How to Stop Binge Eating

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Binge eating is a serious eating disorder
Binge eating is a serious eating disorder (Image: (c) Lynda Bernhardt)

Many people struggle with binge eating. Because binge eating does not get the attention that anorexia and bulimia do, those who struggle with binge eating often fail to recognize that they have an eating disorder. All they know is that they feel a strong desire to eat when they feel strong negative emotions and they can consume large quantities of food in one sitting. The act of binge eating temporarily alleviates the pain, which is why they return to the behavior. Here is how you can stop binge eating.

Recognize why you binge eat. Binge eating is a coping mechanism that you are using to manage your painful emotions. By binge eating, you are “stuffing down” the pain. You choose to binge eat because it is effective in making you feel better in the short run.

Acknowledge that you have underlying pain. Binge eating does not happen in a vacuum. You are binge eating to “stuff down” the pain that you have not yet dealt with in your life. For example, binge eating can be a symptom of trauma, such as a history of child abuse. By identifying the underlying cause of the binge eating, you can diffuse the trigger that sets off the episodes of binge eating.

Give yourself permission to eat what you want. People who binge eat are already eating a large quantity of food, but afterward, they heap guilt upon themselves, which only fuels the need to binge eat again. By giving yourself permission to eat whatever you want, you stop this cycle of binge eating to repress the negative feelings that are triggered by your last episode of binge eating.

Develop positive coping tools to use for managing your emotions. Try exercising, talking with a friend, doing yoga, playing a musical instrument or anything else that helps you manage your emotions in a more positive way. As you learn to lean on these positive coping tools, you will have less of a need to binge eat.

Deal with your emotions instead of stuffing them down with food. You are binge eating to "stuff down" painful emotions. Instead, face those painful emotions head on. Heal the pain that is driving the behavior and you will no longer feel the urges to binge eat as strongly.

Give yourself a cooling off period. Whenever you have the urge to binge eat, choose to wait 15 minutes first. During that 15-minute period, use the other coping tools that you have developed to manage your emotions. At the end of the 15-minute period, if you still feel the overwhelming urge to binge eat, then do it with no guilt.

Take breaks between courses during a binge. Whenever you binge eat, take at least a five-minute break between each food. During that time, try to use other coping tools.

Tips & Warnings

  • Healing from an eating disorder takes time, so be very patient with yourself.
  • Do not judge your progress with a pass/fail standard. Instead, celebrate any progress, such as binge eating 2 courses instead of 3.
  • Finding a qualified therapist with experience in counseling people with the issues fueling the binge eating is an important part of healing from binge eating. Your therapist can provide you with additional tools to stop binge eating.
  • People who have struggled with an eating disorder will always be vulnerable to slipping back into old patterns. Even after you conquer binge eating, stay mindful of situations that could trigger a relapse.
  • Never go on a diet. Depriving yourself of food often triggers the urge to binge eat. Instead, manage your weight through making healthier food choices and exercising. For some people, just stopping the binge eating is enough to maintain to a healthy weight.

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