Whether it's chips and salsa, doughnuts, pizza, ice cream, or french fries, so many of our clients have certain foods that make them feel out of control. Oftentimes, we hear the stories of individuals who swear off their "trigger foods" only to polish off multiple servings of that same forbidden food hours later. Ashamed and afraid, they restrict the next day to compensate, only to overindulge again. This cycle consumes an incredible amount of emotional and physical energy, and leaves people feeling drained, afraid of food, and terrified of trusting their bodies. If this sounds like you, change is possible - but it will take work. Here are a few tips to help you stop the binge-restrict cycle:
1. Stop Compensating For Binges
If you've binged before, you've likely tried to "make-up for it" in some way. After downing half a pan of brownies or an entire pizza, you may be feeling afraid - afraid of getting fat, of being found out, or even afraid of developing and unwanted health condition such as diabetes or heart disease later in life. The natural response to this fear is to try to "undo" the effects of the binge by intentionally restricting calories, consuming "cleaner" foods, or attempting to eliminate "bad" foods altogether.
However, this is likely going to make the binge-eating behavior worse, not better! Because binge eating is often a response to restriction, behaviors such as cutting calories, skipping meals, or eliminating the foods you love will make you crave calorie-dense food because your body feels deprived. Even if you still eat consistently, if you are viewing certain foods as "bad" or "off-limits," research shows that your natural response will be to crave those foods even more. In addition, intentionally cutting calories will cause you to miss out on seeing the way your body will naturally adjust its hunger cues to meet your needs.
2. Boost Meals and Snacks
Many people who are struggling with binge eating have a strong desire to lose weight, and go on restrictive diets to do so. These diets often support small or low calorie meals and either skipping snacks or making them pitifully small. Unfortunately, dieting and cutting out meals and snacks are the exact opposite of what you need to find freedom from binge eating! Oftentimes, people binge because they didn't honor their hunger earlier, and they have reached the point of no return. Their body is screaming for food, meaning they're going to eat everything they promised not to, and lots of it.
Now, most people try to break this cycle by simply "overcoming" the intense cravings by using willpower or filling up on low-calorie foods, but your body knows better. It thinks it is starving and will not stop sending you signals to eat until you do. Your body will win-every time. So, instead of trying to stave off hunger indefinitely, the best way to stop binge-eating is to prevent it by eating enough and eating regularly. Not very sexy, is it? In fact, the Keto Diet, Whole 30, and others will promise you much faster results and freedom from restriction. But the truth is, eating every three or four hours and eating enough to feel satiated isn't indulgent, it's preventing that next binge. It's worth it.
3. Introduce "Trigger Foods" In A Safe Environment
If you're bingeing on foods because you feel deprived of them, it makes sense to try to incorporate them into your week to avoid feelings of deprivation. However, if you do this in the wrong setting, you're likely to binge again, only to reinforce the incorrect belief that you can't "handle" that particular food. While the process of making peace with food is detailed in this post and is often best done with the help of an experienced professional, some helpful tips to remember are to try this food when you are neither hungry nor overstuffed, to eat slowly and mindfully, and to remind yourself that this food is not inherently good or bad. You may even want to eat with a friend, family member, or significant other for support. While challenging, this step is important, as it prevents you from continuing the vicious binge-restrict cycle as you progress towards food freedom.