By Coral Arvon, PhD, LMFT, LCSW
Do You Binge? Seven Key Strategies to Stop Binge Eating For Good
We all do it at one time or another. Some of us do it over and over again. Maybe it was the anxiety from a job or a relationship gone sour. Something threw our emotions into a tailspin, and food was the drug we reached for to calm us down.
A bag of chips, a half-gallon of ice cream, a whole sleeve of Girl Scout cookies; we started and we just couldn’t stop until our chosen “drug” was all gone. Often, feelings of regret come next.
Behavioral scientists believe binge eating is now the most common eating disorder. It is characterized as the consumption of large amounts of food over a short period of time, usually during a sitting of one or two hours, and repeating it often—at least once a week. It is a behavior associated with a loss of control.
Putting the brakes on binge eating can be extremely challenging because it creates a sense of shame and a desire to hide it. Once it is identified, treatment can be very helpful. As a behavioral psychotherapist whose purpose is to help those with limiting beliefs overcome them and get on the road to a fuller life, I have identified seven strategies to give those with an overwhelming desire to binge eat, the tools to overcome it once and for all.
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #1: Change the way you think. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is used through seminars and one-on-one counseling to help bingers come to understand why they feel the need to binge and how to stop the intense and spontaneous urge to eat. Changing your thoughts can have a powerful effect on how you act. Get help!
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #2: Don’t skip meals. Eat well and eat often. Temptation kicks hunger into overdrive causing cravings to come crashing in at the thought of food. Eating well and regularly activates our inner pause buttons and gives us a reason to stop and think intelligently before we act. Do I really need that cheeseburger, you think, as you drive by a fast-food restaurant and an urge pops up. With a peaceful stomach comes a peaceful mind.
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #3: Identify overeating situations and develop a game plan to avoid each one. Most of us are aware of social events that make us vulnerable to overeating. We just don’t choose to avoid them. Are you party-hearty binge eater? Why not create events that are not centered around food, and be the life of that party? How about a game night with healthy food snacks or a bike ride through the mountains with friends? It can be fun to create new avenues of group entertainment. Try eating healthy alternatives before you go to a party. If you get into a jam, use the 10-minute rule—involve yourself in another activity for 10 minutes as soon as a craving appears, and see if the craving goes away.
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #4: Become a conscious eater. So, we belong to a multi-tasking society. Don’t let that be your excuse to eat-on-the-run or chew between words on the telephone. When you inhale your food, it disappears before you have time to register what and how much you just ingested. Your mind can tell you that you’re still hungry, to eat more. Slow down, smell the aroma of your meal, appreciate its color and beauty. In doing so, we are aware of how much we ate and know when to stop.
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #5: Meet life head-on, bumps and all. Are you using food to cure your frustration and avoid the unpleasantries of life? If you find yourself heading to the vending machine for a Snickers bar to relieve some perceived or real anxiety—maybe even boredom—you are using food in search of instant gratification. Maybe your mouth just needs to chew on or taste something for relief—try an apple instead. Look for alternatives. If you stop using food to control your urges, soon you will start discovering what really satisfies you and begin to use appropriate coping methods to get you through tough times, rather than food.
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #6: Remove ALL calorie-dense goodies from your home. When visions of sugarplums go dancing through your head an hour after dinner—it may be a habit you’ve formed. Your mind is where your stomach does not need to be. If all the temptations have been removed before the snack attack, your mind will likely get over it. If not, it is always a good idea to have an acceptable replacement available.
STOP Binge Eating Strategy #7: Forgive yourself and let your transgressions go. Beating yourself up never cured anything. In fact, it may make matters worse. Just accept it, move past it, and get right back to your game plan as soon as possible. Don’t wait. Recognize how far you have come, and get back in the driver’s seat.