Losing weight can be a frustrating process at times. But you know what makes it even more frustrating? Binge eating.
I know because I spent a year losing 20lbs only to gain half of it back in a month. One month. It was devastating. I felt awful. I couldn’t believe I’d undone half a year’s progress in just a few weeks. And worse, no matter how bad I felt, I couldn’t stop.
Hi! I’m Jenn, and I spent years in therapy battling binge eating disorder and an unhealthy relationship with food. I’m proud to say I’m now recovered, but I remember what it was like when it was at its worst.
I remember the dialogue running through my head. “Stop. You don’t need more. You aren’t even hungry,” as I got up to eat something else. “Fine, but just one,” I’d tell myself. Then as soon as it was gone, I’d immediately reach for another. Until 45 minutes had passed, I’d eaten half the things I had in my kitchen, and I was so full of food and regret I felt sick.
The good news: it doesn’t have to be like this! After a lot of years of therapy and many struggles working through my recovery process, I’m proud to say I haven’t binged in over four years. And now I’m here to share everything I learned with you.
I’m going to split this up into two sections: coping mechanisms and strategies for long-term recovery. If binging is just an occasional issue for you, you may only need the first part. But if it feels like you’ve lost control, it’s been interfering with your goals for a while, or you’re using most of your time and energy thinking about food, you’ll want to check out the long-term section too.
Let’s dive in!
- If there’s a specific food you know you’re prone to overeat, don’t keep it in your house. The extra effort to go out and buy it will likely discourage you from even starting.
- Learn your triggers and avoid them. Some triggers may be emotional and unavoidable, but some may be certain foods and/or events. I had to stay away from potlucks for a long time because I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself with so many options.
- If you have an urge to eat your feelings, delay it. Tell yourself you can have the thing in 20 minutes if you still want it. Then spend those 20 minutes in an alternate coping strategy: call or text a friend, go for a walk, take a hot shower, or post in LWEP Facebook Group for support!
- Figure out a system to spend less time and energy thinking about food. For me, it was meal prep. No decisions necessary – just take what I already made and eat it. For you, it might be frozen microwave meals. Or keeping low calorie snacks on hand. Or something else entirely! Whatever it is, figure out a plan and implement. It’s amazing how much more you can accomplish when you aren’t spending hours a day wondering what you’re going to eat next.
Strategies to Quit Binging Forever:
- Here we need to talk some about the psychology of why binge eating happens. I believe it comes from two primary places – shame or a scarcity mindset. But first, a hot take: we eat food for comfort because it works. Emotional eating is actually ok! As we know from CICO, one cookie or a bowl of mac and cheese can fit into your day just fine. It only becomes a problem when 1 cookie turns into 3 which turns into 5. All this to say: make peace with food as emotional comfort!
- On to shame. This is the cycle where we try really hard to resist the cookie, eat it anyway, and then think, “well, ‘eff it, I’ve already started so might as well keep going.” Note that sometimes this cycle is conscious and sometimes we don’t realize we’re doing it. Again as we know from CICO, this is not how it works at all. If you can stop beating yourself up for having something you “shouldn’t” have had, or even having a whole “bad” day (or week!), you can interrupt and/or avoid this cycle.
- One thing that helps with letting go of the shame – track your calories even when you think you don’t want to know. It’s almost never as bad as you think, and remember you’d need to eat 3500 calories above your TDEE to gain *a* pound. Even if you did eat that much, you probably wouldn’t gain a full pound of fat since some of the calories will get burned in digestion. Ever binge and then notice you feel weirdly hot after? That’s your body working extra hard to digest what you just ate. And, in the grand scheme of things, a pound just isn’t that significant – even though I know it feels that way.
- Scarcity mindset. This is general anxiety that there won’t be enough. For example, if you knew that you could only eat cake on your birthday, wouldn’t you end up eating way more cake on that day since you know you can’t have it anytime else? Or, if you knew you weren’t going to eat for an entire day after breakfast, wouldn’t you eat a much larger breakfast than usual? This is essentially what’s going on when you restrict the foods you can eat or when. So this is really two strategies. First, don’t restrict foods. Eat the pizza (and whatever else you want)!
- Second, I recommend “compassionate calorie counting.” Essentially, allow yourself to go over sometimes. It may slow you down a bit, but big picture you’ll have much more success when you can get out of the “all or nothing” black and white thinking. So much of this is in your head, and it’s important to make sure you’re able to get physically healthy while also being mentally healthy.
Some final thoughts for those who are really struggling: be kind to yourself! Binge eating disorder (BED) is officially classified in DSM-5. It’s not that you’re bad or lack willpower or don’t want it enough – mental health is complicated and hard. If you think you may have BED and have the resources, consider getting professional help. If you don’t have the resources, check out Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer. It’s a great book on eating disorders based in cognitive behavioral therapy and was huge in my recovery process. I had to read it twice to get the full benefit.
Overcoming binge eating is a process, but it can be done. You can get back in control. You can get to a point where you trust yourself around food. And you can let go of the guilt, shame, and regret that come with binging – forever.
If I can do it, anyone can. You’ve got this.
P.S. If you like what I have to say, you can find a lot more of it on my Instagram @jenntitche!