Binge eating is a term describing eating more than we need and feeling very full after. The reasons we overeat include stress, distraction or just because the food was just too good… which could be the case this upcoming festive season!
But, it can also be a symptom of an eating disorder where binging and purging becomes part of daily life. This is a clinically diagnosed eating disorder, which will not be the focus of this article as it’s within the realm of professional medical care. So back to the to the occasional binge. What are possible causes, how can you avoid it and what can you do if you couldn’t prevent it?
Possible causes of binge eating
From my personal experience, I can tell you that I binged when I felt stressed or was distracted—or both. I remember downing a 300g chocolate bar as a teenager after school when I felt down, and feeling exhausted while I was interning and eating till my stomach hurt while watching TV. In both cases I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable and guilty I felt after.
Other causes of binge eating include extreme restrictions, e.g. when on a strict diet and craving certain, which you then can’t stop eating when you finally get it. Low self esteem, loneliness and not feeling good about yourself can make you turn to food for comfort.
What can you do avoid binge eating?
There’s always a trigger or an initial feeling before you begin to binge eat. Stop and try and figure out what the trigger is and reflect on what makes you want to binge. Try writing a diary and record the situations that instigated the bingeing, and note down how you feel before you start eating to narrow down the trigger.
Once you know which situations instigate bingeing, brainstorm about ways to avoid and prevent this. For example if you’re a social binger who tends to overeat when out with friends, make a rule for yourself that you will only eat when not speaking. Whenever you speak, put your cutlery aside. If work stress is the culprit, think of something constructive to do before going home like going to the gym, meeting a friend or even getting a foot massage.
Get rid of your favourite binge foods:
There will be specific types of food (usually junk food high in sugar and fat) you binge on like chips, nuts, cookies, cake, popcorn, chocolate, ice cream or French fries. Don’t buy them and don’t keep them in your house. This is a very important step to follow - out of reach, out of mind.
Deprivation can lead to bingeing:
Binge eating is often a reaction to deprivation. We believe we must be thin to be attractive resulting in constant dieting for many of us. We then become defined by whether we are on a diet or not. Then if you eat a cookie, the diet cycle is broken and you end up eating the entire packet. The truth is it’s perfectly fine to have one cookie! Instead of dieting or not dieting, find long term solutions to eat healthily, stay fit and gives you the freedom to eat your favourite (even junk) food occasionally.
Change your relationship with food:
There’s immense stress associated with food for many people. Focus on being more connected to your body, understand what it need and when you actually feel hungry. Only eat when you are really hungry, and stop when the hunger subsides. Learn to distinguish between ‘stomach hungry’ (growling tummy) and ‘mouth hungry’ (when you just want to eat something without having physical signs of hunger). Look at food as nourishment and trust that your body will tell you what it needs and when. This process can take a while, so you need to ask yourself if you’re really hungry, concentrate on the food you eat and be mindful of how full you are.
Many of us binge when we don’t eat during the day and end up being overly hungry by the end of the day. Have a regular eating schedule and don’t wait too long to eat. Have a healthy smoothie, nuts or dried fruit if it’s too long between meals.
Long Term Solutions To Prevent Binge Eating
Long term solutions take time to implement. These simple tips will ease you along and make the process easier.
- If you have the urge to binge, distract and delay yourself for as long as you can. A change of scene helps, e.g. leave the house and go for a quick walk
- When you’re bingeing, know that you can stop anytime. It’s not a black or white situation - the earlier you stop, the better it is for your health.
- Forgive yourself and accept that you’re on a journey and yes, you binge and know how bad it it. But, you are learning from the experience and remember how you uncomfortable you felt after bingeing when you feel the urge.
For myself it was a combination of many of the above. During my bingeing period, I reflected on the causes and began to satisfy this need with something else besides food. What really helped me the most was to move away from the notion of restricting myself, having chocolate if I wanted and not to eat everything at once. Practising mindful eating and feeling how my body responded really helped. Learning to love my body and flaws, accepting who I am, focusing on nourishing this amazing ‘machine’ and understanding what it needs was my key to success.
It doesn’t happen overnight—take one step at the time. Transformation happens in stages and every important journey starts with the first step. Be patient and kind to yourself!