Nutrition Articles

10 Ways to Stop Binge Eating in Its Tracks

How to Prevent a Binge and Regain Control

By Lauri Watson, Registered Dietitian         
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  1. NEVER eat directly from the whole carton, bag or box. Take out your portion and put the rest away.
  2. For sweets and treats, use small (4 ounce) bowls and cocktail spoons or forks. A half a cup of ice cream or pie will look like a lot more food if you put it in a small bowl, rather than a large bowl with lots of extra empty space. Using smaller spoons and forks will make smaller portions last longer and slow down your eating.
  3. Set a kitchen timer or monitor the clock and try to extend meal times to 15-20 minutes. Take small bites and put your fork down in between bites. Have a conversation, chew slowly, etc. These strategies will allow your body to have enough time for its fullness cues to kick in. It takes about 15-20 minutes for your tummy to send a single to your brain that you are full. Remember last Thanksgiving when you gobbled down 2-3 plates of food in about 5 minutes and then regretted it 10 minutes later because your tummy felt like it was going to explode? It’s a miserable feeling, but eating slowly is the best defense to preventing it from happening again.
  4. Learn to differentiate between hunger and cravings.  Cravings are usually for something specific (brownies, French fries, bread, candy, etc.). However, if you are truly hungry, you will most likely eat anything, including raw veggies dipped in hummus or a small handful of nuts. The lines between hunger and cravings are often blurred, especially with the abundance of food options we have in America. Listen to your body and learn to decipher between cravings and hunger.
  5. Sometimes, we can confuse hunger with thirst. If you find yourself staring into the fridge looking for something to eat, but don’t know what you want, you are most likely experiencing boredom cravings. Grab a glass of water and walk away.
  6. When a craving for a specific food strikes, have an answer for it: Go for a walk, read a good book, take a hot bath, whatever you have to do to get your mind off of the craving.
  7. Sometimes binge eating isn’t really about the food or the craving at all. Instead it’s more of a stress reliever after a really bad day or a difficult breakup. Often without realizing it, we eat the whole bag of cookies or that entire bowl of pasta as a coping mechanism for stress or personal struggles. One of the most important things to prevent these types of binges is to stay present. Slow down and savor each bite of food. Better yet, seek out stress relief by going for a walk around the block or taking a hot bath.
  8. DON’T skip meals! This is very important. Skipping meals and snacks can cause you to overeat at the next meal, and eating just one (or two) big meal per day can wreak havoc on your blood sugars and hinder weight loss. Aim for three meals per day plus one or two (based on your calorie needs) healthy snacks
  9. Stay present while eating. Be aware of what you are eating and how much. Focus on your food and minimize any other distractions: Avoid eating in front of the TV or computer. Clear off the kitchen table. Don't read, study, write or talk on the phone while you eat.  By eating more mindfully, you will enjoy your meals more, notices fullness, flavor and satisfaction better than ever before, and feel less of a desire to overeat.
  10. Know how you respond to trigger foods. You'll hear differing opinions about whether people prone to binge eating should keep their trigger foods in the house or far, far away. I think this depends on the person. Only YOU know your own limits. If you are the type of person that simply cannot stop at just one cookie or one serving of ice cream, it might be best to keep these foods out of the house for a while. However, I think the goal would be to work towards enjoying a small serving of a trigger food whenever a craving strikes in order to avoid the inevitable binge that usually follows bouts of restriction. For some, allowing a small serving of a trigger food throughout the week can prevent binges—because you allow it versus labeling it off-limits. Others have a harder time staying in control.
And remember, it's okay to enjoy a sweet treat or a hearty side item every now and then. Depriving yourself is usually worse in the long run and can lead to out-of-control eating episodes that add up to far more calories than the food you initially wanted to eat. Enjoy life’s simple pleasures in small amounts a few times per week.
Coming Back from a Binge
So let's say it's been a rough week and you binged on one or more foods. It doesn't matter whether it was your favorite flavor of ice cream, healthy foods from your "approved" list, or anything you could get your hands on. Now what? Here's a list of dos and don'ts to get you back on track:

  • DON'T beat yourself up over it. We’ve all had those days at some point, and you can't change what happened in the past.
  • DO move forward and make your next meal or snack a healthy, portion-controlled one.
  • DON'T overly restrict your diet over the next few days to "make up for being bad." This will make you more likely to continue the cycle of deprivation dieting and binging.
  • DO focus on making the best food choices you can each day, focusing on lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water. But continue to allow yourself to enjoy that small piece of dark chocolate (or other portion controlled treats) on occasion.
  • DON'T punish yourself at the gym after a binge. Stick to your usual exercise routine. Maybe go for an extra walk or do some other light activity in addition to your workouts, but try to avoid the mindset of "working off" the calories you consumed. This, too, can lead to an unhealthy cycle of binging and over-exercising.
Remember, the overall goal is to seek balance. A healthy lifestyle is not defined by one single meal or eating episode. Even the healthiest eaters in the world aren't perfect all the time. It's the combination of your choices over time that will create an overall healthy lifestyle. 
Please note: Overeating on occasion, such as your birthday or Thanksgiving may very well be considered normal. However, if you are experiencing purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives or enemas, or excessive exercising to prevent weight gain OR if you’ve noticed that you are overeating very frequently, please seek professional help. On the same note, if every "sinful" bite of food or any overindulgence episode (big or small) leads you straight to the gym for several hours to work it off, you may be dealing with abnormal food and exercise issues, such as clinical binge eating disorder (a real eating disorder) or compulsive exercise, which can be a form of bulimia—another serious disorder.  Learn more about recognizing eating disorders and getting help.
Elsevier USA. "Dorlands Online Medical Dictionary," accessed March 2011.

Ludwig, David S., Ph.D., and Cara B. Ebbeling, Ph.D. "Weight Loss Maintenance: Mind Over Matter?," The New England Journal of Medicine 363 (2010).
Mayo Clinic. "Healthy Diet: End the Guesswork with These Nutrition Guidelines," accessed March 2011.
Shai, Iris and Meir J. Stampfer. "Weight Loss Diets: Can You Keep It Off?," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 88 (2008), 1185-1186.
WebMd. "Yo-Yo Dieting and Weight Cycling," accessed March 2011.
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About The Author

Lauri Watson Lauri Watson
is a Registered Dietitian with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She eats her way through life's tasty treats and documents her culinary journeys at, which provides recipes and ideas for a balanced lifestyle.

Member Comments

  • This is a good article but I agree with other comments about binging. The reason I would eat the whole carton of ice cream on Saturday night is not because I didn't want to have it the rest of the week, but because I can't control myself around it at certain times. Having it in the house would only contribute to binge eating. I'm better off going out for a single-size serving and being done with it than having access to a week's worth in one sitting. - 5/3/2016 1:27:06 AM
  • Please sparkpeople .... please stop the articles telling binge eaters how to eat sugar in controlled amounts. I love sparkpeople ... this website helped me lose 90 pounds. But this advice is dangerous and erroneous. Sugar and processed foods are addictive. I'm no purist. But it's one thing to have two or three cookies when I'm at a party (even that can make me vulnerable to a binge) and another thing to bring a carton of ice cream (or a package of cookies or bag of candy) into the house. I would eat it all by the next day! Does that make me not "strong"? Fine then, I'm weak. Weak and 90 pounds thinner!
    Would you tell a hardcore smoker who was trying to quit to just have a few cigarettes every day and to keep them around the house? Binge eating isn't just about behavior, it's about the substances. How many people do you know who binge on broccoli and apples???????? - 3/28/2016 12:10:16 AM
  • don't ask a binger to have a box of anything favorite around and eat just one - a - day.... It will never happen and is a setup for failure. - 3/26/2016 12:52:28 PM
  • "However, I think the goal would be to work towards enjoying a small serving of a trigger food whenever a craving strikes in order to avoid the inevitable binge that usually follows bouts of restriction. For some, allowing a small serving of a trigger food throughout the week can prevent binges".

    Hear, hear. However I miss one very important condition here: one must agree to how often per week one is going to indulge.
    In the BED treatment that I followed I was taught to plan in 2 to 3 treats per week, and 2-3 special meals per week. That worked fine. I feel that it is quite necessary though to agree beforehand HOW MANY treats you can have per week. If you've had your 3 treats, then just tell yourself you have the food you crave as soon as a new week starts - planned, as a treat, not as a moment of madness. - 3/26/2016 12:21:37 PM
  • Contrary to this and similar recommendations other places, I found that trying to eat small amounts of sweets often was a very bad idea. The fact that people overdo it on weekends after being "good" all week I believe is because of two things: they are not committed in general to moderate eating, and they have not been coached through the learning phase. I my sweet eating is almost exclusively on weekends, and now always in company. Exceptions a maximum of two days a month. Eating sweets every day while cutting down on them is very difficult for bingers. Nothing has been as valuable for me as having several days in a row every week (and sometimes much longer, after six years of practice) of not eating sugar, though I do use stevia in coffee and tea, and lightly in a few other foods. Another crucial part of my recovery was eating FULL meals at routine times (a one or two-hour window) and NOT snacking on weekdays, either which is how most slim, long-lived cultures have lived. My body has gotten very used to longer stretches and pulls out its reserves very well. Bottom line is bingeing is a HABIT, and habits can be changed. - 3/26/2016 11:34:09 AM
  • I have only recently discovered the source of my binge eating sessions. In high school, I thought skipping lunch would be an effective weight loss tool, so from years of that, my body seems to be conditioned to signal 'hungry' when I leave the office at the end of the day, the same way it was signaling hungry on the bus ride home every night. If I don't have a meal prepared or within a minute or two of nuking in the microwave, I will eat anything and everything until I've got something 'real' prepared to eat. I call it 'hoover mouth'. I literally am saying to myself 'you're not hungry, why are you doing this?' and still keep eating. I have been working hard the last few weeks to always do meal prep ahead of time to make sure there is something nutritious and filling at home that feels like a 'real meal'. - 1/13/2016 9:12:38 PM
  • Binge eating is a disorder for me. Thanks Sparkpeople for the article. The only solution for me is to not eat all the sweets that I love. I've also found that once I get them out of my system, the cravings stop. Now if I can never start back I'll be fine but unfortunately something calls me back even tho I'm not craving. It's a comfort situation I think. - 12/26/2015 3:46:34 PM
  • I keep reading comments about eating at night or binge eating. Both are very real. But I also read people writing in about " this is the same information that has been going around for years" that too is true. However as I became overweight 25 years ago, my doctor told me something I never forgot " to lose weight you have to take in less than you expend" That was 20 years ago. also told me that "binge eating is more about a behavioral/mental problem than a health issues" Maybe these items have been recycled because it is that simple for 95% of all people. Those pesky facts.... :-) Keep the fact coming folks - 12/7/2015 4:06:13 PM
  • I think we can all agree that no tip will work for everyone in every situation. I understand it is disappointing when we try tips and they don't work for us, but that can still be a positive thing: checking off something that doesn't work from the list and trying something else. And I agree with many commenters that this article does not address the binge eating disorder.

    I personally like the idea of using tiny forks, spoons, and bowls for the scheduled treat. When I have rich, chocolatey treats in a bowl, I use a tiny shrimp fork or a baby spoon... not the bulky plastic ones they sell now, but a delicate stainless steel spoon with a long, slender handle. This works for me. I can't say it will work for others. However, I have a mental-emotional-
    etc attachment to chocolate. I am not giving it up, so I found a way to make peace with my chocolate attachment. I value quality of life over longevity.

    The first tip is also helpful for me... putting my portion on my plate instead of eating from a container. - 12/7/2015 10:29:23 AM
  • This article has been here being recycled for years now. I wish they had some new things. - 12/7/2015 6:07:20 AM
  • I'm sorry, but people who say instead of eating a whole tub of ice cream, ( or bar of chocolate, or cake or whatever) have a little bit each day really don't get what the problem is. My partner is one of those who can have a load of sweets in the house and just eat one or two and then forget them for the day. I can't. If it's there, I will eat it all. It's like a coke addict saying I'll just have a little snifter to pick me up. It doesn't happen. The taste of sugar triggers a reaction, I can actually feel it, like a dopamine hit, and the only way to stop is to not have it. - 8/9/2015 2:31:32 AM
  • Actually, a lot of new studies coming out say that it's easier to control type 2 diabetes and your blood sugar level, AND lose weight, if you eat two hearty meals a day. It's better than snacking throughout the day :). Check out this article on it:

    -control-weight-blood-sugar-levels.html - 6/2/2015 9:08:32 AM
    I had a problem with binge eating for over 25 years. The only thing that has worked for me is the method described in Kathryn Hansen' s book Brain Over Binge. Basically to realise that although a primitive part.of your brain is urging you to binge, the highest human part of your brain controls your actions and so you do not have to binge. 5 months binge-free and counting.... - 5/12/2015 2:05:52 PM
  • In the past, I have found that NONE of the above suggestions have ever worked. They delay the binge a few hours!

    I tend to be deliberate in my binge eating. I actually DECIDE that I am going to the store to buy a particular item (usually a box of sugary cakes or candy) and eat the entire box.
    I decide that I don't care and that I want the item so I WILL have it. period. ....Immediately after, I feel sick and horrible for what I've done.

    What DOES work for me is when I get it in my head to binge, I grab a piece of minty gum...
    ~foods taste horrible after eating a mint or peppermint gum! By the time the mint has worn off I've managed to get it all under control. - 4/17/2015 10:33:51 PM
    I am so grateful for sparkpeople, I am disable and it been hard to excersise more than ten minutes,so I love coach Nicole and all the advise and help I get thanks. - 4/16/2015 11:32:19 AM

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