Ah, that familiar cycle: a stressful day at work, a fight with your significant other, or any old minor inconvenience. Or maybe nothing happens — you’ve had a very boring day. Something needs to fill the void, so you fill it with food.
Binge eating is a vicious cycle; believe it or not, binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Many people picture tiny ballerinas starving themselves and pinching their skin in a mirror when they think of eating disorders, but that is not the case for many who suffer.
BED is a complex psychological condition about so much more than just food intake. Though it is characterized by eating unusually large amounts of food, regardless of hunger levels, the guilt and shame connected to these eating episodes are related to much bigger issues.
This article will go over some specifics about binge eating disorder, treatment options, and tips and tricks to stop binge eating on your own.
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
A person who binge eats consumes a large amount of food in a relatively short time. A binge often lasts between one and two hours, but sometimes people go on binges for days.
You have probably heard of bulimia and may wonder how these two eating disorders differ. The main difference between someone with BED and someone who has bulimia is that the person with BED does not vomit or otherwise purge after their eating episodes.
While that is a good thing in some respects (no one likes bowing to the porcelain gods), it comes with some of its own health conditions, such as weight gain, obesity, and the side effects that can result from both.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), defines binge eating disorder as a psychiatric disorder.
Here are some telltale signs of binge eating disorder:
- Eating faster than normal, and eating large amounts of food in one sitting, well past the point of satiety.
- Loss of control while eating during a binge.
- Indulging food cravings, even if feeling painfully full or uncomfortable.
- Experiencing intense feelings of low self-esteem, shame, or guilt about binge eating.
- Hoarding or hiding food, and other secretive eating behaviors.
- Eating in secret.
- Vowing never to binge again, but being unable to keep that vow.
- Dieting constantly, but never losing weight.
- Preparing food for family members and loved ones, but not eating the food, then binging alone later.
- Negative body image, and obsession with weight loss.
What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?
Like many other eating disorders, binge eating disorder seems to have many potential causes. It seems as though some people may be genetically predisposed to eating disorders, but it can be tough to tell if this is due to genetics or the environment growing up. (Either way, thanks Mom and Dad). Just kidding, kind of.
For most people, stress is a huge factor that can be a cause of binge eating episodes. In this way, the binge almost functions as food addiction. Job-related stress, family problems, or relationship struggles are commonly cited reasons why those with BED binge.
What Are the Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder?
There are some negative effects of BED, although symptoms can initially be hard to detect. For the most part, the symptoms of BED manifest themselves in the same types of issues that arise from overeating.
Obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes and other blood sugar disorders, and joint pain are all potential signals of BED. Still, it’s important to note that not everyone with those symptoms has binging tendencies.
Behaviors arising from BED include secretive eating, depression, anxiety, obsessing about weight and food, and refusing to eat with others. These clues suggest that binge eating may be a problem.
10 Tips for Overcoming Binge Eating
If you are in a mental place where you feel like you can manage this on your own, you may want to try some of our tips! We will also give you some info about seeking professional help, but there are some steps you can take to help yourself if treatment isn’t an option.
1. Clean Out Your Pantry and Fridge
The presence of junk food in your kitchen can make it almost impossible to avoid a binge. Remember the old potato chip ad campaign, “Bet you can’t eat just one!”?
Yeah, it’s funny because it’s true. Except if you have BED, it’s not funny.
You can start by removing all processed foods like candy, chips, ice cream, and unhealthy snacks. Swap these trigger foods for healthier alternatives.
Not many people will sit around emotionally eating apples and celery with hummus. And if you do, at least you ate food that will fuel your body.
Keeping your kitchen well stocked with fruits and veggies, whole grains, and protein-dense foods will make it WAY harder to overeat.
2. Break a Sweat!
Getting some physical activity into your day is a great defense against binge eating, both physically and emotionally. Research suggests that exercise can decrease anxiety, depression, and stress and improve your mood.
Since typically, people don’t binge when they are feeling upbeat and happy, that can be a big help. One study found that with regular exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), people had much more success reducing the frequency of their binges than with the therapy alone.
Not sure where to start? Even just a brisk walk will be a great start. Anything that gets your heart rate going and gets you moving will do.
Some of our favorites are walking, jogging, swimming, finding a sport you like to play, and joining a league, if available.
3. Make Sure To Catch Your ZZZs
Sleep is incredibly important for many reasons, but in this case, it matters because the amount of sleep you get can affect your hunger and appetite. Some research has linked sleep deprivation to binge eating and overeating.
Wanna hear a scary statistic? Sleeping less than eight hours per night has been linked to higher body weight and levels of the stress hormone cortisone, which can affect appetite and weight.
To get your sleep habits in line, start by trying to go to bed just 10 minutes earlier each night. You can do it!
4. Eat a Protein-Rich Diet
Protein is essential to a healthy diet and also for brain function. Most importantly, it leaves you feeling full, which means you just might be able to avoid the binges that often come in the evenings.
A good goal is to get a little bit of protein every time you eat. This will lead to making healthier choices about snacks in general.
Eating a bag of cheese puffs and a cup of greek yogurt feels a little awkward. You’ll probably end up sprinkling some granola or blueberries on that yogurt and will feel much better about what you’re eating.
5. Do Some Meal Planning
We are not talking about the obsessive measuring and weighing and plastic containers of chicken and rice you might have seen some bodybuilders doing. If you like doing that, more power to you.
All we are suggesting is that you have a plan of what you’re going to eat throughout the day. And that plan can include snacks, even indulgent ones at times! Just remember to use moderation.
Being mindful about what you’re eating can help your eating habits and will likely encourage you to make better choices.
6. Meditate Daily
It’s impossible to overstate meditation's impact on every aspect of your life. Meditation will ground you, help you sort through your thoughts, and keep you calm.
Meditation reduces stress and will help you to get in touch with your emotions. Remember: BED is a psychological issue, so anything you can do to support your mental health will be vital.
7. Avoid Skipping Meals
One of the biggest indicators of a binge is a skipped meal. Those who suffer from BED may relish the feeling of hunger and crave the sensation of stuffing themselves later.
The best plan is to eat three balanced meals a day and work in a couple of healthy snacks. Staving off hunger is the best defense against a potential binge.
And the best way to avoid skipping meals? You got it: that meal planning that we were talking about before.
8. Write About It
You don’t have to be Shakespeare; just be you. Journaling about your mood, what you’re thinking, or even just about your day can be incredibly effective in staying mindful.
Specifically, the most helpful approach might be to keep a “Mood and Food” diary. It’s worth thinking about how your emotions connect to your eating patterns. This will, at the very least, allow you to start to see patterns in your binge eating episodes and emotional eating.
9. Check Out a Support Group
There are support groups out there for just about everything. The same is true for those who struggle with disordered eating.
There are local groups that you may be able to find through your doctor, but there are also online options for support groups or even just finding like-minded people who know what you’re going through.
Going online can also lessen the awkwardness of sitting in a community center with a group of strangers. Think of it like social media but without the shade.
10. Get Professional Help
We may have listed this as the last step, but don’t feel like it has to be the last resort! At any point in your recovery, you should seek the help of a therapist.
Talking to friends and family is a great start, but you will want to seek a mental health professional specializing in disordered eating. One of the most common forms of interpersonal psychotherapy for eating disorders is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
In some severe cases, your therapist may suggest you enroll yourself into a residential, in-patient, or outpatient program for eating disorders to work with a healthcare professional and dietician. However, in many cases, seeing a therapist and working to identify your triggers will yield amazing results.
Binge eating disorder is, unfortunately, very common. You don’t have to face this alone. Start by talking to your doctor or therapist, and try some of our tips to change your habits, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, and more.
Recovery is possible with support and lifestyle changes, and you can do it.