Binge eating is defined as compulsive overeating whereby the sufferer feels out of control and/or powerless to stop. A binge may last an hour or two, or an entire day or longer. It is usually done in private and continues long beyond the point of feeling full.
Bingeing not only has psychological ramifications such as causing feelings of distress, depression and guilt, but it also has negative physical consequences including weight gain and blood sugar fluctuations.
Bingeing is almost always related to restriction, either in the form of calories or in the form of food groups. When I begin working with a client who suffers from binge eating episodes, the first thing I do is increase their calories and re-introduce any food groups they have eliminated.
Although there are often emotional factors involved that may require counselling to resolve, a few dietary tweaks will generally significantly reduce or complete eradicate bingeing behaviour.
There are five main strategies I recommend to overcome binge eating. Throughout this time, it is extremely important to focus on building a healthier relationship with food, rather than fixating on the way your body looks.
1. Ensure your caloric intake is not too low
If you are consuming an insufficient amount of total calories, your body will take every opportunity to seek out more food. This often manifests itself in overpowering cravings, which is your body’s way of signalling that it is starving.
While you may be able to ward off these cravings initially, your mind will eventually give in to the constant voice which tells you to eat more.
You should be eating 1500 calories per day at a minimum but to estimate your correct intake, read this post. If you suffer from binge eating behaviour, be wary at setting your intake anywhere below maintenance level.
2. Eat an adequate amount of carbohydrates
Closely tied to not consuming enough calories overall is an inadequate intake of carbohydrates.
While you make think your body’s cravings are just an annoying way to steer you off your diet, they are in fact very important to pay attention to. When your body craves sugary or starchy foods, it is typically because you are not eating enough carbohydrates throughout the day.
It is much better to work a moderate amount of “healthy” carbohydrates such as sweet potato, brown rice, oatmeal and fruit into your nutrition plan, rather than attempting to cut out carbohydrates altogether.
At a bare minimum, I would recommend consuming 100 grams of carbs per day. Exceptions lie with those partaking in carb-cycling, but that is not an approach I would recommend for those who have experienced disordered eating habits in the past.
3. Never label any foods as off-limits
I think it is a serious mistake to commence a new diet plan and immediately swear off all kinds of chocolate, crisps, bread, pasta and so on.
Taking such a hard stance against these types of foods will usually only make you crave them more. Observe what happens when you tell a toddler they can’t have something and they then fixate on it; it is the exact same thing with food. You will start obsessing about when you can eat these foods again and, once you have a taste, you will be very likely to binge on them.
As it is almost impossible to swear off a certain type of food for life (especially if it is one you like!), you need to accept that these kinds of foods will always be around and that they can also be incorporated into your life in a healthy manner.
When you consume an adequate amount of calories, it is also easier to have just one cookie, rather than destroying the entire packet.
I understand that certain people have ‘trigger’ foods which they cannot be around without bingeing on. I still think it is important to expose yourself to these foods on occasion, but in the safer environment of a restaurant or in the form of a very small amount brought home.
There was a great post on Tony’s blog a while back about conquering trigger foods, which I highly recommend.
4. Evenly spread your calories throughout the day
Most people tend to eat the bulk of their calories in the evenings. This can be due to the convenience of being in a home environment, a tendency to eat out at restaurants in the evenings, or a comfort thing as you unwind in front of the television with dinner and snacks.
Back-loading your calories in this manner is not a problem, provided you have a healthy relationship with food and this style of eating is purposeful and not a result of restriction.
Problems arise when one restricts their calories all day long, and then crumble to feelings of extreme hunger, cravings and low energy levels to binge on unhealthy amounts of food in the evenings.
If you are trying to build a healthier relationship with food, I would usually recommend spreading your calories out more evenly throughout the course of the day. This will keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent your hunger from becoming out of control by the time you get home from work.
5. Control other, less obvious variables
There are many factors which can contribute to binge eating behaviour aside from diet, such as getting enough sleep, performing regular exercise (exercise should always be done to make you feel better, rather than to punish yourself for binges), and practicing relaxation techniques to de-stress.
Have you ever suffered from binge eating? What techniques have you used to overcome it?