What is binge eating disorder?
Binge eating disorder is a common eating disorder where people experience eating unusually large amounts of food without being able to stop.
Binge eating is outside of your regular eating pattern. It is the same as compulsive eating.
Binge Eating Disorder is also accompanied by anxiety or stress after eating.
This is different from overeating, where you eat too much of your dinner or mealtimes or generally snack too much.
Binge Eating generally follows a pattern of Bingeing and then restriction. To have Binge Eating Disorder (BED) you will have not just one symptom but a few. See the signs and symptoms here.
What are the causes and effects of binge eating disorder
Binge Eating disorder typically starts in adolescence or early twenties. There are many factors involved for the disorder to develop. Though it can be a coping mechanism for trauma suffered when younger.
Some people turn to substance abuse like alcohol or drugs. For others, food is their drug of choice.
People with binge eating disorder often report accompanying symptoms such as anxiety, depression and or ADHD.
Why do I keep wanting to binge eat?
Binge eating helps to suppress those feelings of stress or anxiety at that moment. Binge eating often feels good in the moment. Our unconscious thus drives us to binge eat further.
Binge eating disorder may start out as compulsive eating or you may recognise it as emotional eating. For some people, it stops there.
You may have occasional binge eating episodes. For others the urge to binge eat becomes overpowering and if not treated can lead to binge eating disorder.
Why is it so hard to stop binge eating?
It can be hard to break out of a binge eating cycle. This is because it follows an addiction cycle, where one action overcompensates for another.
For example, when you binge eat, most people experience feeling bad and guilty. They then go on a restrictive diet because they have eaten too much and they think the diet will compensate for their binge eating episodes.
The longer you stay in this binge cycle, the more polarised your behaviour can get. The more you keep binge eating, the more restrictive your diets can become. More restriction leads to feelings of missing out, which leads to having food cravings for certain foods.
This restrictive diet is too restrictive. The urge to binge becomes more frequent and more intense.
How to stop Binge Eating? Here are 9 helpful strategies.
1. Stop the restrictive diet
You’ve had a binge, and now you are worried about gaining weight so a restrictive diet seems the most logical thing to do. Only, this is the one thing that can cause a next binge.
Restricting your food intake, causes you to have food cravings.
Long-term weight loss is not going to be gained by strict dieting, or calorie counting. Weight loss is going to be achieved by little positive steps of a combination of healthy eating habits, exercise and mindset.
Start by considering forbidden foods. What are they?
Allow yourself a little of what it is you really want, rather than totally depriving yourself. This helps to curb cravings. Once you have a little, then don’t beat yourself up.
Weight loss is not achieved by a strict diet. It will also not stop you from binge eating. Allow a little of what you want each day so you do not feel restricted.
Trust yourself, you are not going to binge on lots of junk food.
You will learn to gain control of your eating and your food choices.
2. Avoid Skipping meals
It can be tempting to skip meals or to do intermittent fasting because you have been binge eating.
However, in one study, it has been shown that fasting can actually increase compulsive eating. I have noticed in my clients, that their binge eating got worse when they started intermittent fasting.
When we skip meals it means we get hungrier. When we stop eating, our hunger only intensifies until we end up compulsive overeating and eating the wrong foods. This can lead to a binge.
Start with three meals in a day. Develop a regular eating pattern.
Over time your body will know what is the right amount to eat. This is intuitive eating. Our bodies will not learn how to eat and how to stop binge eating if we are skipping meals.
When you start to feel hungry eat. Not eating until you are extremely hungry will lead to overeating.
Even if you are not that hungry, eat a little of the food. You are training your body to have a regular eating pattern.
3. Keep a mood journal
Binge eating disorder is not logical, rather it is an emotional response to something.
A study on Binge Eating and stress, concluded that stress alone was not the cause.
Binge eating and the relationship with stress are very complicated.
By keeping a mood journal, you can note how you are feeling when you binge. Over time you will notice a pattern. You can see what is the driving emotion for you.
Low self-esteem may play a factor as well as your general mental health.
Sudden mood fluctuations
Do you one minute feel happy ? The next minute feel angry? It can be hard to keep tabs on your feelings when you feel all over the place.
You may not be aware of any feelings. You may not be aware of when you are eating, you notice eating the wrong food once you have eaten it and then berate and question yourself.
Take your time writing out your journal. Ponder the day and the events and how you felt.
Some Questions to help you;
What happened today?
How did I react?
What was it about (event, or person) that made me react that way?
How did I feel before, during and after eating food?
Take your time and be patient with your self when journalling. It may not come easy at first, but the more you practise being reflective the easier it will get.
4. Find your triggers
Binge eating rarely has anything to do with food. Rather it is your response to a trigger.
A trigger is when an event or a situation happens that causes you to respond in a certain way. Your response is to binge eat.
Many people report having binge eating trigger foods. These are trigger foods that create the urge to binge.
By keeping a note in your journal of events that happen, you can start to notice your triggers.
Start to notice what your day is like when you eat three meals. Do you end up binge eating on those days?
Is your binge eating caused by an emotional event, like you being angry or upset at something?
Binge eating is different from emotional eating. Keeping a journal will help you to become aware of any overwhelming feelings that are triggering your binge eating.
5. Plan your meal times
I notice in my clinic, that clients will often follow a pattern of being a little bit hungry, not wanting to eat for fear of weight gain. They then wait until they are famished before eating and end up overeating.
Meal planning will help you to follow a regular eating schedule and help escape the binge/restriction cycle.
Meal planning will ensure you are not missing eating entire food groups.
A binge eating myth is that by increasing your food intake will lead to weight gain. Not necessarily if you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise
When you plan you are making it easier to develop healthier eating habits. It makes it easier to ensure you are eating regularly.
Taking time to meal plan ensures you are not cutting out certain foods completely. You may notice having more appetite control.
Time spent planning is helping you to eat nutritious food and eat entire food groups.
You are less likely to binge on sugary foods when you are content.
6. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is where you are fully present in what you are doing. You are aware of your behaviours, emotions and thoughts on what you are doing.
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can decrease the frequency of Binge Eating and has many health benefits such as relieving stress and lowering blood pressure.
Being fully present causes you to slow down. It causes you to be present. By being present, you become aware of your emotions. You will start to notice being able to handle them more effectively and not being overwhelmed by them.
Being mindful will reduce your emotional eating. This is where you are eating to stop an emotion but not binge eating. You become consciously aware of the food you are eating.
The calmer and more aware you are of your feelings helps you to be in control of your eating patterns.
Mindfulness can help you to prevent binge eating. You have a greater awareness of your unhealthy eating habits.
Combine mindfulness and meditation to help you relieve stress, develop self-control and overcome binge eating.
You will find your emotions less intense and therefore less likely to binge as a way of coping.
Sleep deprivation can also cause us to eat more. When we are tired, we want comfort and if you get your comfort through eating, you are naturally going to end up binge eating.
Meditation can help you to feel more positive about yourself if you are suffering from low self-esteem. Can help to prevent binge eating.
7. Develop a healthier relationship with food
Recovery from eating disorders is not always as straightforward as recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs. Your drug of choice here is food.
Like alcohol or drugs, food can end up being your only friend. Though you may have a love, hate relationship with food.
In an ideal world, you would be doing intuitive eating. This could be a long way off yet, so do not fret, as with all eating disorders, recovery is a journey.
There is nothing wrong with you, you just need to learn a new pattern of eating and learn to manage your food triggers.
Most people with binge eating want to lose weight. It is natural to think that food and eating certain foods, is the problem.
Food and binge eating is just a symptom of what is happening in your unconscious.
Start a journey of developing a relationship with food, eating and yourself. Notice when you do inadvertently practise intuitive eating.
8. Find better ways to feed your feelings
The common cause of a binge eating habit is to try to control undesirable feelings like sadness, depression, or loneliness.
If someone has bad days, food seems like the only friend. Having bad foods causes stress and anxiety to disappear, and the feeling fades out. It was only fleeting.
Go back to the time when you started binge eating. What was happening for you around then?
Find other ways to give yourself the feelings that you need.
Look after your mental health. Note what you need to allow you to feel loved and safe. Eating food is a short-term fix. We want to prevent binge eating, so what would you ideally like to be feeling and how can you feel it?
9. Talk to a specialist
Binge Eating Disorder is characterised as an eating disorder in the DSM 5 (Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of mental disorders)
Like other eating disorders, it is best to be treated by a specialist. It is a good idea to consider surrounding yourself with a healthcare team.
Treating an eating disorder on your own can be very hard and frustrating. Whilst you may be able to get so far with your treatment, often speaking to a specialist is what will help you finally overcome Binge Eating.
A specialist will be able to help you through what you cannot see. They provide a space for you to talk, so together you can really understand your eating issues.
There are many different treatment options, from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to interpersonal psychotherapy. See here, which would be best for you.
There are many therapists who specialise in eating disorders so take your time to pick the best fit for you.
It is important for you to find someone who you feel safe with and can trust.
Find a health professional to support you. Find someone whom you feel safe and can trust and you like.
There are many elements to Binge Eating and many causes. For the best possible outcome, it is recommended that you seek out someone to work with.
Many people do recover from Binge Eating.
Recovery can take time and is not a linear journey.
There will be many times when you fall back. That’s OK and is natural. Keep going, and surround yourself with supportive and positive friends and or a family member.
Recovery usually requires changes to not only eating habits but emotional well-being and mindset.
I do observe positive responses from people who are willing to explore their minds and emotions and are willing to put the work in.
Recovery is totally possible.
US – National eating disorders association. UK – Beat Eating disorders