Note from GGS: The line between disordered eating behaviors and eating disorders can be a tenuous one, and disordered eating is the greatest predictor of developing an eating disorder, such as (but not limited to) Binge Eating Disorder. If you suffer or suspect you may suffer from Binge Eating Disorder, we encourage you to seek professional help through the resources shared at the end of this article.
You’re not sure what’s going on, why you keep doing this to yourself, or if you can stop.
You’re scared of putting on weight, you’re disgusted with your actions, but the absolute worst part is how out of control you feel. It’s like you can’t trust yourself anymore.
You’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work.
I know you don’t believe me yet, but you absolutely can stop binge eating. Thousands of people have gone through this, and have moved past it. I’m one of them, and I know you can do it too. That’s why today I’m sharing with you some of my essential tips to help you stop binge eating for good.
Realize That Binge Eating Is Not Your Identity
Yes, you’ve binged in the past, but that doesn’t mean it defines you, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be like this forever.
I’ve done loads of stuff that goes against who I actually am, and I’m sure you have too (we were all teenagers, after all!). It just means that your actions in that moment didn’t align with your values. It doesn’t mean that’s who you are, and it doesn’t mean you won’t ever stop.
I know, you keep telling yourself you’re lazy and disgusting but — think about it — if you actually were lazy and disgusting, then you’d feel fine. You’d even be proud of it!
The very fact that your actions are bothering you shows what a mismatch it is for the person you actually are. The fact that you’re beating yourself up about it shows that this is not what you value.
If you define yourself as unfit, out of control, or having no willpower, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. So rather than labelling yourself as “a binge eater,” rather than telling yourself “I’m out of control,” realize that there is nothing wrong with you.
In fact, you’re actually trying take care of yourself.
There is nothing wrong with you. You’re not lazy, or disgusting, and you are not a “binge eater.” It’s just an action you’ve done in the past, and it won’t be forever.
It’s natural and normal to want to feel better. It makes sense that you want to feel better if you’re feeling lousy. So, even though binge eating might not be your ideal response to a tricky situation — or to difficult emotions — what you’re doing when you binge is actually valuing your existence by trying to make yourself feel better. And that is both normal and human.
Find the Good Amidst the Bad (Then Celebrate and Emulate)
No matter how bad it seems, there are always things that are going right. The trick is to find those good parts and clone them so that they take up more space in your life.
Maybe you only binge when you get home after work. Maybe there’s only actually two or three hours each evening where there’s a strong urge to binge. Right now you’re focused on that time, because it’s the behavior you want to change, but think about it: for 21 hours of the day, you don’t want to binge.
That’s awesome. Seriously. That. Is. Awesome. Fist-pump the air, and give yourself credit. I mean it. Celebrating every win, no matter how small, is going to be the quickest way to end binge eating. Once you’ve found a win and fist-pumped the air, ask yourself:
- What’s different about the times when I’m not binge eating or don’t want to binge eat?
- Where am I when I don’t want to binge?
- What activities am I doing?
- Is there some way I can emulate these conditions?
For me, it really helped to be around other people. So a way to emulate those conditions might be to invite people over for dinner more often, or go to their house.
I’d also go straight to the fridge the second I came home. So I started coming up with activities I could do to delay that action. Take a bath, talk to a friend, listen to loud music, take some deep breaths — do whatever it is that you enjoy that will help you interrupt the pattern when those binge urges would normally take over.
Maybe you notice that you feel more prone to binge after you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, or when you’re stressed, anxious, or worried. Is it possible to get more sleep? Can you plan to get more time in for your well-being in general?
Taking care of yourself is important. No one ever binged when they were feeling at ease and at peace.
Dedicating time just for yourself is going to be crucial to stop binge eating for good.
If you’re not sure where to even start, try making a tally chart of the number of times you catch yourself daydreaming about food. This will make you more aware of your thoughts, which means you’re more likely to be able to catch yourself and say:
- “OK, I’m thinking about food. Does this mean I need something else right now?”
- Or maybe just “OK, this isn’t helpful right now. Let’s focus on something else.”
It will also make you aware of how often your food thoughts aren’t occurring:
“OK, so today I caught myself fantasizing about food 37 times, but how many thoughts go through my mind throughout the day? I’m not thinking about food all of the time. So when am I not thinking about food? Can I do more of that?”
So, no matter how horrible and hopeless it feels, there are always good things to find amongst the bad. Once you find them:
- Celebrate. You’re living with your values for the majority of the day. You didn’t binge yesterday. You got out of bed today. Booyah!
- Emulate. How can you clone these wins so there are more of them in your life?
Watch Those Hunger Games
When you aren’t sure if it’s real hunger or fake hunger that’s calling you, that’s what I call “Hunger Games.”
Along with that tally chart I mentioned in the previous step, whenever a food thought popped into my head, I’d rate my hunger using this scale:
- I’ve gone way past my initial hunger cues. (“Hangry” territory.)
- Pleasantly hungry. (This is a great place to start eating.)
- Not hungry, not full. Neutral.
- Pleasantly satisfied.
- Stuffed. I feel sick.
If a food thought pops into your head, try rating your hunger. This will give you a better idea of when you’re experiencing real hunger, or when it’s fake hunger that’s calling you.
Remember that fake hunger arises suddenly. There’s an urgency to eat, and eating never actually satisfies it. If you’re not sure what kind of hunger you’re experiencing, just set a timer for five or 10 minutes, then reassess.
I know the thought of being hungry can be scary, but if you’re reading this then it’s more than likely that you have plenty of food available around you, all the time.
Take a deep breath and try to tune into your real hunger. Once you do this, you’ll see for yourself that it’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it’s a totally natural human experience: your body is gently letting you know that it needs some fuel. You might even find that food tastes better when you allow yourself to be slightly hungry.
If you eat when you’re not hungry, please don’t judge yourself for it. You’re getting used to being back in tune with your body, and that takes time.
Besides, no one eats only when they’re hungry. That’s just not realistic, so there is absolutely no need to feel bad about it.
Make a Plan for Your Kryptonite Foods
Kryptonite foods. We all have them. They’re the foods that drive you wild, make you weak at the knees. For me, it was peanut butter, brazil nuts and chocolate (and especially chocolate covered brazil nuts!)
While the effect these kryptonite foods have on you will lessen over time once you stop any restriction, it’s a good idea to lay out some boundaries for your relationship, until you can start seeing each other on equal terms again.
Here are some ideas for your kryptonite foods:
- Eat this food while other people are around or you’re out in public
- Order this food in a cafe or restaurant and eat there
- Buy a small, individual packet to take home with you. This will minimize the “eat me” effect, where you leave a packet of something in the cupboard and it keeps calling you, over and over, until you’ve finished the whole
- Rather than eating straight out of the packaging, or while standing up, put it on a plate or in a bowl, then sit down with it, and do your best to focus your attention, and savor it.
This is not an exhaustive list, so feel free to come up with ideas that are going to work exactly for your personal situation. The key here is to create a supportive environment for yourself.
There is no need to invite more struggle into your life.
Remind yourself that this is not forever, and that you can trust yourself. It’s just, for now, you’re choosing to not have those foods at home because it makes your life easier.
Feel Your Tongue
How many times have you inhaled an entire box of chocolates without even noticing? You almost black out and wake up later, having no real recollection of eating, apart from the pain in your stomach.
The way to minimize a food blackout is to focus your attention on the food. Bring awareness to your tongue. How does your tongue feel? How does the food feel, and taste?
It might be useful to rate the taste between 1 to 10, with 1 being “This is gross!” and 10 being “Best. Meal. Ever.” Maybe you notice that the first few bites are amazing (a nine or 10), but that the taste diminishes as you continue to eat.
If your first few bites aren’t at the high end of the scale, this might be an indication that you weren’t hungry, or you didn’t pick what you actually wanted to eat.
You can also ask the “Next Bite Question”: will this next bite make me feel better (emotionally, physically, and psychologically)? Will it move me in a direction towards health and wellbeing, or will it move me away from my goals?
When you bring awareness to your tongue, rate the taste and ask the next bite question, you not only minimize the chance of a food blackout, but you can end meals more easily, and walk away from food because you know you’re done.
Realize You Are Always in Control
I know it doesn’t feel like it, but unless someone is physically tying you down and forcing you, you are 100 percent in control of the food you’re putting into your body. In any moment, you have the power to decide whether to take a bite, or not.
For me, there was a great insight when I gave myself permission to binge. So rather than trying to fight this strong urge inside me, I’d say to myself:
“I’m having the thought that I want to binge.”
By labelling your thoughts you can reduce the effect they have on you. From here, you can ask yourself if this is something you actually want to do, or not. The conversation in my head would then go something like this:
“OK, I hear you. And I can totally binge if that’s what I want to do. But has this ever been a good idea in the past? Have I ever been glad after a binge?”
The answer was always no. But the fact that I acknowledged how I felt, and gave myself the freedom to do whatever I wanted, meant I could logically assess what I actually wanted to do. And from there, I could choose to nourish myself in a different way, or I could choose to binge eat.
If I decided to binge, I’d give myself full permission to do it, but I’d try to do it as mindfully as possible (feeling the food on my tongue, as discussed above).
No matter what I decided, I felt back in control of my actions. It made me realize that I always had a choice.
To Sum It Up
Try not to judge yourself for binge eating. I know you want to stop, but try to recognise that — in those moments — you are trying to make yourself feel better. To want to feel better is normal and human. It’s OK.
Realize, too, that you are not alone. Binge eating is a very common response to dieting (and other trauma) and lots of people go through this. That’s why it can be extremely helpful to reach out to others who are going through this, or have gone through this before. Seeking professional help can also be an incredibly valuable part of your journey.
Binge Eating Disorder is a clinically diagnosed eating disorder, and warrants professional help. If you find yourself unsure about your own behaviors and would like to learn more or find help, please consult the resources below: