6 Tools to Stop Binge Eating

5 minutes Written by Megan Tarmann

Before we get into discussing what tools you can use to stop binge eating, let’s first review what binge eating means. 

There are two types of binges of which to be aware when talking about binge eating. There is objective binge eating and subjective binge eating. Objective binge eating is when you consume a significant amount of food in a short amount of time (within two hours) to the point of feeling almost sick. This is often described as feeling out of control and usually connected to the feelings of shame and guilt. Subjective binge eating is where you might feel like you binged because the familiar feelings of shame and guilt are present and you feel out of control but the amount of food is not objectively large. Both are often happening alone. If this is becoming a pattern, it has likely turned into Binge Eating Disorder. (For more information click: BED)

  1. 1. Stop taking an all or nothing approach to eating:

    Oftentimes when someone is binge eating, there are all or nothing views and behaviors connected to food. You might view certain ways of eating as “the right way” or that you are “eating successfully.” If you do not meet whatever those expectations are, you feel like you have failed and tell yourself, “screw it” which only fuels this behavior. You could be in a restrict-binge cycle where you limit the amount or kinds of foods you eat for much of the day and feel overly hungry later on which makes you more vulnerable to binge eating. If you are skipping meals or limiting what or how much food you are eating during the day, your brain has no idea what is happening and assumes you are in a famine. Your brain’s number one job is survival so when you are not getting the appropriate amount of food, it wants to seek out and store up on food. There is a very primal reaction that happens as a result of limiting your food intake. Your body is actually trying to help you stay alive when this happens. Get into a regular eating pattern where you are consistently fueling your body. This takes time and is best done with the guidance of an anti-diet registered dietitian and/or therapist.

  2. 2. Challenge food rules:

    Thanks to the diet industry, our culture is obsessed with diets and food rules. You might limit certain foods, tell yourself you have to eat “healthy” all week and then can have a “cheat day” over the weekend. Whatever your food rules are, they are only taking you further from your body’s wisdom. Food rules reinforce food having power over you and can create a scarcity mindset, leaving your body mistrustful that you will get that food again. Challenging these rules over time (and with a trained RD or therapist) can help switch this scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. Tell yourself that you can always have more of whatever it is and hold yourself accountable to that. After practicing this many times, your body will start to trust that you will not deprive it any longer.

  3. 3. Be curious:

    You likely judge yourself before, during and after a binge episode. This only cranks up your shame and limits your ability to learn anything. Instead, be curious about what happened. Ask yourself if you ate enough that day or allowed yourself to eat what you wanted. Also, consider what needs are not being met. Maybe you were feeling lonely and the food was bringing comfort or maybe you were rewarding yourself with food after a hard day. Once you recognize the function of the binge, validate yourself. Say, “I was feeling lonely and down today. I needed comfort which is why I went to food. This is something I’ve been doing for a long time.” Remind yourself that you are changing your relationship to food which takes time and practice.

  4. 4. Identify your triggers and vulnerabilities:

    Start tracking when you binge eat and note what makes you more vulnerable to a binge. Are you alone when it happens, is it late at night or is it after you haven’t eaten enough during the day? Learn about certain triggers you have that spark a binge. Are there certain foods or places that trigger you, do you binge after arguments or after a specific thought? Once you learn more about these, you will be more empowered to respond to them using healthy coping tools.

  5. 5. Practice mindful eating:

    Pay attention to where you eat, with whom and how present you are. Sit down and eat if possible (this is not always possible and that is okay!). Put your food onto a plate and pause before, during and after meals and snacks. During those pauses, take note of your hunger and fullness, emotions, thoughts, how the food tastes, smells and any other experiences you notice. Don’t expect this to come easy. Nobody can eat mindfully all the time. Give yourself grace and compassion.

  6. 6. Make a coping list:

    Make a list of coping tools that you can try as you challenge your binge eating. Put this list in your phone or even somewhere in your kitchen. You could have activities that bring you joy, peace, compassion or feel soothing or comforting. If you start interrupting your binges midway, you can pull this list out and try some of them.

Avatar Megan Tarmann

Written by Megan Tarmann

Megan Tarmann is a therapist in Minnesota who specializes in family, group and individual therapy.