Binge Eating

Does this sound like you — able to control your portions sometimes but losing control and uncontrollably eating large amounts of food at other times? This is called “binge eating” and lots of people do it.

A binge is when you eat a lot of food in a short time and it’s usually not healthy food. Binge eating is bad for you, especially if you have diabetes.

Emotional Eating

Many people eat when they are feeling upset, angry, stressed, sad, lonely or fearful. Emotions such as these can be powerful triggers to eat.

If you’re an emotional eater, you can learn other ways to react to your emotions. Emotions usually don’t last long — often just 10 minutes to an hour — so you only need to distract yourself from eating for a short time, until the emotion passes. Try going for a brisk walk around the block or doing some yoga.

Nighttime Eating

For many people, dinner is only the start of their nighttime eating. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy snack such as fruit, plain popcorn or whole-wheat toast with a little peanut butter a couple of hours after dinner. However, nighttime eating is a problem when you eat large amounts of food or foods high in saturated fat, sodium and calories like cookies, chips, full-fat ice cream, sandwiches or leftovers.

If nighttime eating is a problem for you, try to eat most of your calories during daylight hours. Reach for a light, healthy snack in the evening.

Instead
of

Try

Cookies 1 piece whole-wheat toast with peanut butter
Candy 1 piece fresh fruit
Chips 2 cups popcorn
Cheese and crackers ½ cup fat-free or 1% cottage cheese with apple slices
Pizza ½ to 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables
Ice cream ½ to 1 cup low-fat yogurt (flavored or plain)

To help control binge, emotional and nighttime eating:

  • Get into the habit of eating three healthy meals a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — so you never get too hungry.
  • Don’t keep binge foods at home. If you’re a binge eater, you know which foods you usually reach for. Common binge foods are cookies, candy, ice cream or chips.
  • Make a list of other things you’ll do. Here are some suggestions:
    • Take a walk or enjoy another physical activity.
    • Talk to a friend who can help you get your feelings under control.
    • Do something you enjoy, like reading, playing or listening to music, playing with pets or children, arts and crafts, or taking a relaxing bath.
    • Do some physical work, such as gardening or housecleaning.

If these behaviors become regular occurrences, talk with your healthcare provider about what you can do.

Do you ever down a snack and feel zero satisfaction afterward? Or find yourself wanting to eat while staring off into space at work? Then there’s a good chance that you’ve eaten for a reason other than your body needing nourishment. “Hunger is your body’s fuel gauge,” says Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat and creator of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program. “The trick is to pay attention to the signals for hunger before you eat. It’s like checking your fuel gauge before getting off the highway for gas.” Here’s May’s step-by-step process for doing just that:

Pause Before You Eat
“The key is awareness,” says May. “When you feel like eating, always pause in that moment between wanting to eat and actually eating.” This is where you’ll figure out if you’re hungry or just bored, tired, stressed, or thirsty. May says you shouldn’t necessarily be eating every two or three hours like some experts suggest—only when you’re truly hungry—but that you can check in every two or three hours if you’re busy and often forget to eat until you’re starving. “Letting your body get to the point of famished is also dangerous,” she says. “Your blood sugar is super-low, and all balanced diet ideas and enjoyment goes out the window, so you may overeat.” Set an alarm on your phone if necessary.

Check for Hunger Cues
May recommends placing your fist over your stomach, right below the breastbone, and checking for signals of true hunger. “Draw all attention to that area,” says May. “You should look for physical symptoms like pangs, growling, and feelings of emptiness—or if the area feels full or stretched.” If it’s the former, you’re probably truly hungry. If it’s the latter, you’re probably craving something other than food.

Do a Body-Mind-Heart Scan
May says you can look to three different areas to determine whether you need to eat or whether you just want to eat: “I recommend doing what I call a body-mind-heart scan,” she says. For body, May says you should start scanning from head to toe and just notice the various sensations in your body. Often tension, like in the neck and shoulders, can signal anxiety or stress, not hunger. For mind, if your productivity is down and you find yourself wondering about what’s in the break room or where you’ll eat your next meal, you’re probably not hungry, you might just be bored. For heart, listen to your emotions. Are you feeling tired from a late night out or stressed about a work deadline? Your anxiety might be provoking “head hunger,” says May. “Do this before you start to eat,” she says. “If you’re not truly hungry, you’ll start to eat and not feel satisfied , causing you to eat more and more.”

Address Your Needs (Beyond Food)
If you’re ever unsure whether you’re truly hungry—and know you’re not totally famished—try to address other issues before you nosh. Step outside for a walk around the block to relieve stress, lie down for a 20-minute power nap if you’re tired, or down a glass of water to try and eliminate lingering thirst. “You may just need a few moments to re-center,” says May. If, after you do this, you feel like your hunger has increased (since you haven’t eaten anything), you can be sure it’s your appetite that needs to be dealt with—and not some other issue.

More From Women’s Health:
Mindful Eating: Clean (Up) Your Plate
The Exercise That Could Help You Eat Less
The Simple Way to Eat More Mindfully

Jenna Birch Jenna Birch is a Michigan-based freelance health and lifestyle journalist, covering topics ranging from general health and nutrition to beauty and psychology.

Photo: Pond5

If you find it impossible to resist the 3 p.m. chocolate craving that hits you every day, you’ll be happy to know that you might be able to quash it — in just 30 seconds.

Two new studies presented at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting in Boston delved into ways to trick the brain into dismissing those junk food pangs.

Because as much as you may try to rely on willpower or mindfulness to fight the munchies, sometimes there’s nothing like a quick fix to hold you over until dinnertime (or dessert).

Can You Tap Away Your Food Cravings?

Walking around the block, popping a piece of gum into your mouth, chugging a glass of H20. You’ve heard about these fixes, and now we’ve got another to add to your arsenal. In one recent study, researchers asked a group of obese patients to try three 30-second intervention tactics to reduce cravings: Tapping their forehead, tapping their toe on the floor, or staring at a blank wall.

The office snack stash can be brutally tempting — and you have to stare it down five days a week.

Researchers cued cravings by asking participants to imagine eating, smelling and tasting certain foods (try it: you can practically taste the cupcake you’re envisioning, right?). Before and after the intervention, the study participants were asked to rate the intensity of their cravings on a scale of zero (low) to 100 (high). While each trick successfully reduced participants’ longings, the most effective was forehead tapping (foot tapping ranked second).

“ were dynamic, that is, they included movement, which engages more regions of the brain than staring at a blank wall,” says study author Richard Weil, director of the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. “Engaging the motor cortex to create movement makes the task more complicated and so it requires more work in the brain, and thus, more distraction.”

Not down for 30 seconds worth of banging out a beat on your forehead? Weil says previous research has indicated that tapping for just 10 seconds might help to some degree, too.

Battling the Munchies, Mentally

Thumping your foot: Pretty easy. Drumming your forehead: A little weird. But what if we told you there was a way to subdue hankerings in one minute — just by thinking?

Another study this week found that sometimes the best way to beat cravings is by tweaking your mindset. Researchers from Brown University used MRI scans to examine the brain activity of obese or overweight study participants as they looked at pictures of drool-worthy foods like pizza, French fries and ice cream. The researchers then tested a few different strategies, encouraging participants to focus on them for about a minute at a time. In a series of tests, they told them to:

  • Get distracted by thinking about something other than food.
  • Accept and allow their thoughts as something they didn’t need to act on.
  • Focus on the negative long-term consequences of eating those goodies.
  • Think about the immediate rewards of indulging.

Unsurprisingly, thinking about how amazing a sundae would taste did not deter subjects from wanting to dig in. But the other cognitive strategies did diminish participants’ desire for disco fries and other unhealthy foods — particularly when they considered how they’d pay for it later if they gave in.

“This strategy evoked increased responses in regions of the brain involved in inhibitory control, which may suggest a mechanism through which thinking about long-term negative outcomes could serve to reduce cravings,” says study author Kathryn Demos, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Miriam Hospital at Brown University.

But Will It Work for You?

While each of these tactics got good reviews in a lab setting, the jury’s still out as to whether they work in real life. Because let’s be real: The office snack stash can be brutally tempting — and you have to stare it down five days a week.

“From this study we don’t know if the effects can be sustained over longer periods of time, but our future studies will test this, and try to get a sense of how this strategy could be used in conjunction with weight loss efforts in everyday life,” Demos says.

Plus, it’s worth noting that each of these studies was conducted on overweight or obese participants. If you’re at a healthy weight, giving into cravings now and then is totally OK.

“It is a good idea to have some flexibility when it comes to cravings for certain foods,” says Chris Ochner, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Always denying food cravings usually leads to feeling as if the person is in dietary jail and, eventually, everyone wants out.”

Thinking about the caloric price you’ll pay for eating an ice cream cone, or committing to tapping away your taste for pizza probably isn’t necessary unless you’re looking to make a serious change.

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10 Ways To Stop Food Cravings

We probably all know the desire to give in to our sweet tooth — we need sweets and we need them NOW! We might also have cravings for pizza or some other type of greasy, salty food.

Nasty cravings seem to appear when we least expect them and usually when we are unequipped to resist them.

Are cravings caused by nutrient deficiencies?

Although some conditions such as sodium deficiency and pica can cause cravings, there is no conclusive evidence that cravings are caused by nutrient deficiencies. Certain known facts about cravings like the influence of sleep and nutrition habits (and perhaps even gender differences) make it more likely that cravings are caused by external factors and not a lack of specific nutrients.(1, 2, 3, 4)

Here is an emergency plan so you can be prepared next time the cravings kick in…

10 tips to stop food cravings

These tips to help you reduce cravings are ordered based on how fast you can act on them. So while you may be tempted to reach for the fastest ones, we encourage you to give all of them a try over the next few weeks for best results.

What you can do to stop cravings in 5 minutes or less

The easiest thing you can do to curb your cravings is to have a large glass of water and wait for a couple of minutes. Even if the craving doesn’t completely go away, the fullness of your stomach will make it less intense.

2. Play a game on your phone

Who knew that playing a game on your phone can help reduce cravings? Whether you had a glass of water or not, it’s important to take your mind off the cravings for a couple of minutes. A study found that playing Tetris on your smartphone for just 3 minutes can weaken different types of cravings, including food cravings.(5) It’s too easy not to try, right?

3. Drink some coffee

Coffee might have a stronger influence on your appetite and food intake than water. Although more research needs to be done, it seems that coffee can suppress acute energy intake.(6) What does that mean? Right after drinking a cup of coffee people will eat less than they would have without it. So even if you end up giving in to a craving, you have a higher chance of keeping the size of your treat moderate and not going overboard. Another study found that decaffeinated coffee might help suppress the appetite even more!(7)

4. Brush your teeth

This trick will work in two ways. First of all, it might trick your brain into thinking that the meal is over. But even if you’re brain is not easily tricked, the cool mint toothpaste flavor left in your mouth will make it hard to eat anything afterwards. At least it won’t taste nearly as good…

Craving something sweet?

Cravings can range from sweet to savory and fatty. But sugar cravings are usually the ones that are the hardest to deal with — that’s why we have extra tips (and food alternatives) to curb your sugar cravings!

What you can do to stop cravings all day long

Protein is your ally against crazy cravings, here’s why:

  • Increasing protein intake can reduce cravings (8)
  • Eating more protein can help fight the desire to eat at night (9)
  • Protein keeps you full longer (10)

6. Do a light workout

Before you start rocking 100 burpees, think about this: an intense workout might make you feel even hungrier, but a low intensity activity, such as a brisk walk or short bodyweight home workout can have the opposite effect. One study found that it might actually make you eat only half the amount of chocolate that you would have eaten otherwise.(11) If you’re feeling playful, next time your cravings kick in try walking backwards.

7. Avoid getting too hungry

The hungrier you get, the higher the chance that you can’t fight off that intense craving. It’s as simple as that. So don’t look for solutions when it’s almost too late. Plan your meals ahead and make sure to have a healthy snack by your side if you are prone to craving attacks.

What you can do to stop cravings long term

Insufficient sleep can affect your appetite and increase cravings. (12) Unfortunately, the importance of sleep is often neglected when it comes to fitness and weight loss.

The problem is that we easily get used to sleeping less and fail to notice the real effect it has on us. We get cranky, are constantly hungry and unhappy, and start to blame it on work, stress, or lack of time. But more often than not, the real reason is the lack of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, these 11 tips can help you sleep better!

9. Mindful eating

Mindful eating is related to the general practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness in general is about practicing awareness and being present in the moment without judgement. This can also be done in relation to food and eating. (13)

An experiment from the Indiana State University tested the effect of mini-meditations prior to eating or when urge to binge occurs. It involved focusing one’s awareness on behavior, beliefs, and emotions associated with food intake. The results suggested a positive effect, as the binges decreased in frequency and severity for the meditation group. (14)

Even though binge eating and cravings are not the same thing, they may show up together. And other more recent studies have been exploring the potential meditation has to change these behaviors. (15)

10. Think long term

It would be unrealistic to expect that a craving can be stopped by thinking about it rationally, but taking a step back and visualizing the long-term consequences helps some people manage their cravings better.

Some of the consequences may include:

  • reduced energy levels
  • mood swings and more negativity
  • health risks of obesity and diabetes

Did you know?

A study has shown that “comfort food” such as junk food doesn’t necessarily provide a better “comfort feeling” than eating other types of food. This “myth of comfort food” is now being researched in other experiments. Try satisfying your craving with a healthier version of the same food. (16)

“Crazy Cravings” — how our users got rid of them

Take a look at the tips and tricks already used by our Instagram users:

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Researchers in the UK say they have developed a food supplement that, when consumed, can reduce cravings for unhealthy foods like pizza but not affect the desire for healthy foods.

The researchers from Imperial College London tested the supplement, inulin-propionate ester on 20 volunteers. They found that it not only reduced cravings in those who consumed it but also resulted in them eating smaller portions.

The supplement is based on a molecule produced by gut bacteria that tells the brain when you’re full and don’t need any more food.

The latest research follows previous work into the feedback pathway. Previously, the team had shown that eating the inulin can increase the production of the molecule propionate in the intestine, which then signals the brain that no more food is needed.

They have now shown that by modifying inulin to contain propionate they could trigger gut bacteria to produce as much as 2.5 times more propionate.

The volunteers were given milkshake containing 10 grams of inulin propionate ester, or regular inulin on its own (as the control).

Then they received MRI scans and were shown pictures of a range of foods, such as salad and fish, or chocolate and cake.

Those who had consumed the inulin-propionate ester supplement had less activity in the reward regions of their brain than the control group, but only when they looked at the high-calorie foods.

Senior author Gary Frost said, “This study shows that this supplement can decrease activity in brain areas associated with food reward at the same time as reducing the amount of food they eat.”

Co-senior author Tony Goldstone noted, “These show that altering how the gut works can change not only appetite in general, but also change how the brain responds when they see high-calorie foods, and how appealing they find the foods to be.”

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

  • Get up and go. When a sugar craving hits, walk away. “Take a walk around the block or something to change the scenery,” to take your mind off the food you’re craving, Neville suggests.
  • Choose quality over quantity. “If you need a sugar splurge, pick a wonderful, decadent sugary food,” Moores says. But keep it small. For example, choose a perfect dark chocolate truffle instead of a king-sized candy bar, then “savor every bite — slowly,” Moores says. Grotto agrees. “Don’t swear off favorites — you’ll only come back for greater portions. Learn to incorporate small amounts in the diet but concentrate on filling your stomach with less sugary and options.”
  • Eat regularly. Waiting too long between meals may set you up to choose sugary, fatty foods that cut your hunger, Moores says. Instead, eating every three to five hours can help keep blood sugar stable and help you “avoid irrational eating behavior,” Grotto says. Your best bets? “Choose protein, fiber-rich foods like whole grains and produce,” Moores says.
  • But won’t eating more often mean overeating? Not if you follow Neville’s advice to break up your meals. For instance, have part of your breakfast — a slice of toast with peanut butter, perhaps — and save some yogurt for a mid-morning snack. “Break up lunch the same way to help avoid a mid-afternoon slump,” Neville says.

    How to Cope

    If you’re not physically hungry, Wilborn offers several recommendations for handling your cravings:

    • Brush your teeth and gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine. “Part of wanting to eat is the taste. Nothing tastes good after you’ve gargled with Listerine,” Wilborn says.
    • Distract yourself. “Take yourself out of the situation for 45 minutes to an hour,” says Wilborn. “Then if you still want whatever it is you’re craving, have a small amount.”
    • Exercise.
    • Relax with deep breathing exercises or meditation.
    • Choose a healthy substitute. If you want ice cream, spoon up some fat-free, sugar-free ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet. Wilborn also recommends freezing a container of Dannon Light yogurt. “It takes on a wonderful consistency,” she says. If you want potato chips, try baked tortilla chips instead.
    • Listen to your cravings. If you want something salty, you may very well need salt. Add salt to your food instead of having salty snacks.
    • If you know what situations trigger your cravings, avoid them if possible.
    • Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. “Often hunger is a signal that we’re thirsty,” says Wilborn.

    But allow yourself some moments of weakness, too. “Give in now and then,” Wilborn says. “It’s really not healthy to be so rigid.”

    Jennifer Grana, a registered dietitian with the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease in Pittsburgh, agrees that if there is no medical reason for you to avoid your favorite snacks, you should cut yourself some slack. “If you’re reaching for a bag of chips only now and then, that’s OK.” As long as 80% of your food intake is good for you, you can play with that other 20%, she says.

    Think of your favorite foods as a reward, she says — a small treat after you’ve finished your exercise for the day, perhaps. “Don’t think of a food craving as a negative,” she says. “For most people, anything is OK in moderation.”

    5 Ways to Deal With Food Cravings

    You have more control than you think

    In the 25 years she’s spent helping people lose weight, Naomi Parrella, MD, has heard about a lot of cravings: for burgers and fries, sodas and candies, even dirt and chalk (more on that later).

    “Cravings are so interesting because they’re really specific to the person, and there isn’t one single place they come from,” says Parella, who now sees patients at the Center for Weight Loss and Lifestyle Medicine at Rush.

    Hormonal shifts — during pregnancy, menopause or a menstrual cycle — may cause some cravings. Emotional responses may cause others: If you were rewarded with candy when you did well on a test, achievements might trigger a craving for sweets into your adulthood. Nutritional deficiencies or other health conditions might also leave you wanting a particular food.

    Though cravings vary widely and depend on many individual factors, they frequently lead us in the same unhealthy direction: toward sweets or other processed carbohydrates like white bread and French fries — the foods humans have evolved to love.

    Because cravings can make losing weight and staying healthy so much harder, Parrella has developed strategies that help her patients deal with them.

    1. Get to the bottom of your craving.

    She once had a patient who was struggling to give up soda. So she asked him to write down what he was doing and feeling every time he craved it. “We needed to find out what the soda meant to him,” she explains. The patient’s journal revealed a pattern: His cravings started whenever he was upset.

    Identifying this trend helped him remember that his family used soda to calm him down after he’d acted out as a child. Once he discovered this link, he realized drinking soda actually made him feel bad because of all the memories it brought up. When he had cravings, remembering that bad feeling helped him to resist them.

    “If there’s an emotional reason for your craving, getting to the bottom of it can often help put you more in control,” Parrella says. “Journaling is a great way to start. It doesn’t have to be full sentences. Just get your thoughts down.”

    2. Give yourself a choice.

    Putting something totally off-limits can make it even more enticing. Giving yourself a choice is often a better strategy — as long as you remember all the negative effects that choice could have.

    “Take a moment and say, ‘Yeah, I’m really craving that Snickers bar, and I could walk over to the vending machine and get it right now,’ ” Parrella recommends. “But before you do, walk yourself through the consequences.”

    You might feel bad afterward, for example, once your blood sugar has spiked and crashed. You’ll be more likely to make unhealthy food choices later in the day. And eating the candy bar will probably increase your chances of craving it again. After you consider these consequences, you might just decide against the Snickers, even though you’re free to eat it.

    And cravings are not the same as hunger, so if you decide to take a pass they will usually go away. “Some people do really well with mindfulness meditation — recognizing a craving and then watching it pass away,” Parrella explains. “Like, Oh, there it is. Goodbye!”

    3. Take a month or so off.

    In situations like these — where there’s a particular food you just can’t stop eating — she recommends cutting it out of your diet completely for four to six weeks.

    When you crave it, eat something different that stimulates your senses. If you want chips, for example, carrots might satisfy your desire to crunch. (Try not to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, though; they can activate your desire for sweets.)

    “It’ll be really hard the first week or so,” she says. “But you’ll become less and less excited by the food you craved. Your taste buds reset.” After four to six weeks, you might not even want the food any more.

    If you put food out of sight and out of arm’s reach, you’ll be less likely to crave it and better able to resist it.

    But how can you resist when your coworkers leave trays of donuts or home-baked cookies in the kitchen or breakroom? Treats that are more difficult to pass up each time you refill your water bottle?

    “That’s a classic dilemma,” Parrella says. “You don’t want to tell people a treat is off-limits. But you also don’t want to sabotage people by forcing them to pass it, see it, smell it and imagine eating it several times a day.”

    She and her co-workers came up with a solution. Instead of leaving treats out, they use a dedicated cabinet. Anyone can access the food, but it’s hidden.

    Before, treats regularly disappeared within a few hours. With the “cabinet method,” as Parrella calls it, there are usually leftover treats at the end of the day.

    “In your workplace, your home or wherever, if you put food out of sight and out of arm’s reach, you’ll be less likely to crave it and better able to resist it,” she says.

    5. Pay attention to your body.

    While many cravings have emotional or environmental causes, some result from what’s going on in your body.

    Sugar cravings, for example, often increase around menopause, when some people’s bodies start having more difficulty processing sugar. “You can have sugar crashes really easily,” Parrella explains. “And the quickest way your body knows to solve that problem is to have something sugary.”

    Iron deficiency has been linked to cravings for iron-rich foods (like beef), and even some nonfoods (like dirt or chalk). And if you’re on an extremely restrictive diet and start to crave protein-rich foods, it might mean that you’re protein-malnourished.

    If you think your cravings might be related to a health problem — or if you’d like more help dealing with them — contact a primary care physician or the Center for Weight Loss and Lifestyle Medicine at Rush.

    Foods that stop cravings

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