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10 Ways to Stop Binge Eating in Its Tracks

How to Prevent a Binge and Regain Control

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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.
 
Sources
 
Elsevier USA. "Dorlands Online Medical Dictionary," accessed March 2011. www.dorlands.com.


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. www.mayoclinic.com.
 
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. www.webmd.com.
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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 RedHeadRecipes.com, which provides recipes and ideas for a balanced lifestyle.

Member Comments

  • Just reading this article and the comments has elevated my 'anxiety level'! lol
    Fighting the binge demon is my biggest challenge.
    I am a food addict and I binge! There . . . I said it! Whew! ;)
    The article offers many great tips which I have used and still do, but I am like many here and need chains on my body and duct tape over my face to overcome some of my urges.
    98% of the time the above tips work, but once in a while it seems NOTHING can stop a binge. A thoughtful attempt at control by eating a spoonful of peanut butter (to stave off cravings) can turn into eating a whole JAR of peanut butter. Then, I feel miserable, sick, and on top of that guilt, remorse, self-depreciating thoughts, etc. AGONY!

    A post with a link on here shared about how harmones and a diet plan that treats body chemistry may help! I'll check that out. I do know that when I eat a balanced menu and proper nutrients do help stave off binges for me. I still think the other aspect mentioned is our mental or emotional reasons for a binge. Getting to the root of why we binge may also help.

    In the end, I believe it is just going to be a trial and error and lots of work at self discipline, diversion, etc. WHATEVER gets us through! Sometimes we just have to keep at it until something works. I know there is never going to be an easy solution and it is never going to be a thing I can ignore--ever. I have learned that I alone is where it begins and ends and that ultimately if I want to be a healthy weight it is going take work. Sorry, this is not what I want to hear either, but it is the cold hard fact.

    Someday, there may be a pill for that, but in the meantime I have ME and I have to have the determination to be stronger than my urges.

    Now, I need to work on continued, sustained determination--fo
    r life! - 10/25/2014 11:46:01 AM
  • If you have a true binge eating disorder, chances are there is a genetic component involved as well. My father was bulimic. - 7/15/2014 10:16:45 AM
  • While this article is great for the occasional over-eater and has some great tips, it does not address true binge eating disorder which is a serious mental illness/eating disorder. I have had problems with binge eating for the last 10 years and it is an extremely painful and physically debilitating condition. It will destroy your body and make you sick. It can have permanent consequences on your health. My liver is damaged because of it. While my condition has improved somewhat, I didn't do it through diet or exercise. I did it through the painful journey of learning what the source of my bingeing is. You can only address the symptoms (bingeing) after you understand the root cause. Treating the symptoms before you get to the root of the problem won't cure you. - 7/15/2014 10:05:33 AM
  • I suffered from binge eating for many years and thank goodness for a friend from Europe who showed me how to address the emotional side of binge eating with a very special diet. It worked after the birth of my daughter.

    Copy and paste the link below and you will be freed from binge eating

    http://foodaddi
    ctions.wordpr
    ess.com - 7/14/2014 6:14:18 PM
  • I used to binge and then beat myself up and start again next week. I am working on that and I think that while simple, this is spot on. Nothing is forbidden, so when I have a cupcake or a glass of wine, I try to keep it at that. Somedays are better than others, but these small steps are helpful to me. - 6/21/2014 2:52:30 PM
  • One helpful strategy for me is one I learned while quitting smoking. It was suggested that when you felt the craving, you just start counting; because the craving will go away in a few seconds. I started out needing to count into the hundreds, but gradually the craving would go away in a count of under 30. After a while, just the thought of stopping to count was so annoying that it drove the craving away immediately. This article made me aware that I use my counting strategy to avoid giving in to food cravings most of the time...but I have to realize it is just a "craving" and not a NEED!!! (This is a funny insight for me.) Thanks! - 6/21/2014 9:45:45 AM
  • Very helpful article. I've been on SP for over a year, then was having a bad week, and went on a binge. After reading the article, I can see a relationship between restricting my calories then bingeing. Just by being aware that that can happen makes me feel hopeful that I will find a way.
    8-) - 3/2/2014 1:22:54 AM
  • This article is really help full for me .. great tips and just in the right time to come back from my prolonged honeymoon ( three weeks in before and after my exam). - 11/20/2013 12:38:42 PM
  • MRSPRINCESS2007
    To the author of this Article- Thank you!

    I had to leave SP a few yrs back because this site helped to facilitate my EDs. Not to say that SP was responsible, I own that. It just made it all too easy to fall deeper into those issues. Everywhere I turned members were encouraged or encouraging others to eat less, exercise more, adhere to a "Good vs Bad" list, repent using the food and fitness logs as your way to "prove" you were being a good person, a good "fatty" as some were called on forums, or to prove to others you were taking this lifestyle change seriously. In fact, I grew to hate the term "lifestyle change" because all too many people blurred the line of it's definition and diet.

    Since rejoining in the past few days I have been nothing but encouraged with the changes I have seen. I have stayed away from teams and forums purposely but am loving the tone of the articles. I love seeing how proactive SP is with helping others help themselves with regards to disordered eating and ideals. It's nice to see that the powers that be here have taken notice of all of the iffy behaviors and diets that have been bantered around. I hope SP keeps up the great work. I went from being a Motivational Member to dropping out of the site so upset by what I was seeing. Now I feel as if though SP is trying to head in a different direction and I can fully support that now! - 10/3/2013 4:22:09 PM
  • Sorry, but if I could eat just one small serving of ice cream, then I would do that instead of binging!!! I think whoever wrote this article doesn't actually understand binge eating or food cravings. I am so angry right now I just don't know what to say. I want to swear, but I can't. :(

    Small amounts of starchy, sugary foods in moderation DO NOT keep my cravings at bay - they CAUSE my cravings!!!!!! I know what normal portion sizes are. I know it's better to have a few small amounts then binge on huge amounts. That doesn't mean I'm able to do it! If you can recognize that some recovered alcoholics can never touch a drink again, then why can't you recognize that some sugarholics (for lack of a better term) can never touch sugary, starchy junk foods again!?? Aarrrgh. - 7/6/2013 3:03:57 PM
  • I like the idea of setting a timer when you eat. Sometimes it is a problem when you just get into the habit of eating too fast or not paying attention to what it is that you are eating at all. Then when the meal is over you are still hungry. This article helped me realize that I don't have to give into binges or deprive myself of foods that I enjoy. It's all about finding that healthy balance. - 7/6/2013 1:08:29 PM
  • Great article. I am glad I read this today because I am going out for my birthday and I know now when I go out what's going to be on my plate. Because I was surely going out on a big binge. But tomorrow will be a different thing. Back on track. - 7/6/2013 11:00:00 AM
  • BINGEEATINGMUM
    I have suffered from Binge Eating Disorder for the last 35 years give or take. I am gradually finding ways to cope with it but I don't think I can ever be cured, it's a part of me. I have set up www.bingeeatingce
    lebrities.com as there are many celebrities who too suffer from this horrible disorder. With all their money and access to expensive therapists you would think they could beat it but this is not the case. - 7/1/2013 12:31:59 PM
  • I couldn't get past the example of the ice cream. if I can control myself enough to have a proper sized serving guess what folks, I'd be thin!
    Maybe (and I hope so) this article gets better but it left me a little hot under the collar. Do you really think I am not smart enough to TRY to limit my portions? what an awesome concept! Oh, BTW what I usually do with my ice cream is buy a cone out side the house so I don't have extra but when I do bring it in I never buy the pint containers because in my mind it is a serving but when I buy an half gallon I can eat 2 spoonful's in a very small bowl of my own and I am satisfied. I know that is my own quirkiness but it works for me. - 5/28/2013 9:42:23 AM
  • Thanks for sharing this info. Now I at least know I'm not a "binge" because I just want a little nosh not to consume large amounts of food. So that makes me a "Binosh" I guess.
    My attacks come on usually in the evening so I'm working on moving past that.
    Night time eating is a big problem for me so I need to push myself away from the pantry!!
    Thanks again for sharing.
    ginny - 4/20/2013 11:34:49 AM

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