Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. It is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food (binge), a feeling of loss of control during the binge, and guilt or shame afterwards. Sometimes after eating a lot, a person with binge eating disorder may use unhealthy ways to compensate (known as purging), such as by exercising a lot or throwing up what they just ate. If left untreated, binge eating disorder can lead to obesity, which is associated with other serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and gallbladder disease.
Binge eating disorder is typically treated with psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medications. There are, however, strategies that people with binge eating disorder can adopt on their own to stop compulsive eating. It’s important to note that these strategies are not substitutes for receiving treatment from a mental health professional.
Strategy 1: Stop Restricting Yourself
When someone go on a diet, they can restrict their food intake so much that their body responds by overeating later. Some diets implement extreme restrictions (such as cutting off entire food groups like carbohydrates or only drinking juices for a week), and lure in people looking for ways to lose weight quickly. However, these diets are not sustainable in the long run. If you stay away from food that you love or that your body needs, your cravings will increase and you will consume a large amount of what you didn’t let yourself eat later.
Stay away from any diet that includes:
- A promise of fast weight loss
- Grouping foods into the “bad” category
- Elimination of whole food groups
- No need to exercise
- Rigid menus and limited food choices
Instead of participating in unhealthy, fast-acting diets, look into making healthier choices within your meals.
Strategy 2: Don’t Skip Meals
Skipping meals is another factor that can exacerbate binge eating. Similar to restricting your calories through a diet, skipping meals can leave you wanting to eat more later and increase your likelihood to binge eat.
Incorporating a regular eating pattern into your routine has been shown to reduce the chances of binge eating later on in the day. If you start skipping meals, you’ll begin to crave more. By skipping your daytime meals and restricting calories, many people find themselves binge eating late into the night.
Breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism and provides you with energy for the rest of the day. Consider eating a high-protein meal in the morning so that you’ll be less likely to become hungry (which a high-carb breakfast will do). Eggs, almonds, chicken breast, oats, Greek yogurt are examples of high-protein foods.
Try to eat two to three meals a day, with snacks in between, about three to four hours apart.
Strategy 3: Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated has many benefits, but it can also help curb any unwanted cravings and stop you from overeating. Drinking water can help when you feel hungry. In one study, 24 adults drank 17 ounces before eating, and the number of calories they consumed decreased compared with people who did not drink water before a meal.
Water can also boost metabolism and contribute to weight loss.
Strategy 4: Eat Your Fiber
Eating unprocessed foods, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help you feel full and potentially moderate your compulsive eating. Fiber moves slowly through the digestive tract, keeping you feel satiated longer. Eating more fiber can therefore cut down on any cravings.
Most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are rich in fiber, including:
- Brussel sprouts
Strategy 5: Exercise and Relax
Exercising reduces stress levels, which is a reason that some people binge eat. Aerobic activity has been shown to significantly reduce binge eating episodes in the long term in a small study. Simply taking a 30-minute walk, riding your bike, dancing, or swimming can help prevent binge eating.
In addition to exercise, practicing mindfulness, participating in specific breathing exercises, and enhancing your mind-body connection can promote relaxation and less stress eating. Yoga has been shown to reduce binge eating.
Moreover, when our sleep is disrupted, so are many parts of our life. Sleep affects hunger and appetite and it has been suggested that binge eating disorder may be linked to insomnia. Try and get at least eight hours of sleep a night to reduce the risk of late-night binge eating. Doing a nighttime yoga routine can help relax the mind and body for sleep as well.
Strategy 6: Practice Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating means eating when you are feeling hungry and stopping once you are full. It involves giving yourself unconditional permission to eat but with curiosity and no judgment. It is about trusting your body to make choices around food. We are all born with the ability to eat and stop when we are full, but many of us lose that for a variety of reasons as we grow up. Intuitive eating is about reclaiming that ability.
Becoming aware of what you eat through intuitive eating and regaining your natural relationship with food will help control compulsive eating. One study that followed patients for eight years found that intuitive eating was associated with lower odds of binge eating. Intuitive eating is also linked to better psychological health: People who engaged in intuitive eating were also less likely to have high depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, high body dissatisfaction, unhealthy weight control behaviors (e.g., fasting, skipping meals), and extreme weight control behaviors (e.g., taking diet pills, vomiting).
The 10 principles of intuitive eating include:
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition
To practice intuitive eating, pay attention to your hunger cues and eat only when you are hungry. Don’t categorize food as good or bad, and give yourself the freedom to eat whatever you want. This is an ongoing process and it may take years to unlearn unhealthy eating habits like compulsive eating and dieting. Patience is key, and remember that the benefits are well worth the effort in the end.
When to Get Professional Help
While these strategies can help, a treatment plan designed by a mental health professional is often needed to control binge eating. To start recovering from binge eating disorder or stop overeating for good, professional help is needed to get to the root of why you are binge eating.
If you think that you or someone you know might have an eating disorder, talk to your doctor.
Signs of an eating disorder that needs treatment include:
- Binge eating
- Concern or embarrassment about eating behaviors
- Secretive eating habits
- Preoccupation with weight or body image
- An unhealthy body weight because of eating problems
How to Get Help
If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237.
A Word From Verywell
Binge eating can be distressing and weigh on you, but there are ways you can reduce compulsive eating. Work towards identifying triggers, implement exercise, reduce stress, and hydrate properly. If you tend to overeat while watching television, turn off the TV when you eat. Establishing a healthy relationship with food is possible and investing in your health is imperative for a happy, healthy future.
If your binge eating continues or gets worse, you need to see a mental health professional. Getting help for binge eating can be tough. Since binge eating is typically done in secret and associated with feelings of guilt and shame, it can be difficult to open up about your issue to others and reach out for help. That is, however, an important step toward recovering from binge eating disorder and stop overeating for good.