Binge eating disorder is highly treatable with the right support systems.
Binge eating disorder (BED) can be accompanied by feelings of shame and wanting to hide your behavior from loved ones.
Looking for tips to cope with binge eating is courageous and admirable. Learning about what has worked for others and in clinical settings can help you decide what’s right for you.
If you want, try to include others in your recovery or journey to stop binge eating. Support systems may include medical, mental health, nutritional care, and interpersonal work like building stronger bonds with people, if necessary.
Binge eating is more than occasional overeating.
It’s when you binge eat recurrently while feeling out of control about what or how much you’re eating, and you regularly eat more than you typically would in a short time.
A person with BED eats even when they’re not hungry and to the point of feeling uncomfortably full, nauseous, and even sick, says Susan Zinn, LPCC, LMHC, NCC, a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Monica, California, and certified trauma and eating disorder specialist. Feelings of shame, disgust, and guilt generally follow.
BED is different from bulimia in that you don’t participate in purging behaviors like self-induced vomiting to rid your body of the food afterward.
BED is highly treatable. A combination approach to treatment may help you see relief sooner than trying to stop bingeing behaviors with a single approach. Having realistic expectations about recovery can also help you better cope with any obstacles along the way, says Zinn.
Seek professional support
Try to remember that you don’t have to do this alone.
Working with a weight-neutral medical professional trained in eating disorder treatment and recovery can help guide you.
- learn why you’re binge eating
- identify your underlying beliefs and triggers
- learn how to cope in real time.
Other forms of therapy may also be helpful.
For instance, interpersonal therapy (IT) may help address relationship issues or interpersonal challenges that may be contributing to your bingeing behaviors. Interpersonal therapy and CBT have similar effectiveness rates with remission for at least 60% of people who complete therapy.
“Therapy can be beneficial for people [living] with BED to work on the emotional regulation skills needed, self-image, and self-esteem issues that may be causing the binge eating behavior,” says Zinn.
“Learning new skills and tools to self-regulate rather than using food (since there tends to be a long history of dieting behaviors [in people with BED]) can help someone recover from BED and begin to heal their relationship with food and begin to love themselves,” says Zinn.
Practice intuitive eating
Intuitive eating is about listening to what your body needs. It’s not about eating whatever, whenever.
Shifting to intuitive eating means:
- eating when you’re hungry
- stopping when you’re full
- seeking out pleasurable and satisfying foods
Other principles of intuitive eating include:
- rejecting diet culture
- honoring your health
- challenging your inner critic
Some experts suggest using a hunger scale when you first switch to intuitive eating. For example, on a scale of 1 (not hungry) to 5 (feels like starving), you may want to consider eating when you’re at a 3 (strong urge to eat).
Waiting until you’re at a 4 or 5 may mean you’re so hungry that it may trigger a bingeing episode.
“The important thing is to be conscious about what you’re doing — which helps you develop more control,” says Zinn. She suggests putting all your food on a plate or into a bowl before eating it. “With every mouthful, take notice of what you are eating, without judging,” she adds.
Consider nutritional counseling
Nutritional counseling can be used to help you develop a healthier (neutral) relationship with food. Its goal is not about weight loss or stopping bingeing behaviors to stop gaining weight or stopping binge eating to lose weight.
You’ll work with the counselor to interrupt binge eating behaviors and regain feelings of control around food. Reestablishing a sense of what it means to feel hungry versus full versus satiated or satisfied is key.
Nutritional counseling with a weight-neutral professional may help you shift your thinking around weight and unlearn weight stigma.
If you have internalized weight stigma, it’s not your fault. We’re surrounded by mixed messages about diet, health, and personal worth. Working to reduce weight stigma, though, is said to positively impact disordered eating behaviors.
Have a plan
Boredom and binge eating aren’t a great mix. But it may be challenging to think of alternative things to do when you’re in the middle of feeling like binge eating.
You may consider making a list of things to do instead of bingeing behaviors or making a box or special kit you can go to when the feeling strikes. Some examples include:
- writing down feelings
- riding a bike
- taking a bath
If you’re looking for ways to help you overcome binge eating for good, try starting with doing more things you enjoy or things you used to enjoy.
It may help to break bigger tasks down into smaller items to help you get started. For now, just going through the motions of keeping yourself focused on another task, project, or activity may be enough. It can be helpful to avoid idle time in the early stages of recovery.
Create your own safe space
Creating your own safe space is an exercise in setting yourself up for success.
You may want to consider making your safe space free from trigger foods. Trigger foods are sometimes be considered “gateway” foods to bingeing behaviors. They may be calorie-dense, rich in sugar, fat, or salt, or considered “forbidden” foods in your household (past or current).
It’s good to keep in mind that not keeping trigger foods or beverages at home and restricting or punishing yourself are two different things. Restricting yourself isn’t usually the answer, but keeping trigger foods away from home can help in the beginning. Eventually, if you want, you may consider talking with your doctor or other professional about reintroducing trigger foods into your home.
Learn about health at every size
Learning how you can be healthy at every size may help reduce stress around “getting healthy” and enable you to see you’re not far from your goals. A
Health at every size (HAES) is an approach developed by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It can be used in treating eating disorders, including BED. It works by questioning and undoing weight stigma and bias. It recognizes that your weight isn’t attached to your personal worth or level of determination. HAES is considered a health-focused approach rather than a weight-focused approach.
Find new ways to manage stress
Stress is a part of life, but too much stress or unmanageable stress can prompt binge eating. If you’ve learned to binge eat as a way of soothing yourself when stressed or as a way of dissociating, stopping this behavior may take some trial and error. Psychotherapy may help.
In the meantime, you can try working through stressful situations or triggers with some of these healthier ways of coping:
- playing or making music or art
- talking to a friend
- guided or solo meditation
- deep breathing exercises
And if your psychiatrist has recommended medication management as part of your long-term recovery, or if your doctor has prescribed specific recommendations as part of your recovery efforts, it’s essential to follow professional advice.
“You may think that you no longer need to take a medication after a period of remission, but it is necessary to follow physician recommendations closely,” says Zinn.
BED is a mental illness. It’s not your fault. Shaming yourself, punishing yourself, and saying you’ll never binge eat again won’t make things better. Try to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that help is available.
If you’re considering starting a “program” or diet to help you cope with binge eating, it’s best to talk with your doctor or therapist. Weight loss and dieting are not recommended parts of recovering from BED.
“Dieting, restrictive cleanses, excessive exercise to offsetting caloric intake, restrict rules and regulations around particular foods (no sugar, dairy, wheat, or meat), weight loss camps, and most harmful, is telling people they should just stop eating or body shaming them,” says Zinn.
People with BED feel guilt and shame around their behavior, which can compound their bingeing behavior, she explains. Compassion is key.
Binge eating disorder is treatable. With professional support and some sustained effort, you can stop binge eating and start on your path to recovery.
Psychotherapy options like CBT and IT can help you get to the roots of disordered eating behaviors. Working with a therapist, you can begin to shift away from bingeing behaviors and toward a healthier relationship with food (and yourself).
Try to remember that you can be healthy at every size. Plus, you can also be healthy at every stage of your recovery.
Needing to recover from an eating disorder like BED doesn’t equate to you being “unhealthy.”
The fact you’re informing yourself about treatment and recovery options means you’re on the right path already.
If you’re experiencing binge eating or negative self-talk, reaching out to a friend, talking with someone you love and trust, and consulting with a professional who treats eating disorders are always good choices.
If you want to learn more about coping with binge eating disorder, you can also contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 800-931-2237.