I don’t talk about it much publicly, but when I was younger, I use to binge eat—a lot.
It would happen mostly when I was lonely, or depressed, or even just bored out of my mind. Sometimes, it would happen when I was celebrating, too—but always when I was alone. I would go to the store, buy way too much junk food, and go home and eat as much of it as I could.
I’d eat until I honestly didn’t think I could eat another bite, and felt so sick I wanted to puke. Then, I’d wait a while, and when the feelings of nausea started to subside, I’d start eating again until either the food was gone or until I fell asleep in deep shameful sleep.
Without fail, I’d wake up feeling like absolute crap the next day. I’d beat myself up about it, forcing myself into an unending spiral of guilt, always wondering why I kept doing this to myself.
To make myself feel even worse, I’d look at the mirror and tell myself how terrible I looked and that I would never be good enough until I could stop liking food. That if only I could somehow turn myself into one of those people who just “forgets” to eat, then I’d finally be good enough.
But that was the wrong approach. Obviously.
Learning to Treat Food as Fuel
Looking back at how I used to treat food and abuse my body, my first reaction is to wonder what the heck was wrong with me back then. After all, the binge eating obviously made me feel like crap, physically and emotionally, yet I kept on doing it.
But when I take the time to look deeper into my past actions, I start to be kinder to myself and feel serious empathy for that past Krista.
It’s obvious now that I’d put myself into an impossible place: if I was good, I wouldn’t eat at all. If I was sad, angry, lonely, or even happy, I would stuff myself with as much unhealthy food as possible.
Back then, I didn’t treat food as fuel. I treated it as the total enemy.
So if you deal with binge eating at times, or know someone who does, know that you’re not alone. Know that there’s hope. But you have to start treating food like you should—as nourishment, not punishment, for your body.
Here are the strategies that slowly helped me learn to stop binging on a regular basis and started treating food like fuel:
Start Eating Enough During the Day
One of the constant mistakes I used to make was to eat as little as possible throughout the day, often limiting my food intake to as little as 1,000-1,200 calories before dinnertime. I thought that I was being “good” and that the least amount of food I could eat without completely crashing, the better.
But unsurprisingly, this method of eating would cause several problems:
- It left me with incredibly low energy, meaning my workouts were often lackluster (if I worked out at all).
- It caused a lot of mental fatigue, meaning I couldn’t think very clearly as the day went on. This is due to lack of glucose to the brain—your brain needs food to function at an optimal level.
- It would create feelings of endless hunger at night, even after eating a reasonable dinner. This made me more susceptible to binging on unhealthy foods, especially when I had far too few calories throughout the day.
The key to avoiding this is pretty simple: start eating enough throughout the day.
Start tracking your calories if you need to keep yourself accountable, and aim to eat at least every three hours or so for optimal body and brain performance.
Keep in mind that if you’re not used to eating very much during the day right now, this strategy may scare you a bit and make you feel like you’re eating too much. But trust me—eating enough during the day does wonders to help you avoid binging at night, the most likely time to binge.
Don’t Keep Trigger Foods Around
We all have certain foods that once we start eating them, we just can’t stop. Here are a few of mine:
- Graham cracker bunnies or goldfish
- Sweet and sugary cereals
- Non-single serving frozen yogurt or low fat ice cream/li>
- Jelly Bellies (I absolutely loved these as a kid and can still name every flavor)
The list goes on. And although these days, I could probably control myself well enough that if one of my trigger foods was around, I wouldn’t eat the entire container, I still don’t tempt myself.
Why? Because it’s really just not worth it. It’s absolutely fine to have indulgences here and there (and trust me, I certainly still have a sweet tooth), but keep one or more of your trigger foods easily accessible and you will resort to binge eating when your willpower is at a low point.
Have a Quantity Strategy
Rather than tempting your willpower with known trigger foods, try keeping healthier versions of snack foods around for when you really just feel like you need to eat a good amount of food, or are craving something salty or sweet.
My current favorites are:
- Popcorn! I’ve always loved popcorn, but ever since pre-bagged popcorn became a thing, I’ve been a huge fan. Boom Chicka Pop is my current favorite—it’s fairly healthy, and definitely satisfying.
- Dark chocolate and dark chocolate covered cherries (the ones from Trader Joe’s are amazing). I try to limit myself to just a few of these though since it would be way too easy to eat half the container.
- Watermelon. Yes, it’s fruit and it still has sugar, but you can pretty much eat as much as you want of it without doing much damage to your diet. I like to get the mini ones and eat half right out of the watermelon bowl.
- Single serving frozen yogurt or ice cream (this keeps me from giving myself too big of scoops or going back for thirds).
- Homemade protein treats. Try one of these recipes if you’re looking for inspiration.
Also, before you reach into a bag of chips or open a bag of candy, try asking yourself if you’re actually craving snack food or if you’re actually just hungry and need to make something more substantial.
This is a fairly common mistake, and something that I’ve had happen to me countless times—maybe I’ve been especially active that day or just didn’t eat quite enough for dinner, and by the time 8pm rolls around, I need another small meal, not just a few chocolate covered almonds.
If you suspect this happens to you, try making something wholesome and then having a smaller treat afterwards. This strategy works wonders to help stop mindless snacking.
Don’t Try to Be “Perfect”
Nobody is perfect.
We will all have days when we eat too much, when we choose the less healthy option, or when we just can’t say no to the bag of chips/homemade cookies/box of chocolates/etc.
That’s why I highly recommend following the 80/20 diet (or 90/10 if you’re really set on being disciplined). Because eating perfect and healthy 100% of the time is not only boring and unsatisfying, it’s unrealistic. That’s where that 10-20% wiggle room comes in—it allows you to cut yourself some slack when you enjoy a delicious dinner out with friends or when you just can’t stop eating all the treats in your house one evening after a long, stressful day at work.
Because life happens. And as much as you try to set yourself up for success to eat healthy and work out on a regular basis, there will no doubt be times when you don’t follow the plan and eat too much or go on an all day (or all weekend) binge.
If that happens, the most important thing to do is to forgive yourself. Beating yourself up over it will only lead to you feeling like you failed, which leads to feelings of shame, which ultimately leads to more binge eating.
So be kind to yourself. You’re worth it.
Develop a Healthy Relationship With Food
Whether you find yourself binge eating a couple of times a week or even just once every few months, the way to stop binge eating (or at least greatly reduce it) is to start developing a healthier relationship with food.
Because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: food is fuel.
What you eat fuels your workouts, gives your brain the nutrients it needs to power through the day, and makes you a rockstar overall.
And when you start treating food as fuel rather than the enemy, the need to binge eat slowly starts to fade. When you no longer shame yourself for eating, you start to be more thoughtful about what you put in your body and start to cherish food rather than demonize it.
And when a binge does happen, you can simply forgive yourself and move on, knowing the next meal is always a chance for a new beginning.