how to stop binge eating
  • March 12, 2024

How To Stop Binge Eating – Why It Happens & What To Do

Are you somebody who regularly experiences a ‘loss of control’ around food?  Is this episode followed by guilt, shame and […]

Are you somebody who regularly experiences a ‘loss of control’ around food? 

Is this episode followed by guilt, shame and distress, but ultimately repeated, as you are stuck in this cycle?

You may be experiencing binge eating, and depending on the frequency, you may be experiencing Binge Eating Disorder (BED). 

It is very possible to break the cycle, seek treatment and work on mending your relationship with food. 

Binge eating is often misunderstood and stigmatised. In this article, we will discuss the complexities of binge eating, and the common causes/triggers of the behaviours. We’ll talk about practical strategies on how to stop binge eating, seek treatment and work on mending your relationship with food.

 

What Is Binge Eating Vs Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating refers to an episode where someone eats a large quantity of food, over a short timeframe. In this period, they also feel a loss of control over their eating, and an inability to stop themselves (1). 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the diagnostic tool used by healthcare professionals for mental health conditions. It was updated in 2013. 

In the DSM-5, Binge eating becomes Binge Eating Disorder when the episodes are recurrent. They occur at least once a week, for three months (2). 

Bingeing is still distressing for anyone experiencing it, not just those with BED, and it is important to implement strategies to challenge these thoughts and urges.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a mental health condition, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. It is the most common feeding and eating disorder in Australia, with 47% of those with an eating disorder diagnosed with BED (3)

During a period of bingeing, you may eat regardless of appetite, unable to regulate fullness and hunger cues. You may eat past the point of comfortable fullness (4). 

Common Behaviours And Symptoms Of BED Include (5):

  • Eating faster than normal 
  • Compulsive overeating
  • Eating in secret 
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry 
  • Eating alone, or in secret
  • Feeling ashamed, guilty and upset about your eating 
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Body checking
  • Weight fluctuations 
  • Isolation, withdrawal from friends and family

 

As a mental illness, these behaviours can heavily affect your quality of life. It may lead to feelings of guilt and shame. 

Many people feel ashamed about binge eating. It is important to remember  that in many cases, binge eating acts as a coping mechanism.our way to manage emotions in a world that feels overwhelming.  

It is normal to experience insecurity, guilt and fear of judgement when seeking out treatment for any eating disorder. However, reaching out for professional support is an important step in bringing you closer to having a healthier relationship with food.

When looking for professional help, it’s important to seek out someone who is non-judgemental, body inclusive, trauma-informed and meets you where you’re at. This is what underpins how all of our eating disorder dietitians practice at Imbodi Health.

 

What Causes Binge Eating?

Bingeing often stems from a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors (6)

A history of restrictive dieting increases the risk of BED. Skipping meals, avoiding foods and not eating enough can lead to a binge-restrict cycle (7).

A common mistake that many people make when trying to recover from BED is trying to restrict their diet. However, depriving yourself of the foods you truly want to enjoy, the foods you are craving, ultimately leads to a predisposition to binge on these foods.

Bingeing is also closely linked to anxiety, and research suggests the behaviour can serve as a maladaptive way to cope with intense thoughts, fears and emotions (8). 

Depression can also put you at an increased risk of binge eating. A common symptom of depression is decreased or increased appetite. Fluctuations in these levels may lead to episodes of binge eating, followed by not eating enough, which often  perpetuates the binge-restrict cycle (9). 

Want to listen more? Listen to Imbodi Health Podcast Episode 8 – Why Do We Binge? 


What Is The Binge-Restrict Cycle?

Persistent dieting, with calorie restriction can lead to a cycle of restriction, followed by episodes of bingeing in response to hunger cues. You may tell yourself:

‘It won’t happen again’

‘I will do better’

‘I won’t binge ever again’

And then, to compensate for the binge eating episode, you may return to restricting; reducing your overall calories in an attempt to compensate or ‘balance out’ the quantity of food eaten.

Your body needs energy to survive – and entering a restrictive state leads your body to a state of famine. Your body sends physical cues, and a mental preoccupation with food. 

Not eating enough for a prolonged period of time will then often result in intense cravings. This ultimately leads to another binge eating episode. The same cycle continues – commonly fuelled by shame and distress, and an overwhelming loss of control.

The only way to heal from the binge-restrict cycle is to allow yourself full, unconditional permission to eat the foods you crave. Despite how physically uncomfortable you may feel after binge eating, you need to ensure you aren’t skipping meals in response. This will do the opposite of what you may believe it is intended to.

stop binge eating

How To Stop Binge Eating

It’s easier said than done. There are some strategies to implement into your daily life, which can help manage overwhelming urges to compulsively eat.

1. Don’t Restrict Yourself After A Binge

Allow yourself to eat regular meals and snacks following a binge eating episode. It may feel instinctive to return to this state of compensation – but that just sets you up for failure. Your body needs to know that food is safe, food is there, food isn’t going anywhere. 

2. Plan Regular Meals and Snacks

Instead of not keeping your favourite foods in the house, for fear of losing control around them – buy them. 

Keep them in your home, and allow yourself to have your favourite foods, unconditionally. 

This teaches your body that it is safe, to allow yourself to have these foods without guilt, shame or impulse.

It can also be helpful to implement these strategies with a dietitian, such as the binge eating dietitian at Imbodi Health.  

Incorporating meals and snacks at regular times throughout the day can help to teach your mind that the food is not going anywhere, you will get to eat again, you are not in starvation mode anymore. 

3. Challenge The Thought That Restricting Is “Good” 

Despite diet culture perpetuating the idea that calorie deficit is ‘good’ and surplus is ‘bad’, part of the journey on how to stop binge eating is being apple to challenge consciously rewire these thought processes. 

At the end of a day of restricting, your brain may tell you “I’ve been so good, I can eat whatever I want now”, which consequently leads to bingeing on foods you had restricted yourself from all day. 

Rejecting the narrative that these behaviours are polar, distinctly good or bad, will help you reframe the relationship you have with food. 

This is something that can be difficult at first, but is why working with an eating disorder dietitian can be crucial in your steps towards recovery. 

 

how to break the binge restrict cycle diagram

4. Stop The “Good” Or “Bad” Mentality Around Food

You are not ‘good’ by limiting your intake. 

No food is ‘good’, no food is ‘bad’. All foods fit in a balanced and varied diet. 

Balance and diversity will work on satiating your hunger and fullness cues. 

Giving yourself permission to eat the foods you perceive to be ‘unhealthy’  will teach your body and mind that food is safe. 

Food isn’t going anywhere. You are allowed to eat what you want, when you want. You don’t need to compensate by restricting. Because this, ultimately, fuels the binge-restrict cycle. 

Working with a treatment team can provide an avenue for you to begin challenging specific behaviours and rules.

These behaviours may look like:

  • Rules around timing of meals
  • Depriving yourself of particular foods, leading to bingeing on them when they are available 
  • Not going out to eat with family and friends out of anxiety over eating 

Want to kick start your journey? Download our free copy of our break up with diets ebook

break up with diets ebook

 

5. Identify What Triggers A Binge 

Learning about yourself, recognising what is prompting these behaviours and thoughts, is crucial in rebuilding your relationship with food.

Some common binge triggers, aside from restriction, include (10):

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Depressive symptoms and thoughts
  • Overwhelming and unfamiliar emotions
  • Anger 
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness

Each person is unique and what triggers a binge for you, might be different to the next person.

It can be really helpful for you to work with a Eating Disorder Dietitian to identify these factors, and implement coping mechanisms that are not maladaptive, or cause distress. 

6. Work With A Professional 

Working with a multidisciplinary team can promote full and lasting recovery.

A psychologist, accredited practicing dietitian, and general practitioner are essential in mending your relationship with food and self. 

Working through your triggers, talking about behaviours, and confronting the emotions you are experiencing can be confronting. 

Treatment is hard, it’s scary, and it’s overwhelming.

Persisting through the discomfort, allowing yourself to break the cycle and treat your body with kindness and respect, which lead you on the path to recovery.

You don’t have to suffer in silence out of fear of judgement or misunderstanding. Reach out for support.  

Seek treatment with a team who are informed, educated and knowledgeable, and can guide you to a life with a healthier relationship with food.

 

7. Avoid Going For Long Periods Of Time Without A Meal Or Snack

Delaying eating or pushing eating further and further back can also lead to a binge eating episode. 

Having more than 4 hours in between meals can significantly increase the risk of binge eating at the next meal. 

You may find yourself extremely hungry, and consequently may eat past comfortable fullness.

Aim to eat every 2-4 hours, to keep your body signals regulated, and your mind functioning! 

 

Is It Binge Eating Or Extreme Hunger? 

Extreme hunger is a common experience in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. It may be daunting and overwhelming. 

Long term suppression of appetite, and ignorance of body signals really does make you confused! 

The difference between binge eating and extreme hunger is the cognitions and driving force behind the eating episode. 

In extreme hunger, it’s common to experience this insatiable, overwhelming feeling of hunger, and you need to eat large volumes of foods to meet your hunger signals. 

In binge eating episodes, you may eat past the point of comfortable fullness, not fuelled by hunger cues (12). 

During binge eating episodes, you feel out of control, often unable to stop, even when physically and mentally satisfied. It feels almost involuntary.

In extreme hunger, the physical hunger is so overwhelming. Your body is sending physical signals of being hungry, and you feel those hunger pangs. This is gone after eating, and not characterised by that sense of losing control.

Be Kind To Yourself 

It is important to be kind to yourself when trying to stop this bingeing cycle. 

Rather than treating yourself with anger and shame, begin the path to showing yourself kindness and softness. This is something we call self compassion.

You are not broken. You are not a problem. You have a set of factors contributing to this behaviour being repeated.

Working with a psychologist can be pivotal in making progress in your recovery. 

Discussing the urge to compulsively eat, and the emotions underlying it, can help you make progress and build your toolbox of coping strategies.

Work On Your Relationship With Your Body

This ties into the idea of self compassion. Treating your body with kindness, respect and care, can lead to a deeper connection with self.

It is through this connection that you can work to identify your physical hunger and fullness cues, and the emotions underlying your binge eating.

Your body is your home! 

Your body deserves to be treated with love. It may take time to learn this, and body-neutrality may be a stepping stone on the path to self acceptance. 

You don’t need to love your body. 

However, we can learn to treat it with respect and kindness. After all, our bodies to incredible things for us on a daily basis.  

In Summary 

If you’ve been wondering how to stop binge eating, this article is a good place to start.

Reducing and stopping binge eating behaviours is entirely possible, but we can’t reduce binge eating at the same time as restricting our diet or trying to lose weight.

Treating the behaviours by going on a restrictive diet will just lead you back to bingeing episodes, time and time again.

Recovery needs to take the form of self compassion, body neutrality, and building your toolbox of coping mechanisms. 

It’s easier said than done, but abandoning the guilt and shame associated with binge eating is necessary in healing. It can be to make progress if you are holding judgement towards yourself. 

The team at Imbodi Health are Credentialed Eating Disorder Clinicians, who work with people struggling with binge eating behaviours. Reach out to the team to book a discovery call today, and begin the path to healing with a team who are non-judgemental, supportive and will meet you with where you’re at. 

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