Friday 14 July 2023

How to stop binge eating

By M Parker

Have you ever just started to eat and then felt that you lost control and engaged in some sort of eating frenzy only to realise what you have done sometime later?  Did you feel disgusted with yourself and maybe even attempt to compensate for your actions? 
If you have, could it be that you have an eating disorder?

Why do we binge eat?  What is binge eating definitions?  How do we stop?  What we need is a plan for dealing with difficult times.  I will not cover studies for eating disorders, neither is this a diagnostic tool nor a replacement for therapy.  
Instead of coming up with a plan for you, I will show you how to make a plan for yourself.  With this in mind, I will define binge eating, show you how to identify key danger times and discover alternative actions to bingeing.  This post is for people struggling with binge eating - This can include anyone with an eating disorder that involves binge eating. 

What is binge eating?

Have you ever felt so hungry that you could almost eat anything?  Well, a binge is when someone eats a large amount of food in the space of a few hours.  The person may shove the food in without chewing it properly.  It might start with just a bowl of cereal and then turn into two or three bowls followed by eat chocolate cake and prepackaged sandwiches, crisps, and pizza.  OK, so this is just an example, but it gives you an idea of what it is like.  The binge is likely to cover all the food groups: carbohydrates, protein and fat, but the volume of food is huge in a small space of time and can be as much or even more than 6,000 calories!  Some people will eat food they found in the bin or off the floor.

Types of binge

Objective, this is sometimes known as a true binge. These usually consist of bulk foods which are filling, high in calories, easy to make and easy to eat such as fear foods, foods people regard as fattening and which they are attempting to exclude from their diet.

Subjective, consists of a smaller amount of food consumed, but the person feels out of control and eats when they don't want to or planned to. 

Overeating, this is just eating a little more than expected and the person knows what they are doing. 

Who binge eats?

Anyone can binge eat; however, it is typically associated with an eating disorder. Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) will involve bingeing.  There is even a type of Anorexia Nervosa called AN subtype binge/purge.

Why do people binge eat?

People will binge eat for many reasons, but once people get into a binge/purge cycle, it becomes difficult to break out of that cycle. 

Figure 1, the binge cycle

The problem is that strict dieting and fasting directly leads to binge eating.  Although everyone is an individual, most people's bodies will rebel at going without food for long periods of time, causing them to binge eat.  If this happens to you, you then feel guilty and ashamed and attempt to restrict again, which inevitably leads to another binge.  Once you realise your type of dieting is leading you to binge, you stop that diet and try a different tactic.  However, some people keep making the same mistake over and over again because they look at people with AN and think they should be able to do the same. This thinking is flawed because unless you have anorexia, you will never be able to restrict food in the same way; you're just setting yourself up to fail if you try.

How to stop binge eating

In order to stop binge eating, you will need a plan made specifically for you that will in reality need to include a proper meal plan.  Everyone is an individual, and so what works for one person will not work for another.  First, let’s spend a bit of time thinking about the following.

Alternatives to bingeing

This is going to be what you do instead of bingeing.  Try to choose things that you like doing and that you will likely do, rather than something that you are unlikely to do or don't like doing.  Spend time thinking about your list and critically evaluate it for each item and how likely it is to work for different situations.

Danger times and places.

Spend a little while thinking about when you feel more tempted than others.  Many people report feeling more tempted at certain times such as just after eating something, late in the evening and when alone.

Likewise, think about where you were when the binge has happened before.  Usually a binge is done in secret and some report using their car as a place to binge.  People will buy lots of food and eat it in the car because it is easy to keep out of sight from family and friends; they buy food and then binge in the store car park.

Once you have identified the key danger times for you and where you might binge, you can get to work on building an intervention plan.

Coming up with a plan that suits you.

Now we have looked a little at what binge eating is and where it is likely to take place, we can think about creating an action plan.

Look at your list of alternative to bingeing and see what is most appropriate for each of your danger times.

Look at the graph below and examine the stages as hunger increases. Note the graph peaks at crisis point, which is a binge taking place.

Figure 2, hunger esculation.

As time goes by, our hunger increases and at some point we recognise hunger indicated by the labels on the left of the curve in the graph. Just before and after can seem surreal with many reporting feeling an out-of-body experience and everyone reporting feeling out of control like they are watching helplessly.

Let's look at this graph again, but this time we will put in some alternative, which should be implemented at each stage. 

Hunger chart with intervention points.
Figure 3, thinking about alternatives

Since everyone is different, the alternatives to bingeing will be different although some tactics might be common if they work for most people. For that reason, we must now examine how to choose alternatives that suit you.  In order to do that, I will show you how I selected my tactics.  

This is my list of alternative actions to bingeing.  You will have to come up with your own list that suits you.

First signs: feeling hungry

At this stage, it is usually easy to continue with what I’m doing and put the feelings of hunger out of my mind.

Feeling distracted

At this point, I realise I need to do something.

  • Drink water
  • Drink tea
  • Remind myself why I’m not eating
Let's look at the last one in the above list in more detail: remind myself why I’m not eating.  This is not as obvious as it might seem. For instance, you might think that is about looking and being thinner, but it is not as simple as that.  For many, it is about control and for others it might be about managing feelings as well.  Many people with anorexia state feeling better or free from worry when starving. Now look at the diagram below.

Figure 4, what if I binge?

It has been noted that bingeing is an attempt to push down feelings that we don't want to deal with. What ever the reason the result is the same: difficult feelings, which leads to more countermeasures.

However, you will have to make your own list and spend time thinking about how practical your alternative are at different times and locations.  For example, let's go back to the first to items on my list: drink water and drink tea.  Given the location, these might not be practical.  What if I'm out on my in town?  If I get a drink in town the place I get it from will have food too and the temptation might be too much. If I'm at a friend's, the fact that I'm drinking large amounts of water could invite unwanted questioning.  Even if I'm at home and I drink tea, there is the temptation to add sugar.

Besieged by ideas of food

  • Eat a small amount of ground ginger or/and cinnamon
  • Brush teeth
  • Have a shower
  • Look at thinspo
  • Workout out
  • Go for a walk
  • Go out on my bike
  • Play a game
  • Drink water
  • Drink tea

Again, not all the items on my list are going to be suitable in or circumstances. For instance, brushing teeth or taking a shower are not possible if I'm away from home.  However, if I am in town, I'm less likely to binge because I have nowhere to eat in secret and I leave my bank card at home so I can't buy fast food. 

Just before a binge

By this stage, It seems too late to use an alternative. My hunger has already begun to take over and is giving me the idea that it will just be one sandwich or one bowl of cereal, which inevitably opens the door to a full on eating frenzy!  My mind is full of feelings of entitlement to food.  All I can do is try to think about healthy options such as bingeing of fruit and sandwiches rather than chocolate, cake, biscuits and ice-cream. 

With this in mind, we can see that just before a binge, deciding on what and where to eat is being made.  Since I know I will not be able to stop the binge, I decide on healthy food and an appropriate place to eat.  For myself at least, being at home is the most likely place i will binge.  I'm alone and have access to food and money. I also, however, have greater access to counter binge tactics and I can choose to get out of the house taking me away from the food and money until it feels safe to return home.

Last ditch attempt to avoid a binge:

  • Sip malt vinegar
  • Think about my progress and how I would feel if I gave in
  • Sniff water from the toilet cistern 

If a binge is going to happen:

  • Choose healthy foods such as fruit, veg, and wholefoods.
  • Choose to sit at a table
  • Choose to eat slowly

The wisdom of a regular meal plan

Yes, this does involve eating 3 times a day!  Wait!  Hear me out.  If you are caught in a binge cycle, it is because your fasting is not working for you. 

This is a meal plan:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch 
  • Dinner
  • Plus 2 snacks 

Yes, that's it!  Now decide on cals per meal, which needs to be between 500 and 600 cals per meal. As long as you keep under 2000 cals per day and do exercise, you will lose weight.  This works because if you are not anorexic, you we just not be able to go for long periods of time on low calorie intake or fasting for days. If a doctor has told you that you are anorexic, this meal plan can seem terrifying, and you will need support that goes beyond the scope of this post.

Obviously, you will need to think about your dietary needs, such as are you allergic to anything?  Do you have IBS? Have you been told by a doctor to eat gluten free foods? For the rest of us, the rainbow diet is a great diet to follow.  Without going into detail, the diet calls for eating whole foods and a full range of fruit and veg.  In addition, eating more roughage/fibre will keep you feeling full for longer and supports a healthy bowel.

At this point, I want to point out that I have AN subtype restrictive, which means that I can and will go for long periods of time with very little food.  This is not because I'm super human and you are not, it is because the very idea of putting on weight or losing control terrifies me to the point that I physically can't eat.  Let me explain, in psychology there is the thing called fight or flight, which is a part of the fear response.  Basically, the body gets ready to either fight or run like a bat at of hell from the perceived danger. 

Appetite suppressants that I actually use

  • Malt vinegar (sip this slowly or it will likely choke you, so be careful!)
  • Ground ginger
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Drink tea or coffee 

On the whole, I find drinking a lot of water throughout the day is essential. 

Alternative activities I find actually work 

Since hunger cravings come and go and last about 5 – 20 minutes, the trick is to find activities that either involve your mouth or take 5 – 20 minutes and are engaging enough to take your mind off eating.

Brush teeth
  • Playing an interesting video game
  • Go for a walk or bike ride (light exercise, or I will be even more hungry when I get back and will likely talk myself in to eating something because I think I earned it.)
  • Pray the rosary
  • Try to learn something new, even if it means rope learning, the process of repeating something again and again until it can be recalled at will.

To conclude, if you are bingeing, it is a sign that your weight loss tactics are not working.  Fasting and very low calorie intake will lead to a binge eating cycle of more or less everyone, with this in mind spreading calories at regular meal times such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner with snacks will stop the bingeing.  Eating healthier foods such as wholefoods, fibre, fruit, and vegetables, keeping to the daily calorie intake and getting regular exercise will help you lose weight at a steady pace. In addition, it will prevent bingeing allowing you to escape this cycle of self destruction.


Dr Fairbon C.G (1995) 'Overcoming binge eating' [Book] 2nd ed, The Guiford Press. (Accessed on 20/06/23)

Prof Hubert Lacey J, Craggs-Hinton C, Robinson K (2007) 'Overcoming Anorexia', [Book] Sheldon Press. (Accessed on 01/07/23)