Nutrition Articles

10 Ways to Stop Binge Eating in Its Tracks

How to Prevent a Binge and Regain Control

  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

  • 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
  • I'm nearly 59 and I've had binge eating disorder since I was 8.

    In my experience it's a lifelong disorder and there is no "cure" but I have learnt to have more control over my cravings and eat more sensibly since I had a gastric bypass at the beginning of 2009. It does help that there are certain very unpleasant side effects from the procedure if you eat the wrong thing or do the wrong thing.

    I have a real problem with leaving open packets or leaving food on my plate, maybe it's an OCD thing, so while I do have trigger foods around the house I buy them in individual packs and don't have too many packs around. As the article suggests I do find the cravings easier to control when I allow myself small portions of these foods on a regular basis. I don't 'diet' I have an eating plan.

    It's very hard not to feel guilty when the 'binge eating monster' gets out of control but I treat it as something seperate from myself and so I can draw a line under the bingeing incident and immediately get back to my planned eating. I do not restrict myself or try to work the binge into my calorie intake for the day/week as I find this more likely to trigger another binge.

    That's just some of the ideas that have helped me to have more control and generally eat better. - 1/18/2015 6:28:17 AM
  • Okay- so I allow myself ONE small treat a day. if I overdo it- eat a second or sometimes a THIRD cupcake/slice of cake/serving of icecream/piece of candy(Bite size)/cup of hot cocoa/glass of wine/slice of pie- whatever it is- then I dont get my treat the next day. if I go on a binge- I de-junk my house.....for at least 14 days I dont have anything in the house that will tempt me....and since the nearest shop is a couple miles away and I dont drive- if I want junk- it's a two mile hike to get it. - 12/27/2014 8:21:49 AM
  • 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

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