Why You Binge-Eat and How To Stop

By Ali Luke

23-0802bingebenandjerrys.bmpDoes this scenario look familiar to anyone? After sticking rigidly to my diet for weeks, I “cracked” and scoffed an entire stick of garlic bread with a tub of onion and garlic dip.

At least the vampires kept away that night…

The body and mind react badly to several weeks of “perfect” dieting. Constant low-level hunger makes you crave food, and forbidding anything makes it perversely more desirable.

Weeks of deprivation lead to grabbing the nearest high-fat, high-calorie foods and digging in. So, what can you do to break the pattern?

After a binge is over

You’re staring at a pile of chocolate wrappers, crisp packets and biscuits crumbs. You feel horribly stuffed, and a bit sick. And you feel awful because you’ve “broken” your diet.

There is absolutely no point beating yourself up. It’s happened. It’s over. Draw a firm mental line and put it behind you. Go and get a bath or a long shower. Once you’re feeling calmer, sit down somewhere quiet and work out what led to the binge. (You may find it helps to write this down.)

  • Have you eaten enough over the past few days or weeks?
  • Where did the “binge” food come from? (If it was in your cupboards, maybe a clear-out is in order … it’s much easier to avoid eating junk if it’s not there!)
  • How were you feeling? Miserable? Bored? Annoyed? Upset?
  • What were your thoughts before you started the binge?

Once you’ve pin-pointed the “trigger” for the binge, you’re 90% of the way to avoiding it happening again. An hour of over-eating won’t ruin your diet, but carrying on for a whole day or week will inevitably sabotage your weight-loss.

In the middle of a binge

Sometimes, you come to your senses half-way through the family-sized pack of cookies. You realize you’ve just scoffed your calorie allowance for the day. But it’s too late to stop, isn’t it?

It’s better to eat five cookies than ten. As soon as you realize what you’re doing:

  • Put the food down. Throw away the rest of the packet. If this seems an awful waste, so much the better; by chucking it out, you show you’re serious
  • Go and brush your teeth, which should reduce the urge to keep going until you’re completely stuffed.
  • Make a note of the time, and promise yourself you won’t eat anything for the next three hours.

Then find something to do which will keep you away from food. If it’s active, even better. Throw yourself into the chores, get out in the garden, go for a long walk. Or phone a friend, do something creative (like knitting or papercrafts), anything that keeps your hands busy.

Once you’ve had a chance to calm down from the binge, be proud; you stopped yourself part-way, which is hard to do. Think through the factors listed for “After a binge is over” above – what led to it? What will you do differently in future?

Before the binge has started

Perhaps you already know what triggers your overeating, or perhaps you’re able to work it out from a past binge. If so, take active steps now to avoid the things that set you off. Try:

  • Avoiding boredom. Find hobbies to occupy your brain (and hands) in the evenings and at weekends.
  • Getting exercise. You’ll be much less inclined to wolf down a mars bar when you’ve spent thirty minutes sweating away in the gym.
  • Portion control. Buying a family-sized bag of tortilla chips is never a good idea; “I’ll just have a handful a day” won’t work. Stick to multipacks.
  • Having treats. Don’t cut out everything “bad”. Have a little treat to look forward to each day. Take the occasional evening off – eat things you really enjoy, though, rather than scoffing everything in sight.

How have you conquered binge-eating?

80 Comments

  1. Trish

    I am 52 yrs and i have had a binge eating disorder for as long as I can remember. Over the past 2 years i have lost over 5st. I went from 12st 11 Ibs to 7st 7 lbs. I have never got help. no one knows. I just felt 2yrs ago that my weight was creeping up and up and i was terrified of getting diabetes so i just cut out biscuits, cakes, sugary stuff, the weight just fell off. Then i started getting really bad cravings, i had and still do eat healthy but i started bingeing again. I do not have biscuits etc in the house, if i want something like that i will go to a coffee shop and get cake and thats it, i am eating in front of people, i eat very slowly, savour every bite. I know exactly what its like, you cannot stop, ive eaten whole cakes, 4 or 5 pks of bis, probably eating 10,000 calories in one sitting maybe more, now if i want something even if its every day i will have it i am not denying myself, get it before it gets out of control. i wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I have been through. i urge anyone to get help. I have had this since i was 15, its under control but could change very quickly. i eat lots of fruit and veg, plenty of protein so im not hungry. if i binge i don’t beat myself up over it, put it behind me, tomorrow is a new day and i need to forgive and forget.

    Reply
  2. Maggie

    I am sorry to say it amongst all those approving comments, but having read this post I feel the person who wrote it never binged. Call a friend? Go for a walk? What the hell is this? When you binge and know that you scoffed have the fridge content, it is too much to go for a walk, you eat because you ate. You feel you simply must continue as much as possible. Most likely until the end of the day, because, you start clean the following morning. At least this is what you tell yourself. Very poor article, little insight or understanding of the phenomenon.

    Reply
  3. PeacefulWarriorWoman

    I was bulimic for 9 years (2 years in recovery). But I still struggle with binge eating. I hate how powerless, pitiful you feel when you binge. I tried everything I could think of to stop my addiction, but nothing was working.

    Just this last week I thought, I will literally FIGHT my urges. I want to DEMOLISH this addiction. So I started throwing away my food. When I get take out, I eat enough to enjoy it and throw the rest away. I got really bad family news this week, so I trashed all of my binge-able foods, then spent time journaling.

    I’ll be honest, it felt really good to do this. I was releasing my anger and frustration as I threw the food away. And best of all, I felt in control, empowered. The last time I felt this way was when I would just refuse to purge. Every time I didn’t purge, the urge lost its power a little more.

    Is this phase of my recovery going to be expensive? A little. And it feels a little crazy too. But if this is my next step to over coming my eating disorder, SO BE IT. Eventually I will be able to handle keeping the food in the house. Until then…hello garbage disposal!

    Reply
  4. kourntee:)

    im 15 and im a fit person, i dont eat breakfest or lunch, but towards dinner i scarf down tons of food and then sweets and i feel very fat and deppressed. so i work out till i feel like ima cry, but now after reading this i can control myfelf

    Reply
    • Denise

      Hope this helps, sweetie, but try to eat breakfast and lunch because when your body is physically hungry, it can bring on a fierce binge, and no amount of sheer will power can prevent the binge.That’s why you crave the sweets at night. I have eating and exercise disorders, and I find that eating more often helps. I lost around 130 pounds, going from a size 24-26 to a size 3/extra small. I hope to take this, and help others. Remember that it’s a journey. If you find yourself falling, remember to just pick yourself up and get back in the fight. We’re all a race in progress, and you’re worth self love and compassion. You got this!!! Sending you tons of love and blessings 🙂

      Reply
  5. JannyMurphy

    This is a great site.. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. Reading all the posts,
    I feel like I’m home.. this disease is completely demoralizing and takes everything out of me. The worst dor me is late night bingeing on sugar.. I’m older and have battled this for my whole life.
    Being able to go somewhere and talk to people who understand is really a blessing and I am really grateful .. I’m here anytime if anyone wants to share
    Janny

    Reply
  6. poppy

    Mel, i have the exact same problem as you… read my post from below, i always binge then purge it out and i dont know what to do or how to stop it..
    Maybe you should show your mum the symptoms of your condition and tell her its important to you and you want to stop it?

    Reply
  7. poppy

    HEEEELP! I have the exact same problem as so many people here and i’m so glad that Im not the only one… I started off by having regular dinners with adequate portions, then i’d always haave a yoghurt with fruit every night after dinner. But the binging started when I’d slowly add a handful of oats/muesli to my yoghurt with my fruit.. and then the cereal portion would slowly creep higher and higher! now I feel like I can eat a whole box of cereal without feeling full but my tummy feels horribly bloated but i cant stop.. so now I know i will binge, I have started only eating soup and vegetables (with protein sometimes like fish or roast chicken) and binge on cereal.. HELP it feels so terrible and I always end up purging sometimes like the food just comes up by itself and I spit it out.. I want to end this vicious cycle 🙁 pls help..

    Reply
  8. Dani

    Mell,
    I am not an expert whatsoever on bulimea or eating disorders. But I myself tend to eat quite a few midnight snacks, and it is not something I am happy about. Today I went to a psychologist for the first time and after mustering up the courage, I admitted my binging problem. You obviously want help. Think about it – after you take that one step to seek professional help, you will get help! I am sure it will be very freeing and a relief. Although there are many of us out here, you are the only one who can truly save yourself. You can do it!

    Reply
  9. Mell B.

    I am in need of serious, mature advice from someone who knows a bit about binging and how to stop. I am an 18-year-old female who has struggled with this disordered eating since childhood. After hitting my teens, it developed into bulimia. I purge after binging large amounts of food in a number of ways– self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise (3-5 hours usually) and/or fasting. My weight is in the normal range (I am 5’5 and 119 lbs) but it fluctuates as much as 10 lbs. in a month, and my body is beginning to suffer. My hair has begun to fall out, my heartbeat is irregular, and I am constantly getting sore throats from repeated exposure to stomach acid.

    I have told my mother that I am about 99% sure that I have an eating disorder, but she ignores this claim b/c I am an average weight. I would seek medical treatment but I have such low self-esteem it is difficult for me to even apply for a job.

    I am at the end of my rope and have been having frequent suicidal thoughts. I don’t know how to stop, or what to do. Please, any advice would help.

    Reply
    • Ana

      Hi,
      been there . am still there but I started to feel better .Read “brain over the binge”.I hope it is gonna help you as well.

      Reply
    • Tamara

      educate yourself on eating disorders, try OA (overeaters anonymous) – it’s free and very effective program for ED, and see an eating disorder counselor

      Reply
  10. Kathie

    I try to avoid trigger foods, but it’s pretty hard when my husband isn’t dieting and doesn’t have to watch what he eats like I do. He has compromised some by not having cookies or ice cream or frozen pizza in the house…I guess I’m just supposed to suck it up and get more willpower somehow? I’m just frustrated that I eat healthy and reasonably all day, count my calories, blah blah blah and then at night, I feel ravenously hungry. I cannot help myself. I never even used to care about food until a few years ago in my late 20s.

    Reply
  11. Dee

    I always binged when I went out on my own. Now I leave my wallet at home, and only take my driver’s licence, train ticket and a mobile.

    Reply
  12. TinaL

    Nali

    Go and enjoy the party. Eat a little of all the things you like. Then next week, eat sensibly. No worries!!! You are doing great.

    Reply
  13. Nali

    So I have been dieting for a couple of months now and have managed to lose about 10 pounds (!). Due to my jam-packed schedule (school: 8am-3pm, theater 3pm-6pm, and homework/leadership 6pm-12am) I feel as though I have no time to work out and still be successful in my time consuming goals!

    But more importantly, I went out to eat last night and ate wayyy to much. I had planned for this all of yesterday (raw fruit and veggies – healthy) but I then proceeded to eat: Salad w/ranch dressing, cup of soup, 4 pieces of bread, a side of fries (which was a lot, really), and 1/2 cup Ben and Jerry’s Cake Batter Ice Cream. Then tomorrow is my cousins party and my family is sure to make amazing food and dessert.

    What do I do now? I don’t want to start gaining weight back but I sure want to enjoy myself! Already had a banana today….now what?

    Reply
  14. Cathy

    I just found this diet blog…is it free? I was surprised (relieved?) to see so many people – men and women – who seem to share the same struggles that I do. I have been struggling with binge eating for years, and have only recently come to the realization that I have this disorder! I joined LA Weight Loss over a year ago, and it helped me to eat normal portions and more of a variety of foods. I learned that a sandwich was not going to make me fat but starving myself could actually cause me to gain weight or not lose at all. I lost the weight I wanted to, but now, for the last (gulp!) year I feel like I have been on an emotional/physical roller coaster of trying not to binge…trying to be in control at night especially. I ate until I’m stuffed…peanut butter on crackers, cookies, cereal…and then I go to bed feeling sick to my stomach and the next morning is guilt, etc..and starting all over again. I just want to be happy and to feel like I can say no to a second cookie or going back for more dessert, etc… If I can talk to other people who have ideas…that would help. I think it is boredom, frustration, maybe self-loathing over lack of discipline.

    Reply
  15. Catherine

    thank you so much for this article, i always keep to a healthy eating style but if someone leaves leftovers out or makes cookies, i’ll have 1 and it’ll lead to 6. i’ll sit there and just eat. i feel horrible and then end up throwing the food away. it has never led to purging -i would never- but now i know these tips that can help stop me in the process of the binge. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  16. wendy

    i hate eating. it makes me scared. i either eat not enough or too much. what should i do?

    Reply
  17. wendy

    i lose control when i eat and halfway through i realize what im doing, it makes me panic and then i eat more and more to numb that panic. Sometimes this distress is so great i have a panic attack and feel like im going to throw up, faint or die. I dont know why i do this but i just couldnt stop myself from eating more and more. After the binge i would go to the gym for over an hour just on cardio. And i would hate my self so much for eating. But even then i could not get the sensation that i am satisfied or full. i just want to eat normally and not gain weight.

    Reply
  18. Cari

    I used to find it really helpful to put water over the food I was bingeing on. That made it lose it’s appeal fast and it also made me pause and stop what had become automatic.

    Reply
  19. Cari

    The worst thing to do when you’ve binged is to beat yourself up about it… because that starts the whole diet pattern all over again. So you’re determined to ‘be good’ again and you feel as if you have to make up for all the calories you ate so it’s back to good old restricting and depriving and then it’s only a matter of time before the next binge inevitably comes along.

    Forgive yourself – look at what you can learn about what triggered it and move on.

    Reply
  20. Supplements Canada

    While I find I get susceptible to binging, I find mostly what causes it is not eating frequently enough and not giving myself unhealthy treats from time to time. I deprive myself for so long that when I get a chance to have some unhealthy stuff I really go overboard.

    Reply
  21. Kathryn

    In terms of food logs- I’ve been using thedailyplate.com and it is SO HELPFUL! you can type in any food and it’ll give you all the nutritional info- they have thousands of generic foods as well as brand items and even meals from restaurants. If an item isn’t listed and you know the nutritional info, you can add it to the database yourself. You just click a button to add it to “your plate” and it tallies all your calories, fat, protein, etc. for the day! You can also add physical fitness to calculate daily “net cals” and you can set weight loss goals – dailyplate will calculate the number of calories you need to reach your goal, whether you want to do it by 1 lb a week, 2, etc.

    i’ve also upgraded to “gold membership” which is pretty cheap and gives you extra options but the basic version is FREE! it’s been very useful for me in terms of becoming more aware of how many calories i consume and maintaining a healthy weight.

    good luck!!!

    Reply
  22. Quito

    The spreadsheet I recalled is at https://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2007/05/16/how_to_make_your_own_diet_plan.php but there’s several sections of this blog on food diaries. Look under “tips and tools” in “categories” above.

    Reply
  23. Roger

    Thanks for the advice, I will take that into consideration. I do like peanuts, but like almonds alot more. I have tried the peanut butter from stores like Whole foods before and it is ok. I may just do the almonds route instead. I can by them in bulk and unsalted. They acually taste really good compared to those can varietes.

    Where is that spreadsheet located on this site? I have considered keeping a food log, but wasnt sure how to go about doing it. My wife and I usually plan our meals out a week in advance so that spreadsheet will help.

    Reply
  24. Quito

    Hi Roger! Best wishes for your upcoming effort…

    Is the spoonful of peanut butter supposed to control your appetite the next day or just immediately? For me, a spoonful of nut butter (almond or walnut in my case) is a good snack. It is high calorie – a tablespoon of peanut butter is near 100 calories – but it doesn’t take much in my case to make me feel satiated. But, it’s immediate, in that it wouldn’t affect my hunger hours later.

    Peanuts have other good properites. Richard Mattes at Purdue, in 2003, did a small study that indicates eating a small number of peanuts daily (2/3 of a cup = 500 calories, which is not a small number of calories) lowered triglyceride levels without changing body weight (even when the 500 calories were additional: see http://www.purdue.edu/UNS/html4ever/030731.Mattes.peanuts.html).

    Talk more with your friend about this. Having a few peanuts may be better since it takes time to eat them. If you do go the peanut butter route, I’d go with the “just peanuts” product – a lot of peanut butter has stuff added to keep it from separating, and sugar added to be more attractive to children.

    As you do this, do keep a food log. Write down everything you eat and keep track of the calories. Jim of this blog has a spreadsheet that is very convenient to use, or you can use many web sites.

    Reply
  25. Roger

    This is my first post on this blog. I am very overweight, and I am getting ready to start what I consider an eating life change rather than a diet. I know my problem is portion control,but I do find myself benge eating as well. A good friend of mine, who is a personal trainer told me once that to prevent that kind of thing, you should have 1 spoonful of peanut butter before bed, then you wont have any cravings. I would like all your input on that.

    Reply
  26. Meg

    This is a good article, but what do you do if you can’t avoid foods that set you off on a binge? My parents refuse to cook healthily and its becoming an issue. I want so badly to eat healthily but when dinner is a bucket of KFC, mac n cheese, and cole slaw, its a bit difficult…

    I am hoping to move out soon, so I obviously won’t buy food like that, but any advice for what you do when you have to eat food you KNOW will trigger a binge?

    Reply
  27. soozeequeue

    When I dream about food at night it is always about something I my body is low on – occasionally I dream about big steaks, it means I need more iron, and sometimes I am in a bakery and I can’t get to the doughnuts and no-one will serve me – means low blood sugar!!

    Reply
  28. Missy

    Thanks everyone for your comments and advice on the night eating thing. It is much appreciated 🙂
    I am alreayd on antidepressant; I have been for many years.
    I think I might have an eating disorder. I’m not sure, and it’s a scary thought. I try to starve myself as much as possible throughout the day, and maybe my body is rebelling at night. I am 133 pounds now (at 5’8) and think I’m the biggest cow in the world. I also thought that when I was 120 pounds. I think I may need some help with this.
    Right now though I just want to stop the night binges. Its also HUGELY affecting my sleep…I am never rested. When I do eat, it is usually carbs, so maybe my blood sugar is crashing at night and waking me up to eat?

    Reply
  29. shopoholiconadiet

    Dont bulimics do this too?
    So the only difference between bulimics and binge eaters is the purging?
    I never binge, i eat very healthy and let myself “go” by whatever I feel like when ever I want in small quantities of course.

    Reply
  30. bijou

    both, actually. 30-40 mins of intense cardio, 20 mins for arms, 20 mins for abs, 10-15 for legs/glutes. the rest of the time is spent on trips to the water fountain, waiting for machines, and stretching.

    i’m a small-framed 24 year old female, 99 lbs and 5’2″. i’m naturally predisposed to be chubby, so what might be overtraining for others is not overtraining for me. though i’m only a hair above being technically underweight according to my BMI, i have more energy than ever and i haven’t gotten sick once since i started working out (knock on wood – it’s been 3.5 years now). it’s great!

    Reply
  31. Dr. J

    I remember reading about how dreams can sometimes function to deal with things that are difficult while in the awake state. Perhaps you are processing your problem and it’s actually helpful for you. Just a thought.

    Reply
  32. melissa

    I just want to clarify. It is in my DREAMS that I am binging and out of control. In my dreams, I’m going to the grocery store and loading up on cookies and ice cream, and going by my cafe (that used to be my weakness when i binged) and buying bags of bagels and muffins to eat all in one sitting…

    Reply
  33. melissa

    You know, I have had binge eating disorder for a few years now, and I don’t know how, but I went 7 months without a binge episode, and in the process lost 50 pounds…Then I went to New York for a week and all of my old habits came back. I basically spent the entire month of january binging non stop, just like I had before. Sneaking food in private, binging constantly….I was able to get back on track and now have not binged for a month, but here is my question…

    I now find myself binging IN MY SLEEP. I wake up and I have these horrible nightmares where I am binging again, and I’m beating myself up in my dreams because it’s happening again. Is this normal??

    Reply
  34. Quito

    Hi Mike and Dr. J! I’ve been keeping busy is all. Plus, when I noticed that I was starting to confuse “lose” and “loose” I thought I should take a break ^_^ Thanks for the kind words…

    Reply
  35. Dr. J

    Ditto on that! I’ve wondered where you’ve been also. I figured you were enjoying all the lovely sites of John Muir country and developing your substance.

    Reply
  36. Mike H.

    QUITO!!!

    Great to have you back! I’ve missed your contributions. How’ve you been keeping?

    Reply