Binge eating is generally caused by negative mood states. For example Dr Jake Linardon says it is not uncommon for people to binge after getting into an argument with a partner, or when feeling lonely. Dr Linardon offers some healthy strategies to replace those of that are illness-driven.
Binge eating is a common behaviour experienced by people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages.
In the lead-up to World Eating Disorder Day, I want to share with you some helpful strategies to control and overcome your binge eating.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of binge eating behaviour and binge-eating disorder has increased markedly over the past two decades, with men and women engaging in binge eating having doubled since 1998.
This is a cause for concern because binge eating is connected to a range of negative physical, psychological, and social consequences. Understanding how you can control or overcome binge eating is important for improving your quality of life.
Before diving into the strategies that might help you overcome binge eating, it is first important to clarify two things: (1) what binge eating is and (2) what is causing your binge eating.
Just what exactly is binge eating?
Binge eating can be defined as the consumption of an unusually large amount of food, given the circumstances, while accompanied by a sense of loss of control. In simpler terms, binge eating reflects eating a lot of food mindlessly.
Understanding the factors causing your binge eating is also very important. This is because the strategies to stop binge eating have been designed to address these causes. There are two main causes of binge eating.
- Dietary restraint: Dietary restraint refers to the multiple specific and demanding diet rules that tell someone when, what, and how much to eat. Dietary restraint usually comes in the form of fasting, food avoidance, or under-eating. Because these diet rules are so hard to sustain, the inevitable “breaking” of these rules tends to cause people to react negatively (in an all-or-none fashion). This reaction, coupled with the physiological and psychological deprivation of dieting, causes the binge eating.
- Mood fluctuations: Binge eating is generally caused by negative mood states. For example, it is not uncommon for people to binge after getting into an argument with a partner, or when feeling lonely. Eating makes us feel good and can block these emotions temporarily. Unfortunately, some people take this to the extreme and find themselves overindulging on foods, making them feel even worse to begin with.
Tips and strategies to control your binge eating
Now that you understand the main causes of binge eating, it’s time to implement some strategies. Here are 3 evidence-based strategies.
An important step needed to overcome binge eating is to engage in self-monitoring. This means recording not only what, when, and how much you eat during a day, but also the context around your eating, including how you were feeling and what you were thinking before, during, and after your meal.
Monitoring is important for understanding the precise factors that are responsible for your binge eating. For example, do you notice any trends when you binge? Is it usually after a long period without eating? After a confrontation with others? After you’ve eaten a “forbidden food”.
Knowing this information is crucial for appropriate intervening. You need to obtain a diary and write this information down consistently.
Recall that binge eating is caused by dieting behaviours. In order to address many facets of dieting, including fasting and energy restriction, you need to introduce a pattern of regular and flexible eating into your routine.
This means eating 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, no longer than 3-4 hours apart. Each night, write down exactly what and when you are going to eat your meals and snacks so that you’re well prepared. Try to introduce small amounts of food you consider “forbidden”, as this will be helpful for improving your relationship with food.
By eating regularly, you won’t feel so deprived, physically and psychologically, and are therefore less likely to binge.
Learn effective problem solving
Many people turn to binge eating after experiencing adverse emotions. Bingeing is used as a way to cope, but it is an ineffective strategy. You need to learn how to respond in more adaptive ways, without resorting to food.
Learning how to problem solve effectively is key. There are generally a series of steps you can take to learn effective problem-solving. It takes time. Be patient and persevere with it. Here are some useful problem-solving tools.
- Identify the issue: This means really searching for what the problem is that you are experiencing. This about all of the possible details of this problem. The more you can identify and understand the problem, the better you are able to address it.
- Think about some possible solutions to the problem and their implications: how can you solve this problem. Think of as many solutions as possible. Then, forecast your mind toward what would happen if you implemented that solution. Think carefully about this. Are some outcomes better than others? Remember, if your solution is to binge eat after a fight with your partner, think carefully about how you are going to feel after the binge episode. It’s likely you’ll feel much worse than to begin with! What about if you went for a nice walk and observed nature? Do you think that would put you in a better head space? These are things to consider, because it will influence your behaviour.
- Pick a solution: After you have thought about all of the possible solutions in detail, pick the best one and act on it! Ideally, you will have recognised that the best solution is one that does not involve food. If you can effectively do this once, your ability to engage in adaptive problem solving will soon become automatic, and your emotions will not get the better of you.
These are some important strategies you could implement to overcome and control your binge eating. I’ve also launched a comprehensive guide to stopping your binge eating here.
Remember, implementing these strategies takes practice and patience. If you find the challenge difficult, be sure to reach out for support.
About World Eating Disorders Action Day 2019
This year grassroots activists, volunteers, and over 250 organizations in 40+ countries are calling for caregivers to receive support, health care workers to be properly trained, and access to immediate, evidence-based treatment.
Why We Can’t Afford to Wait
- Worldwide over 70 million people are estimated to be affected by an eating disorder,
- Eating disorders have the HIGHEST MORTALITY RATE of any psychiatric illness
- Eating disorders affect people of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, socioeconomic class, abilities, races, and ethnic backgrounds. It is time to take action.
- Good news! When treated EARLY and correctly, eating disorders have the highest and fastest recovery rate!
How to support World Eating Disorders Action Day, June 2, 2019
- Join the movement, show your purple on social media! Use hashtag #ShowUsYourPurple
- Follow conversation on social media. Use hashtags #ShowUsYourPurple #WeDoActNow
- Host or attend an event. See http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/2019-events-2/
- Donate. To support the work see http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/get-involved/participating-organisations/.
- Discuss eating disorders. Through open, supportive dialogue, we can create change.
E-book release: Come as you are, eating disorders can’t wait
As a Participating Organisation supporting 2019 World Eating Disorder Action Day, The Diary Healerhas released a new ebook, . Stories from around the world illustrate that recovery from an eating disorder IS possible, at every age. The first step, is to seek help. to purchase a copy for $9.97 (AUD) – all profits support eating disorder services.
Dr Jake Linardon, PhD, is the founder of Break Binge Eating and a Research Fellow at Deakin University, Melbourne Australia. With a focus on eating disorders, Jake has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on eating disorders and serves as an editorial board member for the International Journal of Eating Disorders.