How to break free from emotional and binge eating for good
Every one of us has been there. Sometimes it takes just one very unfriendly co-worker, an email with bad news or a long lasting argument with a family member or friend, and next thing you know, you're deep in a ben & jerry's tub. And a ben & jerry's leads to a bag of snickers, maybe a doughnut or two, some biscuits and so on.
Depending on how active you are and your genetics, one of those binges can easily undo the fat loss of a whole week of proper dieting. Especially, when your feast includes alcohol and a lot of fatty food.
I've been there and done that, too. And I know what to do to get over those binging attacks. Let me help you with some tricks to overcome the struggle of binge eating.
What is binging?
Binge eating is a disorder based on frequently eating large quantities of food - far more calories than your body needs - on a regular basis, without purging it from your body afterwards. During such a binge, affected people may feel a lack of control, over-full and eat even when they are not physically hungry.
This can go on even until the person feels sick or is in pain, as if their stomach is bursting.
Binge eating may give you a feeling of comfort for a moment, but soon after, you will feel regret and self-loathing. That's where the endless cycle begins: eating to feel better, feeling even worse than before, turning back to food as relief.
This is also the reason why binging often leads to weight gain and obesity.
The cause of binge eating
The main causes of binge eating aren't known yet. Genetics, biological factors, long-term dieting and psychological issues definitely play a major role.
The following factors might increase the risk of developing a binge eating disorder:
Family history: If a close family member of yours has or had an eating disorder, it's much more likely that you can develop one, too
Psychological problems: Feeling negative about yourself all the time? This can be a trigger for binge eating, besides stress, poor body-image and boredom
Dieting: A very common thing in the fitness and bodybuilding industry. If you're on a restricted diet for quite a long time, it can lead to binge eating and eating all the "forbidden" foods - aka "cheat days"
The symptoms of binge eating can be classified in 2 categories:
- normal eating behaviour around others
- no planned mealtimes, eating continuously the whole day
- hiding food to it secretly eat later
- can't stop or control eating
- eating rapidly large quantities of food
- continuously eating even when satiated
- constantly dieting, possibly without any weight loss
- feeling of stress, which is only relieved by food
- feeling of numbness during bingeing
- never feeling satisfied
- feeling of guilt or depression after overeating
The effects of binge eating
It might sound like fun to stuff your face all day, but binge eating can lead to serious complications. You will not only develop psychological problems, but also physical and social ones.
Binging increases the risk of developing health issues, stress, insomnia and even suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and substance abuse as well as substantial weight gain.
How your diet might trigger binge eating
Today, diets become more and more obscure, restrictive and deliberate. Most of those 'fast diet solutions' eliminate complete foods group for weeks. These diets bewitch us, because they seem much simpler than counting calories or macros, and weighing every meal.
Being on such a restrictive diet will sooner or later lead to failure, because your cravings take over. As the number of fails increases, your faith in yourself decreases and starting over becomes harder and harder.
You try to regain the control over yourself, but one last epic cheat meal won't do any more harm. "I'll start tomorrow..."
And let's be honest: we've all been there.
Tips for breaking free from binge eating
1. Don't start another diet
The chances are good that dieting is what got you to binge in the first place.
Starting another strict diet isn't the solution to your problem. It will just add fuel to the fire.
Start by simplifying your nutrition plan. Instead of counting every calorie and macronutrient, focus on some simple flexible nutrition guidelines that you can sustain in the long term.
2. Develop a good relationship with food
Unlike other addictions, you need your 'drug' to survive, so you can't simply avoid it.
You need to develop a relationship with food, that is based on your nutritional needs, not your emotional needs.
Avoid temptation: Never have junk food, desserts and unhealthy snacks in the house. Clean your kitchen and fridge and exchange your favourite binge foods with nutritious whole foods
Listen to your body: Your body will tell you what it needs. You ate recently? Wait till you have a rumbling stomach for your next meal. Give the craving time to pass. Our bodies are designed to last for days without food. Our DNA doesn't know yet, that we have fridges and supermarkets. So no, you won't die if you don't eat for 8 hours.
Focus on what you're eating: Binge eating often happens in a trance-like state. When was the last time you actually enjoyed food? Learn to be a mindful eater. Slow down and savour the texture, flavour and the look of your food. Learn to enjoy it. Also try to enjoy food that tastes good, but isn't super calorie dense and nutrient free. Some foods just make you to eat more. For instance, a big sandwich with salad, protein and fiber might be 500 kcal. But so is a nutrient free, sugary muffin. Can you eat 4 large sandwiches back to back? No? How about 4 muffins? Aha!
3. Don't try to be perfect
... because nobody ever is! Never look at things as if they are 'black' and 'white'. There is no such thing as good food and bad food. Only food you should enjoy less often, and food you can enjoy more frequently.
Learn how to balance. Life is about enjoying, freedom, love and balance. You'll be happier and much less stressed. One beer on the weekend won't hurt anybody. But 2 beers every day - whole different story!
4. Skip the cheat days
Being 'good' all week and then going crazy one day at the weekend might work for some people, but when you have a binge eating disorder there is a big chance, that cheat days only contribute to more binging.
The reason behind that, is that you're just allowed to eat 'forbidden' food on one day of the week. On this day you will most likely go completely nuts. Some people will then under-eat the next days to 'compensate'. Which leads to a vicious circle.
In my opinion, if you're in binge eating recovery, stay away from cheat days. Instead learn to incorporate foods you like (like chocolate) in your daily diet, and enjoy them in moderation.
While some diets literally ask for one cheat day per week, keep in mind that it's not just about potentially destroying your week's fat loss progress. Most people will have tons of chocolate, doughnuts, ice cream tubs, chips (both US and UK meaning of the word), cereal and similar things on a cheat day. Guess what!? Eating large amounts of these foods means eating insane amounts of palm oil, trans fats and nutrient free shit. Downright a bunch in the face for your blood profile.
5. Find other ways to manage your feelings
Being stressed out, depressive, lonely and anxious are one of the most common reasons for binge eating.
We all had bad days in the past and used food to feel better. But on the long run, it really isn't the solution. You're not a dog. You don't need food as a reward.
Sit down and explore why you're feeling how you're feeling and find other ways to deal with it, such as exercising, meditation or yoga. Start lifting weights can be a great managing tool for your feelings. Plus, workouts can be fun, inspiring and you learn a lot about what you're actually capable of.
Incorporating regular weightlifting sessions will show you that food is a necessary source of fuel, not a problem that has to be solved. You get to learn to fuel your body, so it performs at its best. Plus, with more muscle mass, you can eat more without gaining fat :)
6. Yes, food is mainly fuel, but you can actually enjoy it
I am a real foodie. I love all kinds of food. But when I was in competition prep I learned to see food just as fuel for my body. I didn't care how my food tasted or looked. I just want to hit my calorie and macro target for the day.
I had to learn to eat healthy foods I didn't like. For most people this is not a healthy way of thinking. Most people want to enjoy their food - me too. Simply eating food to fuel your body, might lead to insuperable craving for 'dirty' food just because it's forbidden. But thankfully, most people are not competing.
So the solution here is quite simple - just eat foods you actually enjoy. If you don't like avocado - fine, don't eat it. In fact my husband hates them, but likes Sauerkraut...
Eat what you want, not what a diet 'guru' tells you to eat. Wether it's real, whole foods or some of your not-so-healthy-but-freaking-delicious foods (I like to fit in a snickers bar or two in my diet every now and then, because I love them!).
Just make sure that at least 80% of your diet comes from clean-ish, nutritious food sources. The other 20% can come from whatever you want! Having enough micronutrients in your system will also reduce cravings, so don't skip on those greens!
7. Start thinking long term when it comes to fat loss
Most people will gain body fat if they have a binge eating disorder. Also, most of them will get depressed and freak out and want to lose the extra pounds as quickly as possibly.
But, those "lose-10-pounds-in-a-week"-approaches will make things worse. Avoid 'quick fixes' at all costs, because they will dominate your life with super restrictive diets and calorie intake. Not to mention that it's just plain impossible to lose so much real fat in such a short time.
Take it one day at a time. Take your time to adopt a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, and give your body the time to rest and heal.
8. Start taking control of your cravings
I know, those cravings can hit you like a rock from nowhere. But even when you think you can't overcome those cravings, you can!
Distraction: If you feel that your sweet tooth is taking over take a walk, go outside, call a friend and talk to him, but don't give in easily! It really helps to talk to somebody. When I felt like I needed to binge, I went to gym for a run. Distract your mind!
Mind over matter: Realise that it's just your mind. You're stronger than that! You can beat this, you probably did it before. Stay strong and just get over it. You will be so proud of yourself!
Talking: Always talk about what's going on in your mind. People will understand and you're not alone. Sharing what you're thinking and feeling will help you feel better and discharge the urge to binge.
Try healthier 'cheats': You can satisfy your cravings and choose healthier options. Therefore, you won't feel too depressed afterwards. Try our healthy 3-ingredient brownies, vanilla energy bites or my famous vegan nice-cream. Stick to no alcohol, as many carbs and as little fat as possible IF you go nuts. This will minimise fat gain. Carbs will also increase leptin levels, which will make you feel more satiated the following days. Bagels and crumpets (jam instead of butter) are superb options here in the UK.
9. Listen to your body
In my opinion it's one of the most important things, not just in terms of eating disorders: Learn to listen to your body.
Your body will tell you what it needs long before you know it. It's much smarter than you think!
You have to learn to identify what real physically hunger is. Learn which foods make you feel better and which make you feel worse. Which keep you more satiated than others. It's different for everyone, so experiment.
Don't eat rice, chicken and broccoli, because that's "the old school way" or some trainer told you, if rice doesn't satiate you (my husband can literally eat 1kg of plain rice in one sitting without any form of satiety). Same with diets. If you feel super hungry on a high fat diet, try high carb and vice versa.
10. Be patient and kind!
Most likely, you're going to fail. And that's totally fine.
When you do, you have to be kind to yourself, instead of beating yourself up. It's just a tiny mistake, it won't harm you in the long run, if you get right back on track.
Changes take time and nobody is perfect! Everybody deserve a break.
How to stop a binge in progress
When you start to binge, it doesn't have to continue. Maybe it sounds odd, but you can stop. Just turn off the auto pilot and realise what you're doing.
Think about it. Do you really need all this food now? Do you actually enjoy it? How will you feel after you've binged? Is it worth it?
It's no problem to stop after ten bites or so. Mind over matter, remember?
What to do after a binge
You slipped and overate last night? Well, get over it! We're all human, life happens!
Stop beating yourself up. We all were at the same point, and you know what?! You can't change what happened yesterday! Move on and make healthier food choices today.
Please, don't even think about an overly restricted diet for the next few days as damage control. It's actually the worst you can do, because you'll most likely continue the cycle of deprivation dieting and binge eating. You want to break free from this cycle! Don't go back to that. Just stick to the plan as if the binge never happened. Own your previous decision to binge.
Also, don't 'punish' yourself at the gym the next day. Just do your usual workout routine. Maybe go for an extra walk, if the weather is nice and enjoy the sun.
Focus on being the best version you can be and make healthier choices step by step. You can do it!
We're all human!
It's totally normal to feel discouraged when your weight loss efforts constantly fail. It is also totally human to have holes in your self-esteem. You are just a human being, and not someone who is flawed and ruined beyond repair.
Mind, that the ultimate goal is to seek balance. A healthy lifestyle is not defined by a super restrictive diet.
It's the combination of your choices day after day, which will lead to a healthier and happier life. Consistency is way more important than one single day.