5 Steps to Overcome Binge Eating

By Jiri Kaloc

The holidays are getting close and the time for binge eating followed by unnecessarily restrictive diets is here. If you’re the type that has issues with compulsive eating, this article is a good starting point. It will give you the first 5 steps to take on a path to regaining a healthier relationship with food.

Stop hiding your eating behaviours

It’s really common to hide one’s bad behaviours. Binge eating is no different. It’s hard to share something you are ashamed of, it’s very vulnerable to reveal it to others. The problem is that hiding makes the shame around binging grow and makes the habit that much harder to deal with. You don’t have to share it with everyone if that sounds too scary. Think of someone you can trust, whether it’s a friend, a coach or a doctor and tell them what you’ve been going through. Telling someone is a meaningful first step towards overcoming binge eating.

Introduce mechanical eating

It can be helpful to realise that the urge to binge is natural. Humans are hardwired to overeat after a period of low food availability to avoid dying of starvation. This is a problem because people who binge eat have a tendency to restrict their diet until they can’t take it anymore, they then binge which makes them ashamed so they restrict even more, which is a guarantee of another binge to follow.

If this vicious cycle sounds familiar, then you could benefit from mechanical eating. It’s a system designed for people who lost touch with their natural hunger and fullness cues to help them avoid hunger and get back on track. Mechanical eating asks you to eat at regular intervals throughout the day, regardless of how you’re feeling about food. You should have 3 main meals and 3 snacks in between so that you eat every 3 hours throughout your time awake. Here’s what an example day of mechanical eating might look like:

  • 07:00 breakfast (no later than 1 hour after waking up)
  • 10:00 morning snack
  • 13:00 lunch
  • 16:00 afternoon snack
  • 19:00 dinner
  • 22:00 bedtime snack

Binge in slow motion

Junk food
It can be helpful to realise that the urge to binge is natural. © Profimedia

Even with the best nutritional plan and strongest will, the urge to binge is almost certainly going to return at some point. That’s normal. But if you’re unable to resist it, it’s important to be ready and know how to handle it and minimise its impact. One strategy that works really well is to bring awareness to binging and slow it down. If you eat slowly and bring awareness to the flavour of the food and the experience, it’s going to be much harder to use food as a numbing agent or as a solution to your emotions. Here are a few tips for slowing the binge down:

  • Start by nicely serving yourself a portion of the food on a plate.
  • Sit down at the table and take a few deep breaths before you start.
  • Take one bite and put the cutlery
  • Chew, focus on the texture and taste of what you’re eating.
  • Take a few deep breaths, wait a few moments before picking up your cutlery

Try alternative ways to cope with emotions

We all know that hunger is not the root cause of binge eating. It’s typically strong emotional states that cause us to search for an escape, something soothing or exciting, and that something happens to be food. Learning to cope with these emotions is key when it comes to overcoming compulsive eating. In practice, that means finding different outlets for those emotions. Some will find that going on a bike ride helps, for others, it’s journaling, cleaning the house, crying, inviting friends over or all of these depending on the day.

To find what might work for you, it helps to understand what emotion is triggering the binging. The next time you feel a compulsion to binge, look inward. Once you have an idea of what general emotion you’re reacting to, you are a lot more likely to find a better outlet than food. Here are a few examples of what are the actual needs hidden behind emotions.

  • Sadness – Cry
  • Loneliness – Seek connection
  • Boredom – Find excitement
  • Shame – Practice self-compassion
  • Resentment – Forgive
  • Emptiness – Look for a creative outlet
  • Anger – Set boundaries
  • Anxiety – Breathe
  • Stress – Take it one step at a time

Get continuous support

If you’ve tried many different things and you’re still struggling to manage your binge eating compulsions long term, it can be incredibly helpful to get ongoing support. This can take many forms, it could come from a friend who has gone through the same thing, it could be professional help from a therapist or it could even mean joining a group of people going through the same.

Talking about your challenges in a supportive setting can make you more resilient when the going gets tough and it can accelerate your progress. But if you’re not quite ready to share with a group, you could try mindfulness or stress management apps. They are great at helping you build the habit of paying attention to your emotions and they offer a structure that keeps you regularly checking in with yourself.