how to beat the urge to binge
  • April 28, 2023

How To Beat The Urge To Binge

Have you been struggling with binge eating or the urge to binge? Binge eating disorder is a mental illness where […]

Have you been struggling with binge eating or the urge to binge?

Binge eating disorder is a mental illness where individuals suffer from regular episodes of binge eating.

But what is binge eating? Often people say they have just had ‘a huge binge’ on snack foods, while not understanding the real meaning of a binge.

For those suffering from binge eating disorder, a binge is much more than having a few treats or overeating when celebrating with a friend.

If you are experiencing binge eating, or know someone who is, this article will explore some strategies to beat the urge to binge.

Prevalence Of Binge Eating Disorder
Difference Between Binge Eating Disorder And Overeating
Main Triggers For Binging
Strategies To Beat The Urge To Binge
What To Do After Binging


Prevalence Of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder, affecting approxilately 47% of Australians who have an eating disorder (1).

Binge eating disorder tends to start in the late teens to early adulthood and can become a lifelong struggle (1)

How is binge eating disorder diagnosed?

Binge eating disorder is characterised by recurring episodes of binge eating. It is characterised by eating large amounts of food in a short period of time (less than 2 hours) or grazing continuously throughout the day (2).

A binge is often accompanied by feelings of loss of control around food, making it very difficult to stop.

After or during a binge the person feels very distressed, disappointed in themselves, or guilty for their behaviour (2).

The DSM-5 (an Internationally recognised manual used to help identify mental disorders) is used to diagnose binge eating disorder. The diagnosis criteria states that the person needs to binge eat at least once a week for three months.

Another key characteristic of binge eating disorder is that there are no compensatory behaviours like purging, over exercising or fasting (3).


Some signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder include (4):

  • Eating rapidly often in secret
  • Unpredictable eating patterns
  • Periods of restriction followed by binging
  • Feeling impulsive, lack of control and continuing to eat past fullness
  • Eating when you aren’t hungry
  • Feeling numb while binging followed by guilt and shame, feeling unhappy with your physical
  • Hiding what you eat and avoiding social outings where food is involved.


signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder


Difference Between Binge Eating Disorder And Overeating

Overeating often occurs naturally in social settings and celebrations like Christmas, birthdays, Easter or alone e.g. watching a movie with some snacks.

Most people occasionally overeat and it can occur for many reasons. We can overeat because the food is tasty and we are enjoying it, we are bored, distracted or because brings us some comfort (1).

Binge eating can share some similarities, but is different to overeating.


Main Triggers For Binging

One of the first steps to healing binge eating is identifying your main binging triggers. These triggers may exist across a few different areas, including body-related triggers, mood-related triggers, food-related triggers:

Body-related triggers may include (5):

  • Dieting to change your appearance. Dieting causes your body to be deprived which can lead you to feel hungry and out of control by the end of the day leading to a binge
  • Poor body image. People with poor body image may often go through binge and restrict cycles in an effort to change their appearance, which results in weight fluctuations, followed by further body dissatisfaction
  • Distorted body image


Mood-related triggers may include (5):

  • Unmet emotional needs e.g. experiencing depression, anxiety, burnout, boredom or living in a stressful environment
  • Binge eating may lead to isolation because of embarrassment, fear of food or judgement from others. This may increase sadness and feelings of low self- esteem


Food-related triggers may include (5):

  • Having foods that are off limits
  • Only eating foods you identify as healthy or low calorie during the day to save calories for later
  • Characterising foods as good and bad
  • All or nothing mindset around food. For example, you diet all day then as the evening approaches you have a ‘bad’ food and you decide that you have broken your ‘good eating’ and spiral into a binge
  • Poor eating habits of those around you leading to food guilt or shame e.g. your mother, partner, friend is constantly on a new fad diet or talks negatively about their eating habits or the eating habits of others


Food related binge eating triggers include food restrcition, rigid dieting, feeling hungry or unsatisfied, breaking a diet rule, skipping meals and having certain foods 'off limits'


Strategies To Beat The Urge To Binge

Here are some strategies that may help reduce the urge to binge.


Eat regularly

Eating regularly is important for stabilising appetite, helping you feel more satisfied throughout the day and reducing the likelihood of a binge.

Aim for 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks, eating every 2-3 hours.


Do not skip meals

Skipping meals can intensify feelings of restriction, making a binge episode much more likely.

Instead, maintain regular eating patterns as mentioned above!


Build meals that are nutritionally balanced and satisfying

Aim to include a source of carbohydrates, protein, fats and some fibre-rich colourful fruit or vegetables with all meals.

By including a range of different food groups at your meal times, you will feel much more satisfied after eating.


For snacks, aim to include at least 2 different food groups to keep you feeling satisfied between meals. For example:

  • A piece of fruit (fibre and colour) and some nut butter (nourishing fats)
  • Crackers (carbohydrates) with some tuna (protein)
  • Popcorn (carbohydrates) with some dark chocolate (nourishing fats)


Give yourself permission to all foods

To break out of the binge-restrict cycle, it is important to reduce the restriction around certain foods.

All foods fit in a healthy diet, and finding enjoyment in foods is just as important as eating for nutrition!

Try creating a list of foods you enjoy, but don’t typically allow yourself. Begin to re-introduce these foods into your diet through food challenges. This is essential in helping minimise the anxiety you feel around food, and improving your relationship with food.

If this sounds daunting, working with an experienced eating disorder dietitian can help support you along this journey.


3 steps to stop cravings free ebook

Work towards understanding your hunger and fullness cues

It can be common to lose touch or trust of your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

By eating regularly and being more mindful when eating, you can begin to practice becoming in tune with these cues.


Identify and reduce triggers

Identifying and reducing triggers is essential in beating the urge to binge.

There may be multiple factors that trigger a binge. If you are unsure of your triggers, working with an experienced counselor or eating disorder dietitian can be invaluable in helping you identify and understand these triggers.

Once you are aware of the triggers, you can begin to create a plan to reduce these triggers.

For example:

  • If food restriction is an identified trigger, you may work to improve your eating patterns and increase the variety of foods in your diet
  • If weighing yourself is a trigger, you may remove the scales from your house
  • If uncomfortable emotions are a trigger, you may work on some alternative coping strategies or on improving your distress tolerance



Build your toolbox

  • Explore other coping mechanisms to help you deal with unmet emotional needs e.g. journalling, meditating, going to counselling or practising self care
  • Find distractions e.g. calling a loved one, going for a walk, taking up a new hobby
  • Engage in mindfulness, when feeling the urge to binge dive deeper into your emotional state then implement a different coping mechanism (7)


What To Do After Binging

  • Practice self-compassion. Be gentle with yourself if/when you do slip up, learn to identify what caused the binge and how you will approach it differently next time (7)
  • Do not continue to restrict or engage in other compensatory behaviours
  • Stay away from the scales
  • Practice kindness towards yourself and remember you still deserve to eat nourishing meals in the days that follow
  • Identify what caused the binge and write it down, then next time you feel this way again implement a different coping mechanism (6)





Binge eating disorder is a mental illness that can be associated with feelings of guilt and shame after a binge occurs.

Making sure to implement coping strategies like eating regular, balanced meals, identifying triggers and finding new coping mechanisms to deal with triggers can help reduce the urge to binge.

If you are struggling with binge eating disorder, working with a team of experienced healthcare professionals such as a counsellor and eating disorder dietitian can help.


Written by: Student dietitian Chanelle Tamihana

Reviewed by: Imbodi Health Dietitian Jade Wrigley

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