How to Stop Binge Eating: 3 Steps for Overcoming Your Binge Urges Forever!

Catherine Liberty's picture

A girl stopping binge urges
 

For most recovering bulimics, learning how to stop binge eating can be one of the most challenging, intimidating and confusing aspect of the entire recovery process. 

I'll be honest with you, before I started recovery (and even for some time after that) I wasn't completely convinced that it was possible for a person to overcome binge urges.

"Once a binge eater, always a binge eater," I thought. 

I imagined as a recovered bulimic I would spend the rest of my life in a perpetual state of recovery, always wanting to overeat but reminding myself not to, fighting with everything I had in order to avoid bingeing, but always hanging on by a thread.

But just like many of my other preconceived ideas about recovery -  I was so wrong!

In a couple of months I'll be celebrating my 4 year bulimia recovery anniversary and right now I can't even remember the last time I had an urge to binge. I haven't overeaten in years!  

These days lot's of people ask me how I managed to stop bingeing completely and in a second I'm going to share with you the 3 things that helped me the most when it came to overcoming my own urges to binge eat.

But before we go any further there are some things that I really want you to know...

Firstly, I want you to know that it is 100% possible to stop binge eating, even if you NEVER remember having a normal relationship with food. 

 

For many of us recovery isn't so much about learning to eat normally again, but rather it's about learning to eat normally for the very first time, and that can be seriously intimidating.

Before recovery I can't remember having even a remotely normal relationship with food, I dieted and binged throughout my entire childhood as I expect many of you did too. 

But recovery taught me that just because you've never had a normal relationship with food in the past, doesn't mean you won't be able to have one in the future.

Secondly, I need you to understand that your ability to overcome binge urges has NOTHING to do with how much willpower you have. 

 

Many of us convince ourselves that binge eating is a sign of weakness, something that we're choosing to do, something that we could overcome if only we were a little bit stronger. 

But in reality, willpower has very little to do with it. 

If you try to fight off your binge urges using willpower alone then yes, it may work for a short time, but eventually those urges are going to overpower you. 

You could have all of the willpower in the world and it still wouldn't be enough to fight those urges. 

Why?

Well, to answer that question you need to understand the reasons why you're driven to binge in the first place.

Those of you who are already members of The Bulimia Help Method will be familiar with this, but just so we're all on the same page let's briefly take a look at the 2 reasons bulimics are compelled to binge eat...

REASON 1: Your body is literally starving!

Now I know what you're thinking, "I binge on so much food, how can I be starving?" 

But what you also have to bear in mind is that as a bulimic you purge either through fasting, excessive exercise, laxatives, or vomiting - all of which are certain to ensure your body remains in a malnourished state. 

Being malnourished creates very powerful binge urges because your body thinks you're experiencing a famine. It wants to do everything it can to ensure your survival through this famine, and so it tells you to eat everything in sight. 

At Bulimia Help we call this "The Body Binge Urge." 

REASON 2: Over time you've learned to rely on bulimia for emotional support.

When you've been bulimic for a long time it's common to start relying on the cycle of bingeing and purging for emotional or psychological support. What this basically means is that you've learned to use food to numb emotional pain and to distract yourself from unwanted thoughts and feelings. 

This is something I used to do all of the time before recovery, whenever I was even the slightest bit stressed or upset I would feel my urges to binge skyrocketing!

At Bulimia Help we call this "The Mind Binge Urge."

When you understand exactly why you're compelled to binge on food it's easy to see why willpower alone is just not going to be good enough to help you to overcome urges to binge. 

So what can you do to stop binge eating?

Here are my 3 biggest tips to help you stop binge eating...

3 steps for overcoming your binge urges - forever!

 

STEP 1: Start eating more (seriously)

Eat more food

It sounds a bit strange to say "in order to stop binge eating you have to start eating more" but that is exactly what you need to do. 

In fact normalizing your eating behaviors by implementing a structured eating meal plan for recovery is the single most powerful step you can take if you want to dramatically reduce your binge urges.

While you're restricting your food intake powerful and overwhelming binge urges are going to be unavoidable. 

  • This means no more food restriction and no more skipping meals.
  • It means making a big commitment to gradually begin letting go of your food rules and dieting mentality. 
  • It means starting to eat regularly (usually every 3 hours to begin with) and having to sometimes eat when you really don't want to. 
  • It means facing some of your biggest fears. 
  • But ultimately it means saying hello to your brand new life where hunger binge urges are nothing but a distant memory. 
  • It means giving your body and mind the fuel and nutrients they need to become happier, healthier and more balanced and alive than ever before. 

I can't emphasize this enough - structured eating saved my life and it will save yours too if you let it. It is the key to recovery and it has to be your first step when it comes to beating binge urges. 

STEP 2: Start eating all types of foods (yes, even the "bad" ones) 

No more good and bad foods

I know this may be the scariest thing I've said to you so far today, believe me, I had a very extreme reaction myself the first time I learned about the importance of eating triggering foods during bulimia 

But in recovery there comes a time when you do need to start adding more variety and balance to your diet because if you continue to avoid certain foods then you will always be vulnerable to bingeing on them. 

It can be a bit of a bumpy road when you initially start re-introducing all of the foods you've previously avoided through fear, but you can't even imagine how liberating this is going to be in the end. 

I used to be someone who could easily eat 20 candy bars in one sitting and still want more. Now, thanks to recovery I am "one of those people" who often eats half a bar of chocolate and saves the rest for later. 

A claim like that won't sound big to anyone who hasn't experienced bulimia, but I'm pretty sure you can understand the magnitude of it.

Take a look at our article on how to eat triggering foods without bingeing if you'd like some further advice on this.

STEP 3: Stop waging war against your thoughts

stop thinking to stop binge urgesThere's a quote I hear from time to time which says, "change your thoughts and you'll change your life," and it's a nice sentiment.

I'm all for positive thinking during recovery, I like to "look on the bright side of life" and I'm forever trying to remain optimistic even in seemingly dreadful situations. 

But I'm also realistic.

I understand that there are times when thoughts, urges and compulsions become so intense that you can't even breathe let alone think straight. 

Times when no amount of positive thinking is going to "snap you out of it."

But you know what, that's okay, because in recovery I learned that one of the worst things you can do is try to fight back against those negative and unwanted thoughts and urges. 

When you fight against a binge urge you only add fuel to the fire. 

You reinforce the idea that it is something to panic about and it is this reaction to the thought that creates anxiety and intensifies the binge urge. 

What you really need to do when a thought about bingeing appears is practice accepting it - and I know that may sound ridiculous if you've never tried it before, but give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Binge urges do not last forever, although it feels as though they will. If you practice accepting them you will find that eventually they peak and then subside.

You will be amazed the first time you simply sit there, welcoming and accepting all thoughts, feelling those urges, and then slowly watching as they leave you. 

By practicing acceptance of all thoughts we are teaching ourselves that they have no real power over us, that we do not have to react strongly to them - that we do not have to fight with them. 

In the Bulimia Help Method there is a whole section dedicated to helping you overcome mind binge urges in this way, all centered around a powerful technique called "Thought Diffusion" which is a process where you teach yourself how to react differently to binge urges and thoughts about bingeing.

Some points to remember as you continue on your journey...

As with all aspects of your recovery from bulimia it's important to understand that the changes you're hoping for are not going to magically happen over night. 

They will take time, there will likely be more ups and downs than you ever could have imagined and if you're anything like me you're probably going to experience lots of moments where you convince yourself you're never going to overcome your binge urges.

But eventually, if you persevere with your recovery you are going to see yourself transforming and you are going to see the "impossible" becoming possible.

Imagine a life where you can eat the foods you love without fear of bingeing or gaining unneeded weight.

Think of the day where you'll start eating when hungry and stop eating when you've had enough, no matter how good the food you're eating tastes. 

Envisage the moment when you realize you can eat half a bar of chocolate and save the rest for later, where you can have just one bowl of cereal, where you can cook a huge pasta dish without panic.

If you've already started your recovery then that life is so much closer than you realize.

Change is always possible. 

I learned how to stop binge eating and I honestly believe you can to. Bulimia is not a life sentence and recovery does not need to be a life-long ordeal. 

Here's to your freedom!

 Coach CatherineCatherine works as a Bulimia Recovery Coach for BulimiaHelp.org. 

Catherine has a degree in Applied Psychology BSc (Hons), a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Social and Community Studies and  has extensive practical experience employing several counselling and therapeutic techniques.

Enquire about working with Catherine to recover from bulimia

 

13 comments

Jody64
Jody64's picture
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Joined: 9 Mar 2011
Oh Catherine you have no idea

Oh Catherine you have no idea how great the timing of this article is. I have been a member on this site for around 2 years now and have not properly embraced it all. I had thought that I would never recover but today you have given me so much hope. I am a binge eater not bulimic but I realise that whilst bingeing on a load of rubbish food there is no room for nourishing food so I probably am malnourished.
I am not a fan of SE but I am determined to run with it to recover, I realise that it is not forever.
My goal for years now has been weight loss but I feel that I need to concentrate on my eating first.
Need to get that manual out and read again.
Thank You

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
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Joined: 4 Jul 2009
Hi Jody,  It's so nice to

Hi Jody, 

It's so nice to hear from you!

I'm really happy to know that this article reached you at such an important time on your journey towards recovery. Being a binge eater and not bulimic I can definitely see why you may have found it difficult to embrace many steps of the Bulimia Help Method but I think you've really hit the nail on the head - even if you're binge eating and not purging, if you're consuming lots of foods that fail to nourish your body properly then you could definitely be malnourished and therefore experiencing the side effects of this. Also if you've been focusing on weight loss perhaps you've been restricting a lot too? 

I think it's wonderful that you've decided to focus on your eating first, it's a very brave choice to make because I know there are going to be times where all you want is to focus on weight loss and nothing else, but by doing it this way, yes you're saying goodbye to any quick fixes - yes it may take a little longer for your body to balance out and find your natural healthy set point, but in the long run you're going to secure such a happy and free future for yourself. Keep in touch and let me know how things are going :) 

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I truly enjoy getting these

I truly enjoy getting these email through! Bulimia plagued my life for 10 miserable years but I have been free for 6 months now, I havent even been tempted to binge and purge and I am eating more food than I ever have consumed in my whole life! but I feel great and don't gain weight and I have so much energy! I have had periods where I have gone a few months without bingeing and purging in the past but I finally feel like this is it now I really truly am on the road to recovery! But its great to receive these emails, I still absorb the advice because there will always be those tricky days! Thankyou

Catherine Liberty
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Joined: 4 Jul 2009
Wow this is incredible news.

Wow this is incredible news. Massive congratulations, you should be so proud of yourself. I know it's not easy, especially at the start when you have to trust eating more food than you ever have done, but eating in this way is so important for recovery. I love that you feel differently now and like you truly are on the road to recovery! I suffered with bulimia for ten years too and it really was a miserable existence. If only we'd known back then that we were not broken, that we could learn to live happily and eat normally! 

There can be tricky days for a while, even when you are feeling so strong and on top of everything and so I'm thrilled that our emails are helping you out during the more challenging days. Thank you so much for your message, it's really made me smile.

Catherine

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I haven't bought the Method

I haven't bought the Method yet, but I've subscribed to the emails and I'm finding them very helpful already. I've been on recovery for nearly 7 months and I've been a bulimic for over 6 years. I hope I can one day fully recover. I still binge sometimes, but I'm working on that everyday.

Thank you so much.

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
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Joined: 4 Jul 2009
Congratulations on your

Congratulations on your recovery so far and thank you so much for taking the time to leave this message! Isn't it just amazing when you start to discover that you really are strong and that you don't need bulimia in your life like you thought you always would? It sounds like you're doing amazingly well in your recovery so far and I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world as you continue on your journey. 

We all have vastly different experiences in recovery but I know when I was 7 months in like you are now I was still hitting rough patches, in fact I had some of my worst relapses between the 7-9 month mark, but as long as you're always learning from them and as long as you remember that a relapse does not have the power to put you "back at square one" then I promise you that they are nothing to fear and eventually you are going to get to a point where you're no longer relapsing - and where you feel fully recovered :)

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this article! I've been trying to recover for the past 3 monthes or so but often feel so frustrated and like giving up everything because it's so hard to deal with binges and binge urges... I still binge like every day... today I did and was feeling horrible, but now I have some hope that tomorow will be better- even though I also know it's going to be challenging and scary.

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
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Joined: 4 Jul 2009
I'm so sorry to hear about

I'm so sorry to hear about how much you're struggling right now, those first few months really can be so frustrating and upsetting, but please hang in there, I know recovery feels like the hardest thing in the world right now - maybe even impossible at times, but you can do this, you really can. 

Be sure to look out for even the smallest of positive changes, try to stay away from "all or nothing thinking" where you convince yourself that each day in recovery needs to be "perfect" because it's just not reality. Some people do struggle with daily binges for a while, but as long as you remain dedicated this is a battle that you can not lose. 

When I was struggling with relapses in recovery I always found it really important to try to measure my progress in terms of the overall picture - so even on a day where I did binge I'd look for progress in other areas and maybe you can do the same?

So if you managed to eat breakfast, if you managed to eat your snacks, if you managed to avoid the scale, etc - these are all hugely positive changes and things to be really proud of - regardless of whether you binged that day too. 

If you're eating enough food but still really struggling with binge urges one of the simplest techniques that I found most helpful during my own recovery was to practice postponing a binge - so you don't tell yourself you need to avoid bingeing forever, instead you challenge yourself to go "just another 5-10 minutes" here's some more details on that technique: http://www.bulimiahelp.org/tools/binge-busting/postpone-a-binge

I really hope you'll find it helpful and the best of luck as you continue on your journey!

Catherine

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This ia a timeless piece of

This ia a timeless piece of advice. I will get back on my feet. And start over again today. Thank you! Catherine.

Catherine Liberty
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Joined: 4 Jul 2009
You are so welcome, I know

You are so welcome, I know it's never easy getting back on your feet but in the not too distant future I hope you'll agree with me when I say that any amount of temporary pain and struggling is worth it in the end! :)

Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
What a fantastic article! It

What a fantastic article! It really has made me want to start reading these blog posts from now on.

I'm a 19 year old guy and have had an issue with eating for as long as I can remember, but properly developed a binging attitude a few years ago. It's been a struggle ever since. I've considered becoming a member to this site many times but keep putting it off because I don't like the idea that I need to get help. But I think from now on the least I can do is follow the great advice you guys have to offer!
Though I still have binge urges to which I sadly give into from time to time, I don't think it will take much to get me on the road to a proper recovery. Hopefully by putting the methods from these articles into practice I'll finally manage to live a life without worrying about food all the time.

Keep up the inspirational articles! Your words of wisdom bring hope to all of us who are trying to recover.

kiweelove
kiweelove's picture
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Joined: 24 Sep 2013
Catherine, Thanks for this

Catherine,

Thanks for this article. I really needed to read something inspirational today. I am just beginning my recovery, but I am committing to the process no matter how uncomfortable it makes me at first. This article just makes me feel even more empowered.

-Kim

Connie
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Joined: 30 Jan 2014
Thanks Catherine. I have

Thanks Catherine. I have only just joined and started exploring this site. I have been a binge eater for a long time, and it's most annoying to have a sister who never binges and only ever eats at meal times etc etc. I really struggle to eat normally and i'm scared of eating some foods in case they make me fat, and if i do eat them i feel terribly guilty. Then its too late i have the whole lot and then purge. It seems to be a vicious circle. How do i overcome these fears? I'm not exactly the most confident person and the thought of getting fat doesn't exactly help self esteem. I think i'm scared of myself!

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