Everyone overeats sometimes. Maybe it was an amazing buffet where you had to try more than you needed, or Thanksgiving dinner. Binge-eating is different. It involves eating a large amount of food in a short period.
Binge-eating disorder (BED) was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. By far the most common type of eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men, it’s characterized by recurrent bingeing, followed by feelings of lack of control, remorse and stress. (It differs from bulimia in that binge-eating doesn’t involve any purging.)
If you’re concerned that you could develop bingeing tendencies, try these strategies:
Most diets don’t teach you sustainable healthful-eating habits. And diets, most of which are designed to be temporary, often cut out entire groups of foods, which can make you hungry, which can lead you to binge. Instead of dieting, allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy, but try to limit the amount of the less-healthful options.
Eat nourishing meals
Hunger is the enemy when you’re trying to prevent bingeing. So, stay well nourished and keep your blood sugar stable by eating every three or four hours. It’s best if each meal — and snack — contains protein, healthful fats, carbohydrates and fiber. The protein, fat and fiber help you feel full, while the carbohydrates increase serotonin levels for a mood boost. Including plenty of vegetables and some fruit can also help you get key nutrients and feel full for fewer calories.
Keep 1-ounce portions of nuts and seeds in your car, purse or briefcase so you’re never stuck feeling overly hungry. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can also help by preventing you from mistaking thirst for hunger.
Refocus your attention
Binge-eating is typically done quickly and without really tasting or enjoying the food. Each time you eat, slow down and notice the flavors, textures and aromas of what you’re eating. This can help you eat less and get more pleasure from eating.
Meditation can help you practice refocusing your attention. When you’re feeling the urge to binge, your mental muscle will be stronger when deciding to focus on something else. Try just five minutes a day of sitting and focusing on the feeling of your feet on the floor. Each time your mind wanders, gently redirect it back to your feet without judgment.
Recognize real hunger
What are some of the reasons you eat? Physical hunger is just one of them. In her book “Mindful Eating,” Jan Chozen Bays describes different types of hunger based on parts of the body, such as heart hunger and nose hunger. For example, you might eat because you’re feeling lonely (heart hunger) or because you walk by a bakery and smell fresh doughnuts (nose hunger). Before you eat, ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry, or is this a different type of hunger?”
Another helpful way to tune in to your hunger is to evaluate your fullness on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being ravenous and 10 being painfully stuffed. Staying between a 4 (starting to get hungry) and a 7 (satisfied) before and after you eat is the goal.
Keep binge foods out of your house
You can — and should — have some of the less healthful foods you crave, but don’t keep them around the house. Instead, enjoy these foods in controlled settings, such as sharing dessert with a friend at a dinner out.