6 Ways to Stop Binge Eating

Lifestyle Changes to Curb Compulsive Eating

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder. It is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and a loss of control.

If left untreated, BED can lead to obesity, a condition associated with other serious health problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

BED is typically treated with psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medications. Lifestyle strategies can also help.

Strategies to Help Stop Binge Eating

Verywell / Jessica Olah

This article explores six lifestyle strategies that can help you overcome binge eating disorder in addition to counseling and support. It explains how the strategies help as well as some of the underlying causes of binge eating.

Strategy 1: Stop Restricting Yourself

Diets that involve extreme restrictions on food intake rarely work and typically lead to cravings that cause you to overeat. This is especially true if have BED.

Many of these diets promise a "quick fix" by endorsing radical changes to your eating habits, such as cutting off entire food groups or only drinking juices for a week. As rational as some of the arguments may sound, they are rarely based on sound nutritional science.

Stay away from any diet plan that:

  • Promises rapid weight loss
  • Groups foods into the "bad" category
  • Eliminates entire food groups, like carbohydrates
  • Claims weight loss can be achieved without exercise
  • Involves rigid eating plans and limited food choices

In the end, weight loss is about burning more calories than you consume. This not only involves a reduction in calories but also some form of routine exercise.

A slow and steady approach is not only more sustainable but allows you to make gradual changes that reduce cravings and the risk of binge eating.

Recap

A slow and steady approach to weight loss can help reduce the risk of cravings and binge eating. "Quick fix" diets have the opposite effect, restricting foods that can trigger food cravings.

Strategy 2: Don't Skip Meals

Skipping meals is another factor that can promote binge eating. It can leave your body desperate for nutrition and increase the likelihood of overeating. A regular eating pattern has been shown to reduce the chances of binge eating later in the day.

Breakfast is important as it jumpstarts your metabolism and provides you with the energy needed to function normally until lunchtime. Consider eating a high-protein meal in the morning that includes things like eggs, almonds, chicken breast, oats, and Greek yogurt.

To maintain metabolism and energy levels, eat lunch and dinner with healthy snacks in between (spaced around three to four hours apart). Dips in energy levels are key triggers for binge eating.

Recap

Eating three meals a day with healthy snacks in between helps maintain energy levels. Skipping meals can lead to dips in energy levels that promote binge eating.

Strategy 3: Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated has many health benefits but can also help curb cravings and reduce overeating. This is evidenced by a study in the Journal of the American Dietary Association in which 24 adults who drank 17 ounces of water before eating consumed fewer calories than people who did not drink any water.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends the following daily fluid intake for adults:

  • Around 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for males
  • Around 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for females

Drinking plenty of water can also boost metabolism and may contribute to weight loss.

Recap

Drinking plenty of water can reduce food cravings and the risk of binge eating. It may also boost metabolism and promote weight loss.

Strategy 4: Increase Your Fiber Intake

Eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods can help you feel satiated (full and satisfied) compared to eating refined grains, sugars, and processed foods. This latter group of food typically provides a rapid burst of energy followed by a "crash" that can lead to cravings. 

Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables also offer plenty of dietary fiber. Fiber moves slowly through the digestive tract, keeping you satiated for a longer period of time.

Nutritious, high-fiber foods include:

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Brown rice
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Green bean
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole wheat pasta

Fiber-rich foods also help lower cholesterol and blood sugar while reducing the risks of diabetes and heart disease.

Recap

Dietary fiber is essential to good digestive health but can also reduce the risk of binge eating by making you feel satiated (full and satisfied) for longer.

Strategy 5: Exercise and Relax

Stress is a common trigger for binge eating. Exercise, by contrast, helps reduce stress levels. A 2020 study published in the journal Nutrition concluded that routine aerobic activity combined with short, fast, high-intensity exercises significantly decreased the number of binge-eating episodes among women with BED.

You don't necessarily have to hit the gym for the strategy to work. Simply taking a 30-minute walk, riding your bike, dancing, or swimming can help prevent binge eating. 

Yoga is another activity that has been shown to prevent binge eating by reducing stress levels. Practicing mindfulness meditation or doing routine breathing exercises (pranayama) may also help.

Sleep also affects hunger and appetite, with some studies suggesting that BED may be linked to insomnia. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night to reduce the risk of late-night binge eating. Doing nighttime yoga can also help relax the mind and promote good sleep.

Recap

Routine exercise can reduce stress levels that often trigger binge-eating episodes. Getting ample sleep and practicing mind-body therapies, like yoga and meditation, may also help.

Strategy 6: Practice Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating means eating when you feel hungry and stopping once you are full. It involves giving yourself permission to eat and trusting your body to make good choices around foods.

Intuitive eating is something we are born with but often lose as we get older and "use" food to provide us with comfort or distraction. It can take time to re-learn intuitive eating, but, with practice, doing so may help curb compulsive eating.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating include:

  • Rejecting diets
  • Honoring your hunger
  • Making peace with food
  • Challenging the "food police" (people who tell you what to eat and when)
  • Discovering the 'satisfaction factor' to avoid overindulgence
  • Consciously feeling your fullness
  • Coping with emotions with kindness
  • Respecting your body
  • Involving movement in the practice
  • Honoring your health with gentle nutrition

An eight-year study published in Eating and Weight Disorder in 2020 concluded that intuitive eating was associated with lower odds of binge eating.

Intuitive eating is also linked to better psychological health. People who eat intuitively are less likely to have depression, low self-esteem, or body dissatisfaction. They are also less likely to have unhealthy weight control habits (such as fasting or skipping meals) or eating disorders like bulimia.

To practice intuitive eating, pay attention to your hunger cues and eat only when hungry. Don't categorize food as good or bad, and give yourself the freedom to eat whatever you want. This is an ongoing process and may take years to unlearn unhealthy eating habits. Patience is key.

Recap

Intuitive eating is the practice of paying attention to hunger cues, eating only when hungry, and only eating enough to provide satiation. The practice is associated with a lower risk of binge eating and other eating disorders.

Summary

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious condition that often requires counseling and treatment by a licensed mental health professional.

Certain lifestyle changes can aid in the treatment of BED. They are not substitutes for professional care but can complement therapies offered by a healthcare provider. These include:

  • Avoiding restrictive "quick fix" diets that trigger food cravings
  • Eating three meals a day to avoid dips in energy that promote overeating
  • Staying well hydrated to maintain satiation
  • Increasing your fiber intake with real foods to maintain satiation
  • Exercising regularly to decrease stress levels that trigger overeating
  • Practicing intuitive eating so that you only eat when hungry

A Word From Verywell

While lifestyle strategies can help curb binge eating, counseling by a mental health professional may be needed to identify the root cause of the disorder. This is especially true if binge-eating episodes are done in secrecy, cause feelings of embarrassment or shame, or involve a preoccupation with weight or body image.

If you or a loved one are living with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support and referrals at 1-800-931-2237. 

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