I think the topic binge eating has been one of my most requested blog posts the past few months, and i have been meaning to write this post for a while.
Binge eating – and bulimia – are mental illnesses which don’t always show from the outside and are secretive illnesses which people can suffer with for years without anyone knowing.
Binge eating and bulimia both include overeating – binging on food – but if you have bulimia you compensate for the food in different ways. Anything from purging, overexercising, using laxatives or dieuretics counts as compensation and part of bulimia. If you have binge eating disorder, you most often don’t compensate for the food you eat.
Both are serious illnesses which need proffessional help.
Let’s start off with some basics.
Binging is not just overeating. It annoys me when people say they ate a few more cookines than planned and they call it a binge – no, that’s just overeating/eating more than normal.
Binge eating = loss of control when eating. You consume extremely large amounts of food – often in secret – and there is shame/guilt/embarrassment afterwards. You often eat junk food, or food you normally wouldn’t eat, and you eat until extremely full and eat large quantities of food even if you aren’t hungry. And it is a repeated, regular habit – not just once in a while.
Extreme hunger and binge eating can seem similar, but they aren’t. Extreme hunger is more of a physical hunger, whilst binge eating is a sort of mental hunger. (Read more HERE)
Suffering from binge eating or bulimia is not just a lack of self discipline or control – it is a mental illness and has nothing to do with discipline or control. They are serious illnesses which require treatment in some form to get the support and help to recover.
If you suffer from binge eating or bulimia you should not feel ashamed or embarrassed – you are not weak. But you do need help.
There are no real statistics on how many suffer from these illnesses, because there are so many who don’t seek help.
However, if you don’t seek help there are many consequences of binge eating and/or compensating – not just physically but mentally as well, and suffering lowers your life quality drastically.
I have suffered from bulimia i.e binge eating and compensation, and it was an awful dark cycle. It was incredibly embarrassing and shameful, going from having strict control and not eating when i suffered from anorexia, to suddenly not being able to stop my hunger or eating.
Eating large quantities of food in secret – even if i wasn’t hungry, throwing away packages of food to hide what i had done, and then compensating afterwards by purging, exercising and using laxatives. It was awful.
I did however learn some things during my recovery to find balance with food again.
I have to note – that as i have suffered with binge eating and compensating, i can only give advice and my experience of that. I.e i don’t know how it is to just binge eat without compensation, so maybe some things i write won’t apply 100% to you in that case.
Tell someone. If others know what you are doing/struggling with it will be easier to get support and help, not to mention that you won’t be able to binge or compensate in secret if those around you know. It can be hard to tell people – but one way or another they will find out. And trust me, recovery and finding balance with food again is worth it.
Seek help and support. Apparently CBT training is seen to be very helpful with these illnesses, however if you are struggling alot then maybe inpatient treatment can be beneficial to get you into a regular routine of eating normal portions and not compensating. Also by being inpatient you have support around you and you won’t be able to binge eat. If you can’t/don’t want to/don’t need inpatient treatment, then i suggest you tell those you live with – if you live with others – so they can be your sort of “guard”, because it can be incredibly tricky to fight your mind and eating disorder on your own. I.e if the opportunity to binge arrives – your eating disorder will tell you to.
Follow a meal plan. Often those who binge eat try to eat healthier (such as little fat, littla carbs) during the day or when around others. Almost like a “new start” each day. This however won’t work, because by skipping carbs, fats and eating little calories is just setting you up for disaster later in the day when you are hungry and tired – then it is almost like overeating – or binging – is enivatable. So the best thing to do after a binge is to try to follow a meal plan – with normal portions, including carbohydrates, fats and protein – with regular meals during the day.
One of the best things in finding a balance with food again was to begin with regular meal times. To eat normal portions – including all food groups – and to eat my meals even if i didn’t feel hungry. When you binge eat it will affect your hormones, including your hunger and fullness hormones. This means that you don’t really know when you are hungry or when you are full and you can’t trust those signals. But also if you have been binge eating large amounts, you might have also stretched out your stomach, meaning that it takes large quantities of food to feel full. And in that case, it can be good to eat alot of vegetables to help you feel full – but of course, also eating enough calories and all the food groups. You want to find and create a balance in your intake.
Change your mind and relationship towards food. Stop seeing food as “good” or “bad”, or “healthy” or “unhealthy”. You need to change your mindset and view on food so that food is just food – yes, some may have more nutrients, but in the end you can eat all types of food in balance.
Which brings me to my next point. In the beginning of recovery, get rid of all trigger foods. You may have certain foods which once you take one bite/one piece, suddenly you think “i’ve already ruined my diet, might as well eat all of it”, and that sets off the binge. So it can be helpful to get rid of certain trigger foods which you know you just can’t eat in a balanced way. Later on in recovery you should try to reintrorudce those foods – or learn to be able to eat just one piece/portion – without feeling guilty or needing to eat the whole thing. However, you may find that there are certain foods you just need to keep out of your diet completely because you can’t eat them in moderation.
Stop the black and white/ all or nothing thinking. Eating 1 cookie or 5 cookies won’t ruin your diet and won’t drastically change your body. It is ok to eat treats, it is ok if you overeat, however when the overeating turns to binging that is when it becomes problematic. Don’t feel guilty if you eat more than expected, but also when you stop seeing food as good or bad, there is less chance that you feel like you have “ruined” your intake. Trust me, your eating disorder will harm you more than those cookies or extra portion of food will. Think like this…. isn’t it “better” to just have eaten more than usual – than to carry one eating everthing in the house just because you ate a little more than usual? I.e if you drop your phone on the floor and it gets a crack, you don’t have to suddenly throw your phone against the wall just because it got a small crack. (If that makes sense).
Find your triggers and learn to cope with them. People may have different triggers, it can be stress, anxiety, emotions, hunger/low blood sugar. It can even be people or different situations that trigger you to want to binge eat. As mentioned in the beginning, binge eating is a mental illness and not just a lack of control, and there is a mental hunger/craving for food which just can’t seem to be controlled. However by learning what triggers those intense cravings to binge it will be easier to control and learn to stand against those feelings and cravings.
Distract yourself – and know that the intense feelings and cravings to binge will pass. Distraction is key – or that was for me anyway. To sit and talk with family, to go out for a walk (not compensation – but a way to get out of the house), cleaning. But also doing things with my hands – it wasn’t enough to just watch youtube or a series because my mind would instantly woander to food – foods i craved, foods i wanted to binge eat. So i had to distract my mind and focus on something else. And at times i just had to leave the house. Sometimes my intense cravings to binge eat/food could last for 48 hours, that was the times when i couldn’t binge eat because family was at home. Then i would have so much anxiety, anger, irritation because all i wanted was to binge eat and the constant cravings. But over time the desire to binge eat wouldn’t last as long, sometimes all it took was an hour away from home and the craving/desire would be gone.
(Important to note that when i say craving, i don’t mean just craving chocolate where you can a row or two and then the craving is gone. But this extreme craving to just eat HUGE amounts of food. As mentioned, it is a lack of control, but i even had planned binges where i knew what i wanted to eat. That can sound incredibly strange to someone who hasn’t suffered from the illness but i did have planned binges when i knew i could purge on my own. Binging and purging gave me this relief and weird feeling of both satisfaction and relief as well as extreme disgust.)
Which brings me to…. Find out what the real problem/cause is. Because food isn’t the actual problem. It may of course be that you are undereating or not eating all the food groups, or because you restrict and deprive yourself to compensate for the binging it then triggers you to binge. For me, not eating enough was definitely a cause of my binge eating, and eating regular meals and following a meal plan was what helped me recover. But also dealing with what was going on in my mind. Talking to someone is recommended…. maybe it is your situation or emotions you need to deal with. Maybe you need to learn to cope with your stress or anxiety, which are causing you to overeat. But there can also be things like low amount of gutbacteria or a candida overgrowth which can cause you to binge eat as your body is out of balance. Or if you suffer with depression (which can of course be a consequence of binge eating/bulimia), but because food can increase your serotonin levels (making you feel more happy) it can be your bodies way of making you feel more happy. Also most people have comfort food – which can at times be linked to past good memories or experiences – and you can feel that happy feeling again when you eat those foods. Often comfort food is eaten due to emotions or stress. By talking to someone, or doing your own reflecting you may be able to figure out what the actual problem and cause is. And also by reflecting on what triggers your binges.
Write a diary and track your binges. Write how you felt before you binged – and even how you felt after. It can be easier to become aware of what triggers the binges, but also to make it more clear to you that the binges aren’t normal or healthy.
You need to stop with the compensation before you stop with the binges. (This goes for binge eating as well as bulimia.) Don’t deprive yourself and restrict yourself following a binge, that will just set you up for binges later. And with bulimia, don’t compensate. Trust me on this, you need to stop the compensation before you stop the binges. If you know you can’t compensate, you will be less likely to binge – or atleast it may be easier to fight against the cravings to binge if you know that you can’t compensate. It can be incredibly tough, but it does get easier. If you do binge – distract yourself, do some writing, go for a NON COMPENSATION walk, or leave the house and meet a friend or sit in the library or cafe until the anxiety and guilt has begun to fade.
Set goals for yourself – such as if you go 2 weeks without binging and/or compensating then you can do X or Y. Important to not treat yourself with food, instead have the treat be something like an experience or something you have wanted to buy. For some, setting goals can be helpful, for others it can just be demotivational because they feel like they never reach the goals – or that once they reach the goal they just go back to old habits once again.
Less time in the kitchen and focus on food. If you find that being around food too much triggers your binge eating, it can be a good idea to lessen your time around food. I.e just shop for the food you will eat for your meal times and snacks (don’t shop when hungry), don’t buy your trigger foods. And either cook your meals when you plan to eat so that you don’t overcook and binge on the food, or prepare your meals so you can eat your preportioned out foods when hungry – whatever works best for you.
Find happiness outside of food. Often times binging can give you a good feeling – followed by regret, anxiety, disgust. But you need to find happiness outside of food – find a new hobby and interest to focus your time and energy on.
Reintroduce trigger foods when you are around others. If you have cut certain trigger foods out of your diet, it can be good to try them again when you are with others and can’t binge on the food. It can be easier to learn to eat normal portions and feel satisfied when you eat with others (though this is very dependant on what relationship those around you have with food.)
Don’t fear weight gain. Yes, you body may change in recovery and when you stop binge eating or compensating. Some people lose weight, some people gain weight. But the most important thing is to find balance with food again – not so much what happens to your body or weight. Infact, by balancing your food intake, recovering mentally you will get more healthy, and there won’t be as many consequences for your physical health from all the binging and/or compensating.
My best tips – talk to someone. Don’t eat alone. Distract yourself & get out of the house. Follow a meal plan with regular meal times. Don’t compensate. If you do overeat, leave it at that, don’t continue onto a binge. Find your triggers and learn to cope with them. Find other things to focus your attention on. Don’t give into the binges, and if you do… learn to move on.
There are some of my tips and what i learnt from my own experience of binge eating.
Remember that you aren’t alone and that you can – and should – seek help. Also remember that it is NOT a lack of control or self discipline, it is not just about “saying no to a cookie”, it is an illness far more complicated than just “not eating the food”.
I will link some older posts with more advice down below. And you can always leave a message or send me a DM on instagram if you need some help or have questions.
*old posts from my previous blog*