Each time you binge, you promise yourself you’ll never do it again.
Over time, however, your resolve wains. You start to lose sight of your goals (losing fat, developing a healthy relationship with food, having a great social life), and feel the urge to binge.
Here are seven simple strategies you can use on a daily basis to stop binge eating before you start.
1. Create “If-This, Then-That,” plans.
This is a simple trick psychologists recommend to help you maintain positive behaviors when your willpower becomes depleted.1,2
Write down a list of the triggers that cause you to binge. Then, create another list of things you can do in-the-moment to prevent yourself from acting on these triggers.
Here are several examples:
If this… “I’m bored, it’s late, and I’m tired. I need chocolate.”
Then… Read a book, play video games, talk to a friend, drink some tea.
If this… “I’ve already eaten slightly more than I planned, and I feel like cleaning out the fridge.”
Then… Keep tracking your calories and macros to put your mistake into perspective. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Do something that doesn’t involve food.
If this… “I’m tired of counting calories and macros. When I don’t track my calories, I feel like I can (and should) eat a ton of junk.”
Then… Plan to eat more calories than you initially intended. Or, take a small break from dieting and eat till you’re satisfied instead of going by the numbers.
Pick the top three triggers that cause you to binge, and create plans to avoid acting on these impulses.
2. Eat enough to stay satisfied.
Eat enough total calories per day to stay satisfied when you’re dieting.
Dieting increases your risk of binging.3 People with binge eating disorder or bulimia also tend to binge for longer when they’re dieting.3
In general, the more you restrict calories without a break and the leaner you get, the more you’ll feel the urge to binge.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t diet, but you still have to eat enough to keep your hunger and cravings under control. Massively slashing your calories will help you lose weight faster in the short-term. In the long-run, however, large calorie deficits can often force you into a cycle of restricting and binging.
Set a reasonable calorie deficit that allows you to lose fat without feeling like you’re a concentration camp victim.
3. Remove as many restrictions from your diet as possible.
Enjoy your favorite foods in moderation throughout your diet to stop cravings from turning into binges.
Include a balance of all three macronutrients. Don’t massively over or under-consume fat, carbs, or protein.
If you eat more than you planned, put your actions into perspective and move on.
Set yourself free.
4. Keep yourself busy.
You’ve binged before because you didn’t have anything else to do. Your schedule was completely open, it was the weekend, you were lonely, and cracking open a jar of peanut butter was easy.
Find something else to keep you interested.
Make a to-do list of tasks that you enjoy, that do not involve food. When you feel the urge to binge, open your list and knock off another task.
If you’re tired and can’t bring yourself to look at your to-do list, here are some more things you can do to entertain yourself without binging:
- Talk to a friend about something unrelated to food.
- Go on a walk.
- Read a book, that’s not related to food.
- Make a cup of tea.
- Go to a coffee shop, book store, or thrift shop.
- Play with your pet.
- Play video games.
- Listen to music.
- Read an article on Evidence Magazine about binge eating.
5. Make binge eating inconvenient.
Remove any binge-prone foods from your home.
If that’s not possible, hide them from sight.
In many cases, you’ll forget you even have the food. In other cases, the extra trouble of getting to the food is enough to stop you from binging.
You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to resist binging on a carton of ice cream when you have to dig through two feet of frozen vegetables to reach it.
If you live with someone else and you can’t get rid of or hide food, be honest with them and say that you’re trying to watch your diet. Ask them if they’d be willing to put junk food away, or cut down on how much they buy.
Most people don’t think about food as much as you do, and probably have no idea how hard it is for you to control yourself sometimes. In most cases, they’ll understand.
6. Focus on your food when you’re eating.
One of the reasons you binge is because you become “disinhibited” from your meal.3 You stop thinking about how much you’re eating, how your food tastes, or how it makes you feel.4
Focusing on your food while eating can help you prevent binges in three ways:
- You get bored with eating. Sit down for 30 minutes and focus on nothing but your food. You’ll probably want to do something else at the end of the meal.
- You’ll get more satisfaction from less food. In some cases, you probably use your T.V., computer, or phone to keep you entertained while you binge. If you don’t have these distractions, it’s much harder to keep eating.5,6
- You’ll realize you’re binge eating. If you’re distracted, it’s easier to assume that you’re just “having a large meal” instead of binging. If you pay attention to how much you’re actually eating, you might be able to stop your binge before it gets out of control.
If you want to enjoy normal meals without binging, take some extra time out of your day to focus on your food.
7. Spend time with friends, family, and strangers.
People often binge because they’re lonely, frustrated, or stressed.3 People with binge eating disorder also often have trouble maintaining strong personal relationships, and often use binging as a coping mechanism.7
If you feel like you’re going to binge, find someone to talk to. Better yet, meet them in person. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to forget about food when you have a real conversation with someone close to you.
Try to eat your meals with someone else. It’s much easier to control your eating behaviors when you have a role model next to you (even if they don’t know they’re helping).
Even if you’re around strangers, like in a restaurant, it’s a lot easier to control yourself.
Stop binging today with these 7 tips.
Pick one of these techniques to help you stop binge eating. Find whatever combination of methods works best for you, and stick to it.
- Create “If-This, Then-That,” plans.
- Eat enough to stay satisfied.
- Remove as many restrictions from your diet as possible.
- Keep yourself busy.
- Make binging inconvenient.
- Focus on your food when you’re eating.
- Spend time with friends, family, and strangers.
Binge eating is a miserable experience. No matter how many times you try, it feels like you can never stop. You wish you could go back to when you ate like a “normal person.”
You can, but it might take a little work at first.
In a later article, you’ll learn how to stop a binge when you’ve already started. To get that article and more on eating disorders, click here to sign up for email updates.
1. Masicampo EJ, Baumeister RF. Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2011;101(4):667–683. doi:10.1037/a0024192.
2. Baumeister RF, Vohs KD, Tice DM. The Strength Model of Self-Control. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2007;16:351–355.
3. Mathes WF, Brownley KA, Mo X, Bulik CM. The biology of binge eating. Appetite. 2009;52(3):545–553. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2009.03.005.
4. Wansink B. From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiol Behav. 2010;100(5):454–463. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.05.003.
5. Higgs S, Woodward M. Television watching during lunch increases afternoon snack intake of young women. Appetite. 2009;52(1):39–43. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.07.007.
6. Temple JL, Giacomelli AM, Kent KM, Roemmich JN, Epstein LH. Television watching increases motivated responding for food and energy intake in children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(2):355–361. Available at: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=17284729.
7. Iacovino JM, Gredysa DM, Altman M, Wilfley DE. Psychological treatments for binge eating disorder. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2012;14(4):432–446. doi:10.1007/s11920-012-0277-8.