I get asked this question a lot. “How can I stop binge eating?” Bingeing, eating excessive amounts of food in a short amount of time while feeling a loss of control, is scary. It can feel shameful, humiliating, and you may feel completely powerless to stop. The good news is that you can develop a more normalized experience with eating. It is possible. But it is also difficult and it takes time and effort. This article will not cure you of bingeing, but it might provide you with some additional tools to add to your tool kit for conquering binge eating.
So let’s look at 5 ways to prevent a binge before it happens:
1. Meet Your Basic Needs (Think of H.A.L.T.)
First and foremost, it is so important to make sure your basic needs are met.
Are you hungry? Did you eat enough throughout the day? If not, when you get home from work the entire contents of your refrigerator are going to look incredibly tempting.
You might also be thirsty. It may feel too scary to take the time to prepare a meal in your kitchen when the urge to binge is full force, but grabbing a snack, be it a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, or a granola bar, will help take the edge off of your hunger. Sipping a cup of tea (or other beverage) mindfully while eating your snack can help you forget you even wanted to binge.
Are you angry? Will you take out your anger on yourself by stuffing the feelings with food? Allow yourself to feel the anger without hurting anyone. Punch your pillow or a punching bag, yell out loud how angry you are, tear up pieces of paper… Just release that anger!
Are you lonely? I promise you food is not your only companion. Bingeing on food to make the loneliness go away will likely perpetuate the loneliness. You may feel worse about yourself for continuing to binge and then avoid further human contact, thus making you feel lonely and leading to a binge.
Call a friend, respond to a text you’ve been meaning to reply to, leave a nice comment for a stranger on social media, or go outside and say hi to your neighbors. This can help you feel a sense of connection.
Are you tired? You betcha you’re going to be craving anything and everything to try to stay awake! If you can, plan your sleep patterns better to ensure you’re not going to be overtired frequently. That can lead to poor decisions in other areas of your life as well.
2. Know Your Triggers and Plan Accordingly
If you’ve had multiple binges, you most likely recognize your triggers. Your binges likely happen at a certain time of day and the foods you eat might be the same. It might happen after speaking with a certain person, or after remembering a certain event.
Plan accordingly! Have activities planned at night if that’s when you normally binge. Keep binge foods out of the house so you’re not constantly tempted by them. Avoid triggering people or situations or have supportive people available to process your feelings.
A binge doesn’t have to catch you off guard. A great place to work on a binge-prevention plan with is in therapy, in a nutrition counseling session, or a support group. Someone else might be better able to see your patterns than you are and can help you create a plan of action.
3. Distract Yourself Until the Urge Passes
We’ve all heard the trick to brush your teeth so you’re not tempted to eat more because your mouth is clean. Personally, I don’t find that helpful because you still have all the same feelings that were driving you to binge in the first place. But the act of leaving the kitchen and moving to the bathroom, opening the toothpaste, brushing your teeth, and cleaning up can stall the binge and give you time to distract the thought.
Other distractions may include going for a walk or a drive (don’t carry your credit card and bring only limited cash so you don’t buy binge food), coloring, crocheting, watching a movie, taking a nap, calling a friend, writing a letter, watching TV, taking a shower or a bath, playing with a pet, cleaning, etc. One of your distractions can even be creating a list of things to do instead of bingeing. Many lists exist online, but by creating your own, you’re more likely to do those activities.
4. Sit with It
This option is surely the most uncomfortable. Sitting with your feelings requires you to actually face the feeling that is causing you to want to binge. Moving to a safe space to process your feelings can be very cathartic. Either write in your journal, draw in your sketchbook, or call a support person (therapist, friend, family member, etc.) to help you acknowledge your feelings.
When we binge, we are avoiding these feelings and therefore we never have to acknowledge or work on them. The feeling can’t go away because it was never processed. Even if you’re not able to sit with the feeling and binge anyway, just acknowledging what the feeling is and processing it with a support person afterwards is a step towards healing.
5. Allow Yourself to Move On
Bingeing is serving a purpose in your life. You wouldn’t keep doing it if it wasn’t. When you figure out what it provides you, you can start to look to meet that need in other ways. Maybe it wasn’t one of your basic needs listed in #1. Maybe you’re looking for excitement or fun and you get that feeling when you binge. Maybe that’s the only time you feel understood or have any time to yourself. Whatever it is, you need it right now. And that’s okay.
After a binge, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn from your experience so that the next time might be different. Check out my 8 Ways to Help Life go on After a Binge for practical tips for moving on after a binge and my 5 Ways to Move On After a Lapse in Recovery if this binge was a lapse in your recovery.