Binge eating disorder is one of the recognised eating disorders, and commonly involves feelings of powerlessness and the inability to control one’s eating. Binge eating itself is behaviour that is a major symptom of the former.
Binge eating differs from a one off treat-yourself kind of meal. While it’s completely okay to treat yourself and overeat a little – perhaps for a special occasion, or once in a while after a long day, repeated, regular binge eating is a problem. Not everybody who falls into a pattern of binge eating might find themselves clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder, but a lack of a diagnosis is certainly no good reason to put your efforts into curbing the habit.
- Identify why you binge eat
When do you find yourself engaging in binge eating? Do you do so when you are at home, or away from home? Do emotions come into play? Are there any other factors that are common to your experiences binge eating? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself to determine the root cause of why you are struggling. While there are many strategies you can implement to curb your binge eating habits, you will ultimately make the most progress by addressing the factors that cause you to binge eat in the first place.
Treat the illness, not just the symptoms!
- Identify food that you binge eat, and distance yourself
There are certain foods that you are likely more prone to binge eat. If it’s difficult to identify the same foods that you are constantly going back to, consider the food groups they belong to. Try and identify that you are eating the most of.
It may be helpful to remove those foods that you are prone to binge eating, or at least hide them. Thus, there is a possibility of reducing your binge eating due to an absence of the foods you are typically drawn to.
While we aren’t so blessed to be surrounded by friends and family all the time, making the effort to make sure you aren’t alone during mealtimes or in other situations where food is available may help. Humans are social beings, and having friends and family around may boost your awareness of your actions. Eating meals with others are also helpful.
Engaging in conversation during meals may also help to slow your eating. Your body experiences a delay between ingesting food and feeling full. Slowing your eating will give your stomach the chance to tell you that you’ve eaten enough, and this awareness may help combat your eating habits.
The general idea is to prepare or plate your food before you begin eating. It is much easier to get lost in a packet of chocolate, chips, nuts, or crackers if you’re eating out of the bag. Placing food onto a plate or into a bowl before you begin forces you to visually identify what you are intending to consume.
Placing the rest of the food that you don’t plan to eat back where it belongs – the fridge, the pantry, helps too. By engaging in these behaviours, of portioning out and plating your food before eating, you acknowledge what food and how much food you are planning to eat.
- Distract yourself; don’t rely on willpower
As much as we’d like to believe that we have control over our actions, habits are hard to break, sometimes, sheer willpower won’t cut it. And that’s completely okay! Not being able to will yourself to stop eating does not mean you are any weaker of a person. It’s just a lot of biological and psychological factors at play that are undercutting your intentions!
Distract yourself instead. Place your mental energy elsewhere when you are thinking about and resisting the urge to eat. Start a conversation with a friend, think about something that needs to be done – laundry, university assignments, working on job applications – whatever else there is to devote your mental energy to.
If the mental redirection isn’t enough, a physical distraction helps too. Leave the house; go for a walk, or a jog. If that’s too hard, do some star-jumps in your room, put on your favourite music and just dance. Engage your mind and body in some other way. Something that has helped me personally is to paint my nails. You can’t eat if your hands are otherwise preoccupied.
Ultimately, while these are all potentially useful strategies to combat binge eating habits, the most useful tip would be #1. Get to the root of why you have developed this habit. People binge eat for many different reasons, reacting either to physical or mental stimuli. Whatever the reasons are, identifying why you have fallen into this habit is the first step to conquering it. Once you know what is driving your behaviour, you can implement steps to change it for the long term.
Not succumbing to binge eating urges today, or this week is awesome, and definitely a milestone, but the real progress starts when you begin addressing what is causing it. Binge eating is a manifestation of some other kind of stress you are probably dealing with. It doesn’t mean that you’re any weaker or lesser of a person. It’s just another challenge to overcome, and something about yourself you can better.
Take the time to listen to your body and understand yourself. And if that’s really hard right now, try these strategies to curb your binge eating, and reach out if you need more help.