A binge-eating habit can evolve in a very subtle, sneaky way. It may have started when you were younger as one of your few resources for dealing with stress or perhaps when you were older. Whether it’s been years or decades, that binge-eating habit is likely affecting your life in many, many ways.
It can affect your self-worth, your immediate and long-term health, your work, your relationships, your mood, and your general enthusiasm to be alive for another day.
A little over-eating here and there is no big deal, right?
The truth is that binge-eating can become a truly self-destructive and overwhelming disorder that consumes your life.
‘All Or Nothing’ Thinking Pattern
“There is an ‘all or nothing’ thinking pattern that often comes with a binge-eating disorder,” explains Alexis Elliott, LCSW, LISW-CP, CDE, a health coach with a specialty in treating patients with diabetes and those struggling with obesity and eating disorders, including binge-eating.
This “all or nothing” habit can keep you stuck in that binge-eating cycle for years if you haven’t looked at it directly — and up close — and dug into what’s really driving this abusive relationship with food.
Recognize if you are Binge Eating
Here are indicators that you should seek professional help for binge-eating.
- You are having at least 3 or 4 binge-eating episodes a week
- You have additional mental health challenges like depression or anxiety
- You are abusing laxatives, diet pills, caffeine pills, etc.
- You are exercising excessively
- You are purging (vomiting) after bingeing
- You are starving yourself for periods of time after bingeing
Let’s take a look at what you can start doing today to improve your relationship with food.
The Binge-Eating Cycle
“So many of the people I’ve worked with who struggle with binge-eating tend to frequently skip breakfast and lunch,” explains Elliott. “Deprivation is the leading culprit of binge-eating. Whether it’s on purpose to compensate for binge-eating the night before or because your morning is too busy to grab food, or because you just aren’t hungry.”
By the time you do eat, you’re starving. Thus the cycle of bingeing begins again that day.
“And nobody makes good decisions when they’re starving. It creates a sense of urgency, so you grab quick foods, which are rarely healthy,” she adds. “Then we over-eat and eat really quickly, and there is little to no mindfulness or awareness of how much you’re consuming.”
Some people may even find themselves using the fact that you skipped two meals so it’s okay to eat however much you want of anything you want.
“The impact this also has on your mood is tremendous — your body needs fuel to function, to think straight! How often you eat absolutely impacts your mood,” explains Elliott. “If you’re binge-eating on unhealthy foods, you’re likely not getting enough of the good stuff with the vitamins and minerals you need, which can truly lead to more depression.”
Elliott often sees that people who skip too many meals during the day frequently find themselves binge-eating at dinner, then right before bed, and even at 3 a.m.
“Mealtimes just shift to a very unnatural rhythm, and that binge is often accompanied by stress, too. And all of it interferes with getting enough sleep.”
The recurring lack of energy that results from eating too little during the day and eating so much in just a small frame of time can also leave you feeling exhausted. This then triggers cravings for sugar as a quick boost of energy.
Steps to Stop the Cycle
Eat consistently and establish a routine
Instead of creating this yo-yo schedule of eating, start your day off with a real meal — even if you binged the night before — in order to stop the cycle.
The age-old advice of eating every 3 to 4 hours is critical for not only preventing binges, but also for fueling your metabolism, your energy, and your mind.
Track your meals: when and why you’re binge-eating
“Awareness is key,” says Elliott. “It’s just human nature that we have trouble remembering our least healthy behaviors — especially when it comes to food.”
If you’re trying to overcome the habit of binge-eating, you need to first understand and acknowledge what, when, and why you’re bingeing in the first place.
“You’ve got to identify when you’re the most vulnerable and likely to binge-eat, and what you’re feeling or doing that is triggering those frequent binges,” explains Elliott.
Are you bingeing at night because you’re still getting over a break-up? Or a traumatic childhood that left you with food as your only comfort?
Will food ever truly help you feel better or is do you actually need support in order to face and work through those emotions and traumas?
Are you bingeing every day after work because you’re tired or stressed? Instead of turning to sugar, you might actually find tremendous relief from going for a 30-minute walk.
“By tracking when, what, and why you’re bingeing, it puts a speed-bump in your thought process,” says Elliott. “It makes you ask yourself: why am I eating this? Am I even hungry? What do I actually need? Am I proud of this decision?”
Tracking what you eat also helps you identify the foods you’re most likely going to binge on.
“We tend to binge on hyper-palatable foods,” says Elliott. “They taste really good, contain a great combination of sugar, fat, and salt, and they feel very satisfying physically and mentally. They are easily addictive and hard to put down.”
One method of resisting the urge to binge is creating a rule for yourself: when you feel like binge-eating ice cream, get up and go occupy your mind and energy with something else. Maybe it’s a walk? Maybe cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry? Maybe calling a friend?
Either way, you’re identifying the urge and not giving into it by giving yourself something else to focus on.
Changing habits takes time
Remember, just as this habit took a long time to develop, it will take a long time to dismantle, too.
Start the process by looking directly at it and giving yourself patience and forgiveness while you work on it.