We’ve been so culturally conditioned to eat less and watch what we eat that we’ve come to view hunger as the enemy.

Over the years, clients have come to me requesting ways to suppress their appetites, minimize cravings, and end binge eating or binge-like behaviors. But while the weight loss model of health emphasizes calorie counting, portion control, and “willpower,” binge eating is a totally natural, physiological response to dieting. You’re binge-eating because you’re cutting back on food — and further restriction will only lead to more aggressive eating episodes, not fewer.

Because binge eating is a product of the diet mentality (you know, policing your food choices even if you’re not technically “on a diet”), another diet will not stop the binge eating. In fact, trying not to binge is a version of the thinking that prompted you to binge in the first place. 

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Just because caloric restriction has been touted as the be-all, end-all answer to weight gain doesn’t mean it works (let me save you some time: it doesn’t.) And just because it’s widely considered safe doesn’t mean restriction isn’t dangerous; consider the 20-25% of pathological dieters who go on to develop full-blown eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

Hunger is natural. It’s normal to feel ravenous — so ravenous you need two breakfasts, sometimes, instead of one — and normal to feel less hungry on other days, satisfied by a banana and a cup of coffee. It’s normal to feel so hungry at 9pm that you need to eat in order to sleep, and normal not to be hungry at 9am because you ate full dinner and feel totally satisfied. Hunger is always in flux, and if you ask me, generally honest.

So what’s next? Here’s a few steps to consider if you’re committed to ending binge eating episodes.

Identify whether you’re on a diet or food policing in any way

Diets don’t begin on the plate — they begin in the mind. Are you consciously or unconsciously dieting? Are you restricting any specific foods? Do you feel deprived of something you love?

Maybe you’re avoiding carbohydrate because you feel like it’s “bad” for you only to crave chocolate-covered almonds non-stop to fill the void. Maybe you’re attracted to ice cream because you’re consciously trying to avoid it, or feel like it’s off-limits.

Try to reconcile your feelings about this or these foods and challenge your beliefs around them. Being healthy doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat “unhealthy” foods (a balanced diet includes a variety of foods).

Are carbs actually bad for you? Is fat actually bad for you? If you look a the science, you’ll quickly find that nothing is that simple, as inconvenient as it may seem sometimes.

Unpack your feelings and stressors through journaling

Emotional eating can be triggered by upsetting events and experiences. This happens, and something I believe is part of the human experience. But one of the gifts of emotional eating is illuminating when something is off and asking for our attention.

When you find yourself eating emotionally — like eating pizza because you want to feel better, and not because you legitimately wanted the pizza — try to identify what’s really concerning you or has you upset. Journaling can be really helpful, even to brainstorm some ideas and to develop strategies for the future.

Develop constructive coping mechanisms

Building off the last point, look for ways other than food to cope with stress and emotional upheaval. While pizza and ice cream (and everything else!) has its place, it’s in your own best interest to turn negative experiences into positive ones.

Some coping mechanisms may be things like meditation, engaging in a hobby or pastime like reading or painting, calling a friend, participating in a yoga class, taking a rejuvenating bath, or holding an impromptu dance party in your living room (this almost always makes me feel better.)

Eat your binge or trigger foods outside of the house

If you feel certain foods hold a lot of power over you or you feel unsafe around them, try eating them out of the house rather than keeping copious amounts of them at home. This can help you to develop a better relationship with those foods in a safe way, without worry of overeating them in seclusion.

Work through your feelings about your binge or trigger foods, and seek out the care of a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor or a practitioner specializing in eating psychology

Finally, you don’t have go it alone. If you struggle with binge eating or overeating, look for a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor in your area to help you to work through your challenges with food so you can ditch dieting, stop fighting your body, and step into your power.

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