Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to Stop Binge Eating

How many times have you told yourself, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow,” or “I’ll start eating healthier tomorrow,” or “I’ll start exercising tomorrow,” next week, or next month?  “Tomorrow, I will be good,” you think as you savor your “last” cookie.  Yadda, yadda, yadda…

What usually follows after a statement like those above is the thought, “I better eat everything I want to eat right today because I won’t be able to eat it tomorrow.”

And then what happens?  Well, speaking from experience, I usually eat more than I am used to.  I end up feeling terribly full, and incredibly defeated. 

I’ve done it many times.  Have you done it too?

Why, Oh Why, do we do this to ourselves?

I think, it is because we are lead to believe that diets will solve all our problems and make us happy.

But how many times does this practice actually work?  How many times are diets actually successful?

Zero.  Yes, zero many times.

So why do we still worship “the diet”?  It seems to me that the only thing dieting does is cause unnatural eating habits and binge eating episodes.

This week is National Binge Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

What is Binge Eating Disorder, or BED?
Binge eating is consuming a large quantity of food in a short amount of time when you are not hungry or without really tasting it.  Following the binging episode are feelings of disgust, shame, and despair.  If this eating cycle happens 2 or more times a week over an extended period of time, then it is considered BED.

You might be aware of this dangerous eating cycle if you are constantly trying to be on a diet or feel like you “should” be on a diet.  You try and try, but you can’t stop the binging episodes.  But this continual failure doesn’t make you want to stop dieting; it makes you want to diet even more.

What typically can happen after a binge eating episode is the person feels the need to severely restrict or completely eliminate eating.  Or they feel like they need to go hard-core on their diet to feel better.  However, the diet results in, yet again, another binge eating experience.

This negative relationship with food is called Binge Eating Disorder.  It is the most misunderstood diagnosable eating disorder.  There is Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), AN-BN, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS), and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).  In short, BED is different because there is no purging afterward (that would be Bulimia) and there is no extended period of time that one starves oneself (that would be Anorexia).

You can read more about BED here and here and here.

The true cause of Binge Eating Disorder is unknown, just like the other eating disorders.  Genetics seem to be a large factor.  However, most cases of BED can be traced back to unrealistic dietary expectations.

BED is common in adopted children or children who have suffered hunger or starvation.  Not knowing when the next meal will be causes panic and anxiety in children.  This results in binging episodes, hoarding and hiding food, or eating in secret.

Diets set you up for failure, whether they are voluntary or involuntary.  And there are a lot of studies that show the only contribution diets have made to our society is BED.

But don’t despair; Binge Eating Disorder is highly treatable.

The only way to make peace with food is if you give yourself permission to eat.  Give up dieting.

You do not have to earn the right to eat. (I have this reminder on my refrigerator.)

You are allowed to have food today, and you are allowed to have whatever food you want tomorrow.

This mindset change has dramatically improved my overall well being and eating habits.  After I semi-recovered from AN-BN, I still felt like I had to be on a diet (which is why I said “semi”).  I was still deathly afraid of gaining weight.  So my eating disorder stuck around and just morphed into a different eating disorder, BED, over time.

I thought that my binging episodes were the result of weak willpower or some flaw in my genetic makeup.  I was convinced that I was gross, shameful, and unworthy of eating food, and, oh yeah, a really bad person.

But binge eating doesn’t mean you are a bad person.  You are not gross, shameful, or unworthy.  Binging is the result of trying to have an unrealistic diet.  It is the result of expectations that either you or someone else puts on you.

If I know I am allowed to have some chocolate chip cookies tomorrow, I am not going to finish off the two dozen I made today.

Binge Eating is the result of starvation.  And it doesn’t have to be just physical starvation that causes it.

You could be starving your mind, soul, emotions.  Maybe you binge eat to sooth stress or cope with your sadness.  Whatever the reason, it is because something is lacking.  We live in a first world country with an abundance of food.  However, I see so many people starving on a daily basis.

Emotional starvation: you are trying to fill a void with food and maybe what you need is self-compassion, a good conversation with a friend, or to take a few things off your to-do list.

Spiritual starvation: you try to fill the hole in your heart with food when you really need to pray.  God is the only one who can fill that void.

Or Physical starvation: when you try to “diet” or think you need to skip a meal or a day of meals, your body isn’t getting enough nutrition, energy, vitamins to continue functioning.  And your mind does not get any fuel either so you will be irritable, easily confused, and tired.

If you keep starving yourself for long enough, you body will actually override your mind to get you to eat.  You mind can actually shut down and you will ravenously devour all food in sight.  After your brain is nourished and your body has some food in it, you start to feel guilty and ashamed and wonder how that happened.  What went wrong?  Or why didn’t I have enough self-control?  It is not about any of those things; it is about expectations.

We think that we are “expected” to be able to live without food or minimal amounts of food…and that is just not true.  We think we are expected to look a certain way.  But at what cost; how far are we willing to go to be skinny?

Contrary to popular belief, dieting will not make you happy.  Dieting will not solve all your problems.

The way to have a more nourishing life and a better relationship with food is practicing Intuitive Eating.  You can read more about binge eating disorder with intuitive eating on the website, Weightless.  Below are two great articles on this topic:

I, personally, practice intuitive eating by following these guidelines:

Eating when I am hungry
Choosing something to eat that sounds good
Smelling my food before I take a bite
Eating slowly
Eating without distractions (computer, phone, TV, etc)
Paying attention to the texture, flavor, and temperature of the food
Recognizing when I am full
Thanking God for the gift of food
Reminding myself that I can eat later if I get hungry again
Reminding myself that I can have food today, and I can have the same or different food tomorrow

BED is a habit, so like any habit it will take time and practice in order to break it.  You may need to get outside help from a counselor or support system.

But remember, you deserve it.  You don’t have to live with binge eating disorder.  You are worth it.  It is totally possible to have a good relationship with food.  And a good relationship with food means having a more nourishing life overall.


  1. really well written and i think you have some very good points that put it into focus, also i liked that you emphasised that it can happen to everyone we are all on some sort of spectrum in life and it is so easy to slip into these bad relationships with food. thanks this made me feel better and like i know how to tackle this issue a bit more