Everyone’s been there. After a stressful day, you sit down to eat and find that you just can’t control yourself. You keep eating even when you know you’re full and when you finally stop, you feel ashamed. You’ve just had a binge. The occasional binge isn’t unusual. But done frequently, it can damage your health and leave you wondering how to stop binge eating for good.
Why Do You Binge Eat?
To understand how to stop bingeing, you must first understand what drives you to do it in the first place. There are several factors that may increase your risk of bingeing, including a history of dieting or family members who have eating disorders. But one of the greatest causes of binge eating today is stress.
When you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone has several effects, including an increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Essentially, cortisol prompts your body to enter a state of high alert to fend off the dangers it perceives. Unfortunately, this means it also induces hunger.
As your body responds to stressors, you’ll subconsciously seek relief in any way you can. And when you’re hungry, eating is the natural response. For many people, high-stress situations drive them to one thing: comfort food.
Why comfort food? When under distress, your body craves food packed with energy from sugars, fats and calories. Comfort foods are rich in these, which means they prompt your body to release serotonin. This results in an immediate sense of satisfaction.
Unfortunately, sugars and fats found in highly processed foods have virtually no nutritional value. After the initial burst of energy, you may experience a “crash” or feelings of shame. This can make you feel tired and hungry and add to your stress level. Your cortisol levels will rise, and the cravings will return, resulting in a vicious binge-eating cycle.
Binge Eating as a Coping Mechanism
A “binge” is defined as eating an abnormally large quantity of food in a short period of time. Binge eating is a disorder in itself, but not everyone who binges has this condition.
About 10% of adults have reported bingeing at least once in their lives. In response to stress, a binge can provide a distraction and temporary relief. Unfortunately, binges don’t address the underlying causes of your rise in cortisol. For this reason, they are nothing more than a coping mechanism.
There are a few reasons why binge eating is not a sustainable way to cope with stress. For one, its effects are short-lasting; not long after bingeing, you’ll feel stressed and hungry again. But over time, frequent binges could lead to separate health problems, including obesity.
Learning how to stop bingeing is imperative to limit its effects. Luckily, there are a few methods that can help you do this.
How to Stop Binge Eating
The first step in limiting binges is to recognize the behavior as a coping mechanism. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping a food journal.
With a journal, you can track what you’ve eaten and reflect on your habits afterward. Over time, you’ll recognize patterns in your diet. If you tend to binge after feeling stressed, it’s likely you’re using it to cope. Understanding your behavior gives you a better chance of changing it.
Another way to stop binge eating is by focusing on what you’re eating. Clouded by stress, you’re unlikely to stay mindful during a binge. Practice being present at mealtime. If you notice yourself starting to binge, bring your attention back to the food and think about how you’re feeling. You may be able to correct yourself even after taking a few stress-fueled bites.
Meal planning can also keep you from bingeing. If your food is already prepped and ready to eat, you’re less likely to reach for prepackaged food. Plus, making a meal schedule prevents you from turning to food before you’ve had a chance to process a stressful event. When planning your meals, make sure each one contains a source of protein to keep you satisfied after eating.
Building a Stress-Free Lifestyle
Learning how to control binge eating in the moment is useful, but prevention is key. To stop bingeing in response to stress, you’ll need to develop strategies for avoiding and eliminating common stressors.
The first step in building a stress-free lifestyle is to take care of yourself. Exercising regularly is a way to blow off steam and is proven to improve your mood. It can also reduce cravings and prevent hormones like cortisol from making you feel hungry when you aren’t.
Staying hydrated also keeps your stress levels low. Dehydration can make you more responsive to stress while hydration releases oxytocin, a hormone that increases satisfactory feelings. Because hydration curbs hunger pains, it can also lessen the effects of cortisol.
Preventing stress is nearly impossible when you’re exhausted. A lack of sleep can lower your mood and even lead to sugar cravings that stress makes harder to ignore. With enough sleep, you’ll feel rested and ready to take on the day — and more prepared to control your appetite.
Stop Bingeing for Good: Find Help Today
Many adults binge eat in times of stress. But for about 2%, binge eating will morph from the occasional coping mechanism into a full-blown disorder.
Binge eating disorder or BED results in frequent binges occurring over a long period of time. While they can still lead to shame or guilt, a person with BED may also experience relief or a sense of normalcy after a binge. Over time, this can severely damage their mental and physical health.
Learning how to stop binge eating is difficult on its own. In comparison, overcoming BED can seem impossible. If you’re suffering from the disorder, simple lifestyle changes may not be enough. For lasting change, you may need to seek professional help.
It’s never too late to fight back against BED. At Restore Mental Health, you’ll find the support team and resources you need to stop binge eating for good. Contact Restore today to take the first step.