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How to Stop Binge Eating: 5 Tips for Ending Your Disorder

girl deciding on apple or cupcakeBinge eating is a problem for millions of people, myself included. About 3% of adults will struggle with binge eating disorder during their lifetime, and that statistic increases nearly five-fold for athletes [1]. If left untreated, binge eating can lead to serious mental and physical illness. I’m not going to go so far as saying there is a cure for this behavior, but the following tips have helped me take back control of my binge eating, and I think some might help you too.

Find a Healthy Alternative

We have a routine in my house of watching some TV for a couple of hours at night after the kids are in bed. This is when my binge eating comes out in full force. I’m a sucker for ice cream, and I could eat it until I was sick.

My solution was finding a healthy food alternative that would still satisfy my cravings. I found it. It’s a mixture of greek yogurt, peanut butter, cinnamon, a teaspoon of honey, and a 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries. This little concoction hits the sweet spot, and I even find myself looking forward to and calling it my “ice cream”.

Here are 10 healthy snacking strategies for when you get the munchies.

Go to Your Food

I credit this tip for stopping 80% of my binge eating behavior. While not everyone has the same triggers, I found that the only real times I was binge eating was when I was bringing my food home. Weekly grocery shopping went well, but nightly trips to the neighborhood grocery store for the sole purpose of getting a fix were a regular.

Now if I want some low-quality food, I go to it. I don’t mean buying it at the grocery store. I mean go to a restaurant or an ice cream shop. Portions stay under control because of time and cost constraints, but I still get to eat the foods I enjoy in moderation. Unhealthy food stays out of the house.

Replace Your Binge Eating Time

Another thing that helped me was going for a walk at night after dinner. As I mentioned earlier, nighttime is when my binge eating behavior took control of me. In order to change the behavior, I had to change my environment. I thought that a leisurely stroll at night would work, and it did.

Not only did it stop (replace) the mindless eating in front of the TV, but it also killed my appetite. Going for a walk also changed my mindset to that of a more healthy individual – effectively keeping my willpower higher and keeping me in control of my body and behavior. Think about what you can do in place of your binge eating trigger times.

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Don’t Mix Food With De-Motivators

Certain things don’t go well with binge eating. For me, that’s alcohol. While alcohol in and of itself will not cause weight gain, it’s the cause and effect dynamic that tends to lead to excess pounds.

Alcohol lowers my inhibitions, makes me rationalize my bad eating habits, and then the rest is history. Keeping alcohol limited to the weekends helps me keep my motivation high during the week to stay on track.

You might not have a problem with alcohol and binge eating, but there is likely something in your life that lowers the threshold at which you decide to give in to the processed food. Give it some thought and figure out what that is, and then find a way to alter your lifestyle to take back control.

Don’t Let a Mistake Turn into a Week-Long Binge-Fest

The fact of the matter is that nearly everyone with a binge eating disorder is going to relapse and make a mistake at some point in their life. It’s what you do AFTER that relapse that is so important. Binge eating “episodes” are rarely a stand-alone event. They are usually accompanied by many more binges that last days, weeks, or even months.

One binge is not going to cause you much harm. You aren’t going to put on pounds of fat, and you aren’t going to erase all your hard work from eating healthy. However, if you let that single binge turn into 2, 3, or 10 more binges over the coming weeks, that is where problems start to arise.

If you end up falling off track and binging, get right back on track – not later or tomorrow, but right away on your very next meal. If you have a healthy meal planned later in the day after you binged, eat it. Don’t worry if you’re not hungry or if you’re already over your calories for the day.

What you’re trying to do is get right back in the habit of eating healthy again. This is what’s most important for long-term success. It works for me, and I know it can work for you too.

  • Rebecca

    How would you define “binge eating”? I feel like this is me when at start off with a handful of nuts, but can’t stop munching on them afterwards. And, is binge eating like having a cheat meal? Similarities?? Differences??

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Rebecca, there are certainly differing degrees of binge eating, but for me, it’s a serious compulsion/addiction that causes negative harm to my mind and body. Binging usually happens with processed food, and it involves very large quantities of food. Some peoples’ cheat days might resemble a binge. If you don’t have a problem keeping portions under control, I’d say binging isn’t your problem.

  • tinavee

    Thanks for this article, it could not have come at a better time. I do have an ED that I’ve gained some control over. However I do notice it tends to creep up on me during PMS, and stress. I’ll binge, feel guilty, unfortunately purge, feel guilty about purging, and then try to get back on track with my eating, and thinking. Fortunately, when I binge my choices still remain healthy- whole grains, dark chocolate, fruit, nuts and peanut butter are my go to’s. I do work at eating as clean as possible, so there is no “junk food” available in my house. And funds are limited, so it’s not like I can run out to get it. My cravings tend to be for clean, healthy food, but I am aware that even too much healthy food can be bad for your body in excess. I’m working on figuring out how to handle those moments, without over eating, and especially purging. I am also working on trying to relax some, and to not be such a perfectionist. Thanks for your advice, I’m going to try to apply them in my stressful moments.

  • Zintka Fox

    My issue is that once take that first bite or eat that first meal, I go into what I call a “feeding frenzy.” I just can’t seem to stop myself from eating, it’s always just one more bite, or just a little more NPB with my apple! I’m not really that night time “snacker.” My occurs it seems all through the day! I was doing very well for a while, but then “life happens,” actually more like wintertime blahs. Anyways, I don’t know why this what seems to be uncontrollable eating occurs, once I eat, I know, I’m not hungry! I rarely, get that “Oh my gosh, I’m so hungry, I can eat a horse” feeling,” even before I eat, but once I eat, it’s unstoppable.

    • Eric Snow

      Hi this is Eric, I’m in totally agreement with you.

  • jen

    Great article! I also wanted to add another tip:

    Recognise that part of you wont want to give up the binge-eating and accept that this is not going to go away. Whilst there will be a (hopefully larger) part of your mind that does want to give it up, accept that it will never feel 100% like the right move, right time nor will you ever be in 100% the right situation.

    It’s about making a choice and just holding on tightly to it whilst recognising that the temptation to break things up and give in will always remain in the background. (Or foreground if your having a bad day). There will be times that things feel so bad you think “I shouldn’t have to deal with this/I think this is a bit much to ask of things so early on/I will just start again tomorrow…” when something bad happens, it may seem like the perfect excuse, or reason, or justification. The only person who loses out in that situation is you. It’s you that will have the neurotic thoughts following about how life is slipping out of your hands, how much waste the whole thing causes, how it makes you in turn feel more depressed as a result….

    Make a goal. Stick to the goal. Do not let yourself argue your way out of it: accept the goal you have made is there for a reason and maybe argue back once, but if you find yourself repeatedly having internal arguments, don’t waste any more time: you have made a choice and are going to stick to it. If you start to allow the arguments to take up space, your actually wasting something like the same energy on having those arguments and that’s just out of the frying pan, and into the fire. Don’t give the voices any energy and they will back down and shut up!

    (Hope that helps someone!)

  • Damara

    I also found the time after my son was in bed the worst danger time for my binge eating cropping up again. Now I brush my teeth with my son and once he is in bed get straight into my PJs as my reward for getting through the day! If hungry my ‘ice-cream’ is Greek yoghurt, Macadamias, berries and 2 tsp of pure maple syrup…delicious!

  • Rana Olk

    With all due respect…People who haven’t suffered from binge eating disorders/episodes/food cravings/addictions/bulimia etc. , OR who are not up to date on the most recent research on these issues- should not keep giving the same old tired cliched psychobabble advice. If this advice worked, we wouldn’t have an exploding epidemic of these disorders. The truth is, once someone has consumed a diet with too many processed and sugary foods, and engaged in binge eating behaviors for a long time, it’s quite likely that he/she has a physiological problem and is fighting his/her hormones and brain chemistry. Hormones and body chemistry will always win over any willpower (which is what most of the advice out there essentially targets) focused strategies. The best advice to give someone with a history of frequent binge urges or binge eating behaviors is to get to a naturopath or holistic doctor with experience in treating food sensitivities, endocrine imbalances, methylation defects, serotonin defects, gut flora and associated disorders and vitamin/mineral deficiencies. Treat the emotional aspects? YES. But that’s not the entire picture. Binge eating damages Leptin sensitivity, gut flora, insulin sensitivity, serotonin production and uptake, and the list goes on and on. Until you get your biology under control and back into homeostasis, you will be white-knuckling it and suffering needlessly. Traditional medicine, HMO based insurance and pharmaceutical driven conventional doctors are not treating these disorders properly because of concerns other than what is in the patients best interest, and because they are quite frankly, clueless. This is a serious issue. If you want to help a lot of people, please look into it more deeply. Cheers.

    • Coach Calorie

      Rana, these tips are obviously not the be-all-end-all to binge eating. They are simply what have helped me, and if they help others too, I think that’s great. There are plenty of great books out there on eating disorders if people want to delve deeper or need additional help with their problem.

      • Rana Olk

        Thanks for the response CC – and for posting my comment:) Unfortunately, there is a lot of research that has been coming out in the last few years that books aren’t addressing as of yet. For the benefit of your readers ( I see some comments here about uncontrollable urges and cravings and inability to stop once started), I’d like to list some possible resources and places to start: dr. ben lynch’s site on MTHFR is one. Almost all bulimics which I consider to be just binge eaters who have resorted to purging for weight control are undermethylators. Methylation is crucial for many processes in the body including neurotransmitter production. Cravings, urges to eat, excessive hunger are sometimes simply hormones and neurotransmitters gone awry. Small intestinal bacterial infections (SIBO) should be looked into. Dr. Jack Kruse and his site on leptin resistance is interesting and could help some binge eaters – he also addresses MTHFR, the importance of gut flora and many other critical issues. Amino acid therapy has been very useful to many binge eaters. Obviously, sugar has been found to be addictive and damaging to the pleasure centers of the brain, and although many binge eaters and eating disordered folks don’t want to hear this ( nor does conventional medicine or the clueless registered dietitians or USDA), abstinence from all sugars is hugely helpful. A low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet has helped many sufferers and is the recommended treatment for many of the above ailments as well. I recommend paleo sites like Marks’ Daily Apple, Dr. Michael Eades, or Peter Attia as a place to start for anyone for whom cravings are a daily struggle. Any books by Gary Taubes also provide a lot of insight into why insulin control is crucial to controlling cravings and fat storage. Just some food for thought:) Might help some people. I know I’ve been helped TREMENDOUSLY by accepting that sugar and grains are like crack to me, and by eliminating these foods. I eat a whole food all natural diet of meats, vegetables, high fat dairy, eggs, nuts…and I wish I’d discovered this solution years ago.

        • Debi Simon

          lots of words there Rana.. but.. I do agree with the above article.. and I also agree that the only cure for me(CURE?).. is a high fat low carb diet….and YES.. if i am going to fall off the wagon. i so DO go to the food.. if i want pizza….. i go to a restaurant… and make sure i order Less than my mind wants.. (like single slices).. but.. my lifestyle eating will be full of whole foods and no wheat.. with a once a month cheat meal.. (not a whole cheat day).. have been good girl

          for 2 months so far..

  • Rana Olk

    PS: I understand you suffered from binge eating episodes-I meant anyone who has not should not write at all-it’s typical for those who haven’t to speak only of the psychological aspects. You have a great site here. If you really want to help others, please research the biological corrections as well. Those of us who suffer know it’s still a constant battle-perhaps it is for you too still from time to time. Even if you don’t engage in the behavior anymore, it sucks to want to. Correcting our physiology is a start to living truly free of the urges. Cheers:)

  • Nina Burkett

    Im happy to beable to have things like this to read for help. For me I feel helpless and I get the shakes till I do binge then I have to go get rid of it I have delt with it for years. I do major hard physical labor all day usually ranch work or taking a horse way out in the boonies usually on foot even for 30 or more miles. Then at the end of my day I go to the gym for weight trainning. I use clean foods in my diet drink plenty of liquid but I still keep getting these attacks. I have seen diffrent doctors I feel very lost I have been this way sence elementary school and I am now 40. I feel like its a lifetime prison sentence.

  • Nancy

    Alcohol is my weakness too! I do well all day, but then I have a few drinks and I lose all control. I feel hungry, but I often wonder if it’s thirst that I’m feeling.