It happens to all of us: We promise to only eat a small bite of cake.
But it never turns out that way. Soon, half of the cake is gone, and you’re bitterly in denial about what just happened.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, you’re not alone. The association estimates that around 8 million Americans are currently battling binge eating disorder–an eating disorder characterized by sudden, out-of-control binges that occur spontaneously. These binges often cause a person to feel ashamed, guilty, or even ruin their self-esteem. Oftentimes, these binges occur as a result of negative feelings, such as depression or anxiety.
Regardless of why it occurs, though, all binge eaters know one thing: They want to stop it.
How to Stop Binge Eating
For most people dealing with binge eating, they’re desperate to stop it–but at the same time, dieting to reverse the weight gain caused by binging doesn’t always work. Oftentimes, dieting makes the episodes worse. But is there a way to diet, be healthy, and avoid binging?
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, it’s possible–if you know how to treat the disorder right. Developing the right strategies for eating while on a diet can also help, as many people restrict too hard when they diet, triggering more binge eating episodes.
To eat right and avoid binges, here are what experts recommend:
1. Stop counting calories. Although eating fewer calories helps people lose weight, it often results in negative consequences–such as increased body mass and anxiety. A 1999 study published in the journal Appetite found that people who followed rigid dieting strategies, which included calorie counting, were more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) and overeat more. Those who followed flexible dieting strategies, however, did not face these problems.
2. Get rid of cheat days. While cheat days are often used as a reward for eating well during the week, doing so can actually trigger more binge eating behavior, according to Nia Shanks, a personal trainer and founder of Lift Like a Girl. By creating cheat days, you’re allowing yourself specific days where it’s okay to overeat–and inevitably you’ll be tempted to binge. Instead, try to fit in your favorite foods into your diet on a regular basis so you don’t need “cheat days” to enjoy these foods.
3. Learn to recognize your hunger signals. People who binge eat rarely do it just because they’re hungry–other emotions, like feeling upset or depressed, are more important factors. To stop it, always ask yourself this question before you eat: Am I truly hungry? Am I feeling hunger pangs that don’t go away after drinking or finding something else to do? If you answer yes, chances are you hungry. If you find yourself tempted to eat because you’re bored, depressed, or are craving a specific food, however, that’s a major warning sign you’re about to binge–stop yourself while you can.
If you believe you have binge eating disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call your local eating disorder healthline or talk to your healthcare provider about programs to help you battle this disorder. Although there isn’t a cure for binge eating disorder, it is manageable–but you need to take the first step.
Jennifer R. Scott, “When Does Overeating Become Binge Eating?” (About.com)
Author unknown, “Binge Eating Disorder.” (ANAD.org)
C.F. Smith et. al., “Flexible vs. Rigid Dieting Strategies: Relationship With Adverse Behavioral Outcomes.” (NIH.gov)
Nia Shanks, “20 Tips for Breaking Free From Binge Eating.” (NiaShanks.com)