Since I am a psychologist with years of experience combating eating disorders, a large proportion of the clients who are referred to me for therapy at my Torrance office struggle with binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and other feeding and eating disorders. When I meet people at the gym, in grocery stores, or at doctors’ offices and they learn about my area of specialization, the next question I commonly hear is “How I can stop binge eating?” It is surprising how often during the week this question comes up in conversation with me. Many people share with me how out of control they feel in their eating habits.
Although not everyone who complains about binge eating meets the criteria for binge eating disorder, distress around eating can affect a person’s quality of life. People diagnosed with binge eating disorder often complain of eating greater amounts than what other people would consider normal at a sitting. They often continue to eat after they are uncomfortably full. Often these behaviors happen in secret and are followed by feelings of disgust, guilt, and being out of control.
If you are struggling with eating large amounts of food and have a hard time stopping when you start, you should consider repairing your relationship with food to allow yourself to live a happy and more fulfilling life. Many individuals that I know and work with have shared with me that their lack of control of their eating impacts their personal and social lives. Here are some tips to help you navigate eating in a more healthy way:
Follow a Regular Eating Plan
When people tell me about their binge episodes, I am always curious to hear about their eating habits during the day. I often find that most people who complain of binge eating tend to restrict or skip meals during the day, which makes resisting the temptation to binge in the afternoon and at night more challenging. One of the most important changes you can make to stop binge eating is to establish regular eating patterns. Early on it may be helpful to prepare ahead of time the food that you will have during the day to minimize barriers to following your plan.
As you come up with a meal plan, it is essential to not to put food in “bad” or “good” categories. When you put a food group such as sweets or carbs in a forbidden category, psychologically you give it more power, which in turn makes it harder for you to resist the urge when you have an opportunity to indulge yourself with it. If you want to be able to follow your meal plan long term, moderation is an essential aspect for success.
Here are some considerations for creating a meal plan:
- Always prepare your food ahead of time or know what you’ll have next
- Don’t allow more than three to four hours between each meal or snack
- Minimize distractions during meal time and practice mindfulness during the meal
- If possible, have three meals and two snacks each day
Identify and Address Triggers
As you may have already noticed, binge eating does not tend to come from the physiological response of hunger and the deprivation of certain food groups. Many who come to my Torrance office for help for their binge eating disorder use food to avoid or escape emotional states. They often manage to distract themselves with work and other obligations during the day, but when the negative feelings resurface, they find themselves paralyzed with their memories and feelings, and they seek comfort in binge eating.
To identify your emotional triggers, I highly recommend you keep a food journal as an emotional awareness tool. In this journal write down the food you have at each meal and the emotions you experience before, during and after the meal. I have found that a detailed food log provides very helpful information on what makes you vulnerable and a comprehensive image of your struggle. After few days of journaling, you can review your journal and highlight the emotions that you find trigger your binge eating.
Use Alternative Activities
After identifying what states trigger your binge episodes, create a plan to engage in activities to address them. For example, exhaustion is a trigger for binge episodes for some of my clients, and after simply following a structured sleep pattern and implementing rules associated with sleep hygiene, many have noted drastic changes in their mood and eating habits. No matter what the trigger is for your binge eating, dedicate fifteen minutes each day to practice strategies to help you manage negative emotions.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you practice a skill or what strategy you develop to address your emotions, a situation may come that will trigger overwhelming emotions. If you find that no matter what you try you are not able to change your emotions, instead of fighting to push the emotion away, the best approach may be to just tolerate and accept the emotion. No emotional state is final, and by riding out challenging emotions you will teach your brain a new way to respond to an overwhelming emotion.
Dr. Nazanin Moali owns a private therapeutic practice in Torrance, where she offers effective therapy for binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and disordered eating for children and adults. In addition to her doctoral training, she completed a post-doctoral residency, where she received extensive training in providing evidence-based approaches to the treatment of eating disorders. She offers individual and family therapy and online counseling to residents of Torrance, Palos Verdes, Manhattan Beach, and the Hermosa Beach area.