The binge eating cycle and other disordered eating behaviors are brutal habits to break.
I won’t rehash my own experience in this article, but you can read about my personal battle with disordered eating habits here.
It’s my goal with this article to reveal some of the things I did that helped me break out of the binge eating cycle and ditch disordered eating habits. But before we go on, I must make a few important notes.
Note 1 — the following tips worked for me; that doesn’t guarantee they’ll work for you. It’s my sincerest hope you benefit from the information, but there’s no single “one size fits all” approach to stop binge eating.
Note 2 — it took some time to stop binge eating and break free from other obsessive eating habits. I don’t say this to discourage you, but to be realistic. Yes, it will take time. You don’t develop disordered eating habits overnight, so you can’t expect to break them overnight either. Anyone who tells you this can be done quickly is simply trying to get you to open your wallet. Be patient, but be consistent. Know that it WILL get better and you WILL be successful.
Note 3 — let’s call this the official Disclaimer of this article — this is NOT medical advice. If you suffer from binge eating, an eating disorder, or disordered eating habits, please seek professional help. This article is NOT meant to diagnose or treat any of these conditions. My objective is to share what helped ME break free from obsessive diet habits and the binge eating cycle.
20 Tips for Breaking Free from Binge Eating
These tips are not listed in any specific order.
1) Another diet is NOT the answer
There’s a good chance that a diet is what spiraled you into binge eating in the first place. I know that was the case for me. In the past I have experimented with several diets: low fat, low carb, and numerous others. And I kept looking for the diet that would end all of the confusion and allow me to escape the binge eating behaviors I had developed.
But thankfully I finally realized that another diet is not the answer.
In my experience, strict diets, especially those that revolve around limiting or completely eliminating foods, food groups, or macronutrients only add fuel to the binge eating fire.
The solution is not found in a diet, so don’t search for one.
2) Think ADDITION instead of RESTRICTION
This tip comes from David Dellanave and he posted it to his Twitter account a while back, and I think it’s so intelligently simple.
“In general I tell people to add instead of remove. When you add something, something else naturally has to fall away. Plus you’re focusing on an action you CAN do versus trying NOT to do something you’re already in a strong habit of doing.”
Don’t think about foods you should limit. For example, I love ice cream and I know it’s not something I should eat every day. But, instead of thinking, “Oh, I better not eat ice cream every day” I instead choose to focus on the foods I get to eat every day, and I make an effort to include a wide variety of foods into my eating regimen.
Restriction –> Binge Eating –> Guilt –> Restriction –> Binge Eating –> Guilt
As you can, a focus on restriction just leads to a vicious cycle of binge eating and guilt. Don’t think about restriction because it only makes things worse.
So ask yourself, what are you some foods you can ADD to your meals? You can even make an effort to choose a food from multiple food groups such as veggies, fruits, meats, dairy, nuts, etc.
Make sure you choose foods you like or new foods you want to try.
3) Stop trying to be perfect
I was once told that people who are self-proclaimed perfectionists are more likely to develop disordered eating behaviors, and I think they were right.
I’ve been a perfectionist most of my life. I even managed to get straight A’s in college, and I refused to settle for anything less. As a result I applied this same attitude towards my nutrition, which I believe also led me to develop disordered eating habits.
Before I became a compulsive binge eater, I demanded perfection and only ate “the best” foods. My diet was “squeaky clean”, whatever that means.
If I messed up, I gave myself hell and demanded better. All this ended up doing was making me miserable. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy meals, my favorite foods, or even family get-togethers filled with my favorite homemade meals because they weren’t “clean” enough for me.
After a while, all of this got to me. That’s when I really started binge eating.
I couldn’t take it anymore. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t be perfect all the time. So I started to say, “Screw it!” and cut loose. That’s when I’d binge eat anything in site.
I still remember the first time I lost control and experienced my first binge. It was scary. Little did I know it was the first of many.
“Perfect is the enemy of good” is a quote by Voltaire that basically claims that striving for perfection often results in no progress at all.
I also believe that to be true.
Once I finally stopped trying to be “perfect” I was able to relax.
Don’t look at things as if they’re black or white. You don’t have to be “perfectly on plan” or “completely off”.
There can be a balance. Learn to find, and live in, that balance.
Ditch the thought of perfection. You’ll be happier and much less stressed.
4) Stay off the scale
Many people who battle binge eating also weigh themselves frequently.
That number does NOT indicate your self-worth. That number does not tell you what’s really going on with your body. It does not indicate your success because that number does not define you.
5) Ditch cheat days
Some people claim a cheat day is the answer to their binge eating problem.
They’re “good” during the week and then one day, usually on the weekend, they go crazy and eat any and everything they want for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I think this only contributes to the binge eating cycle. Because you’re only allowed to enjoy “forbidden” foods for that single day, you’re more likely to over eat AND eat foods you don’t even care for because of the fact they’re “off limits” every other day of the week.
Many people I’ve spoken to who have done the whole “cheat day” thing say they usually feel horrible that day, and after, from eating so much food. In my opinion, cheat days can also promote binge eating because you’re left thinking, “This is the only chance for a whole week I’ll have to eat these ‘forbidden’ foods.” As a result, people gorge themselves.
They end up eating foods they don’t even like and cramming as much food in their bellies as they can manage.
In my opinion, stay away from cheat days.
6) Celebrate ALL victories and don’t dwell over minor set-backs
My binge eating habits were so bad I would binge every single day. I think I went a month straight where I would binge at least once a day.
But when I finally committed to being kind to myself and taking things slowly, I remember the first day I went without binge eating in over a month.
And I celebrated this victory.
Sure, I ended up binge eating the next day, but I still celebrated that victory. Eventually I made it two days without binge eating. Then three. Then I’d slip, binge, and start back from zero.
But the point is that I celebrated every victory. Whether it was going a day without binge eating, being kind to myself, or engaging in positive self-talk I would meditated on the good things and not dwell on the negative.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Celebrate whenever possible, even if it’s something very small.
And when you do slip up, don’t dwell on it.
I know it’s easier said than done, but when you do binge, don’t dwell on it for hours or even days afterward.
Just move on.
Focus on something POSITIVE instead.
7) Ditch the rigid rules
Ditch rules about what foods to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, and any other rigid rules.
Instead, learn to listen to your body.
You don’t need a book to tell you what foods to eat or even when to eat.
I encourage you instead to eat real, whole, natural foods most of the time. Eat when you’re physically hungry and learn to do something other than turn to food when you’re gripped by emotion and want to eat. It may take some time, but relearn your natural innate cues of physical hunger.
If you’re not hungry but want to turn to food, make an effort to do something else. An idle mind is often hard to combat, so try doing something physically active, get out of the house, go for a hike, or have a good conversation with a friend.
We’ll talk more about listening to your body in a moment . . .
8) Food may be fuel, but it should also be enjoyed
“Food is just fuel for the body,” some people exclaim. As a result, some people don’t care how their food tastes because they’re eating exclusively for the fuel aspect.
I’m not one of those people. I love food.
And I tried the whole “food is just fuel” approach in the past, and as a result I ate “healthy” foods I strongly disliked. I forced myself to eat them because they were good for me.
Likewise, many of my binge episodes consisted of foods I didn’t particularly like.
I’d eat any junk food that was around because I thought it was “forbidden” or “unclean”, and so I’d binge on it. I ate so many cookies, cakes, candy bars, and other processed foods I didn’t even think tasted good.
So the solution is simple — only eat foods you enjoy, whether it’s real, whole foods or some of your favorite not-so-healthy-but-delicious foods.
Food should be enjoyed.
No matter what you’re eating, make sure it’s something you like.
9) Put the focus on what your body can DO
In the midst of my binge eating habits, working out was a chore. It was something I did to punish myself for eating so many calories.
And I began to dread every single workout.
But, when I was applying some of the tips on this list to my eating habits, I decided to overhaul my approach to strength training.
I put the focus on what my body could DO, and nothing else.
My sole purpose and focus at the gym was getting stronger and becoming more awesome. Adding more weight to the bar. Performing more challenging bodyweight exercises. And this was a tremendous help to me. It allowed me to be proud of my physical abilities. To be proud of what my body could accomplish instead of obsessing over how it looked.
I appreciated my body for what it could do and what it was capable of.
10) Have positive support
For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone about my binge eating habit.
But I knew I needed help, and so I confided in someone close to me. Someone I thought would help me and be understanding.
Boy, was I wrong.
I was basically presented with a, “That’s not a big deal. Why don’t you just stop binge eating and get over it?” sort of response.
Oh, wow! There’s an idea! Why don’t I just stop?
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Tell someone you know you can trust and who will support you. Don’t surround yourself with jerks who basically make fun of you and claim you’re blowing things out of proportion.
Years later as my binge eating got worse, I took the plunge and confided in someone else. This time, it went incredibly well. This person didn’t judge me and was understanding and supportive, and this made a HUGE impact on me.
It was nice having someone to talk to who would listen without being condescending. Find someone you can trust, and talk to them. You can always begin with a counselor or someone who is qualified to help with disordered eating habits.
11) Focus on ACTIONS, not outcomes
Proclaiming, “I want to stop binge eating” isn’t enough.
You’re far better off focusing on ACTIONS you can take, consistently, that will lead you in that direction. Come up with some actions you can perform on a weekly basis.
Here are some examples:
- Stock your house with real, whole foods you enjoy
- Perform 3 strength training workouts per week and focus solely on what you can DO
- Engage in a fun activity 1-3 times per week
- Focus on eating your meals slowly
- Say one positive thing to yourself every morning and evening
- Eat slowly and savor your food
Write down these action goals and any others you can think of and strive to complete them each week.
12) How to handle binge foods?
Different things work for various people, but what worked for me was keeping the foods I’d most likely binge on out of the house.
Now these foods were not “off limits” by any means. I learned to listen to my body and if I truly wanted a common binge food, such as ice cream, then I’d go out and buy a pint, bring it home, and enjoy it guilt free. This is important — learn to eat your favorite foods with zero guilt.
So my solution was to keep common binge foods out of the house, but go and get them when I truly craved them.
If you live with someone who likes having a ton of snacks or other foods that tempt you around the house, then try talking to them. Hopefully they’ll understand and jump on board with you. This tip was very helpful for me, and over time, I was able to have previous binge foods in the house at all times without being tempted.
13) Stay away from “rapid fat loss” approaches
As a result of my binge eating problems I gained quite a bit of extra fat. And it devastated me. On several occasions I turned to “quick fix” approaches because I was freaking out and wanted to lose the excess weight immediately. All this did was make things significantly worse.
You must lose the “quick fix” mindset and avoid these methods at all costs. It sounds pathetically cliche, but you must take this journey one day at a time.
Remember to focus on daily ACTIONS you can control such as engaging in positive self talk, cooking homemade meals with new foods, focusing on your performance with your workouts, confiding in a friend, and other actions.
This is not about a quick solution. It’s about taking the time to heal and adopting a sustainable lifestyle approach that’s enhances your life and doesn’t dominate it.
You want to slowly develop eating habits you can sustain long-term.
14) Be patient
This isn’t a fun tip, but it’s important.
Throughout this process you must be patient. Don’t expect overnight results, and don’t give up either. It’s going to take some time to break the binge cycle in addition to other bad habits such as negative self-talk.
But learn to be patient. That brings us to the next important point…
15) Be kind to yourself
You’re going to slip up.
And when you do, you must be kind to yourself. Berating yourself when you binge or slip up only makes things worse.
Instead of calling yourself a “failure” or something similar, be kind to yourself. Realize it’s just a tiny mistake. Give yourself a break because you are trying your very best.
You are absolutely wonderful, and you need to know that.
You’re awesome and strong. Be kind to yourself.
Furthermore, this was mentioned in the positive social support tip, but make sure you’re surrounded by people who are kind to you, and people who know you are an amazing person.
Here’s a great quote:
Being around people who are negative or put you can can only make things worse for you. Make sure you surround yourself with positive, uplifting people. If you’re not, then it’s time to make a change.
16) Know that you’re amazing as you are, at this very moment
My friend, you are not flawed. You don’t need to be “repaired” in any way.
Know that you are amazing as you are this very moment.
You don’t have to completely break free from the binge eating cycle before you can be amazing, because you already are.
Know that. Embrace it.
17) Learn to listen to your body
We touched on this already, but it’s something that really helped me.
Learn to listen to your body. Relearn how to identify physical hunger.
In the midst of my disordered eating habits, I couldn’t identify physical hunger. I lost that ability for well over a year, even when I started to recover from binge eating.
But I was patient and became more in-tune to my body’s signals.
Learn to identify physical hunger. And when you eat, eat slowly and savor your food. Listen to your body’s signals and identify when you’re satisfied. Make an effort to stop eating when you’re satisfied, but not overly stuffed.
Know that you don’t have to binge because you can eat again when you’re physically hungry. Again, this probably will take some time, but be patient and consistent.
Likewise, don’t look to diet books to tell you what foods to eat and what to avoid — listen to your body.
Eat the foods that make you feel best and cut back on those that don’t. You don’t need anyone to tell you what to eat.
Your body is smart, so learn to listen to it.
18) Stop focusing on fat loss
Chances are one of your primary goals is to lose fat. And if that’s the case, I’m willing to bet the way you eat and work out revolves around thoughts of losing body fat.
Well, it’s time to stop thinking about fat loss and adopt a more positive mindset and focus.
This was another important tip that helped me break out of the binge eating cycle, and I highly suggest you give it a shot. Click here for more information on this topic (but please finish the rest of this article as well).
19) Engage in positive self-talk
We commonly, and unfortunately, use words like “hate” and “don’t like” when referring to our bodies.
It’s time to change that.
Erase those words from your vocabulary and adopt positive, motivating, uplifting words instead.
Learn to compliment your physical abilities, personality, and even things you love about your physique. Focus on these things. You may have to apply the fake it ’til you make it approach, but it’s an important step nonetheless.
First thing in the morning say, and mean, something positive to yourself. It can be about a body part you like, a physical ability, or anything else. Just say something uplifting.
20) Be confident
I know how discouraging it can feel when you’re battling disordered eating habits. I asked myself more times than I can count, “Will this ever get better? Will I ever be able to go a day without obsessing over food and binge eating?”
Admittedly, there were times I thought I’d never break free, but then I changed my perspective.
I knew I could defeat this. I knew some day I could use that horrible experience for something positive.
And that’s why I’m writing this article.
It’s my sincerest hope this helps at least one person. If it does, then I’m grateful for the battle I fought, and won.
And I know that you can win, too.
Be confident. It will get better.
Your Turn to Break Free
How exactly you choose to implement the tips above is up to you. I do suggest, however, beginning with the tips that will be easiest for you to employ.
Don’t try to do everything all at once. Choose a few tips that sound the easiest and apply them. Do your best to apply those tips consistently for a few weeks, and then add another tip or two.
Remember – be patient and be kind to yourself.
Focus on ACTIONS you can take on a daily basis.
Choose the tips that sound easiest and start applying them right now.
Break Free from Binge Eating
The new book, 33 Ways to Break Free from Binge Eating, with a foreword by Alan Aragon, is now available.
And you get to pay what YOU think is fair …
To give you an idea of how much content is in this book, the article you just read is over 3,000 words and the book is over 22,000. As you can see there is a lot of new information in the book.
Nia Shanks’ 33 Ways to Break Free From Binge Eating gets the first of five stars for how the author shares her own struggles with binge eating and how she ultimately broke free. She keeps the “I’ve been there too” tone throughout the book. This not only shows that she knows from experience what she is talking about, it also creates a bond with readers and makes them feel more understood.
Another star for this book: It’s practical, not theory. Nia’s advice is definitely personal and experiential. It’s also backed by evidence, and she does cite her sources. But rather than fill pages with scientific study details, she gives you practical behavior and mindset strategies that can all be applied immediately.
A third strong point is that the book is concise and easy to read. It’s just over 100 pages of the most important information. The tone is conversational, and all 33 of the article-length chapters can be finished in one or two sittings.
The book covers both physical and mental strategies. For example, “Cooking your meals” is a physical strategy and “Be kind to yourself” is a mental strategy. The book tells you things to do and things to stop doing. Example: Don’t have forbidden foods. Do celebrate victories. The wisdom in this approach is worth another star.
I give a 5th star because this book was written with fitness in mind. This also separates the book from others in the category. Nia is well-known as an advocate of strength training for women. Her advice on freeing yourself from binge eating is put into the context of a total lifestyle change that includes exercise, not just dieting – as it should be. In fact, strategy number one is, “You don’t” need another diet.
Most of the 33 strategies in the book, I believe, are universal to everyone; just do them and they will work. In a handful of areas, you’ll have to “know yourself” and decide if a strategy fits your situation. With this in mind, Nia concludes in her final tip not only to pick out the strategies that speak to you the most and to start there, but also to start small, even by focusing on one simple action step (avoiding overwhelm is an important part of making this work).
Nia’ book seems aimed toward people currently struggling with binge eating. However, most of the advice applies more broadly to improving health and body composition in general, so anyone who wants to get healthier and leaner while developing a good relationship with food would benefit from reading this.
I purchased and reviewed the kindle version. I was not compensated for or asked to write this review, but as disclosure of association, I did know Nia before reading her book because she has been a guest writer on my blog. Incidentally, her guest posts were among the most read and liked of all time on my website. Like Nia’s blogs, her book does not disappoint.
-Tom Venuto, author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle