how to break the binge cycle

How to Break the Binge Cycle

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are unable to stop eating after you had been so diligently sticking to your diet? Or maybe you had a beyond stressful day at work, and all you can think about is going home and raiding the fridge? If you can relate to this, then you may have experienced an episode of binge eating at some point. Continue reading if you are interested in learning more about why this happens and for strategies on how to break this binge cycle.

What is Binge Eating

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) defines an episode of binge eating as meeting the following criteria:

  • “Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.”
  • “A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).”

There are various reasons why somebody may have urges to engage in binge eating behaviors. These can be emotionally driven, such as resulting from high stress or anxiety. This could also be physically driven, such as experiencing intense hunger sensations typically related to restriction, whether intentional or unintentional.


The Binge Eating Cycle

Restriction in any form – under-eating or restrictive food rules – can lead to a natural drive to eat. Whether it is because your meeting went late or because you are following a strict diet, going a long period of time with little to no intake may very likely result in an out of control eating experience.

Suddenly you can’t stop thinking about food and your cravings intensify. This is because when our bodies’ needs are not being met, they carry out various survival tactics. These include suppressing our fullness signals and increasing our hunger cues. Further, our stress hormones increase, which results in stronger cravings, particularly for starchy, sugary foods. These internal changes often lead one to engage in a binge episode.

Following engagement in binge behavior, one may feel ashamed or guilty. They may promise themselves they will never binge again; however, the brain has other plans. This is because when a binge occurs, the brain releases dopamine, a “feel good” chemical.

This dopamine rush then reinforces further engagement in binge behavior in the future – resulting in the binge-restrict cycle. It is important to remember that if those feelings of guilt arise, compensatory restriction will not fix the problem and will instead lead to continuation of the cycle.

Find yourself stuck in this cycle, and concerned you may be developing or experiencing an eating disorder? Check out this article to learn more about eating disorder signs to look out for.

Seeking Comfort or Relief

Unfortunately, stress is an all too familiar feeling for most of us. According to an American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey, greater than one-fourth of American individuals reported being so stressed that they cannot function on most days.

Further also according to the APA, four in ten Americans report overeating or eating less health-conscious foods as a form of stress management, while one-third of Americans reported to have skipped a meal in the last month as a result of stress. This data clearly illustrates stress’s impact on our appetite and eating behaviors.

Why is this the case? Well similarly to when we restrict, when stress goes unmanaged our bodies again release stress hormones. When this occurs, our appetite and cravings for foods higher in fat and sugar increase, potentially contributing to binge behaviors. For more information, check out this article from Harvard Health.

What are some practical ways to prevent the binge cycle?

Pursue health over weight loss

Focus on implementing positive behavior changes like creating balanced meals, increasing fruit and veggie intake, and joyfully moving your body. Move away from solely focusing on the number on the scale or remaining calories on your diet tracker. 

Identify the Trigger

If you are finding yourself struggling with binge urges, then there is likely an underlying reason. Are you seeking comfort after a stressful day? Are you bored and seeking fulfillment? Have you eaten enough today?

In order to be able to break the binge cycle, it is critical to determine what physical, emotional or situational triggers are present. Pinpointing this trigger will help you and your dietitian come up with possible alternative actions to take in place of bingeing.

Listen to your body

Honor your body by eating when you’re hungry and learning to recognize when you experience fullness. It can be difficult to recognize our bodies’ cues when we have been ignoring them.

A registered dietitian can help you on you regain access to your hunger and fullness cues and adopt an intuitive eating approach. To learn more about intuitive eating, click here.

Challenge food rules

Food does not have moral value and can’t be good or bad. Remind yourself that all food fits. Rather than avoiding foods you may be inclined to binge on, try and eat them more consistently to neutralize their impact. You are in control, not the food. The longer we ignore a craving, the stronger it will grow.

Avoid skipping meals

When we are adequately nourishing ourselves throughout the course of the day, we are less likely to overeat/binge later in the day. 

Try some self-care

If feeling stressed and overwhelmed, try and engage in your preferred form of self-care. Not sure what that looks like you for you? Trial out some different methods! That could be yoga, going for a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, journaling and so much more.  

Schedule an appointment with a therapist

To assist in navigating high-stress levels, anxiety, depression or any other emotional or mental health concerns you may have.

For more assistance on how to find a therapist that is right for you, click here.

Schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian

A Registered Dietitian can help you learn to reject diet culture, build peace with food and your body, and steer you away from engaging in disordered behaviors by helping you determine the root of the behaviors and strategies to overcome them.

Are you ready to make peace with food and learn how to break the binge cycle? Do you want to give yourself unconditional permission to enjoy all foods but don’t know where to start? Consider scheduling an appointment with one of our Nourish dietitians.