Tips to Decrease Binge Eating

It’s common for women with PCOS to engage in binge eating. A binge is defined as eating (within a two hour period of time) an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances and feeling out of control during the episode. While the occasional binge eating episode is not terribly serious, bingeing weekly can be dangerous as it can contribute to weight gain and can affect your physical and emotional health. Weekly bingeing can also indicate an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa.

If you feel your eating is out of control, the following are some suggestions that may be helpful to you.

woman's hands with green nail polish holding a burger

 Dean Belcher / Getty Images

Eat Mindfully

People who are aware of what they eat are more satisfied with their meals and less likely to want to binge or overeat. Conscious or mindful eating involves being in tune with your body and recognizing signs of hunger and fullness as well as the taste, texture, and sensations of eating.

Often times I will have my clients keep food journals in which they not only write down what foods they ate and when but also rate how hungry they were before they ate and how satisfied they were after. You can practice this yourself by using a rating scale from zero to 10 with zero being completely starving and 10 being the opposite extreme-thanksgiving dinner stuffed.

Check in with yourself before a meal to see how hungry you are and throughout the meal
to see how satisfied you are. The idea is to stop eating when you think you have eaten
enough food to get you through until the next meal or snack. Sitting down to meals and eating slowly, without distraction can help you to do this.

Structure Meal and Snacks

Structuring regular meals and snacks throughout the day can stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent or lessen cravings and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes. This may include eating every three to five hours and including whole grains, plenty of protein, and some fat to meals and snacks. Eating often can help keep you from getting too hungry and triggering the urge to binge eat.

Meal Plan

We all have To-Do lists where we write down our appointments, important dates, and schedule for the day, yet few of us take the time to plan for our meals resulting in the repetitive "what's for dinner" dilemma.

Pre-planning your meals and snacks takes the stress and pressure off deciding what to have
and can prevent overeating. It can also help you to stick to eating more healthfully. How many times have you found yourself stopping for fast food or buying unhealthy meals because you have nothing planned at home to eat or have not packed yourself a satisfying lunch? Instead, take some time maybe on the weekend or the night before to think about what you will eat the next several days, remembering to plan for healthy snacks.

Make a List

Learning effective ways to deal with emotions without abusing food is an important part of the treatment for binge eating. For example, I have my clients make a list of positive things they can do when they feel like bingeing that don’t involve food. This may include activities such as taking a walk, reading, journaling, calling a friend, surfing the Internet, or taking a bath. In addition, working with a mental health professional may help individuals identify their emotional triggers, and encourage mindfulness and behavior change.

Take Insulin-Lowering Medications and Supplements

While not indicated to reduce binge eating behavior, I’ve noticed women with PCOS who take insulin-lowering medications such as metformin report fewer carbohydrate cravings and reduced interest in food overall. Likewise, taking the diet supplement inositol may also help to reduce insulin and curb cravings thus leading to fewer binges.

Seek Support                                       

Sometimes it can be very difficult to overcome binge eating on your own, especially if it has been going on for many years. Meeting regularly with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in PCOS and eating disorders can help you to become a more conscious eater and support you in making changes to your eating. Because food is sometimes a way of coping with intense feelings in an unhealthy way, it’s also important to work with a mental health professional who specializes in eating disorders.

If you feel your eating is out of control, talk to your healthcare provider. Resources online will provide you with more information on binge eating or help you find an Eating Disorder Specialist in your area.

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  • Binge Eating Disorder Association Website.
  • McCluskey SE, Lacey JH, Pearce JM. Binge-eating and polycystic ovaries. Lancet. 1992;340(8821):723.
  • The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health. Luca Publishing. Bryn Mawr, PA.

By Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN
 Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, is the founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center.