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How to Stop Binge Eating
What is a binge?
Is it a specific number of calories? A particular amount of food? Since those measures vary for everyone, the American Psychological Association defines a “binge” as:
Losing control and eating — within a discrete period of time — an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
Although that definition is probably a lot more complicated than it needs to be it does hit on two key behaviors that are so frustrating to us when we try to stop binge eating: losing control and not being able to eat like “most people.”
Frankly, it really sucks to feel like food has power over you, and it sucks even more to feel like other people can just eat normally and do crazy things like having one cookie or a small, appropriately-sized piece of cake.
Is binge eating emotional eating?
I used to think that my out-of-control eating had nothing to do with emotions. I didn’t feel particularly sad, angry, or stressed when I overate, so I figured my binge eating was not emotional eating. Then I figured out that pretty much anytime we eat for a reason other than hunger, we are eating for emotional reasons.
If you want to stop binge eating, you have to figure out why you’re binge eating.
Emotional eating, like binge eating, is not about savoring, or eating consciously, or satisfying a craving—it’s about stuffing emotions away. That’s why I always tended to eat a lot, and eat mindlessly, when I was eating for emotional reasons. I didn’t want to think about why or how I was eating—it wasn’t about food, it was about self-medicating.
How do I stop binge eating?
Once you understand the connection between binge eating and emotional eating, it’s a matter of getting to the root of your emotions. When I thought that I didn’t eat for emotional reasons, it was because I didn’t even let myself feel anything before I started eating those feelings away.
The first step to overcoming overeating is to figure out why you want to eat, and then to find alternate ways to nourish yourself.
It helps to think about food as one among many possible choices to deal with our emotions. In other words, instead of seeing non-food sources of nourishment as ways to “not eat,” we should look at them as ways to deal with the emotion itself. Deep breathing, for example, is not a way to get rid of the urge to eat, but it’s a way to de-stress.
In some situations, alternate means of self-nourishment may be more effective than food. And in others, a cookie might really hit the spot. The trick is to consciously deal with the emotion at hand and not use food (or anything else) as a means of distraction.