Along with following your treatment plan, making the right lifestyle changes can help you manage compulsive eating.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is considered the most common feeding and eating disorder in the United States (
BED is about more than food, it’s a recognized psychological condition. That means people with the disorder will likely need a treatment plan designed by a medical professional to overcome it.
People who are diagnosed with BED experience episodes of eating unusually large amounts, even when they’re not hungry. After an episode, they may feel a strong sense of guilt or shame.
Regular binge episodes can lead to weight gain, which can contribute to health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can try — both at home and with the help of a professional — to reduce episodes of binge eating.
Here are 15 tips to help overcome binge eating.
Fad diets can often be very unhealthy, and studies show that overly restrictive eating methods may trigger episodes of binge eating.
For example, one study in 496 adolescent girls found that fasting was associated with a higher risk of binge eating (
Similarly, another study in 103 women noticed that abstaining from certain foods resulted in increased cravings and a higher risk of overeating (
Instead of following diets that focus on cutting out entire food groups or significantly slashing calorie intake to lose weight quickly, focus on making healthy changes.
Eat more whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and moderate your intake of treats rather than excluding them from your diet altogether. This can help reduce binge eating and promote better health.
Summary Studies show that fasting or
eliminating certain foods from your diet may be associated with increased
cravings and overeating. Focus on eating healthy foods instead of dieting or
cutting out certain foods completely.
Setting a regular eating schedule and sticking to it is one of the most effective ways to overcome binge eating.
Skipping meals can contribute to cravings and increase the risk of overeating.
Another study in 38 people found that adhering to a regular eating pattern was associated with a decreased frequency of binge eating (
Try setting a regular eating schedule and sticking to it.
Summary Adhering to a regular eating
pattern can reduce the risk of overeating and may be associated with lower
levels of ghrelin and fasting blood sugar.
Mindfulness is a practice that involves listening to your body and paying attention to how you feel at the moment.
This technique can prevent overeating by helping a person learn to recognize when they no longer feel hungry.
One review of 14 studies found that practicing mindfulness meditation decreased the incidence of binge eating and emotional eating (
Another small study showed that combining mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy may improve eating behavior and self-awareness (
Try listening to your body to recognize when hunger tapers off. Additionally, try to eat slowly and enjoy food to promote healthy eating behaviors.
Summary Practicing mindfulness can
help you recognize when you’re no longer hungry, which can improve your eating
behaviors and reduce the incidence of binge eating.
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is a simple yet effective way to curb cravings and stop overeating.
In fact, studies show that increasing water intake could be linked to decreased hunger and calorie intake.
For example, one study in 24 older adults found that drinking 17 ounces (500 ml) of water before eating a meal decreased the number of calories consumed by 13%, compared with a control group (
Similarly, another study in older adults showed that drinking 13–17 ounces (375–500 ml) of water 30 minutes before a meal significantly decreased hunger and calorie intake while increasing feelings of fullness during the day (
The amount of water each person should drink daily depends on various factors. Thus, it’s best to listen to your body and drink when you feel thirsty to ensure you’re staying well hydrated.
Summary Drinking more water can keep
you feeling full to decrease calorie intake and prevent binge eating.
Yoga is a practice that incorporates both the body and mind by using specific breathing exercises, poses, and meditation to reduce stress and enhance relaxation.
Studies indicate that yoga can help encourage healthy eating habits and reduce the risk of emotional eating.
One small study in 50 people with BED showed that practicing yoga for 12 weeks led to a significant reduction in binging (
Another study in 20 girls found that combining yoga with outpatient eating disorder treatment decreased depression, anxiety, and body image disturbances — all of which could be factors involved in emotional eating (
Try joining a local yoga studio to start adding this type of exercise to your routine. You can also use online resources and videos to practice at home.
Summary Yoga can help prevent binge
eating and may reduce common triggers like stress, depression, and anxiety.
Some research suggests that increasing fiber intake could cut cravings, reduce appetite, and food intake.
One small, 2-week study found that supplementing twice daily with a type of fiber found in vegetables decreased hunger and calorie intake while increasing fullness (
Another study in 10 adults showed that taking 16 grams of prebiotic fiber daily increased levels of specific hormones that influence satiety and significantly reduced feelings of hunger (
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are just a few fiber-rich foods that can keep you feeling full.
Summary Fiber can help keep you
feeling full to reduce calorie intake and feelings of hunger.
Having lots of junk food or trigger foods in the kitchen can make it much easier to binge eat.
Conversely, keeping healthy foods on hand can reduce your risk of emotional eating by limiting the number of unhealthy options.
Start by clearing out processed snack foods like chips, candies, and pre-packaged convenience foods and swapping them for healthier alternatives.
Stocking your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, protein-rich foods, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can improve your diet and reduce your risk of binge eating unhealthy foods.
Summary Removing unhealthy foods
from your kitchen and stocking up on healthy alternatives can improve diet
quality and make it harder to binge eat.
Studies indicate that adding exercise to your routine could prevent binge eating.
For instance, one 6-month study in 77 people showed that increasing weekly exercise frequency stopped binge eating in 81% of participants (
Another study in 84 women found that pairing cognitive behavioral therapy with regular exercise was significantly more effective at reducing the frequency of binge eating than therapy alone (
Plus, other research suggests that exercise can decrease stress levels and enhance mood to prevent emotional eating (
Walking, running, swimming, biking, and playing sports are just a few different forms of physical activity that can help relieve stress and reduce binge eating.
Summary Studies show that exercising
can reduce the risk of binge eating and decrease stress levels.
Starting each day off with a healthy breakfast might reduce the risk of binge eating later in the day.
Plus, filling up on the right foods can keep you feeling full to curb cravings and reduce hunger throughout the day.
Meanwhile, eating fiber- and protein-rich oatmeal was shown to improve appetite control and promote fullness in another study in 48 people (
Try combining a few fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, with a good source of protein to avoid overeating.
Summary Eating a fiber- and
protein-rich breakfast can prevent cravings and keep you satisfied throughout
Sleep affects your hunger levels and appetite, and sleep deprivation may be linked to binge eating.
In fact, one study in 146 people found that those with BED reported significantly more symptoms of insomnia than people without a history of this condition (
Another large study showed that shorter sleep duration was associated with higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lower levels of leptin — the hormone responsible for promoting fullness.
Additionally, sleeping less than 8 hours per night was linked to higher body weight (
Aim to squeeze in at least 8 hours per night to keep your appetite in check and reduce your risk of binge eating.
Summary BED may be linked to
increased symptoms of insomnia. Sleep deprivation has been shown to alter the
levels of hormones that affect hunger and appetite.
Keeping a food and mood journal that tracks what you eat and how you feel can be an effective tool. It can help identify potential emotional and food triggers and promote healthier eating habits.
One study in 17 people showed that using an online self-help program that involved keeping a food diary was associated with fewer self-reported episodes of binge eating (
To get started, simply start recording what you eat and how you feel each day using either a journal or app.
Summary Food and mood journals can
help identify triggers to address potential problems. Studies show that using a
food diary is associated with fewer episodes of binge eating, as well as
increased weight loss.
Talking to a friend or peer when you feel like binging may help reduce your likelihood of overeating.
One study in 101 adolescents undergoing sleeve gastrectomy showed that reliable social support was associated with less binge eating (
Another study in 125 women with obesity found that better social support was linked to decreased binge eating severity (
Next time you feel like binge eating, pick up the phone and call a trusted friend or family member. If you don’t have someone to talk to, eating disorder helplines are available free of charge.
Summary A good social support system
may be linked to decreased binge eating and stress.
Upping your intake of protein-rich foods can keep you feeling full and help control your appetite.
One study in 19 people showed that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% led to significant reductions in body weight and fat mass, as well as decreased daily calorie intake by an average of 441 calories (
Similarly, another study found that following a high-protein diet enhanced metabolism, promoted feelings of fullness, and increased levels of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone known for its ability to suppress appetite (
Try including at least one good source of protein — such as meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, or legumes — in each meal and enjoy high-protein snacks when you feel hungry to keep cravings at bay.
Summary Increasing your protein
intake has been shown to decrease calorie intake, enhance feelings of fullness,
and increase levels of GLP-1, a hormone that can help suppress appetite.
Planning meals can help ensure that you have healthy ingredients on hand to prepare nutritious meals. Also, measuring out portion sizes and putting the remainder of food away may help you avoid triggering a binge.
In fact, one study in over 40,000 adults showed that meal planning was associated with improvements in diet quality and variety, as well as a lower risk of obesity (
Set aside an hour or two each week to plan out a weekly rotation for your meals.
Summary Meal planning has been
associated with improvements in diet quality and variety. It can also make
sticking to a regular eating pattern easier and ensure that you have healthy
ingredients on hand at all times.
While the strategies above can be helpful, oftentimes a treatment plan designed by a professional is needed to help overcome binging.
Treatment for BED can involve different types of therapy or medications to help get binging under control and treat any underlying causes or symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, the most effective form of therapy, explores the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and eating patterns and then develops strategies to modify your behavior (
Other types of therapy used to treat binge eating include dialectical behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and behavioral weight loss therapy (
Summary Cognitive behavioral therapy
is considered an effective treatment method for binge eating. Other types of
therapy and certain medications can also be used.
BED is a recognized psychological condition that affects millions of people around the world.
However, it’s possible to overcome it with the right treatment plan and healthy lifestyle modifications.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on Sept. 17, 2018. Its current publication date reflects an update, which includes a medical review by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD.