5 Steps to Break Free From Binge Eating

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5 Steps to Break Free From Binge Eating

Food not only nourishes the body but soothes and satiates as well–which is a big reason why our relationship with food can get really complicated. Anorexia and bulimia may be the most commonly talked about eating disorders but binge eating (not to be confused with occasional overeating) is actually the most common eating disorder in the United States. It impacts up to an estimated 5 percent of the population, 40 percent of which are men–a surprising fact considering other forms of eating disorders are typically twice as common in women.

Before we dive into how to stop binge eating, let’s talk about what it is and how it’s different than overeating.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BINGE EATING AND OVEREATING

Binge eating is not the same as overindulging during a special event, the holidays or on vacation. Binge eating is typically a recurring behavior, not an occasional one and will typically have some, if not most of these characteristics:

  1. Consuming large amounts of food even though you are not physically hungry
  2. Eating more rapidly than normal
  3. Eating until you are uncomfortably full
  4. Eating alone or in secret
  5. Feeling disconnected during a binging episode (also referred to as a “zombie” feeling)
  6. Feeling disgusted, depressed, and/or guilty after overeating

The key difference between binge eating and conscious overindulgence is the distinctive feeling that the food is more powerful than you.

HOW TO STOP BINGE EATING

As much as I wish I could just rattle off some simple quick fix tips that will give you control and cure you of binging, its not that simple. With time and effort, binge eating disorder is beatable. Here are 5 things you can do to start to free yourself from binging and begin your journey toward a truly healthy relationship with food:

1. BEGIN EACH BINGE WITH A PAUSE

During a binge (which actually begins in your head, before food ever touches your lips), it’s important to realize that the part of you that wants to eat regardless of the repercussions is present and in control. Use this as an opportunity to create some space for thoughts and reflections before or during the binge. Gently ask yourself to try wait 60-90 seconds before putting the food in your mouth.

  • Do: Let yourself know that you are not stopping yourself from eating, rather, just taking a moment to pause.
  • Don’t: Tell yourself you can’t have whatever it is you’re craving. This will likely trigger rationalizations of why it’s okay to binge (i.e. “I didn’t eat that much today,” or “I’ll do better tomorrow”) and could also intensify the urge to eat.

2. DO AN “URGE INTERVIEW”

If you can successfully create a pause, begin an “urge interview”.  Kindly and lovingly explore where the urge to eat lives. Is it in your head, your ears, chest, mouth, hands, or outside of you like a fog? Try to picture it, describe it. Then, gently ask yourself if there is anything else you might want besides food.

  • Do: Listen and wait for words to pop into your mind. You may hear silence or lots of noise–it’s different for everyone. See if another word or feeling comes up such as lonely, angry, sad, hyper or intense. Take deep, slow breaths and try to feel the air filling and then leaving your lungs while you explore the urge.
  • Don’t: Don’t dismiss the feeling of “nothing” when trying to do an urge interview.  Even “nothing” is something.  As well, try not to dismiss what might seem like silly or unrelated memories and sensations that emerge.  It is all important information about why you are binging.

3. WRITE IT DOWN

After the pause and “urge interview” you may or may not continue with the binge–which is perfectly okay. The goal is to understand the binge more than to stop it and now is the time to document what you’ve uncovered.

  • Do: When you are no longer in the binge state, write down what you learned: where the urge lives; what it looked like; what it felt like; what thoughts popped into your mind. Did the urge get stronger or weaker? Was there an increase in anger, sadness or shame? Write it all down.
  • Dont: Don’t wait too long before you write it all down.  It’s like trying to remember a dream after you wake up–the longer you wait the less you remember.  

Do this as often as you can. Pause, interview, write. Gather as much information about the underlying feelings as you can.

4. BE KIND TO YOURSELF

After a binge it’s common to enter into a state of self-loathing. As powerful as that need to punish yourself may feel, I recommend practicing kindness instead.

  • Do: Be understanding and tolerant of yourself–like you would be to others. Remember that kind, loving, gentle voice from the “urge interview”. Think kind thoughts like, “You’re trying,”, “You’re a wonderful person,” or, “There’s more going on than just a lack of self control.”
  • Don’t: Put yourself down, punish or blame yourself. This might be the very hard for some. If so, write that down too.

5. SEEK SUPPORT

Exploring the urge or need to binge and practicing kindness may reduce the frequency and intensity of binges, but it’s also not a bad idea to seek support. Therapists who specialize in treating eating disorders can help you sort through and understand all the information you’re gathering and guide you on your journey. Organizations like the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can be a good resource to help you begin your recovery. Learn more about NEDA, and other eating disorder organizations around the world.

Because our relationship with food is so complicated and powerful, it takes much more than nutritional knowledge to repair it. But with patience, self-exploration and support, binge eating can be beaten. For those who have tried to cope with binge eating using restrictive and punishing methods before, ask yourself if they have worked. If not, maybe it’s time to try something different.

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  • Anthony

    Sometimes when im hungry i over eat what im supposed to its a bad habbit..any ideas anyone??

    • Tina Baily

      If you are eating at home, try serving yourself, then putting the rest of the food away before you sit down to eat your portion. It can give you a chance to think twice before you eat more, and decide if you truly NEED more, or if it’s more of a want.

      If you are eating out at a restaurant, have the wait staff put half of your food into a to go container before the food is even brought out to you, if you feel you may not be able to avoid eating the entire meal. This gives you half the (huge) calories that the meal would normally give you, and a chance to enjoy the meal again later that day or the next day. These are tricks I’ve used to help with overeating. They work for me more often than they don’t. Best of luck!

      • Anthony

        You know what..that just might be the right way from now on thanks Tina.b.

    • Ang

      If you wait a long time between meals also it can make you overeat. The hungrier you are before a meal, the more youll want to eat. It helps to have five or so small meals through the day instead of 3 big ones, or have some healthy snacks to tide you over.

      • Anthony

        I will try that thanks

      • Kate

        I struggle with that sometimes… My boyfriend eats 3 meals a day with huge gaps in between. He has no fat, and says to lose weight to eat like that with no snacking in between. I have tried that and it doesn’t work for me, I get sugar low, distracted, mood drops, feel SO hungry it literally ruins your day. He reckons you’ll get used to it eventually… But its too hard at the moment. What I found works is having 4 meals a day, 3 hours in between, but eat mostly vegetarian food, it’s not calorific and the quantity that you eat really fills you up. That only leaves the boredom/ stress induced sugar cravings but that is a different story.

  • K

    Thank you for this! I have had many EDs all became as a result of each other but BED is my toughest battles. People like to think BED isn’t a real ED or only thin people have an ED. So thank you for bringing light to something that needs to be acknowledged so people like me can get help! Many of these tips are some that my doctor has given me for mine and they do really help.

  • Alisha

    This was so useful to read – an often ignored subject & one a lot of people dismiss or don’t understand x

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  • Judie

    Thanks for posting this!!

  • BekahDekah

    Thank you for this. I had an eating disorder as a teen, but was one of the fortunate few who was able to stop without help. I have been binging occasionally lately, and I do not want to fall back into that terrible cycle. I will definitely be giving these a try.

    • Wendy

      Good for you! Being proactive is being self aware and I applaud you for that.

  • queen

    I have this problem since I started my weight loss journey..and I’m always blaming myself of losing control ..I will try this and thank u a lot

  • Liz T

    What if you just truly love to eat/drink while you watch tv (after work day & weekends) as a way to enjoy yourself and unwind with pleasure… yet i’m always 25 lbs overweight and unhappy… and that’s why.

    • Rachel Dobkins

      Liz- there is nothing wrong with enjoying a snack and unwinding in front of the tv! But like most things in life it’s about balance and moderation. It may be helpful to check your portions and caloric vs. nutritional intake of what you’re eating/drinking while having tv time. If you really want to grab the ice cream, go for something with low/no sugar added or try some frozen fruit or cut up veggies. Measure out only the amount that fits in your calorie allowance. It’s easy to zone out and eat a whole container/bag of high calorie food when your brain is preoccupied with tv programs and not listening to your body telling you you’re not hungry. In terms of activity level, you can try to incorporate body resistance physical activities into tv time. During commercials do a round of squats/lunges, push-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, or sit-ups (or if you have stairs in your house, commit to walking up and down them until the commercial break is over). Or you can commit to yourself that you can have that total downtime on the couch to watch tv, but only if you go for a 20-30 minute walk around the neighborhood first. Hope these tips are helpful!

  • Just That Girl

    This was helpful
    I understand its bad to binge eat because i am 35lbs over weight because of it. As a teen its hard to over come being depressed and i relized there are other ways to make myself happy.

    • brianna123

      So true! It’s too easy to over eat when you’re depressed, but then you have to think, well why am I depressed? Because
      Overweight ? Well eating to solve that problem is just silly lol. I did the same thing

  • danielle

    This was really useful. I know I do this a lot. I downloaded the myfitnesspal three days ago and have already lost 7 lbs. Seeing all the calories I consumed each day has made me realize how much I do binge. I’m going to take this article and use it to my advantage.

    • lisa

      7lbs?! Way to go that’s incredible

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    • Vtaza06

      It is biologically impossible to lose 7lbs in 3 days. You must have lost water weight because 90% of that was not fat loss

      • JP0194

        Way to go Danielle – what a motivating comment! NOT!

        • JP0194

          Sorry above was for Vtaza06 not Danielle. Well done Danielle – regardless of whether some of that weight loss is water, you should be proud that you have begun a journey. Keep up the good work!

          • QueenB

            Right! How rude hu!? I think 7 pounds is fantastic! Smh some people…

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      • gp8821

        It depends how much extra weight you have…

  • Linda

    Good suggestions for me. I go to Overeaters Anonymous and have changed my life but occasionally the cravings still come. I’ll try these ideas next time!

    • mimi

      Just wondered how you find out about over eaters anonymous and what you do at their groups?

  • Nina

    Really excellent article! Thank you!

  • BeccaLee

    This describes exactly what I go through on a weekly basis. I do well for a few days, then disaster. At the risk of sounding naive, I had no idea that such a disorder existed. I was only familiar with anorexia and bulimia and, since I don’t starve myself or purge, believed it is all about lack of willpower and self control. Thank you for this article. It has opened my eyes.

  • lindsay

    Thank you for this article. I sought help from a nutritionist for binge eating (followed by excessive over exercising to compensate) and the nutritionist told me to “just not eat” or “exercise instead of eating”. I cried I was so frustrated with the lack of help. I will try these tips!

    • Maria Cristina Moore

      I agree, that was my life too, this article was the first time i heard something nice…good luck…

  • unicorrny

    Perfect timing! A friend brought in a sugary treat and i couldn’t resist, then sugar took over for the rest of that day and the next 🙁 and here I am beating myself up for it. Your article gives me permission to be nicer to me and to just start fresh today. Thank you!

  • atsirk

    Been swinging through bulimia as a teen and then binging. In my weight loss journey I found that the closer I got to my goal weight it will trigger binging. Further internal exploration, I found my cause: I am afraid of being attractive.

    When I was a child, I was molested by cousins, almost raped twice as an adult. So unconsciously, I thought that if I acted like a boy and covered my body with fat, I’ll be able to escape that. But it’s not the answer and it never will be. I have stopped focusing on the scale and have started focusing on tiny non scale victories, like being able to do push ups and pull ups.

    All this is just the surface and along the way, when I want to binge, I pause and tell myself it wasn’t my fault those bad things happen and I notice that instead of eating the entire bar of chocolate, I’ll munch off a piece or two and I’ll be ok.

    I dunno if any of you have gone through sexual and physical abuse too, but I want u to know, it’s not your fault, forgive yourself coz only then will you heal.

    • Kim Wilson

      I applaud you atsirk. I have had the same experience and through counseling and my faith realized that I was protecting myself with food. If I was overweight I wouldn’t be touched and nobody would ever hurt me again.Thank you for sharing your story. It helped me to see that I am not the only one struggling with this.

  • Jane

    I used to be bulimic, the the binge episodes… They were horrifying. I would binge 6-7 days a week, whenever I was left alone in the house. I’d just sit in front of the tv and shovel whatever I could find into my mouth- a typical binge would consist of an entire loaf of bread, a gallon of ice cream, 2-3 huge servings of whatever leftovers I could find in the fridge, a can if chili from the basement and whatever else I could find- I remember I made an entire jar of peanut butter into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ate them all in one sitting! This would go on from about 4 PM to 6:30 PM, when I would enter panic mode because my dad would be home in an hour. I had to clean everything up and take out the trash, so he wouldn’t see the garbage I produced from everything I ate, then go to the toilet and try to get as much out of me as possible as quickly as possible, hating myself and feeling guilty the whole time. Usually when my dad came home all he would notice missing were leftovers, and my foul mood. Then I would have to eat dinner as if nothing was wrong- as if I hadn’t just eaten and puked up 5000 calories or more in the last three hours.
    Yeah, binge eating is horrible. Glad I’m out of that rut now- think I’d be dead now if it had continued.

    • Jilly

      Jane, you’ve just described exactly what I do most evenings after my kids have gone to bed, how did you break the cycle? I am really struggling with it right now,

      • Toni

        I started in a joggers group we had meetings in mornings and evenings. When my husband got home I started to attend and whammo my weight dropped and met several new friends!

        • Carly Guvench

          Although a great idea, I’m not sure it coukd work in her case because it happens after the children are in bed and she won’t be able to leave the house or it may be leaving the children alone or it’d later at night and there’s no running groups at that hour.

          I think hers is due to stress down cycling. I know the feeling well. Children are exhausting and once they’re in bed it’s like a huge wave of relief and you just want a few hours to yourself, treat yourself or whatever. And part of this is the binging. Also eating carbs, which are usually a main macro source of binging, later at night triggers the insulin response that will shift to less glucose in the blood and make you go to sleep faster.

          I think redirection to another de-stressing could work better. Sorry I’m not sure what your (Jilly) into as far as interests or your home circumstances but I’m a mother too and I know that feeling of having the kids in bed and I wonder if that’s a trigger and if you know anything you could redirect your binging towards that will be rewarding at the end if the day and won’t be as damaging.

    • Jilly

      Jane, you’ve just described exactly what I do most evenings after my kids have gone to bed, how did you break the cycle? I am really struggling with it right now,

  • shelly

    Well it’s something to Explorer I definitely binge and beat myself up knowing the whole time that it’s more than just hungry because I’m not hungry reading this and trying to understand it makes really good sense going to give it a try Thanks

  • AzzSharma

    Ugghhhh…. That hit a sensitive spot. I haven’t experienced this in a while bc of starting up again antidepressant meds. But if I was off this would happen to me 2-3 times a week, triggered my stress and exhaustion. Really good article. This is a very real problem. Thank you

  • While binging is not something I worry about, I did find your post quite informative. When you strip away the binge eating topic from the five steps I can see it being a great method to help overcome any addiction. If there’s one thing everyone has it’s addictions.

  • Cilou

    Thank you for our article. I have been suffering from eating disorders for 10 years now. I’m getting better but I always wonder if I could ever ill from this

  • Julia

    I went from one extreme to the next. And started cycling. I’ve always been a binge eater, my weight kept climbing and climbing. I was 250+ lbs at 5’3 and completely ashamed to even leave my house. I didn’t, for almost 2 years except for when it was necessary. I lost contact with all of my friends, I didn’t work or go to college. And it just got worse. Then I started dieting but seeing the weight drop was a new addiction. I started reducing my calories more and more. But I would still binge sometimes. Over the course of about 2 years with a constant starve/binge cycle I got down to 120 lbs. But I still wasn’t happy, I still hated myself and my body and it was never enough, I wanted to keep going but my husband and I wanted to have a baby. I miscarried twice before I successfully got pregnant. I gained 15 lbs and settled at 135 before my successful pregnancy. But now, I am still binge eating and I cannot make up for it by starving myself or using laxatives because I am pregnant. It is the most frustrating feeling I have ever felt. To lose 130 lbs and watch it come packing back on. I am so ready for the baby to be here, I have 6 months still to go but I don’t know that I will ever want to have another baby because I hate this feeling so much. And on top of that I got off of my antidepressants and anxiety medications when I found out I was pregnant. It has been difficult.

  • groucho61

    As some one who now struggles with their weight, but used to run as a youth, I am aware that when the body becomes dehydrated it communicates that by creating a craving for something sweet. Not always the easy choice, but try a pint (or two!) of diluted squash as an alternative to that ‘something sweet’.

  • eksploited

    Binge eating and binge drinking … now I have added binge exercising to the mix. Eating and drinking voraciously and then taking it out on my knees. Ugh. Working on establishing an even keel. I guess I am making progress. … It takes years.
    (good article)

  • Donna

    I had bulimia in my early to mid 20s now in my 40s I have binge eating disorder. It’s all just classed as eating disorders however I noticed I received more help and concern with bulimia and being to thin then I get with binge eating and being obese.

  • Bjforbes

    Glad to see MyFiitnessPal Discussing holistic issues around food. More of this is needed, rather than squat challenges that the average obese person cannot manage, nor should they if they have knee problems. It’s part of being kind to our bodies in more ways than what we may eat.

  • St. Louis Behavioral Medicine

    These are very useful tips I’m sure they will come very helpful to many who read this fantastic read! Binge eating is very serious and should be getting more attention than it currently is because diet is so crucial to overall health!

  • Eve

    I am starting my journey today!

  • missEAS

    Thank you for this article. I tend to do this. I live 80 miles away from my partner. Attempting to go through a divorce and have 2 children who are a little stressful. During school hours and evenings im alone and after all my motherly duties are done I fill the stillness and quiet with food. From the age of 17 to now at 25 I’ve packed on 4 Stone. But my eating I thought made me feel better. I’m trying to break this cycle and reading this and all the comments is a boost. Thank you

  • Ambre

    Thank you for this. I fessed up to my husband about my binging habits when I’m alone and at first he looked at me with complete incomprehension. But then he realized I was serious and he attempted to understand. He knows now to look for the empty food wrappers I might have hidden at the bottom of the trashcan and ask if I need support. once a binge session begins, though, I cant pull myself out of it. I will eat until I am physically sick, then writhe in discomfort until I fall asleep. (I hate vomiting, so never have considered making myself throw up.) my best remedy is just to make sure I’m never in the house alone.

  • Mo

    As a counselor of binge eaters, this article was not helpful at all. Binge eaters who are not in therapy are unable to create a “pause.” This article would be helpful for overeaters, but definitely not DIAGNOSED binge eaters.

  • Maria Cristina Moore

    I had to get back to thank Ms. Cleary for this life changing information.
    This is the first time I’ve heard of being nice to yourself during your binges and analyzing…
    I’m truly thankful for your article!

  • Babs

    I go all day without food then come 5pm I have a large meal then can’t stop eating all evening I have done this for years when I told my doc about this she said well if you have done this for a life time then you might as well carry on I felt so let down,, I go for long walks and exercise every other day at a class I can’t loose weight, any words to help me break this cycle will be very much apresiated as I’m desperate to change but feel physically sick during the day at the thought of eating food !

  • Unhappy

    I have suffered all my teen and adult life with BED and especially the recent 7 years. I have isolated myself completely from my professional world to the point it is ruining my career. I avoid my family bc I am so ashamed and hate myself for doing this over and over. I haven’t been involved socially anymore AT ALL. It makes me cry everyday bc I want so badly to get it under control and live again as life is short. I started an outpatient treatment for it this past February but the treatment center closed within two weeks after I started. I am desperate to find help, yet scared and unmotivated to follow through to get treatment going again. Those two weeks of the program were remarkably hard and remarkably amazing. I would love to find an online community through this app maybe to try to overcome this in lieu of traveling everyday an hour to attend another outpatient treatment program…. Or as a jump start to find willingness to try outpatient treatment again regardless of the hurdles of driving the distance, etc.

  • Dolly

    Thank you for sharing that. I was sexually abused by my father at a young age as well. Been in and out of therapy but still turn to food for comfort instead of talking to any one because it is all so humiliating. I hate myself and think to myself how sick is it to eat in secret? It does not stay secret for long because you gain weight and that is very visible. I am 64 and still trying to control my eating and my weight. That is awesome for you to loose that much weight. Don’t be afraid of the attention you will be receiving. I went thru that as well. Stay strong and have faith. You are still here for a reason.

  • Belinda

    My therapist suggested when I feel an urge to binge, to try to set a timer for 15 minutes. Often urges will pass by then.

  • Melissa

    Aww, thank you for posting this! It helps a lot to know that there are other people out there who “get it.” It’s nice not feeling alone!

  • Melissa

    I need to stop this kind of eating, thank you for trying to help it means a lot for people who just don’t know where to turn. I’m glad you acknowledge that it is not just that simple to “stop eating” and actually understand the psychological process that goes on in yoour head. Ugh. Help 🙁

  • Pumpkinpie

    This article is great, but I think what it fails to mention looking into the cause of binge eating. Sometimes the cause is a feeling, stress, etc. or even other people. For me, it’s my parents. I buy food for my self and keep it very strict when it comes to calories. I lose weight. It’s great. Some people might say that I eat like a “bird” but it works for me.

    Then come in my parents. They will by food for me, against my wishes, under the presumption that I am not eating “enough.” Then they will guilt me into eating the food, because the food will either expire soon, or it is food that they do not and cannot eat. So of course I am left with devouring the crap that they buy. I can cook for myself, and prefer doing so.

    Since I’ve moved out, it’s harder for them to monitor my eating habits, and easier for me to control them. Generally they are a source of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, and I feel that I binge eat in order to avoid any further unpleasantness, and my eating is a manifestation of my anger and frustration for their control over my life.

    At least that’s how I see it. It’s gotten better. You have to learn how to set boundaries for yourself, AND for others! Think about the people in your life that contribute to your binge eating. You may be surprised they affect you more than you would like them too!

  • Sarah

    Boy, I could relate to this post… I struggled with with my eating for 18 years, where I was perpetually trapped on this never ending cycle.

    I was repeatedly having to endure those awful eating episodes weekly, where I would eat anything and everything!!! (It didn’t even have to be good… or cooked for that matter

  • Renee

    The article was very helpful. I’ve always heard of overeating but not binge eating. Now that I have identified myself as a binge eater I will use the helpful urge interview technique.

  • Jess

    I have been a binge eater. my entire life. It got really bad a few months ago to where I was consuming 2500 to 3000 calories a day. I stopped working out and the binges got worse. I started working out 6 weeks worth of cardio kickboxing and 2x a week yoga and my urges to binge are almost completely gone. I know that exercise reduces stress but I didn’t realize how powerful it really was in controlling my urge to binge eat.

    • Jess

      Oh, and watching tv after work increases my urge to binge. I have to leave the tv off and go do something else like read, play games with my daughter, whatever, anything to get me from watching tv.