Updated: Mar 8
When a person is binge eating, that individual usually consumes far more calories than most people would eat in one sitting and they tend to lose control over how much they consume. For some people, binge eating also leads to purging behaviour, where the individual tries to compensate for their excessive calorie consumption by ridding them through vomiting, laxatives or exercise (these strategies don't work because most of the calories have already been absorbed).
Binge eating can be a serious problem and is often linked to poor self-esteem and feelings of shame. If binge eating is a problem for you, please consider seeing a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders because I have found that these types of problems can be very difficult to rectify on your own. With that said, here are some strategies that your psychologist will likely use in treating this issue.
Keep a food log. There are various food logs that can be found online. Here is one that I like using (the food log is on page 6 of the document). You will want to record exactly what you ate, where you ate it (at a table, in the kitchen, in your room), was it a binge (did you lose control?), did you purge, and what thoughts or emotions were you feeling during the experience or just before the binge? Don't worry about writing out calories, we just want you to be aware of what you are eating.
Record your eating for several weeks. It can be a bit annoying to having to do this but it can produce really important information about the antecedents to a binge, like your mood or thoughts at the time. You may also be less likely to binge because you won't want to write it all down. Each week, you and your therapist would look through the food log looking for patterns. In my experience, binge eaters tend to eat healthy all day long, often limiting their caloric intake (all of which requires willpower) but at the end of the day, when they have used up their finite willpower and their energy levels are low, they tend to lock themselves in their room and binge.
Are there patterns to your binge? How do you tend to feel before a binge? Often a binge is a way of managing high emotions - the heaviness that comes from binging distracts the person from the emotions and leaves them numb feeling. What are the types of thoughts you are having before a binge? I often see all-or-nothing thinking, where the individual eats a little of a forbidden food and then says, "Well, there goes this day, I might as well just keep binging," rather than stopping and realizing it is not too late.
Track your moods. Recognizing that your moods play an integral role in whether you binge that night is vital information. If you are keeping track of your moods through the day, you will have a sense if this evening is going to be a binge night. Try this, every time you look at your phone, ask yourself how you are feeling. If you find that throughout the day you have noticed that you are feeling a negative emotion, recognize that you will likely have a craving to binge that night.
Have a plan in place. Much like someone who is trying to quit drinking alcohol, you need to replace the binging behaviour with something else. Most people tend to binge in the evening, so put together a list of activities you can do to replace the binging. For example, exercise or stretching in your room, writing in your journal, watching a movie, a hot bath, reading a book, doing a puzzle or colouring, doing some creative activity or listening to music or playing an instrument. Have the list readily available so you can quickly turn to it.
Don't keep binge foods in the house. Most binge eaters have several go-to foods that they binge on; chocolate, peanut butter and jam, etc. Try not to keep these foods in your house. Also, when shopping, be honest with yourself. If you are considering buying a big bag of some treat and telling yourself that you will only eat small helpings, you are probably fooling yourself - just be honest and acknowledge you would likely binge on this item and this is not what you want to do.
Only eat at the table and eat mindfully. People tend to binge in their room because they feel shame about the activity. Make a rule that you will only eat at the table; not in front of the TV or while cooking. Also, eat without distractions. Don't read while eating or don't stare at a screen. Pay attention to your food, notice the smells, the taste and the texture. Eating this way will allow you to appreciate your food more and will help you in controlling the size of your portions because you will be paying attention to how you feel while eating.
Work on your self-esteem. Eating disorders are often tied to self-esteem and it is vital that you learn how to be kind and loving to yourself. Strategies for improving your self-esteem can be found in a previous article I wrote.
Here is a very effective book I have found for binge eating.