge eating often leads to weight gain and obesity, which only reinforces compulsive eating. The worse you feel about yourself and your appearance, the more you use food to cope. It becomes a vicious cycle: eating to feel better, feeling even worse, and then turning back to food for relief. As powerless as you may feel about your eating disorder, it’s important to know that binge eating disorder is treatable. You can learn to break the binge eating cycle, better manage your emotions, develop a healthier relationship with food, and regain control over your eating and your health.

Signs and symptoms

If you have binge eating disorder, you may feel embarrassed and ashamed about your eating habits, and try to hide your symptoms by eating in secret.

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating and compulsive overeating

  • Inability to stop eating or control what you’re eating
  • Rapidly eating large amounts of food
  • Eating even when you’re full
  • Hiding or stockpiling food to eat later in secret
  • Eating normally around others, but gorging when you’re alone
  • Eating continuously throughout the day, with no planned mealtimes

Emotional symptoms

  • Feeling stress or tension that is only relieved by eating
  • Embarrassment over how much you’re eating
  • Feeling numb while bingeing—like you’re not really there or you’re on auto-pilot.
  • Never feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat
  • Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating
  • Desperation to control weight and eating habits

Do you have binge eating disorder?

  • Do you feel out of control when you’re eating?
  • Do you think about food all the time?
  • Do you eat in secret?
  • Do you eat until you feel sick?
  • Do you eat to escape from worries, relieve stress, or to comfort yourself?
  • Do you feel disgusted or ashamed after eating?
  • Do you feel powerless to stop eating, even though you want to?

The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you have binge eating disorder.

Causes and effects

Generally, it takes a combination of things to develop binge eating disorder—including your genes, emotions, and experience.

Social and cultural risk factors. Social pressure to be thin can add to the you feel and fuel your emotional eating. Some parents unwittingly set the stage for binge eating by using food to comfort, dismiss, or reward their children. Children who are exposed to frequent critical comments about their bodies and weight are also vulnerable, as are those who have been sexually abused in childhood.

Psychological risk factors. Depression and binge eating are strongly linked. Many binge eaters are either depressed or have been before; others may have trouble with impulse control and managing and expressing their feelings. Low self-esteem, loneliness, and body dissatisfaction may also contribute to binge eating.

Biological risk factors. Biological abnormalities can contribute to binge eating. For example, the hypothalamus (the part of your brain that controls appetite) may not be sending correct messages about hunger and fullness. Researchers have also found a genetic mutation that appears to cause food addiction. Finally, there is evidence that low levels of the brain chemical serotonin play a role in compulsive eating.

Effects of binge eating disorder

Binge eating leads to a wide variety of physical, emotional, and social problems. You’re more likely to suffer health issues, stress, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts than someone without an eating disorder. You may also experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse as well as substantial weight gain.

As bleak as this sounds, though, many people are able to recover from binge eating disorder and reverse the unhealthy effects. You can, too. The first step is to re-evaluate your relationship with food.

Binge eating recovery tip 1: Develop a healthier relationship with food

Recovery from any addiction is challenging, but it can be especially difficult to overcome binge eating and food addiction. Unlike other addictions, your “drug” is necessary for survival, so you don’t have the option of avoiding or replacing it. Instead, you need to develop a healthier relationship with food—a relationship that’s based on meeting your nutritional needs, not your emotional ones. To do this, you have to break the binge eating cycle by:

Avoiding temptation. You’re much more likely to overeat if you have junk food, desserts, and unhealthy snacks in the house. Remove the temptation by clearing your fridge and cupboards of your favorite binge foods.

Listening to your body. Learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. If you ate recently and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not really hungry. Give the craving time to pass.

Eating regularly. Don’t wait until you’re starving. This only leads to overeating! Stick to scheduled mealtimes, as skipping meals often leads to binge eating later in the day.

Not avoiding fat. Contrary to what you might think, dietary fat can actually help keep you from overeating and gaining weight. Try to incorporate healthy fat at each meal to keep you feeling satisfied and full.

Fighting boredom. Instead of snacking when you’re bored, distract yourself. Take a walk, call a friend, read, or take up a hobby such as painting or gardening.

Focusing on what you’re eating. How often have you binged in an almost trance-like state, not even enjoying what you’re consuming? Instead of eating mindlessly, be a mindful eater. Slow down and savor the textures and flavors. Not only will you eat less, you’ll enjoy it more.

The importance of deciding not to diet

After a binge, it’s only natural to feel the need to diet to compensate for overeating and to get back on track with your health. But dieting usually backfires. The deprivation and hunger that comes with strict dieting triggers food cravings and the urge to overeat.

Instead of dieting, focus on eating in moderation. Find nutritious foods that you enjoy and eat only until you feel content, not uncomfortably stuffed. Avoid banning or restricting certain foods, as this can make you crave them even more. Instead of saying “I can never eat ice cream,” say “I will eat ice cream as an occasional treat.”

Tip 2: Find better ways to feed your feelings

One of the most common reasons for binge eating is an attempt to manage unpleasant emotions such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. When you have a bad day, it can seem like food is your only friend. Binge eating can temporarily make feelings such as stress, sadness, anxiety, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air. But the relief is very fleeting.

Identify your triggers with a food and mood diary

One of the best ways to identify the patterns behind your binge eating is to keep track with a food and mood diary. Every time you overeat or feel compelled to reach for your version of comfort food Kryptonite, take a moment to figure out what triggered the urge. If you backtrack, you’ll usually find an upsetting event that kicked off the binge.

Write it all down in your food and mood diary: what you ate (or wanted to eat), what happened to upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward. Over time, you’ll see a pattern emerge.

Learn to tolerate the feelings that trigger your binge eating

The next time you feel the urge to binge, instead of giving in, take a moment to stop and investigate what’s going on inside.

Identify the emotion you’re feeling. Do your best to name what you’re feeling. Is it anxiety? Shame? Hopelessness? Anger? Loneliness? Fear? Emptiness?

Accept the experience you’re having. Avoidance and resistance only make negative emotions stronger. Instead, try to accept what you’re feeling without judging it or yourself.

Dig deeper. Explore what’s going on. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kinds of thoughts are going through your head?

Distance yourself. Realize that you are NOT your feelings. Emotions are passing events, like clouds moving across the sky. They don’t define who you are.

Sitting with your feelings may feel extremely uncomfortable at first. Maybe even impossible. But as you resist the urge to binge, you’ll start to realize that you don’t have to give in. There are other ways to cope. Even emotions that feel intolerable are only temporary. They’ll quickly pass if you stop fighting them. You’re still in control. You can choose how to respond.

For a step-by-step guide to learning how to manage unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions, check out HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.

Tip 3: Take back control of cravings

Sometimes it feels like the urge to binge hits without warning. But even when you’re in the grip of a seemingly overpowering and uncontrollable urge, there are things you can do to help yourself stay in control.

Accept the urge and ride it out, instead of trying to fight it. This is known as “urge surfing.” Think of the urge to binge as an ocean wave that will soon crest, break, and dissipate. When you ride out the urge, without trying to battle, judge, or ignore it, you’ll see that it passes more quickly than you’d think.

Distract yourself. Anything that engages your attention will work: taking a walk, calling a friend, watching something funny online, etc. Once you get interested in something else, the urge to binge may go away.

Talk to someone. When you start to notice the urge to binge, turn to a friend or family member you trust. Sharing what you’re going through can help you feel better and discharge the urge to binge.

Delay, delay, delay. Even if you’re unsure if you’ll be able to fight the urge to binge, make an effort to delay it. Try to hold off for 1 minute. If you succeed. Try to stretch it out to 5 minutes. If you delay long enough, you may be able to avoid the binge.

Tip 4: Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits

When you’re physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, you’re better able to handle the curveballs that life inevitably throws your way. But when you’re already exhausted and overwhelmed, any little hiccup has the potential to send you off the rails and straight toward the refrigerator. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without binge eating.

Make time for regular exercise. Physical activity does wonders for your mood and your energy levels, and it’s also a powerful stress reducer. The natural mood-boosting effects of exercise can help put a stop to emotional eating.

Get enough sleep every night. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. Sleep deprivation may even trigger food addiction. Getting plenty of rest will help with appetite control and reduce food cravings, and support your mood.

Connect with others. Don’t underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. You’re more likely to succumb to binge eating triggers if you lack a solid support network. Talking helps, even if it’s not with a professional.

Manage stress. One of the most important aspects of controlling binge eating is to find alternate ways to handle stress and other overwhelming feelings without using food. These may include meditating, using sensory relaxation strategies, and practicing simple breathing exercises.

How to help someone with binge eating disorder

Since binge eaters often try to hide their symptoms and eat in secret, it can make it tough for family and friends to spot the warning signs. And you can’t always identify a binge eater by appearance, either. While some are overweight or obese, others manage to maintain a normal weight.

The warning signs that you can spot include finding piles of empty food packages and wrappers, cupboards and refrigerators that have been cleaned out, or hidden stashes of high-calorie or junk food. If you suspect that your loved one has binge eating disorder, bring up your concerns. It may seem daunting to start such a delicate conversation, and the person may deny bingeing or become angry and defensive. But there’s a chance that he or she will welcome the opportunity to share the struggle.

If the person shuts you out at first, don’t give up; it may take some time before your loved one is willing to admit to having a problem. And remember: as difficult as it is to know that someone you love may be have an eating disorder, you can’t force someone to change. The decision to seek recovery has to come from them. You can help by offering your compassion, encouragement, and support throughout the treatment process.

Tips for helping someone with binge eating disorder

Encourage him or her to seek help. The longer an eating disorder remains undiagnosed and untreated, the more difficult it will be to overcome, so urge your loved one to get treatment.

Be supportive. Try to listen without judgment and make sure the person knows you care. If your loved one slips up on the road to recovery, remind them that it doesn’t mean they can’t quit binge eating for good.

Avoid insults, lectures, or guilt trips. Binge eaters feel bad enough about themselves and their behavior already. Lecturing, getting upset, or issuing ultimatums to a binge eater will only increase stress and make the situation worse. Instead, make it clear that you care about the person’s health and happiness and you’ll continue to be there.

Set a good example by eating healthily, exercising, and managing stress without food. Don’t make negative comments about your own body or anyone else’s.

How to stop binge eating: reduce judgements about food

By Chrissy Stockton Updated September 11, 2018 How to stop binge eating is to identify and resolve the reasons you feel compelled to binge eat in the first place. There are be physiological reasons you binge eat that can be resolved with nutrition and steps you can take to reduce the emotional impulse to binge eat. If you want to stop binge eating, try some strategies like logging your food, journaling, adding nutritional balance to your meals, and learning about cognitive behavioral therapy. By Chrissy Stockton Updated September 11, 2018

I know you’re going to want to see a simple list of easy changes I made that resulted in quick and permanent change in my mind, body, and soul.

I AM SO, SO SORRY TO TELL YOU THIS IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. Truly.

I want this to be the way it works so badly that my eating disorder was made worse for years because I thought I was just dumb or weak for not being able to snap out of it.

This is a long list of paradigm shifts, attitude adjustments, EXPECTATION adjustments, coping skills, knowledge gained from working with a dietician, and things I learned from journaling and noticing patterns in the way I feel and eat. If you want a tl;dr, it boils down to a lot of ways I’ve learned how to be more compassionate with myself, that’s how you to stop binge eating.

I want you to know that I was resistant to pretty much every single one of these at first and thought they were totally bogus and wouldn’t work for me. Thankfully I was wrong!!! I was willing to try, and that willingness went a long way. (Tip #1, if you think something is bullshit, spend 24 hours being willing to see if maybe it’s true. This is also great if you suck at accepting compliments).

I am not a doctor or a therapist. My qualifications for writing this post are simply that these things helped me. This is (unfortunately) not a before and after picture. I’m not living a mythical happily ever after. I still struggle with food and body image and my emotions. But I’m doing a lot better. I have more tools to help myself when I mess up.

A year ago I was binge eating every day, at least once a day. It was so bad that my doctor wanted me to be in a day program. I didn’t end up doing that for practical reasons, but I did listen to her and I started seeing a therapist who specializes in helping people with eating disorders. I also saw a dietician regularly when I started and I’ve gone to various classes and groups to help me as well. Today, on a weekly basis, I usually don’t binge eat. Through my ~*~ eating disorder journey ~*~ I’ve done just about every eating disorder symptom out there, and I don’t do any of those, either. At least not regularly. I mess up, that’s part of recovery.

I’ve done as well as not having any symptom use for 60 consecutive days, and the more magical part about those 60 days is that when I did have symptom use on the 61st, I didn’t on the 62nd. I didn’t get totally derailed and thrown off by making a mistake. The instances are rare, and singular. I’m a lot better and I’m becoming okay with not being perfect.

Hi and welcome to my emotional food journey. Here is a very long list of things that have helped me in the last year:

1. Through this process I strive to be curious rather than judgmental. I remind myself that I am on a fact-finding mission to uncover patterns in feelings and behavior so that I can work to change them and be healthier.

2. I work on being more intentional. My mantra is “Admit it, name it, and take action in the face of it.” If I struggle, instead of feeling like I have failed (and especially, “now it’s hopeless, I should give up completely until I can start over from scratch”) I try to learn from what happened so that the results might be different next time.

3. A weird way I envision this is that I am on my own “team”. It seems obvious, but it shifts my questioning from “Why are you such a fuck up” to “How can we be better next time?” I try to be a cheerleader for myself. Instead of fighting against my subconscious, my emotions, or something like physical hunger, I want to know how we can all achieve a goal that satisfies all competing interests involved.

4. Another good way to help yourself be more curious than judgemental is to redirect your thoughts with the question “is this helpful?” I’m a worrier and I truly can spend hours debating with myself about whether a guy didn’t want to spend time with me today because he doesn’t like my body, or whether engaging in bingeing or overeating last weekend means I will never, ever recover. For some questions, it’s helpful for me to realize that true or false isn’t as relevant to me as to whether the conversation itself is helpful.

How to stop binge eating: keep a journal

5. These conversations take place in a journal. I cannot tell you how many epiphanies I have had while journaling about food. When I’m agitated and I don’t want to sit and write out a lengthy entry, I’ll just make a list of what I’m feeling and thinking, not worrying about how it sounds. I surprise myself by the things that come out, even if I’ve been thinking it over in my head for a long time prior to journaling.

6. The prompt I use to journal whenever I am tempted to use symptoms of my eating disorder (or freak out in general) is “what is the feeling I am trying not to feel?”

7. I don’t know if I would have told you a year ago that my eating disorder was about trying not to feel things, it doesn’t sound like a practical enough reason to me. But the more I allow myself to be vulnerable and peel back the layers, the more I understand how my disordered eating has insulated me from painful experiences. It’s been a hobby I can immerse myself in spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When you’re spending hours blaming yourself and obsessing over how much you ate, there isn’t a lot of time leftover for worrying about other stuff.

How to stop binge eating: plan nutritionally balanced meals

8. At the very beginning, I went to a dietician and followed a meal plan. The meal plan made me eat 6 times a day, a lot of food, and a lot more variety than I was used to. In truth, it wasn’t “a lot” of food, it was around maintenance level and it really helped me cut down on overeating and binging and relearn portioning and hunger and fullness cues.

9. One thing that was very helpful about meal planning was the “safety” of knowing that if I was eating a food I liked and was worried I wasn’t going to eat enough to be satisfied, I knew I could eat the food again tomorrow as part of my plan.

10. There’s a book for children with anxiety that I really love called Sleeping with Bread that tells the story of how children rescued during World War II had trouble sleeping because they thought they would wake up somewhere unsafe again. The solution was to give the children bread to hold while they slept, so they had security that when they woke up, they would have food to eat. This is kind of the same concept and I way I delay using eating disorder symptoms which, as insane as it sounds, make me feel safe. When I wrote in my notebook what I was going to eat tomorrow, I felt more relaxed. When I felt like I wanted to binge or purge or weigh myself or something, I could write down that I was allowed to do it tomorrow. Knowing that I didn’t have to do it right now, but I could still do it another time made me feel like I had a safety net.

11. I logged what I ate along with what I felt like (if I was struggling with the urge to restrict, overeat or binge). I began to notice really helpful patterns. For instance, I noticed that every single day after I finished dinner I was “really hungry” and wanted to keep eating. However, 20 minutes later I’d completely forgotten that I was “really hungry” and felt satisfied. Knowing that this is a feeling I usually get helped me not overeat because I knew I wouldn’t feel the same way in 20 minutes.

12. Another reason meal planning was helpful is that I planned what I was going to eat based on what my body’s needs were instead of my usual cycle of getting hungry and then thinking “what should I eat?” and making an emotional, spur-of-the-moment decision based on what my appetite was telling me.

13. THIS IS A BIG ONE. I adopted the idea that there are no good and bad foods. THIS WAS SO HARD. I really believed there were good and bad foods. Kale and juices were good, junk food, sugar and carbs were bad. I still think some foods are probably better for me than others but allowing myself to make space for any food I want in my meal plan has helped me remove emotional feelings from food. If I want pizza, I eat pizza. The difference is, I plan for an appropriate portion in my meal plan, and balance it with other food. Instead of eating as much pizza as I need to make me full, I will eat a slice along with veggies and know that I can eat pizza again tomorrow if I want. I didn’t feel like this would work for me, but it did.

14. For some reason, a year later, I’m still resistant to eating variety in meals — but I know it’s very helpful. When I want to eat something like pizza, I think it would be better if I just ate pizza and not anything “extra” since I’m already indulging in something so unhealthy/caloric. But eating some vegetables isn’t going to put me over the edge, and as much as I don’t think it will work this way, I won’t want as much pizza if I also eat vegetables. Here’s where journaling and tracking is helpful: as resistant to it as I am, I can always make myself do it because I know through tracking my progress that it works.

15. A really insane moment in my recovery process was starting to keep junk foods in my house and not eat them. Before, I would never trust myself to keep foods I liked and might binge on in my house, but when I started telling myself that no foods were good or bad and working foods I liked into my meal plan, I started being able to keep them in my house. I introduced them one by one and gradually I got to the point where I have junk foods in my house I don’t even care to eat. They’ve lost their appeal to me completely, which seemed unimaginable a year ago.

How to stop binge eating: don’t count calories

16. ANOTHER HARD ONE. I stopped counting calories. THIS WAS ALSO SO HARD. I stopped gradually. One week I just deleted MyFitnessPal from my phone. I learned to trust my dietician and her meal plan, which was based on exchanges, not calories.

Meal tracking helped me stop binge eating.

17. The thing about calories is that there is no “good” amount of calories to eat if you suffer from disordered eating. If you are okay with eating 1600 calories one day and meet your goal, you won’t be happy. You will aim for 1500 calories the next day. Realizing that I can’t win this game and that it sidetracks my progress instead of contributing to it helps me avoid counting calories. I struggle with it because calories are printed on a lot of packing and I can’t help checking, but I try not to give myself a daily number and track it obsessively like I was doing before.

18. I also stopped weighing myself. WHICH SUCKED. But like calories, there was no number on the scale that would make me happy. If I lost a pound, I’d be happy for a few minutes and then I’d start obsessing about how I could lose 2 pounds the next time. Historically for me, this obsession lead to restricting, which would inevitably lead to overeating or binging.

How to stop binge eating: opt out of other people’s insane diet culture

19. I started shutting out other people’s ideas about diet and weight loss. This was so, so big for me because I am a really hardcore comparison person. If something works for someone else, I’m extremely judgemental when it doesn’t work for me. It was hard to let go of this, and it’s something I work on every time I read an article or a comments section. I remind myself 1) there are things that are easy for me that are difficult for other people 2) people generally share successes and highlights, but not the effort or failed attempts that lead up to them, I’m not seeing the whole picture and 3) I am making progress doing what works for me.

20. Here’s the biggest thing about other people’s ideas about diet and weight loss: the idea is simple and something we can all agree on (eat less, move more), but most people are unwilling to question why it’s difficult for people to achieve weight loss beyond the fuzzy idea of “willpower”. This is not how we approach almost anything else. If there is a problem with a simple solution, but people don’t actually utilize the solution, we keep investigating with curious minds, instead of digging our feet in and being judgemental. In other areas, we listen to de facto human behavior and lean into practical ideas about how to problem solve. I have a few more things to say about this one because I dealt with a lot of shame over not being able to do something I perceived as simple:

21. Something I think about a lot is how Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of god is formally valid (a distinction in the study of logic which means it is objectively a good argument) and yet it’s famous for not being an argument that converts anyone. We aren’t robots. We don’t make decisions and change behavior based on facts, as much as we like to believe this is true.

22. Anyone who works in sales knows this is true. We make decisions based on our intuition and emotional experience. We think we use information to make the decision, but we actually use information to justify our gut feeling.

How to stop binge eating: be gentle with yourself!

23. If you still want to blame yourself, here is a helpful thing to remember: “Recovery from disordered eating begins with the understanding that the disordered eating behavior served you when your goal was survival.”

24. This is all to say humans are complicated! This is normal and expected. You didn’t just start binge eating because you’re a dumbass or you don’t have willpower. You started because you needed a coping mechanism and in order to let go of it you need to learn how to replace the role it filled in your life with something healthy. It’s okay for your relationship with food to be hard, even though it’s “easy” to know what it should be like.

25. I started prioritizing sleep. Getting enough sleep makes me feel sane.

26. Also, when I have been really struggling with my eating disorder and it seemed impossible to not have any symptom use for the day, I knew another big health category (sleep) was already in place. I felt like I was starting every day already having done some work on being healthier, which made me feel calmer and more confident in my efficacy.

27. Getting enough sleep can be as important as diet and exercise in weight loss (not because it overpowers your diet, but because people who get enough sleep have the wherewithal to make better choices).

28. If you’re like me, you rolled your eyes at the above statement because you’re not like a regular person, you’re stronger than most and you can “power through”. I started noticing these tendencies to rewrite information I was given to make something my fault and place blame on myself. Instead of thinking that sometimes, part of my binging or overeating may be because of a lack of sleep (which is backed up by people who study this stuff), I clung to the narrative that willpower is the and all be all and I “should” be able to resist no matter how little sleep I had. This is called perfectionism, and you probably have it.

How to stop binge eating: pay attention to your perfectionism

29. When I first started reducing binge eating, I (begrudgingly) worked on reducing binge eating instead of stopping binge eating. I’m a perfectionist and my whole life I focused on stopping cold turkey. I would fail, freak out, and binge again to comfort myself. Then I would restrict my calorie intake for as long as possible to “make up” for it and the cycle would start over. It was EXTREMELY DIFFICULT for me to let go of the concept of stopping all at once and allow myself to make gradual change.

30. Making an extreme change (when I started I was binging at least once a day, every day) is overwhelming. Binge eating was a big part of my life. It was a lot easier to feel okay saying “If I want to, I can binge eat tomorrow” than it was to think about never binge eating again.

31. I embraced the 51% rule. When you want to change something in your life but it feels impossible, aim to do 51% better than you did yesterday. (Don’t freak out like I did about not being productive enough, some days you may stick to just doing 51% but many days you will end up doing a lot more than this).

32. I remind myself as many times as I need to that gradual change is more likely to be permanent than dramatic change.

33. I learned about the binge restrict cycle. It took me a long time to identify my binge eating for what it was because it was part of a cycle of restricting and binging. I didn’t know that cycle was textbook. I thought it was just me.

34. This means that when I do binge or overeat, I focus on moving forward. One of the single biggest things that has helped me is not responding to a binge by restricting the next day. I go ahead with my normal eating the way I planned it. It used to take me weeks to get back on track after a setback, now a setback is typically an isolated incident where the next day has no symptom use at all.

How to stop binge eating: talk to a therapist

35. I have a lot of very difficult conversations with my therapist. When it comes to conflict, I’m an avoider. I hate talking about difficult topics and I cry and feel upset and anxious when I do. But the way to get rid of a monster’s power is to shine the flashlight in the closet and see it for what it is. Talking about a bad thing gets rid of any power that bad thing has.

36. A surprising thing about therapy (that I shouldn’t be surprised by, but am) is that every time I tell my therapist an insane thing that I’ve been too embarrassed to tell anyone before, she tells me how normal it is and how it’s in a cause and effect relationship with other things in my life (vs. a personal failing of mine or a lack of willpower). WHAT A FUCKIN RELIEF.

37. I started keeping a compliment journal. I screenshot texts or emails that are nice and I save them privately to my Tumblr. I scroll through them when I’m having a difficult day.

38. One day I dumped out all the old letters and cards I have in a memory box in my closet and got some colorful markers and wrote a list of nice things people have said about me. I felt a like a little bit of a baby for having to do it, but it did make a really dramatic change to my self-esteem to spend some time seeing myself through the eyes of people who love me.

39. I went to group therapy and listened to a lot of people name all the same fears and experiences that were swimming through my head. There was such a surprising amount of power in just realizing I wasn’t alone.

40. I continue to read a lot of eating disorder and weight loss memoirs, but I take them with a grain of salt. A way to sell a book is to tell someone you have a quick/easy/permanent answer instead of talking about how recovery isn’t easy or linear or something that you can stop working at once you get to a certain point. I read them to relate to someone else, but I don’t hold my own life up in comparison to their edited story. At least I try not to.

How to stop binge eating: cognitive behavioral therapy

41. I did a 12-week group where we learned the tools of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which I liked because it was more like taking a class, which I’m very comfortable doing. The purpose of CBT is to help you separate feelings from behaviors. I learned a lot of tools that I continue to use that help me tolerate bad feelings and have space between those bad feelings and the way that I think and act.

42. I am compassionate with myself when I’m not perfect. Recovery is not linear. When realize I am using symptoms of my eating disorder I try to identify the reasons this might be taking place, and take action to deal with the issues that are surfacing instead of punishing myself for reacting to them.

43. At this point I am practicing intuitive eating which I can only do because I took the time to crawl before I could walk and use meal planning to learn a lot about hunger, satiety, and choosing foods in balance.

44. I grocery shop knowing what I will eat every day of the following week. I might have a few options for my meals, but I generally avoid the question of “what am I going to eat today?” I buy enough food so that that question can be easily answered, and I buy with portions in mind so that when I cook I’m making one or two meals, not an unquantifiable amount that I have to work on portioning in the moment when I’m hungry.

45. I go with the flow. I eat a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast every day. This isn’t the healthiest breakfast I could eat but I learned through a lot of trial and error that it’s very important for me to have a breakfast that’s easy to make and I don’t have to think about much, or else I will either not eat breakfast or procrastinate it endlessly, which leads to overeating or binging. I eat convenience foods (which I have judgements about not being the healthiest thing I could eat) but having them in my freezer and being able to basically just heat them up saves me from either not eating or ordering food and overeating. I pick the fights that are most important (not overeating or binging) instead of aiming for perfection.

46. If I am hungry, I eat something. Even though most days are planned out so I know I’m getting enough food, occasionally I feel hungry for more. After working for months on journaling and paying attention to what hunger feels like, I trust myself enough that if I’m hungry, I eat a snack and I don’t judge myself for it. Having done meal planning, I know what an appropriate snack is (a string cheese and an applesauce or a cucumber and an oz of goat cheese). Before, I’d be worried it was “too small” and I’d still be hungry. Because of my deliberate experience, I know if I eat that I won’t be hungry again for a few hours. It took me a long time to trust myself to eat when I was hungry!!! I wouldn’t have been able to jump right into this because when I started I was afraid that if I ate when I was hungry, I would be eating all the time. Now I know what hunger feels like, and when I’m just looking for an activity to numb out because I’m feeling anxious or lonely or stressed.

47. If I want to eat something and I recognize that I am not feeling hunger, I journal.

48. I let myself feel bad. This seems so weird to say, but I spent a lot of time worrying I would feel bad and trying to avoid feeling bad that I intentionally try to be present with feeling bad when I feel bad now. It’s weird. It doesn’t actually feel that bad. It’s not such a big deal.

49. I’m watching a lot of This is Us right now. I’m searching out sad books and watching sad movies and crying over fictional characters. It feels like working out. It feels like something I need to do — to find a vehicle for all the stuff I’ve kept inside to get out. I would never have believed this is related to my eating disorder a year ago, but I listen to myself a lot more now. I’m in a phase where I’m learning how to feel my feelings like a healthy person instead of stuffing them back down inside. I can feel that it’s something I need to do, so I do it.

Binge Eating

Imagine sitting down to a meal made for a family of four, and eating the whole thing all alone.

That’s something a man interviewed by The New York Times might understand all too well. He admits to downing 70 chicken wings within the span of about an hour. When he started eating, he just couldn’t stop.

A person like this isn’t eating huge amounts of food because it tastes good. This isn’t an issue of taste, nutrition, or hunger. Instead, this is an issue of compulsion and control. People who eat like this may have a binge eating disorder, and if they do, they might need treatment in order to get better.

Signs of Binge Eating

Anyone can eat too much of a tasty meal or a favorite food. But people with binge eating disorders have unique experiences when it comes to food, and the way in which they eat can seem unusual or downright strange to people who don’t have eating disorders.According to Psychology Today, people in the midst of a binge eating episode eat huge amounts of food incredibly quickly. They may not notice the taste, smell, or texture of the foods they’re eating. Instead, they focus on volume. They’re trying to push as much food into their bodies as they can within a limited or short period of time. They may eat like this even when they’re not hungry, and they may not stop eating until they’re physically incapable of consuming even one more bite of food.

Eating like this isn’t fun, and it comes with a great deal of mental anguish. People who binge may be physically disgusted with the amount of food they ate, but they may feel incapable of consuming food in any other way.

Once they start eating, they may find that it’s really hard to stop. It’s an eating disorder, and it’s hard to get over it without help.

Unlike other eating disorders that occur frequently in women and rarely in men, binge eating disorders are equal opportunity illnesses. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that about 40 percent of men with binge eating disorders are male. The disorder occurs among all races and ethnicities of people, too.

Binge Eating Complications and Warning Signs

In order to qualify for a diagnosis of binge eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, people must binge at least once per week for about three months. During those binges, people eat remarkably large amounts of food. At the end of these episodes, people don’t purge or use laxatives in order to remove the calories they ate.Not surprisingly, binge eating disorders are often associated with obesity. It’s very difficult to eat huge amounts of food all at once without gaining a great deal of weight. The body just can’t process that much food all at once, so unused calories are stored in the body as fat. People like this might try to diet, and they may discuss their weight loss plans at length, but the pounds just don’t seem to go away.

The weight gain may be visible and public, but most binging behavior happens in secret. People just don’t gulp down food in front of the people they love because they’re embarrassed or because they know the behaviors are somehow unusual or dangerous.

People who binge may try to keep their issues hidden, but visible warning signs include:

  • Repeated offers to take out the family trash, so others won’t see empty food wrappers
  • Eating in the car, in the garage, or in the yard
  • Skipping public meals
  • Repeated diets that consistently fail
  • Rigid rules about foods that are “good” and those that are “bad”

The extreme weight gain that comes with a binge eating disorder can be a source of pain. The person might consistently discuss the need to lose weight, and the person may make disparaging comments about weight. However, unless the disorder is treated, that weight issue is likely to stay in place. When it does, it can lead to a variety of very serious health problems.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness links binge eating disorders to:

  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep apnea

These conditions can be catastrophic, and in some cases, they can lead to early death.

Underlying Causes

People who binge don’t do so because they love food or the taste of the snacks they’re devouring, but a binge eating disorder can have its roots in food choices, especially among dieters. People who go on exclusion diets in which they eat only one type of food while excluding most other types of nutrition can crave the foods they’ve banned. At the end of a long day, people like this might give in to temptation, and when they do, they might eat much more of this food than they should.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also reports that about half of all people with a binge eating disorder also have current depression or a history of depression. Researchers aren’t quite sure why depression and eating disorders are linked, but they do seem connected in some way.

How Binge Eating Disorder Is Treated

A binge eating episode can seem as though it arrives out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever.

When asked why they ate as they did, many people with this disorder seem baffled or simply confused. They’re just not sure why, and that means they’re unable to stop this kind of eating before it starts.

Learning to identify triggers can be a big part of getting well, and according to the American Psychological Association, those triggers often involve negative thoughts about body shape or image. People with this disorder are often disgusted with the way they look. It’s those feelings of disgust that can lead to negative self-talk, and that leads to binging.

For example, a woman with a binge-eating disorder might look in the mirror and think, “I am so fat, and no one will ever love me because of that.” The thought rattles around in her brain all day, making her feel just terrible, and at the end of a day like this, she binges.

Arresting that binging cycle means stopping that thought, and therapy can make it happen. In therapy sessions, people with this disorder learn how to identify and name damning thoughts, and they use techniques like meditation or exercise to amend those thoughts so they won’t be compelled to binge. It’s a powerful and transformative way to address this disorder.

The Binge Eating Disorder Association says binge eating is often addressed in outpatient settings, meaning that people with this disorder often work through the issues in appointments, rather than by moving into a center where they can work with treatment teams around the clock.

But some people need a little more help than an outpatient center can offer. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, residential treatment is best for people who don’t need intensive medical care but who do have psychological impairments that keep them from success in outpatient care.

Someone like this might be so upset by depression or anxiety that appointments just can’t touch the pain. They want to get better, but they just feel too upset and too worried to stay on track with treatment. They might skip appointments, refuse to do homework, refuse medications, and relapse daily. Their outpatient work isn’t touching the pain, so they need more help.

An inpatient program allows teams to address all the factors that might play a role in binge eating. Mental illnesses that lie beneath the eating can be addressed and amended, and the safety and security of the environment ensure that no binging can take place. People can’t sneak away to get fast food or gorge on snacks because those things just aren’t available. People are required to comply with treatment, as there’s no other option available.

Someone who starts the healing process in a residential facility might transition to an outpatient program in time. This stair-step approach allows people to get the right level of care at the right time, without any abrupt moves that could lead to a binging relapse. Once the treatment is complete, followup care might be required.

Stressful situations, crises, or life changes could all awaken binge eating patterns in someone in recovery. When that happens and people begin to feel a need to return to an unusual way of eating, a course of brushup care could be an ideal way to address the concern and help the person to stay on course with health and healing.

Why Get Care?

Binge eating disorders can seem like simple issues of control.

People with these issues might feel as though they should simply work harder to handle their eating, and if they could just gather the strength, they could get cured without the help of an outsider.

It’s important to remember that binge eating disorder is a mental illness. Just as someone wouldn’t expect a person with schizophrenia to pull together a self-cure, it’s not reasonable to assume that someone with a binge eating disorder could conquer the problem with simple strength and hard work. This is a serious issue that requires a serious response. Without that help, this isn’t a problem that’s likely to resolve.

Unfortunately, many people with binge eating disorders don’t get that message. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that less than half of people with this disorder get help during their lives. That means thousands of people could be trying, and failing, to handle this problem alone.

People with binge eating disorders need support, and that can come from their families. The more that families learn about what these disorders are and what they can do, the more they can talk appropriately about treatment options and solutions. They can guide, advise, and support. When that happens, everyone can feel better about the course of care, and that could mean all the difference in terms of healing.

An open talk about the issue might start with words like, “I’ve noticed that you’re eating quite a few meals in your car, and when I look at receipts, I see that some of these meals are really big. Is everything okay? I care about you, and I’d like to help.” This is a factual, nonjudgmental approach that’s based on real things the family has seen.

It might not be an easy talk to hold, but it could be the most important conversation a family ever has. It could save a life.

What It Feels Like to Have Binge Eating Disorder

For Carolyn Jennings, author of the poetry memoir Hunger Speaks, having binge eating disorder “was like someone outside me was turning a switch inside me on and off. When I was ‘on,’ I was upbeat — exercising, dieting, and socializing,” she recalls. “But when I was ‘off,’ I was stuck on the couch binge eating, depressed, isolated, and scared.”

Binge eating is a source of shame for most people who have binge eating disorder, the most common eating disorder in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Heather Wilkins, a clinical lab supervisor for Washington University School of Medicine’s Weight Management and Eating Disorders Program in St. Louis, says, “One of my first patients 27 years ago felt a strong urge to eat huge amounts of food at one sitting, as most people with binge eating disorder do. She’d tell me how distressed, ashamed and guilty she’d feel afterward. She saw herself as a failure for ‘losing the battle’ and bingeing yet again.” Only after working with this patient did Wilkins realize the severity of binge eating disorder.

“I was at the mall and saw my patient eating rolls at Cinnabon. She immediately averted her gaze, and I could see the shame on her face: She’d been discovered when she thought her binge eating would go undetected,” Wilkins remembers. “It was then that I recognized that binge eating isn’t a willpower problem — it’s an eating disorder. In fact, in my work with patients with the disorder, what’s most striking are the feelings of loss, control, and shame that they all experience.”

Like many patients with binge eating disorder, her patient’s symptoms occurred regularly, and typically several times a week, Wilkins says.

Binge Eating Disorder Affects Men, Too

Being a man with binge eating disorder is an especially difficult journey, says Matt Shepard, 32, a Los Angeles-based actor, filmmaker, and advocate for men with eating disorders who recently participated in the National Eating Disorders Association’s NEDA Walk.

Among adults, about 3.5 percent of women, and 2 percent of men, will have the disorder at some point in their lives.

“The symptoms of my eating disorder were emasculating,” says Shepard. As a morbidly obese man, “I couldn’t see my own penis. I couldn’t fit in seats, and I couldn’t shop at regular men’s clothing stores.”

What made living with binge eating disorder especially challenging for him was that support materials tend to be female-focused. “I don’t think there’s enough information to address the effects eating disorders have on men,” he says.

Living With Binge Eating Disorder

Most people don’t understand binge eating disorder isn’t a lifestyle choice, says Wilkins. “It’s a serious psychological disorder, and people who have it are extremely distressed by their behavior.”

People of normal weight can have binge eating disorder, but it’s more likely to occur in people who are overweight, she adds.

“I put on a significant amount of weight due to my binges, but it seemed like people were more worried about my weight gain than the pathology behind it,” says Chelsea M. Kronengold, 23, program coordinator for the National Eating Disorders Association in New York City. Binge eating tends to occur in young adults like Kronengold; in fact, World Health Organization data published in Biologic Psychiatry in May 2013 indicates that the average age of onset for the disorder is 23.

Kronengold says she tended to eat an average, or even less than average, amount of food in front of other people, but would feel out of control when she was alone with food — and with her emotions.

“I would eat to the point of numbness, until I physically couldn’t take another bite. Sometimes I even ate myself into a blackout where I couldn’t remember what or how much I’d eaten,” she says.

The triggers are different for everyone. “My binges would start with a sensation — a craving that seemed undeniable,” says Jennings. Then she’d head out to buy treats like doughnuts, frozen cakes, chips, cookies, and candy. And she would always have a lie ready to explain away the junk food in case she ran into anyone she knew.

She ripped open the junk food bags as soon as she got into her car and continued bingeing at home, alternating between sweet and salty foods while watching TV or reading. Satisfaction would evade her until she was just too stuffed to continue.

“If I lived with others, I’d hide food in a closet,” she recalls. “The next day, I’d have a ‘food hangover.’ My body was bloated, and I suffered spiritually and emotionally from the shame and abuse.”

Eating alone or in secret is a common symptom of binge eating disorder. “I would hide food. And I would eat huge amounts of food at once, in secret,” says Shepard.

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms

How do you know if you have the condition? If you have it, you’ll probably have experienced three (or more) of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than you usually do
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you’re not hungry
  • Eating alone, and feeling embarrassed about it
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

If at least once a week for three months you’re eating an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time — two hours, for example — and feeling a loss of control, you could meet the criteria for binge eating disorder, explains Wilkins. She says some people will eat the equivalent of an entire cheesecake, or a pint of frozen yogurt, or 20 cookies in a short span of time. You might eat your food quickly, almost without tasting it, and keep eating until you’re uncomfortably full.

Ways to Get Help for Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder differs from eating disorders like bulimia nervosa in that people who binge eat don’t compensate for overeating by vomiting, taking laxatives, or using diuretics, says Wilkins.

Because binge eating disorder has so little public visibility, people who have it often feel invisible themselves, says Kronengold. “I’ve often been made to feel like my binge eating disorder doesn’t matter — like I don’t matter,” she says.

Effective treatments are available for binge eating disorder, says Wilkins. Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy are considered especially effective, she notes, and evidence suggests that psychotherapy in general is more effective than medication. Both types of therapy typically involve 12 to 20 sessions, each lasting 50 minutes, over a period of four to five months. While people with the disorder often have multiple relapses, treatment with psychotherapy can result in long-term improvement for many.

Table of Contents

When it is suspected a loved one may have an eating disorder, it is crucial to watch for the signs and symptoms so they can enter treatment at a binge eating treatment center and begin on the path to binge eating recovery. There are many symptoms besides the more obvious physical signs; individuals with binge eating disorder may exhibit a variety of mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms. Some symptoms may not even be apparent until an individual has entered eating disorder treatment. The first step in identifying possible symptoms of binge eating disorder is understanding what the disorder actually is.

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder where an individual will consume a large amount of food within a short period of time; at times the individual will feel unable to stop themselves from eating. During a binge episode, food consumption may become out of control and occurrences will often become more frequent. Over time, binge eating can lead to a variety of related health conditions as well as changes in mood and behavior. While binge eating disorder can get progressively worse, it is treatable at an eating disorder treatment center.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Symptoms of binge eating disorder vary from person to person and while some are easier to spot, others may be difficult or may not fully be understood. Most people will notice the physical and behavioral symptoms, though the mental and emotional symptoms may be more difficult to decipher. It is important to remember someone with binge eating disorder may only show a few of the symptoms listed below, but the problem should still be addressed.

Physical Symptoms

When observing for signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, the first and most obvious signs noticed are physical. These symptoms are typically a result of the quick over consumption of calories. Some of the physical symptoms that can be found with binge eating disorder are:

  • Fluctuations in weight: Many people with binge eating disorder will be overweight, typically with rapid and frequent fluctuations in weight, especially around frequent episodes of binging.
  • Overeating: Regular episodes of overeating is often the most noticeable behavior. These instances involve rapid eating and eating past the point of being full. This symptom may not be noticeable to everybody as the behavior may be done in secret.
  • Eating until becoming ill: Since an individual with binge eating disorder has difficulty controlling how much food they are consuming, they may eat until they feel physically ill.
  • High blood pressure: Binge eating disorder involves the over-consumption of food and, oftentimes, processed or snack foods high in sodium. Extra weight can lead to higher blood pressure, and once blood pressure is elevated, these higher sodium foods can further increase an individual’s blood pressure. Symptoms of high blood pressure can include flushing in the face, especially after activity.
  • High cholesterol levels: Cholesterol levels are often higher when an individual is overweight, and if the excess food they are consuming during a binge is high in trans or saturated fat, cholesterol levels can be further elevated, increasing the risk of clogged arteries.
  • Coronary disease: High cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to a narrowing and blocking of the arteries resulting in a number of heart-related complications. If these complications are present, they should be immediately addressed to prevent further heart-related issues.
  • Painful joints: As weight increases, it can become more difficult for the body to support itself. This additional pressure can often affect the joints, causing pain and achiness, especially with increased movement.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Eating too much food, or large amounts of food that are processed or high in fat, can lead to a number of gastrointestinal problems. This can include bouts of constipation, diarrhea or even gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Type II diabetes: Being overweight or consuming high levels of sugar can result in problems with the body controlling insulin which can lead to the development of Type II diabetes. Diabetes can result in the need for insulin and can lead to a host of medical issues including nerve pain and numbness.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is caused when the soft tissue toward the back of the throat collapses occasionally while at rest. When this occurs a person will experience short periods of time where their breathing is interrupted. Sleep apnea occurs when the body has excess weight, especially around the neck area. The condition not only interrupts restorative sleep, but can also lead to heart complications.

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms of binge eating disorder may not be immediately apparent, but are behaviors that may become more noticeable over time. Most of the behavioral symptoms involve hiding food or the act of eating. Behavioral symptoms to watch out for are:

  • The disappearance of large amounts of food: If there is an abundance of food in the home, or multiple people who utilize it, this behavioral symptom may be more difficult to notice. While binge eating can occur with any food type, it is sometimes easier to take snack foods or other similar items without them being as easily noticed when they disappear.
  • Hidden food in rooms: Since binge eating often occurs when someone is alone, a behavioral symptom maybe regularly finding food hidden in bedrooms or living areas. This can include under the bed, in drawers or closets or any other place where food would not normally be stored.
  • Large quantities of empty containers or wrappers: There may be stashes of trash from consumed food hidden in the bottom of trash cans or more unusual places, such as drawers and under the bed. This is often the result of a binge eating episode, and the evidence may often be hidden until it can be disposed of without being seen.
  • Consistent eating throughout the day: While regular snacking can be common, continual and recurrent eating throughout the day can be a sign the eating is more a result of compulsion than actual hunger.
  • Stockpiling of food: Binge eating disorder is marked by the constant urge to eat. To make eating in private easier, someone with binge eating disorder may purchase large amounts of snack food and stockpile it in their room so they can have it available for a binge.
  • Excuses for meal absences: Since many people with binge eating disorder wish to eat in private they may make a variety of excuses to avoid family mealtimes; this can include the need to study or to meet up with friends. If skipping meals becomes routine, it may be cause for concern.
  • Periods of fasting: When someone who eats fairly frequently suddenly stops consuming food for a long period of time, it could the result of a periodic fast that occurs due to feelings of guilt.
  • The desire to eat alone: With binge eating disorder, secretive eating can be a common behavior. This can include consuming meals in their room or avoiding social situations where food will be involved.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Due to the need to be in control of the environment for a potential binge episode, and fear of having to eat around others, many people with binge eating disorder will begin to isolate themselves from normal social activities they once had participated in. When these social activities involve food, this can become even more pronounced.
  • Perfectionistic tendencies: Binge eating disorder can provoke a feeling of lack of control. Because an individual may feel the food is taking control of their lives, he or she may find having control over other aspects of their life very empowering. This can result in tendencies to want to create perfection in everything they do. This can include being particular about the placement of items in their room, taking time to choose the perfect ensemble every day or working obsessively on homework or outside projects.

Emotional and Mental Symptoms

Emotional and mental symptoms associated with binge eating disorder can be the most difficult to determine. These symptoms are typically uncovered after binge eating disorder recovery at a binge eating treatment center has begun, though these symptoms may be obvious to someone who is a close confidant. Some of the emotional symptoms associated with binge eating disorder are:

  • Depression: The inability to control situations, emotions or eating patterns can lead to feelings of depression. The individual could have also been suffering from depression before the binge eating began.
  • Distorted body image: Since binge eating disorder can result in fluctuations in weight, it can also come with a dissatisfaction in one’s appearance. This negative view of one’s body size or shape can increase episodes of binge eating.
  • Feelings of shame: Binge eating episodes are often accompanied by feelings of shame. This symptom can be particularly hard to notice unless the person with the disorder has someone they confide in about how they are feeling.
  • Anxiety: Since binge eating disorder is something that often occurs in private, there may be anxiety associated with food in general. Family gathering, holidays or parties where food is a main part of the celebration can lead to stress and even panic attacks.

When Should Treatment Be Sought

Since many of the symptoms of binge eating disorder can be difficult to see, or may not initially present, treatment at an eating disorder treatment center should be sought even if only some of the above symptoms have been observed. While overindulgence can be common, persistent occasions of over consumption should be considered a possible sign. If observed, it is important to research treatment options and begin on the path to binge eating disorder recovery.

Can you have an eating disorder if you aren’t skinny?

Yes.

Most of the images we’re exposed to about eating disorders show very underweight women, but looking at someone is not a good way to determine if they have an eating disorder.

Restricting food intake, laxative and diet pill abuse, compulsive exercise, binge eating, and other obsessive and compulsive behaviors around food and exercise don’t necessarily make someone underweight. People with eating disorders can be underweight, can be overweight, and anywhere between.

Regardless what someone may weigh, eating disorder behaviors can have serious—sometimes fatal—health consequences. They can also destroy your relationships, work, education, and quality of life.

If your relationship with food, exercise, and your body are getting in the way of your ability to function, is taking up an exorbitant amount of your time and energy, and causing or putting you at risk for health problems, you deserve to feel better. There is no weight you must reach for your struggle to be valid or for you to be allowed to express how you’re feeling.

10+ Healthy Snacks for a TV Binge Watch

Fall and winter bring shorter days and colder nights, making many of us want to hibernate in front of the television rather than venture outside. Streaming services have made it easier than ever to spend hours in front of the TV binging on our favorite shows.

Binge watching a TV show can also unintentionally lead to overeating unhealthy snacks. When you’re focused on what’s on the screen, you’re less likely to pay attention to what and how much is going into your mouth. This can be a slippery slope, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Too many of the wrong snacks can easily increase your daily calorie intake. Add this to the fact that you are not moving, and the excess calories, and pounds, can quickly add up.

But this doesn’t mean you have to quit snacking altogether! Instead, reach for lighter snacks with lower fat and calorie loads, and portion your snacks instead of grabbing from the box to avoid eating too much in one sitting. Also try to limit your snacks to certain times, because no matter how healthy the snack, eating for hours straight is never a good idea.

However you choose to “Netflix and chill,” here are some healthy snacks to make and enjoy without the added guilt.

Salt and vinegar zucchini chips

Share on PinterestImage source: Sugar-Free Mom

If you’re a fan of salt and vinegar potato chips, you’re bound to like this lighter version using zucchini from Sugar-Free Mom. Each half cup serving is only 40 calories, compared to over 150 calories for the potato chips. Plus, it’s also low carb and has all the nutritional benefits of zucchini!

Get the recipe!

Frozen blueberry yogurt bites

When you’re in the mood for something sweet, reach for this frozen yogurt berry treat. A dozen bites adds up to a mere 38 calories, so you won’t derail your daily diet by treating yourself to seconds. The snack also packs antioxidants from the blueberries and protein from the yogurt.

Get the recipe!

Healthy baked broccoli tots

Share on PinterestImage source: Gimme Delicious

These broccoli tots are baked instead of fried, making them lower in fat. Because you’re making them at home, they’re savory without all the added sodium that comes in packaged foods. The broccoli, which also comes with its plentiful nutritional benefits, is also high in fiber and high in vitamin C.

Get the recipe!

Crispy kale chips

Kale chips are the best of both worlds. They allow you to enjoy a satisfying, crunchy snack while still getting your veggies in. This recipe uses one bunch of kale to make four servings, coming in at just 84 calories per serving. Eating two servings might still put you below the same amount of popular packaged chip brands.

Get the recipe!

Roasted green bean fries with creamy dipping sauce

Share on PinterestImage source: Sprinkle Some Fun

Looking for an alternative to French fries? Look no further. These roasted green bean “fries” are just as snack worthy, without the extra calories. They’re made using coconut oil and nutritional yeast, and the creamy dipping sauce will make you forget about sugar-loaded ketchup. The recipe calls for sour cream, but you can use non-fat plain Greek yogurt to reduce the fat even more.

Get the recipe!

Classic hummus

Hummus is a healthy, classic snack. The creamy dip can be paired with raw veggies for some guilt-free munching, and it’s also pretty simple to make yourself – as you’ll find in this recipe from Gimme Some Oven!

Get the recipe!

Baked sweet potato chips

Share on PinterestImage source: A Spicy Perspective

Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and antioxidants. They’re also naturally sweet, so you don’t have to do much to them to garner flavor. These sweet potato chips are no exception, made with a light coat of olive oil and a dusting of salt.

Get the recipe!

Baked cucumber chips

Cucumbers are known for being low in calories – they’re mostly water, after all! This recipe calls for cucumbers seasoned only with spices, or just plain salt and vinegar. Baked until crisp, you can eat a lot of these chips without worrying about blowing your calories for the day.

Get the recipe!

Chili-lime roasted chickpeas

These chickpeas from Willowbird Baking pack a flavorful punch with their spice and herb topping. They’re very easy to make – just roast chickpeas until crunchy and coat with the mixed topping. Chickpeas are also high in protein and fiber, helping you stay full for longer.

Get the recipe!

Crunchy edamame

Like chickpeas, edamame can be roasted and turned into a crunchy high protein, low calorie snack. This recipe keeps it simple with just a couple of other ingredients, but Living Sweet Moments suggests playing with other herbs and spices for added flavor.

Get the recipe!

Homemade apple chips

Share on PinterestImage source: Amsterdam & Beyond

It may look like you’re about to eat a bowl of potato chips, but don’t fret, it’s just a couple of apples! These apple chips from Amsterdam & Beyond provide the comforts of fall in a light, crisp package, and a host of nutritional benefits.

Get the recipe!

Chili and lime popcorn in coconut oil

Popcorn doesn’t have to derail your diet. The popped kernels themselves aren’t the problem – it’s the toppings (think movie-theater butter) that can get you into trouble. This popcorn is popped in coconut oil and sprinkled with just enough chili pepper and lime juice to add an explosion of flavor. Want an even lower calorie option? Put unpopped kernels in a paper bag and throw it in the microwave. Pop it, add the toppings, and your high fiber low calorie snack is ready to go!

Get the recipe!

Peanut butter fruit dip

Need a little incentive to choose a fruit bowl over an ice cream bowl? This dip might do the trick. It combines vanilla Greek yogurt with peanut butter for a creamy complement to a variety of fruits. Cooking Classy recommends using bananas, apples, raspberries, or strawberries.

Get the recipe!

8 Healthy Snacks for Binge-Watching the Winter Games

Sponsored by Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Almondmilk

When the world’s finest athletes gather to compete in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the rest of us will be parked on the couch, binging on sports and snacks. But if you’re looking to binge without the bulge, try these ideas for top-rated snacks that score big for flavor and are kinda/sorta healthy, too. They’re also reasonably neat, so few crumbs fall between the cushions. Happy winter sports binge-watching!

1. Movie Star Popcorn

No fancy equipment needed for the world’s greatest popcorn, cooked old school-style on the stove top.

Neatness factor: 1 napkin, especially if everybody has their own bowl.

Image zoom Photo via Meredith Publishing

More: All the Popcorn Recipes

2. Baked Kale Chips

Three ingredients, minimal prep time, done in 20. That adds up to some super easy snacking. And, believe it or not, these crispy green chips taste really amazing, too.

Neatness factor: 2 napkins, because crunchy goodness can lead to bits of flying chip.

Image zoom Photo by bd.weld

More: These 5 Vegetarian Pâté Recipes Are So Elegant

3. Simple Roasted Chickpeas

This one feeds the craving for something salty and spicy, but also delivers a protein punch you’re not going to get from most snacks.

Neatness factor: 1 napkin for these crunchy gems that you’ll eat by the handful.

Image zoom Roasted chickpeas. Photo by larkspur

More: Easy Baked Indian Samosas

4. Microwave Potato Chips

Forget about hot oil splattering all over the kitchen, these satisfying chips provide the perfect excuse to dust off the neglected mandolin to slice spuds thinly. (A veggie peeler works, too.)

Neatness factor: 1 napkin, just to catch the random bits of sea salt.

Image zoom Photo via Meredith Publishing

More: So many Microwave Recipes

5. Apple Chips

These take a little bit of time to crisp up in a low oven, so you might as well make a double batch because they’re just so cinnamon-y good.

Neatness factor: 1 napkin, and you might not even need that for these beauties, though that could change if you served some gooey caramel sauce on the side for dipping.

Image zoom Photo via Meredith Publishing

More: Baked Zucchini Chips

6. Spa-Tacular Frozen Grapes

Make them in the morning so these juicy bites are ready for an evening of entertainment. A little bit of sugar adds a fun texture, but you can skip it if you want to stay extra good.

Neatness factor: 1 napkin, and that’s only if you go the sugar-coated route.

7. No-Workout-Needed Chocolate Cake

We can’t guarantee you won’t need a workout, but at 186 calories per serving, maybe there’s something to this claim. Surprise ingredients include tofu, coconut oil, and almond milk.

Neatness factor: 2 napkins, just because you know how cake is.

More: Chocolate Sea Salt Crostini

8. Annie’s Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips

Here’s a clever way to eat more fruit, scooping a colorful mixture onto a crunchy flour tortilla baked with cinnamon and little sugar. Which only proves that everything tastes better when it’s served on a chip.

Neatness factor: 1 napkin, if you’re a skilled chip dipper; 2 napkins, if you have trouble hitting the target.

Image zoom Photo by lutzflcat

More: More than 25 Mango Salsa Recipes

Find more snack recipes.

A lot of us mindlessly munch our way into food comas when we’re watching TV, but I’ve found five great tricks to help us stop.

How to STOP Binge Eating

Don’t deprive yourself all day!

Skipping meal times or forgetting to eat is a recipe for binge eating because when you’re deprived, it’s really easy to overeat. Come on, admit it, we’ve all plowed through a box of cookies when we’re starving even though we only intended to have one. Avoid the binge by aiming for three meals plus snacks and even a small mindful treat like my favourite almond and dark chocolate biscotti.

Choose a satisfying snack.

Skip fried foods and seek out snacks with that same satisfying crunch but with fibre and protein – like whole almonds. You want to make sure you’ve got something satiating so you don’t have to get up in the middle of your TV marathon to replenish an unsatisfying snack like potato chips or candy. This will definitely help curb that binge eating.

Get busy.

Okay, I know that sounds a little suggestive, but the point is to keep those hands, mouths and other body bits busy while you watch TV. So why not use those fingers to comment on my YouTube video, tweet, drink herbal tea, do a paint by number- whatever! Just do anything that will stop your TV binge from becoming binge eating.

Portion out your snack and savour.

Get your hand out of that family size bag and put your snack into a small bowl. I play a game where I only eat during the TV commercials when I’m not distracted by what I’m watching and more apt to shovel food into my mouth. This way, I can pay better attention to the delicious flavour, texture and smell, and mindfully enjoy each bite.

Go brush your teeth.

Tooth-paste flavoured cheese-puffs are super gross so this is a great way to curtail a binge. And go all out with the floss and mouthwash too – I’m talking about a full-blown dental hygienist-style cleaning (but without the terrible scraping!). Trust me- you won’t be wandering to the fridge to start binge eating.

I’d love to hear your Snack Confessions- this is a safe place – I promise I won’t judge! Leave me a comment or upload your stories and share them on social media with the hashtag #SnackConfessions. You can also check out my fun-filled video with all of these tips (and lots of Abbey humour) here that will help you quick binge eating for good!

Binge eating disorder but skinny

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