Binge eating is the consumption of a large amount of food in a short time. A person who binge eats may feel unable to control the type or amount of food that they eat. Binge eating can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and depression.
People who binge eat at least once a week for 3 months may have binge eating disorder, the most common eating disorder in the United States. Binge eating is also a sign of bulimia nervosa and the binge-purge subtype of anorexia nervosa.
In this article, we provide tips to help people stop binge eating and outline the treatment options for binge eating disorder.
Following a rigid diet plan can lead to feelings of deprivation. Suddenly and significantly cutting calories can also cause the body to go into starvation mode. Both of these situations can lead to episodes of binge eating.
Research on adolescent girls indicated that fasting increases the risk of binge eating and bulimia.
Rather than following a restrictive or fad diet, people can focus on filling up with nourishing foods.
A nutritious diet comprises mainly:
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- lean proteins, such as fish, lean meat, legumes, eggs, and tofu
- healthful fats, including fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado
People may benefit from trying the 80:20 approach to eating, which involves consuming healthful foods 80% of the time and enjoying treats the other 20% of the time.
Regularly working out may help prevent binge eating because exercise causes the body to release endorphins that boost the mood.
A better mood may reduce the risk of emotional eating, which is when people consume unhealthful foods or large amounts of food in response to stress, sadness, or anger.
People often binge eat in response to loneliness, boredom, sadness, or other triggers.
Identifying these triggers can help people avoid or manage them, reducing the likelihood of binge eating.
Keeping a food diary allows people to track what they eat and how they feel at the time.
Once someone has identified their triggers, they can take steps to address them. For example, if boredom is the cause, people can try distracting themselves with an activity, such as exercising, reading, or meeting friends.
There is a strong link between binge eating and low self-esteem. If a low sense of self-worth is a trigger for people, they may wish to consider seeing a therapist.
Stress is a common trigger for binge eating, with research suggesting that stress reduces a person’s awareness of their hunger and satiety cues. In turn, this can lead to overeating.
Learn to manage stress by:
- eliminating stressors where possible
- practicing meditation
- using deep breathing techniques
- exercising regularly
- practicing yoga or tai chi
- getting enough sleep
- using alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, or aromatherapy
Skipping meals can cause blood sugar to drop, which prompts the body to crave a quick boost of sugar in the form of white bread, candy, or other simple carbohydrates.
Eating these foods can raise blood sugar levels, but they tend to crash again quickly, causing the cycle to continue.
To avoid this situation, people can plan a regular schedule of meals and snacks and focus on nutritious foods.
One study links eating three meals and two or three planned snacks daily with a lower frequency of binge eating episodes.
Mindfulness meditation involves staying in the here-and-now. Practicing mindfulness while eating is one way to avoid binge eating behaviors.
A review of 14 studies reported that mindfulness meditation effectively reduces binge eating and emotional eating.
Eating slowly and purposefully allows people to enjoy the textures and flavors of the food. It also enables them to recognize their hunger cues.
When being mindful, people are less likely to overeat because they are aware of starting to feel full.
Having access to an array of sugary and processed foods facilitates binge eating.
People can easily avoid this situation by removing junk foods from the home and stocking the refrigerator and cupboards with healthful options instead.
If binge eating while out and about is an issue, people can keep nutritious snack foods in their car, work desk, or bag. Good options include fresh fruit, protein bars with no added sugar, and small amounts of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
When feelings of hunger arise, people should try drinking a glass of water first. If the feelings subside, this suggests that they were actually thirsty.
However, if the person still feels hungry, they should follow the glass of water with a balanced meal or snack. Research indicates that drinking 500 milliliters of water before a meal reduces the number of calories that a person then eats by 13%.
It is also a good idea for overall health to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
A person can determine whether they are drinking enough by checking the color of their urine. Clear to light yellow indicates a good level of hydration.
Sleep plays a vital role in regulating hunger and appetite. A lack of sleep can increase feelings of stress and low mood, which may trigger binge eating.
Research has shown that a lack of sleep can contribute to obesity by:
- increasing food intake
- decreasing the energy that a person uses throughout the day
- affecting the hormones that regulate appetite
Experts recommend that people aim to sleep for at least 7–8 hours each night and that they try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Individuals who experience difficulty falling or staying asleep should speak to a doctor.
Individuals should see a doctor if they regularly binge eat or suspect that they may have binge eating disorder.
Binge eating issues can vary from mild to severe, and they may occur for a short period or persist for years.
For this reason, it is vital to seek treatment and support as soon as possible.
Treatment for binge eating disorder aims to reduce binge eating episodes and replace them with positive eating behaviors and a more balanced attitude to food.
Treatments may include:
- lifestyle changes
Typically, psychotherapy helps people address the emotions and issues that underlie binge eating, including shame, guilt, depression, and low self-esteem.
Therapy can also help people identify and address other triggers, deal with problematic relationships, and regulate their emotions.
A doctor may prescribe various medications for binge eating disorder, including anticonvulsant medications and antidepressants.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication for the treatment of moderate-to-severe binge eating disorder in adults. The drug is called lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse).
If a person with binge eating disorder is overweight, weight loss programs may help them achieve a healthy weight.
Binge eating involves eating large amounts of food in a short period. People typically feel as though they cannot control the type or amount of food that they consume.
Some people may binge eat occasionally, while others do it regularly. Binge eating can lead to adverse health outcomes, so it is important to address it promptly.
Identifying binge eating triggers, planning balanced meals and snacks, and practicing mindful eating are all strategies to reduce binge eating behaviors.
Exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and adequate hydration are also important.
In cases where low self-esteem or negative emotions trigger binge eating episodes, it is vital to address these underlying issues. A doctor or therapist can help.
Anyone who wants further information or support, especially if they suspect that they have binge eating disorder, should speak to a doctor.