Binge eating – when food is friend and foe

3 June 2023

We all talk about bingeing. It’s a term we use when we overeat or watch a Netflix boxset in one go.  But bingeing is not overeating occasionally.  That’s something we all do from time to time. Maybe its finishing a delicious desert when you’re already full, eating just too much birthday cake, or somehow finding room for an extra slice of pizza. You can usually enjoy the extra indulgence and end up feeling overfull.  You may make a mental note not to eat quite so much next time, and then forget about it.  
For binge eaters it doesn’t work like that.
Binge eating is something different. It’s not just simply eating a bit too much now and then. And it’s not enjoyable. Binge eaters are driven to eat when they are not hungry and they can’t stop once they’re full.

binge eating relieves emotions

Binge eating affects millions

According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, some 12 million women and men in the UK suffer from binge eating to some extent.

Around half of those trying to control their weight say that they have binged in the last month (not stating what is in the binge). 1 in 4 adults trying to control their weight have Binge Eating Disorder as defined below. 6% of adults describe themselves as “Compulsive Eaters” with 2% of those meeting the criteria for full-blown Binge Eating Disorderi

Binge eating is a serious eating disorder that can significantly affect your physical and mental health. If you are struggling with binge eating, there are steps you can take to stop. Binging involves  eating large quantities of food quite quickly.  The binge usually comes along with feelings of guilt, shame, and being out of control. Overcoming binge eating involves working with the underlying thoughts, feelings and actions that make you binge.

In this blog, I’m going to explore five effective strategies to help you break free from the cycle of binge eating and develop a better relationship with food and eating.

Bingeing to feel good

Binge eaters are pushed to eat to make themselves feel better. With that first bite, they may feel good, satisfied and soothed by the taste in their mouth. But it doesn’t last long.

They soon stop enjoying the food, but carry on eating. As they do so, feelings of enjoyment are almost always replaced by harsh self-criticism, self-blame and feelings of guilt and shame.

binge eating to feel make yourself feel better

Binge eating creates distress

Binges are very distressing. Some people feel disconnected from what they are doing and may find it difficult to remember what they have eaten afterwards.

Binge eating feels out of control to the person doing it and can feel like an addiction to food (or certain foods).

Secret eating

Binge eating using takes place in secret. People who binge are afraid what others may think of them if they knew just how much they ate. It is common to eat everything in the fridge or cupboard during a binge, going out to replace the food, so no one will know how much they’ve had.

Eating to cope with life

People start to binge as a way of avoiding or managing uncomfortable emotions. Over time, it can become the default way of dealing with life’s problems. For the eater, binging is a way of seeking comfort not a response to feelings of hunger in the body.

binge eating in secret

Change is possible

If this is you, it possible to change. 

When I work with people who are binge eating, we work together to develop strategies to manage stress and emotions without needing to turn to food. As a team, we find alternatives to binge eating; always working at a pace that suits the client.

We work together to change the thoughts, feelings and actions around food and eating. Often this involves learning to deal with feelings in a more positive way, becoming happier about yourself, being able to say no to food and people when you need to, and more besides.


Here are five strategies to help you to manage your binge eating.  Working on bingeing and improving your relationship can take time. Each step can be learnt and built upon. By taking these steps one by one, you can start to live your life on your own terms.

1. Identify your triggers

The first step to stopping binge eating is to identify what triggers your binges. Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to develop strategies for dealing with them.

Common triggers for binge eating include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional distress
  • Sadness
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Dieting

Identifying and addressing your emotional triggers is the first step to breaking the cycle of binge eating. You could start by keeping a food journal.  This can help you to track your eating habits and identify patterns.  The purpose of the journal is to notice what triggers your bingeing rather than focusing on the food you eat. 

By recognising the emotional triggers, you can learn different ways to cope with your emotions.  Developing new strategies such as hobbies, practicing self hypnosis or contacting friends and family for support will give you coping strategies to manage the ups and downs of life.  This will help to empower you to address the root causes of your binge eating and improve your wellbeing. 

Keeping active can also be an effective way to improve your mood and reduce the urge to binge eat. Find activities you enjoy and make them a regular part of your routine. By discovering healthier coping strategies, you can break the cycle of turning to food for comfort.

Have a look at how to have healthy habits to help you.

2. Try eating mindfully

When you feel the need to binge, it helps to become aware of what you’re eating. As you binge, slow down and try to notice what you are eating. If you are going to eat a lot, it’s worth trying to enjoy the experience.

You could try:

Putting all your food onto a plate or bowl before you eat it. Rather than eating ice-cream straight from the tub, spoon out a few scoops into a bowl. With biscuits, instead of eating them straight from the packet, put 6 or 8 on a plate. With crisps, rather than eating them by the handful from the bag, empty half into a bowl and then eat.

Notice the binge foods. With every mouthful, take notice of what you’re eating, without judging. For instance, with biscuits you might notice their crunchiness, their sweetness with maybe a hint of salt.When you have eaten everything on the plate or in the bowl, ask yourself: “What do I want to do now? Have I had enough or do I want more?”

The important thing is to be conscious about what you’re doing – this helps to create choices.

For more on mindful eating, have a look at five ways mindful eating can stop you overeating.

3. Build your support system

Having someone to support you can make a big difference.

Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of friends, family, or support groups can help you as you work to tackle your binge eating. Sharing experiences, encouraging each other, and understanding you are not alone can give you a sense of belonging and keep you motivated.  

Hearing from other people who have overcome binge eating themselves can help to inspire you and keep you going when things are difficult.

Feeling you have support, understanding and encouragement can help you to feel less isolated and ashamed about your binge eating.Having a safe space to discuss your struggles and gain insight can help you to stay accountable as you recover from binge eating. 

Finding the courage to share your struggles with those you love can be hard, but once you open up to them about your struggles they can support and help you.

4. Use delaying tactics

If you are going to binge anyway, then it is worth making an effort to postpone the binge. Start off by waiting just thirty seconds. After you’ve put your first portion of food onto your plate or in a bowl, count to 30 slowly, and hold off on eating anything until 30 seconds have passed. Once you realise that you can do this, you may want to try postponing the binge for I minute, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on.

Being able to wait, even just one minute, before embarking on a binge, means that you are less at the mercy of the binge and more active in choosing when to start.

5. Ditch the diet

Stop trying to lose weight. When you diet, it is easy to become impatient or easily discouraged. We then give up the diet which makes us feel bad about ourselves. Focusing on being healthy instead helps us stay connected to feeling good, and that keeps us motivated.

Try and stop thinking about “good” and “bad” foods, but listen to your body to tell you what’s right for you. This gets rid of feeling guilty about food, which leads to binge eating for many of us.

For more tools and techniques to help you, check out my blogs on  weight anxiety, eating mindsets  and disordered eating.

For more on how I work with people around food and eating click here.

Would you like to make living life easier, right now? Get your free Live Life on Your Terms recording here and begin to live your life with confidence.



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