One of the most common topics that arises in reader emails is how to stop binge eating. And as someone who has both lost 135 pounds and has dealt with binge eating disorder, I get it. In my memoir, It Was Me All Along, I tell quite a few stories of bingeing and some of my favorite posts have been on how to overcome emotional eating: How to Stop Emotional Eating / More Tips on How to Stop Emotional Eating.
The question below, from a reader, is one I get regularly, so it seemed worthwhile to share my answer in a post:
“How do you avoid giving in to a binge? I know I can do this, but I keep having these random binges that break me. I would love your advice.”
I wish I had the perfect answer for all of us, but the truth is, that split second when I’m teetering on a cliff and I can’t tell if I’m about to fall into a binge or throw myself over, is among my greatest struggles in life. And that is because…it’s not really about the food. It’s about so, so many things—physical nourishment being the least important. The food isn’t merely food; it’s laced with all these feelings, unrequited yearnings, unmet needs, and pains. It’s meant to give me something, and the very act of bingeing—I’ve come to realize—was and is, for me, about filling a void, distracting myself, or even plugging some hole within me. That is the deepest level of the binge. That’s the truest, basest meaning of a binge for me. They reveal that craving within me to numb out when faced with discomfort, my tendency toward escapism.
When I was little, and my family was chaotic and broken and the trauma was too much to bear, I ate to escape. Distraction through eating served as a form of protection from the very painful reality of our lives. But it was also about food being there when no one else was. My mom was always gone, working. My dad was always gone, too—drinking. I needed something to literally fill the space, to make me feel less alone. Food did that.
As I grew up, I only continued and strengthened this process of “using” food. I had unconsciously created all of these associations between my emotions—both positive and negative—and food, as the way to deal with them.
a binge comes masked as a craving
Sometimes a binge comes to us masked as a craving, and if it comes after a period of intense food restriction, then perhaps it is, but for many people who struggle with binge eating, the point isn’t to indulge, it’s to overindulge. It’s to feel limitless. It’s about being so full you can’t think anymore.
The very second that I start to feel a tickle to binge eat, I have to think about what’s going on in my life. What’s the bigger picture? What’s triggering me? The last time I felt this way was right around the week I turned in the third draft of edits for my book. I was so anxious about how my editor would react to the new material, I’d begun to wonder if the whole book was garbage. It translated into me wanting nothing more than to binge eat.
So I guess my advice to you must first involve me giving you a sizable dose of understanding and compassion. Even though I’m wise to my own ways and mostly great at staying in touch with myself, I don’t always get it right. I am far from perfect. But I try, and I know you try.
These 4 tips have helped me steer away from many a binge eating episode—which, for anyone who has ever been in that very moment, is an intense challenge. I hope they help you, and that you’ll share your own advice, too!
4 Tips on How to Stop Binge Eating
1. Identify your triggers
It’s time to get honest with yourself. What’s going on in your life that’s triggering you to want to binge eat? Are you willing to look around and take a hard look at what might be causing you to want to escape, distract, or to give back to yourself—through food?
Start to write down your triggers and identify the patterns that lead you to the discomfort you feel pre-binge (notice how similar the situations are?). Now that you can see the triggers and patterns clearly, you can brainstorm alternate responses to deal with them—ones that will actually feel restorative, like calling a friend, going for a walk, meditating, making tea and reading for even 10 minutes, taking a hot shower, etc…
In the worst case scenario, even if you do choose to binge, go ahead and write down what triggered you afterward, because any measure of self-awareness allows you the ability to change harmful patterns into more positive habits.
2. Today is the tomorrow you said you’d start yesterday
Remember that not every day can be one where you say to yourself, “I’ll start over tomorrow.” Bingeing is the way many of us choose to procrastinate. The longer you stay in the pattern of “one more day/night of treats…” the longer you delay living the life you want. So start today.
3. Break the habit of bingeing
Part of the work of stopping binge eating is breaking the habit of a binge cycle. For me, this meant creating new rituals and routines, particularly at night. Instead of turning to food, I began making tea and reading a good book, painting my nails, journaling, or listening to a podcast while working on a new craft project. The first three weeks required nothing but sheer willpower. Over time, though, it got easier, and I started to realize just how good it felt to practice true self-care.
4. Eat in a way you’re proud of. Always.
You nailed this.
I love your blog! I too lost over 100 pounds on WW, 20 years ago now. New follower!
I agree with Meghan. Exactly what I needed. in this exact moment!
I have problem of bindge eating. So I look forward to this series. Thank you
I am on day five of breaking the binge eating cycle. I have a particular great motivating factor now so that is my go to thought now when I get that overwhelming feeling to eat and so far so good.
Thank you! Binged last night & everything you said rings so true. Especially the ” I’ll start tomorrow” I say that ALL THE TIME!
Needed this today Thank you!
You write in a way that captures feelings and puts them into words that I only wish I could do. I relate to SO much of this and cannot wait to share this amazing post with my readers. I’m even going to pin it for future reference.
Thank you. xx
Thank you once again, for being so honest. I think that’s the main reason that so many people, most especially women, feel like you’re speaking directly to them. You’ve mentioned that the way you were raised ingrained in you a natural openness, and that’s somewhat foreign to a lot of us. Although I wouldn’t change a single solitary thing about my family or my childhood, I often have a hard time expressing my feelings. So seeing that many of my emotions, experiences, and stories are similar to your’s or others’ who read your blog makes me feel a little less lonely.
Bullseye. Thanks for writing this…it’s a huge struggle I face on my weight loss journey, and it’s very hard to resist. Those urges hit, and it’s like oh man, pizza sounds good…so does ice cream…and chocolate. Just one meal won’t hurt, right?
No. It totally can…it’s hard to just take a step back and think about what’s really going on to make me want to give in, but you have to do it!
YES. Great post! For me, the creating new routines was EVERYTHING. I gained 100 pounds in about 5 years because I was a textbook emotional eater, and would binge on anything and everything whenever I was feeling sad or lonely or bored or stressed or angry and the list goes on and on. Now I have a strict routine; when I eat, what I eat during those times, when I workout, how I workout, etc., and the urges to binge have all but diminished. It took awhile, and believe you me, I still slip up and overeat from time to time, but discovering something I loved (running) helped keep me motivated to look at food as fuel…not something to gorge myself on whenever the mood strikes. Thanks for such a poignant, thoughtful post!
Your words always ring so true, give me guidance and put me back on the path that I’m supposed to be on. Thank you Andie!
I needed this today. Thank you so much. Love your words and honesty and truth. In the moment lately I am telling myself that food is not the answer, the trigger is emotional and as I lift the spoon or fork I know the truth yet feel powerless. I am going to re-read this post again and again. Thank you thank you!
Aaahhhh, I have missed hearing from you on topics like this. Loved it. Sometimes even if your not exactly dealing with the same things it is so good to read about them,relate,take them to yourself and examine yourself. It stirs up your mind and reminds you to keep up the good habits. :-)
I JUST wrote a post this morning about binge eating and how I had two episodes this week and I honestly have no idea why. The timing of your post is perfect for me. I need these reminders. I also need to learn what is actually triggering my binges because I have no idea what it is. Like your first point states, I need to be brutally honest with myself and figure it out and stop sugar coating it.
Thank you for your beautiful words and your beautiful blog. Your recipes are amazing and your words are inspiring. You have an incredible ability to put words to my feelings. I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your insights. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
you literally just told my story, too. and now i feel like the alternative is possible. thank you, andie.
Andi, what you’ve said about (ab)using food has really struck a chord with me. When we lay down powerful associations using a substance as a way of coping it’s an extremely difficult addiction to break. I’m trying to break the association between food and coping which is very hard to do when I’m still in the situation that causes me to do so. Only learning to cope in positive way will break the cycle and free me. Your generous and compassionate words are always a source of immense support.
Love this…it is so good to know that inspite of the fact that it will always be a part of you, you can control it. I don’t know why but as your weight goes down, it is easier to control, at least that’s what I’ve felt, but as soon as you let it beat you again, it is hard to regain control.
“Today is the tomorrow that you said you’d start yesterday.”
The most perfect thing I have ever read, in fact I think this will be my next tattoo. I have had endless tomorrows and need to remind myself to live in the NOW. Thank you for this.
You have such insight; this was so beautifully written and completely heart felt. Thanks for such a meaningful post!
This is so spot-on. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it is to know that my EXACT feelings causing my food addiction and shortcomings are shared, not only by other people, but by other people who have overcome them. People like you have helped inspire me to lose weight because I know there’s hope and it’s entirely possible. I’ve lost 23 pounds this year and plan to lose some more, although I’ve been in a bingeing rut lately. And what you’ve said about it not being about “just having a reasonable amount” but having “ALL” of it, is so true and it’s good for perspective. I went out last night for margaritas, and realized is retrospect that I’d consumed over 1,000 calories in one sugary, delicious glass. But here’s the thing – that was about having fun and being in the moment – not about filling any sort of sad void or stress-eating, and a slip-up once in a while won’t kill me. That perspective definitely helps to separate the “oops” moments from the full-on binge moments – and helps to stop one mistake from becoming a binge, which is way too common for me. What I’ve been doing lately is to assess what triggers the bingeing- usually studying for an exam or thinking about all of those little troubles in life – essentially throwing myself a little pity party (complete with cake and ice cream). Then, I make those moments into opportunities for weight loss instead. I stop, think “do I really need food? how would that help?” and realize it won’t help at all. After that’s done, I am free to help myself for real..by picturing my goal weight and telling myself that NOT eating here will not only NOT hurt me in any way, it will help to make everything much better by not allowing the situation to escalate (sorry for all of the double negatives – i’m in a hurry).
Basically, thanks for this post!!
I was literally on the cusp of binging…then I read you post today. It’s funny how things like that happen. Thank you. Thank you for being so open and honest with your weight loss journey. This post made me realize, I am not hungry, I am frustrated and disappointed in myself. I lost 70lbs 5 years ago, gained 10lbs back last year, lost 10lbs this year and then saw the scale move up 3lbs these past two weeks. Animal crackers and goldfish pretzels are not going to make me feel better. Recognizing my feelings and being empathetic, kind, and forgiving myself will. Thank you Andie!
I am so, so excited to read your book when it comes out! Thanks for these posts, I know they mean so much to so many people. I love your blog, you seem like someone I would definitely be “in real life” friends with :) Have a great weekend!
Some Snapshots Blog
I am so fortunate to have found you blog as are your other readers.
I wish I could express in writing how you have impacted my life.
Although I have great discipline on one end of the sprectrum, I am a comlete binge eater on the end of the spectrum (during my “off” days). So, I can fully relate. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. http://www.gustatori.com
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you are my hero. yet, you know this already, because you see inside my soul. so much love, affection, and gratitude <3
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great post Andie. It’s something I really have to stay aware of and you addressed the topic beautifully as usual. Hugs!
You are truly an inspiration to many, including myself. I hope messages like these combat your negative feelings every now and then! Thank you for your thoughtful and beautifully written words!
Best blog and writer ever. I’m serious, Andie. Your words go straight to my heart. Thank you for sharing your wisdom in such an eloquent manner.
Oh…I dont have the emotional resources to really gather the words but know that I hear you, I love you, you are the furthest from the feelings of being a loser. Sometimes with parents, it is easier to show someone who is not your child pure love. Parents have so much fear for their children, their families, that I think that fear makes them act against how much they truly love sometimes. In comforting my dad during my mom’s sickness and since her death I have found insight into their feelings and relationship that I didnt have before. I believe that the love you show me and others through your continued sharing of yourself transcends the importance of accomplishments to fit societal expectations. Your musings have reignited a love of cooking, made me be more open with the people in my life, and given an escape that is not really an escape but a place for reflection :)
wow – excellent advice and encouragement
This might be helpful to some, as there are various reasons for bingeing.
Thank. You. Very. Much. sigh.
Thank you so much for posting this, I’ve been binging pretty much since Christmas. I have just avoided thinking about my health and well being and gained like 2st which is the opposite of what I wanted. Looking at it I must have said “I’ll start tomorrow” nearly every day. Thank you for opening my eyes and making it feel like there’s a whole community that’s there for me. I’m starting now :)
Oh and did you ever try that coconut oil? x
I binge on foods of which I deprive myself, i.e. don’t buy, and don’t keep in the house. These foods include: salted peanuts, Oreo cookies, potato chips, and cheese. I then eat so much that I become sick. Not good. ::SIGH::
I believe your last piece of advice, which I’ve heard you mention before, is the most affirming one of all. It’s meaningful in every respect. “Eat in a way you’re proud of. Always.” That is profoundly solid advice, Andie, and you have the personal credentials to prove it. It takes some of us decades to realize the value in a statement like that, but when we finally do realize it, everything finally begins to fall into place.
And your book, when it comes out, is going to be a bright and beautiful inspiration to so many people, Andie. It will have been worth the struggle you went through to write it. No question about it. I know I am looking forward to it.
So glad I found this site being in the weight loss industry you are constantly trying to find ways to help people because this is such a great problem I find your writing refreshing
I probably sound like a broken record… but you’re amazing! Your words hit me to the core. I’m so grateful to have found your blog.
Thank you. Can’t wait for you book!! :)
I needed this today. Somehow I know if I stopped by the blog, I would find re enforcement. I have a ton of stress lately and I’ve been looking for ways to escape. Lately, this had been in the form of reruns of Golden Girls and many other shows in the evening. Problem: watching TV in the evening had always meant eating for me. The result had been a complete shut down and dealing with what’s bothering me. I’m still walking and still tracking food, but sabotaging myself in the evening when the kids are in bed. Thats when I should be dealing with the mental and emotional stuff that I didn’t have time for during the day. Instead, I have been using that time poorly.
I’ve never been more compelled to comment on one of your posts! I am an on-again, off-again binge eater and I was struggling immensely last week. I caved in and binged, and was so desperate (since I have been in the cycle for so long) that I literally Google’d “how to overcome binge eating” (even thoughm truly, I already knew what I had to do. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself). This post couldn’t have been more timely for me and today is my fresh start and I’m feeling great. I’m actually going to start a blog since I feel like writing out my feelings may help. Thank you for being so brave, Andi!
PS – for some reason, your posts have not been showing up in my Google Reader since February. I hadn’t seen one from you for a long time so I visited the URL separately and was surprised to see that you had been blogging all along! Not sure what’s happening, but I even tried re-entering your URL into Reader with no luck…(I guess it really doesn’t matter though huh, since Reader is leaving us in a few months ;) But I just figured I’d let you know).
We’re all in the struggle together, some of us at the forefront (you), some of us a little further back in the process (me). But always, always when you pour your heart out on this blog it resonates with me and gives me that little push to continue to go forward. When we know better, we do better. I read what you write and think, “oh, great point, good tool, great help.”
Thank you dear Andie for choosing this medium to reach so many and know you are giving a gift each time you write.
When will the book be out?
thank you thank you thank you for this! i wish i had learned many many years ago that “its not about the food”, im fortunate to know this now and I hate that this still seems like such an overlooked subject in the “obesity epidemic” or else I certainly would have found this little tiny powerful piece of advise years ago with all the diets and books and blogs i plowed through going up and down in weight over the years. its about many things and the part thats not about the food is a critical piece to the weight loss journey in my opinion!
You are wise beyond your years. As someone else said, you nailed it! I love the way you write. It is creative and interesting. Easy to indulge in it. Thanks for sharing alllllll your talents.
I hope your mother realizes all of your talents today or some day. You are NOT a loser. Period. End of statement. You are a wonderful, giving person and all your friends on here care and appreciate all you do for US! Waiting for your book ………………..
Thank you so much, Anne :) And yes, my mom gets it. She really, truly does. She’s just about as loving as they come; she just always wants the best for me and sometimes those wants come out ways I can’t understand at the time.
I appreciate you and all the kindness you continue to give me through comments and email. I’m so lucky to know you.
You’re going to get through this, eventually. Binge eating is definitely not the right way to handle the problems or stress in life. But, I would like to thank you for sharing all these tips, you are an inspiration, a motivator, for all those people who are also doing this thing. May they able to control themselves from engaging in this activity as sooner or later, they will be experiencing different side effects.
Sooooo grateful for your honesty, kindness and encouragement to help those of us struggling with emotional eating issues. I felt no one understood, and that I could not be helped! Now THANKS to you… An angel on earth… I feel hopeful that I can for once and for all live a healthy and joy filled life and set a great example for my children! You are such a blessing. Thank you Andie.
Bingeing and cravings are the food secrets of many women. We tell others and ourselves that we’re doing okay, but secretly we know we are NOT okay. The honesty you’ve shared, and allowed us to share, has touched a cord with me. I’m certain I’m not the only one, or you wouldn’t be writing a book. AND a cookbook! Hooray for YOU!
This is the most honest blog I’ve ever read. Ever. Thanks so much!
Hi Andie, I have just discovered your blog and i love it. So honest and beautiful and inspiring for many. In short i will share that i suffered from bulimia for 15 years (from 15 to 30). I am now 35 and free of emotional eating and binging.
How did i do this, well it took years, years of learning to observe myself, and accept that i had the illness and i needed to understand within me where it came from, what triggered me etc. Much like yourself it was in part an attempt to numb myself from all that i felt in me and from others. All the hurts, all the yuck that i wanted to escape from. I found and still do at times, it difficult to feel the world as it is now, knowing deep within that we are all in fact love, and yet we do no live or interact with each other (even ourselves) in this way most of the time. I felt this deeply from a small child, as i feel many others (if not all of us) do. Some of us are more open, and therefore more sensitive to what we allow ourselves to feel, and lets face it, – it can be difficult to remain open and show our vulnerability and our delicateness with others.
The other reason, the deeper reason (as you touched on above) was actually to do with filling an emptiness in me that was (and at times still is) so painful to feel that i had to cover it. To fill it up. I understand now this emptiness has been there as a result of my not accepting in full the love that i know i am (again – a love that is equal within us all), and in my non acceptance of this – of me, and the fact that the way i was living was not honouring of my true preciousness was deeply hurting me. And so i attempted to fill this emptiness with food.
But really one can choose to fill it with anything – with work, with love from another, with importance in any role one plays, rather then being truly connected to themselves and honouring this to the hilt!!
It was the teachings of Universal Medicine that helped me to this understanding and it is something i continue to work with each day, to build more love and acceptance of myself, and therefore of others. What i have learnt is that the more i love me, the more open i feel to the love in others, and i am able to see it before all the hurts out there. It can then start to become a focus, and there will be no need to numb or suppress, but simply to stay open.
Anyway, i look forward to following your blog. Keep on inspiring!!
First time commenting, but I just wanted to tell you that I love your blog + your recipes. One of my friends cooked one of your recipes (the sundried tomatoes, feta and chicken breast) at a dinner party. I thought it was delicious and checked out your blog. After that, I tried the fool-proof meatloaf and it is definitely the best meatloaf I’ve ever made! Your writing is really beautiful too-keep up the good work :-)
Binge eating is usually tied to an emotion. When you feel like binge eating, get in touch with how you are feelings. You will start to notice that when ever you have that feeling, you will feel like eating! It is key to break the pattern and replace the binge eating with a more healthy behaviour whenever that feeling comes up.
I’m with you on that Keith. Usually it is an emotion or hurt we don’t want to feel,or even deeper, feeling empty or worthless. It is then easier to cover the feeling by binging on food to numb ourselves then to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and feel the sadness or grief, or anger or whatever it is we are not wanting to feel. Let yourself feel it, have a good cry if needed, and the need to binge will lessen and lessen until you start making the changes within yourself to be able to feel more confidently. Thanks for the reminder. xoxo
Thank you…just…thank you.
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Ugh I can definitely relate to this, for the past few days I’ve been binge eating its becoming uncontrollable for me …. I will be doing fine for a few when then stress about work and my dating life triggers the binge, I dont know what to do anymore …. Can anyone offer advice or help ? :'(
Sorry you’re struggling, Jez. Maybe this information can be of help to you. There really seems to be no easy answer for any of this. Good luck. Hugs.
Thanks so much for this post! I love that last point; it runs either way. You wouldn’t be proud of describing a binge to someone, nor would you be if you told someone you hadn’t had anything but coffee for two days.
Good reminders, Andie.
Great tips. I’ll be honest I do love eating big, but I can manage my weight because I do intermittent fasting and therefore I can eat a bit more than I used to and still maintain a low bodyweight :)
I haven’t read the whole series but I’m sure there’s good stuff.
However, I have to say that in my experience, after 38 years of bingeing and many forays into dealing with emotions, etc., I finally just had to bite the bullet and resist the urges. Integral to that was establishing a regular eating pattern with full meals, moderate portions of ANYTHING but sweets, and room at times (on weekends, for me) for sweets. Nothing, even after three years, has made the urge to binge at times completely go away. And nothing was ever as easy or fun as food to sooth me. But over time, the tide turned, the gaps between binges widened, the binges became smaller, the effects of the binges became even more uncomfortable, so that it was less painful to tolerate the desire than to give in, and bingeing became the exception rather than the rule. Honestly, I had been making it harder than it had to be with a lot of “poor me” thinking, among other thinking habits. But I guess I had to be ready. And crying and claiming that I was done with it all had never before meant I was ready.
Thank you for this post. Thank you for being honest about the truth of being an ex-binge eater. I, myself used to be one, and I thank God for helping me develop the strength to slowly believe in myself and want to live a life change 100+ lbs. lighter in the making. I thank God for helping a nobody like me who didn’t ever think that I was capable or even worth the fight to be healthy. He is my Keeper and Guidance in every possible way and I love Him for He gave me a LIFE. Way more than just an existence. It is hard, however, to overcome the hurt and pain of a binge-eater’s past, and I am not afraid, because I know He will keep me healthy and help me make wise, smart and sound choices. However we’ve all ‘been there’ in that depressed, saddened state of mind, and it’s about loving ourselves enough not to hurt ourselves, but to love, nurture, and encourage ourselves to do good instead. This goes far beyond an ‘end-goal’ diet, this is For Life! ;)
Hi. I love this! I used to feel so guilty about my binge eating habits and time and again I always said it would be the last time I did it. I am now controlling it very well as I have been on the Eontu diet for a month or so and I have discovered that healthy eating does not have to be boring or tasteless. I think with even just a little bit of will power and a lot of encouragement from friends, family and even people you dont even know via the internet, being healthy is actually an enjoyable thing. By doing Eontu I have lost so much weight but even more importantly I have realised I am capable of more than I ever thought possible. It doesn’t hurt that the food is lush too. Ha!
Thank you for this post. I needed this.
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You did a great job writing this post.
It’s so nice to know that issues with food don’t have to isolate us – we can all help each other…and you did help all of us reading this (especially those of us that can relate)
I did hear a tip one time to take 100 sips of water before allowing yourself to start eating, which isn’t a bad idea…I haven’t tried it yet, but that much water would be a big distraction.
I read this email you sent me, maybe 3 or more times a week. It has become my “rock on my journey” through the food recovery :) . I just saw that you put it up on your blog…it brought me to tears. Firstly because I am still struggling…struggling- not giving up, just holding on for dear life. Secondly, all the above responses are so touching. Being vulnerable is such a gift, you really get way more than you could ever ask for (when you do actually reach out). Much love, and gratitude. <3, Lauren
Thanks for finally writing about >Email from a Reader: How
to Avoid Binge Eating | Can You Stay For Dinner? <Liked it!
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“It’s not about the food” – so true!! When I struggled with binge eating I was convinced I just liked food too much. You brought up some important points to help those that are struggling and I think it’s so important to hear these from people who have actually experienced it. For me, as soon as I removed the restriction and deprivation the binging disappeared. Thank you for sharing your experience with this.