takeaway food laid on the table

What is Binge Eating? And How Can You Control it?

Introduction

We all get carried away sometimes and eat more than we intend to, but what if you couldn’t control it? What if on a daily basis, you couldn’t stop the desire to eat even when you aren’t hungry?

In this article we shall look into how to stop binge eating and its causes, before offering you tips on how to overcome binge eating…

What is binge eating?

There’s a difference between binge eating at an all you can eat buffet (you want to get your money’s worth after all), and the uncontrollable desire to eat when you’re not hungry.

Like we mentioned before, we all slip up on occasion; however, there is such a thing as Binge Eating Disorder (BED). This condition affects 2% of the general population (and 8% of those who are obese) and is categorized as being episodes in time where you eat unusually large quantities of food even when you don’t feel the slightest bit of hunger.

Now, we aren’t talking about moments that are spread out. With BED, this compulsive need to overeat occurs on a regular basis, and as a result can pose a real danger to your health (as well as can leave you feeling guilty and ashamed for eating so much).

What is binge eating disorder?

Man eating spaghetti, with a plastic apron around him

Binge eating disorder is a condition where people feel compelled to overeat and consume large quantities of food consistently (NOTE: to be diagnosed with BED you must binge on average at least twice a week for more than 6 months).

Whilst this is a recognised disorder, it presents itself differently to other eating disorders – such as anorexia – as it doesn’t involve purging or fasting. Instead, it is wrongly linked to obesity.

Aside from this compulsion, those with BED often also carry a distorted attitude towards eating, body shape and weight, and as such may suffer from depression and personality disorders.

What causes binge eating disorder?

A mix of sweets, cookies, muffins, and candy with sugar spread with text why written in the sugar spread

In order to learn how to stop binge eating and lose weight, it is important that you first recognise the underlying causes of BED. Do that, and you can begin to take positive steps towards changing your dietary habits and ensuring that you don’t fall into another binging cycle.

For BED, you need to look for what prompts you to eat more. What is your trigger? Here are the most common causes for binging behavior:

    1. Psychological – anxiety, stress and depression are all leading triggers of BED. Think about it… How often have you turned to food and drink in order to cope with negative/unhappy feelings? Probably more often than you think. This is because food helps to release endorphins, making you momentarily feel better.

Similarly, binging can occur as a result of low self-esteem, poor impulse control and when you struggle to deal/manage your feelings. Food gives you an outlet and an element of control to counteract the other areas in your life where you feel trapped.

    1. Chemical – when you eat any form of fat or sugar, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is surprisingly addictive because of the feeling it creates. So it is not uncommon for you to subconsciously want to recreate these feelings.

In turn, if you’ve got low dopamine and serotonin levels, then binging can help you to deal better with depression (entering you into an endless cycle of eating to feel better).

  1. Cultural – we live in a world where society puts a lot of pressure on us to look a particular way. For some, it can lead to troubled feelings and thoughts of worthlessness because you don’t meet the classification for ‘skinny enough’ or you don’t conform to social standards. In either case, binge eating can occur to help protect you from this social anxiety.
  2. Lack of Mindfulness – some experts believe that binge eaters lack mindfulness because they are out of touch with their feelings and as such are unable to deal with stress in a healthy way. As a result, they turn to food as a way to handle their emotions (when they surface), instead of trying to get to the root of the problem and dealing with it.

So what can you do? How can you stop binge eating?

How to stop binge eating

First, you can employ the following basic tips:

  1. Eat regular, healthy meals – many binge eaters try to restrict their meals in order to justify binge eating. For instance, they will eat small amounts before binging later in the day – claiming that it is okay because they didn’t eat a lot earlier. The truth is, all this really does is make the situation worse. That is why you should try to eat regular, balanced meals containing foods rich in fiber and protein, as this will help to regulate your blood sugar and help you to maintain a healthy metabolism. This will also keep cravings for unhealthy foods (which usually prompt binging) under control.
  2. Recognise and understand your triggers – are there certain situations, moods or feelings that prompt you to binge? Knowing your triggers can help you to better manage it, as you’ll be consciously aware of how you’re feeling and will be able to do things to distract yourself from taking action i.e. overeating.
  3. Remove temptation – usually those with BED favour certain foods, so by removing them from your house, you can stop yourself from binge eating.
  4. Find alternative sources of pleasure – overeating is a pleasure-seeking habit as it makes you initially feel good (before being followed by guilt or shame). We suggest finding alternative ways i.e. hobbies and physical activities, that won’t only make you feel good and elevate your mood/self-confidence, but will also distract you from the desire to eat.
  5. Time restrictions – one of the easiest ways to stop binge eating is to either implement the rule where you must wait 10 minutes before you eat OR you must drink a glass of water first. This will stop you from binging unintentionally. Plus, the water will help to fill you up faster.

How to stop binge eating at night

Late night eating is a common problem amongst a lot of people (not just those with BED). But what causes it and how can you stop binge eating at night? The first step is learning why it happens:

  • Over restriction – we have a tendency to over-restrict ourselves during the day. However, when diets become too rigid, our brains start to fire off signals telling you to be less discriminating of foods at night and to start eating (as this is when your willpower is at its lowest).
  • Lack of self-care – when you are subjected to constant pressure and decision-making (without being able to give your own input), this can wear down your willpower to the point that when your brain fires off those signals to feast – you cave. If this sounds like you, try to give yourself two 5-minute breaks where you can escape from everything including people, electronic devices (phones and tablets), and decision making. These mini breaks can help to revitalize your willpower and clear your mind, so that when temptation beckons, you’re able to say ‘no’. TIP: a good way to detach, clear your mind and escape pressure is to meditate or to do some free-writing (where you can write down anything you like). Both can be very freeing.
  • Lack of sleep – being sleep deprived can affect your health in so many ways, including night time eating. If possible, try to give yourself a set time to go to bed, as well as make your bedroom somewhere where you only sleep (NOT work). Any attempt to get more sleep will help you to stop binge eating at night.

See what we mean? Luckily, there are steps you can take to stop binge eating at night:

  • Make food decisions in the morning – including planning out your evening meals to ensure it is filling, satisfying and appealing.
  • Prepare your meal in the morning and store it for later.

How to control binge eating at work

Work is a prime example of where stress, anxiety and pressure can prompt you to snack and overeat. This isn’t helped by colleagues regularly bringing in cakes and biscuits, and the temptation to snack on convenience foods (which are often high in calories and offer no nutritional value).

In this situation, we recommend the following:

  • Prepare your meals for the week and make them in bulk so you don’t spend hours prepping every day.
  • Keep your meals interesting, varied and packed full of fiber and protein, so you’re full by the end.
  • Keep healthy snacks in your desk drawer e.g. crackers, trail mix, fresh/dried fruit, and where possible try to make them yourself.

How to stop binge eating when stressed

Stress and binge eating is an endless cycle. On the one hand, we overeat to compensate for our anxiety and stress. Yet in doing so, we are left feeling guilty, anxious and more stressed than we were to begin with.

The truth is – overeating doesn’t fix stress, but causes it. So what can you do?

The first step to learning how to stop binge eating when stressed is to research the physiological effects of the foods that your crave (whilst overeating).

For instance, by learning how long sugar highs last – 18-36 minutes – and taking into account the fact that it can take hours for your blood sugar to recover; this information will help to gain you a new perspective. That being that sugar will only give you a brief high, before messing up your blood sugars (unstable) and energy levels (falling).

Similarly, by recognizing that excess sugar can lead to depression, anxiety and the jitters; it will make you think twice.

Next, it is also helpful to remind yourself that when you overeat, it is NOT for comfort. For many of us, we seek out forms of sugar, starch, salts and oils because they basically give you doses of pleasure i.e. highs – a little like drugs do to be honest.

And that’s it! By bearing these two points in mind – and learning more about the foods you eat and how they will impact on your body – this will make you hesitant to overeat whilst stressed.

How to overcome binge eating once and for all

Whilst you could choose to target specific times of the day (as suggested above) or learn more about your triggers; we feel that the best way to overcome binge eating is to look at it as a whole. Yes, you should still focus on these key times/moments of stress when you’re more prone to binging. However, to succeed you need to make all-round lifestyle changes.

Take the following tips. Each can show you how to treat binge eating disorder:

    1. Avoid fad diets – to put it simply, they are unhealthy and restrictive. And the more restricted your diet, the more likely you are to have a binge eating episode. During one study of 496 teenage girls, researchers found that fasting increased the risk of binge eating. Whilst during another study on 103 women, they discovered that cutting out certain foods increased cravings and the risk of overeating.

For this reason, follow a dietary plan that encourages you to eat more whole, unprocessed foods e.g. fruit, veg and whole grains, whilst allowing yourself the occasional treat.

    1. Don’t skip meals – all this will do is further enhance your cravings. During a 2 month study, where participants only ate one large meal a day; this increased their blood sugar and ghrelin levels (a hunger stimulating hormone) more than those who ate 3 set meals a day.

Instead, we encourage you to create a set eating schedule – either 3 large meals a day or small, more frequent meals (3-5) – and stick to it. As seen in a study on 38 people, adopting a regular eating pattern can help reduce binge eating.

    1. Practice mindfulness – we mentioned mindfulness earlier on in the article. And it is something worth remembering, as by taking the time to listen to your body – and paying attention to how you feel (in the present moment) – you can learn how to identify when you no longer feel hungry. This will stop you from overeating, thus keeping the pounds at bay.

Tip: incorporate small meditation exercises into your day and remember to eat slowly, so you can fully appreciate your food.

    1. Stay hydrated – making sure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day will help to curb cravings and your appetite. By simply drinking 500ml of water 30 minutes before a meal, you can reduce the amount of calories you consume by 13% (according to some studies) as well as decrease your hunger. In addition, drinking more water can help to bolster your metabolism and stimulate weight loss.
    2. Yoga – similar to meditation, yoga can help to alleviate stress and anxiety; reduce the risk of emotional eating, and can decrease production of Cortisol (a stress hormone). In fact, during one study on 20 girls, yoga (combined with outpatient eating disorder treatments) helped to lower depression, anxiety and negative body image (all of which normally contribute to binge eating).
    3. Consume more fiber – this nutrient can help you to feel fuller for longer by moving slowly through your digestive tract. In doing so, it can reduce your cravings, appetite and calorie intake. Tip: add more fruit, veg, legumes, and whole grains to your diet.
    4. Remove temptation – get rid of any unhealthy temptations in the house i.e. crisps, chocolate and processed foods, and swap them for healthier alternatives (veg, protein foods, whole grains, nuts and seeds).
    5. Exercise – studies suggest adding exercise to your daily routine can help stop binge eating. In one study, increasing the amount they exercised helped 81% of participants to stop binge eating. This is due to exercise decreasing stress levels and enhancing your mood. Combined, this can prevent emotional eating. We suggest taking up walking, jogging, swimming, bike riding or a sport.
    6. Get plenty of sleep – like we mentioned earlier, if you don’t get enough sleep this can enhance late night binging. In fact, BED has been linked to insomnia! This is due to ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels increasing and leptin levels falling (hormone responsible for making you feel full). To overcome this, try to get at least 8 hours sleep a night.
    7. Eat more protein – similar to fiber, protein rich foods can help to make you feel full and reduce your appetite, whilst also helping to speed up your metabolism and boost GLP-1 production (a hormone that can suppress your appetite).

In one study, when participants increased their protein intake by 15-30%, this helped them to lose weight and body fat, as well as lowered their calorie intake by 440 calories (because they felt less hungry).

We suggest adding more meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes to each meal, and opting for high-protein snacks when you’re feeling peckish.

Conclusion

There is no denying that binge eating can affect your health both physically (weight gain) and mentally (low self-esteem and anxiety). However, by taking steps to understand what it is and how to stop binge eating; you can effectively take back control of your eating habits and ensure you never fall prey to overeating.

Adding quality supplements such as PhenQ to your diet can equally help you to keep these cravings at bay. PhenQ is not only a proven fat burner; it can also help to suppress your appetite, enabling you to resist the urge to binge no matter if you’re feeling stressed, tired or are at work. With its support you can stay in control.

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