Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

Mindful Musings

What to Do When You Feel Like Bingeing

You can find freedom from this.

Posted Sep 07, 2017

Virtual Communicates/Fair Use
Source: Virtual Communicates/Fair Use

​She has just finished dinner when the urges begin. It feels like the food in the pantry is calling to her. All she can think about is the package of Oreos, the peanut butter and bread, and the chips. She wants nothing more than to get lost in the cycle of eating. To numb out and to feel that initial pleasure as she washes down a package of Oreos with gallon of milk.

But part of her doesn’t want to do this again. She wants nothing more than to be able to stop this terrible cycle. Yet she doesn’t know how to cope with these intense urges.

As a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, I specialize in helping people to recover from eating disorders.

The following are a few of my tips for what to do when you feel urges to binge eat.

Steps to Take

1. Take a deep breath.

2. Remove yourself from the kitchen (or whatever environment is triggering the urge, if you can) and go somewhere where you can sit down.

3. Remind yourself that just because you have an urge does not mean that you need to act on it. With practice, you can learn how to sit with and ride out the urges that you experience. Urges typically will naturally diminish on their own.

4. Remind yourself of how you usually feel after a binge episode. Bingeing gives a temporary high or feeling of “comfort” or respite from long-term distress and unhappiness. Typically, people feel physically and mentally terrible after a binge episode.

5. Be kind to yourself. Recognize that you are using bingeing either as a response to physical or emotional deprivation (i.e., you aren’t eating enough throughout the day, or you are eating things yet feeling guilty about them), and/or to cope with uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions.

6. Ask yourself, “Am I feeling physically hungry?”

7. If the answer is no, ask yourself, “What am I looking to feel (or to not feel) through turning to food?” One good option would be to write about this in a journal or notebook. 

8. Identify two healthier coping strategies that you can use to try to get a similar feeling. If it’s a sense of comfort, you might call a friend or play with a pet.

9. Tell yourself that you will at least try these two healthier coping strategies before acting on the urge to binge.

10. If afterwards, you are still feeling the urge to binge, try reaching out to someone for support.

11. Remind yourself that you are not saying that you must give up bingeing forever. You can always go back to it. However, try to take it one day (even one meal) at a time. What if you tried something different this time?

12. Reach out for professional support. No one should have to struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating alone. Getting help when you are struggling is a sign of strength, not weakness. Eating disorders are treatable illnesses and full recovery is possible.

The Bottom Line

If you do end up bingeing after taking these steps, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself. You are not alone in struggling with this and you are not simply “lacking willpower.” You are struggling with something that no one would choose. It’s also important that you don’t do anything to try to “compensate” for the binge, as this will only keep the binge/restrict cycle going.

If you could ride out the urge even for a little bit, this shows that you were practicing an important skill and with time (and additional support) you can learn how to ride out the urge completely.

If you have outlasted the urge to binge completely, take a moment to recognize and acknowledge this.

Ultimately, you deserve a meaningful and joyful life. No matter what you may be telling yourself, finding freedom from bingeing is possible. Yes, for you, too.

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