Think of the last time you thought – “that’s it – this is the last time I eat this!“… and soon after, the thoughts around eating this food don’t stop, won’t stop. You become obsessive about it, can’t stop thinking about it. Then you “give in”, fall off that wagon, eat that forbidden food way beyond your comfort zone… feel out of control… and then be flushed with emotions of guilt & shame.
The thing is… it would have been much more enjoyable, if you allowed yourself to eat it and removed the judgment from the equation. If you eat a cookie, or a large pasta bowl, or indulge in your favourite cake…. it doesn’t take away from all the other efforts you’ve been doing towards your health & body – it doesn’t “cancel” out the salad you had, because you still got those vitamins, minerals & fibre. It doesn’t cancel out your exercise, because you still moved your body, got that endorphin & dopamine hit, strengthened your heart, muscles, & bones. So … what do we do? ENJOY. IT. And. MOVE. ON.
Keep reading to learn how to stop binge eating without restricting and the 4 steps you can take today with Intuitive Eating.
Download this handout to find out the top 10 mistakes you’re making with Intuitive Eating and how to fix them.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating can be described as disordered eating. Binge eating is characterized by eating an unusually large amount of food during a relatively short period of time along with feeling out of control over what and how much is eaten and when to stop.
Other characteristics of a binge can include:
- Eating very quickly,
- Eating regardless of hunger cues,
- Eating until uncomfortably or painfully full
- Eating alone due to embarrassment about the type and quantity of food eaten, and
- Feelings of self-disgust, guilt, anxiety and/or depression regarding your body & food.
“Overeating” is not the same as binge eating. “Overeating” can be defined as eating beyond the upper level of your fullness on a more consistent basis. It’s normal for people to overeat on occasion.
Binge eating disorder is a clinical eating disorder and is characterized as recurring events of binge eating.
Binge eating disorder test
Binge eating disorder can only be diagnosed by a doctor, registered psychologist or psychiatrist. If you think you may have binge eating disorder please reach out and ask for help.
How to stop binge eating
1. Stop the fight with “good” & “bad” foods
Give yourself permission to eat! If you restrict certain foods or tell yourself you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat certain foods, it can lead to obsessive thinking about food and feelings of deprivation which can lead to uncontrollable cravings and ultimately binge eating.
Make peace with your food by allowing yourself to eat what you really do want to eat. You can start by removing “good” or “bad” labels that you put on foods. This will remove the shame or judgement that you put on yourself for eating certain foods. If all foods are MORALLY equal (no “good” or “bad” foods) then you are not “good” or “bad” for eating them.
My clients’ first response is often: “Oh no! I would never stop eating… I can’t control myself around these foods.” Well, thankfully, through our counseling they make peace with the foods they’ve considered “forbidden foods” and then start working towards having a relationship with food that meets all their needs, minus the guilt & shame.
2. Challenge the Food Police
“Where did you get that information from? How do you know it’s true?” Is a question that we need to ask a lot more.
Start by asking yourself & questioning where did you hear that certain foods are “not allowed”.
Re-assess, re-evaluate & re-frame negative thoughts, beliefs, and rules about your food and body that diet culture has put into your head such as:
“eating after 7pm will cause you to gain weight” or “gluten is bad for you“.
These diet or food rules rely on external cues to dictate food choices.
Instead of using words like “should”, “shouldn’t”, and “must” replace them with “can”, “may” and “is okay”.
For example, “I can eat any food that I feel like eating” or ” It’s okay to eat pasta and bread“.
This change will allow you to ditch the food police so you are able to make food choices based on your internal hunger and satisfaction cues.
3. Honour Your Hunger
Your body wants & craves CONSISTENCY.
It wants to know that it can trust you to eat when you are hungry. If you deny or ignore your physical hunger cues, it can cause you to overeat or binge to compensate. Once you reach the point of excessive hunger, you may feel uncontrollably hungry and push intentions intuitive eating or mindful eating practices out the window.
If you often let yourself get to excessive hunger, you can fall into the restrict-binge cycle (on the right). This cycle creates an unhealthy relationship with food and internal hunger & fullness cues. The restriction causes bingeing/overeating that is accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame, which then in turn leads to more restriction…and the cycle keeps repeating itself.
If you have a habit of fighting off your hunger cues, it can cause mistrust in your body and you can become accustom to not recognizing your hunger cues or not feeling hungry. This evokes trauma in your body similar to starvation so that every meal may feel like it’s the last time you will eat. Your body doesn’t know the difference between true starvation & diets in the pursuit of weight loss – it just knows it’s not getting enough.
You can learn to check in with your hunger using the hunger scale to reconnect with your internal hunger and fullness cues. By honouring your hunger you can begin to heal your relationship with your body that will then help you stop bingeing.
4. Find the Satisfaction Factor
Eating is not just for functional reasons – we eat for nutrition, pleasure AND joy. Don’t underestimate the beauty of finding that “satisfaction factor” while eating ALL foods.
Think about this – when you didn’t allow yourself to eat chocolate (for example) – you found yourself bingeing on chocolate when you got the chance. You feel you need to get it “all out of your system” so that you can go back to cutting it out again.
But how would you feel if you allow yourself to eat any chocolate you want.. only to start learning what makes you love it: the taste, flavour, mouthfeel, texture, etc…
So much less stress & so much more enjoyment!
You start recognizing exactly what satisfies your cravings… what makes you truly enjoy that food. That becomes your standard. If this sounds impossible – you might benefit from working with a dietitian who practices with the Intuitive Eating principles (like me!) or other certified Intuitive Eating practitioners.
This blog was written with the help of UBC Dietetic student, Celine Koppenaal.
The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Available from: https://www.amazon.ca/Intuitive-Eating-Workbook-Principles-Relationship/dp/1626256225
NEDIC. Eating disorders treatment (accessed Aug. 12, 2020). Available from: https://nedic.ca/eating-disorders-treatment/binge-eating-disorder/