3 things NOT to do if you want to stop binge eating

As a binge eating disorder nutritionist I hear a lot of advice and tips to stop binging. This comes from social media influencers, Facebook groups, online health websites, and sometimes from health care professionals….

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I thought it would be helpful for me to tell you about some of the worst tips about stopping binge eating that I’ve come across. I will explain why you might ignore it, and how to actually ignore it. It’s super difficult to ignore it - I know how isolating, frustrating, and shameful binge eating can be.

That’s why I help people just like you. People who have tried everything to stop  binge eating, but nothing works. You’ve probably come across this article while looking for your next solution to stop binging. I really hope that this article will give you some peace of mind, and help you move towards a healthier relationship with food.

What if these things worked for me!?

I want everyone to have a happy, healthy relationship with food. So, if anything in this article has worked for you, that’s great. If you are genuinely happy with your relationship with food, and you’re happy in your binge eating recovery, I am too. 

The most important thing is how you feel. If you’re in a great place with food and your body, that’s enough for me!

Three of the worst tips to stop binge eating I've heard

I am kicking the list off with what is probably the most common thing I hear…

1. Stop eating sugar

You might be thinking, “that sounds like a good idea!” The foods I binge on are sugar-y foods. I can’t control myself around them, so I need to cut them out.

If you don’t have the food at home, you can’t binge on it. Right?

But hear me out. Banishing sugar ultimately means you’re reinforcing the message that you can’t be trusted around it. It keeps that voice loud that tells you:

  • you have no self-control
  • your willpower is terrible
  • nothing you try works - look you’re still thinking about sugar!
  • you need to try harder
  • you're a food/sugar addict

You might be thinking, “That makes sense. But I need to keep away from sugar. Others can trust themselves around it, but I’m not like the other people. I’m a sugar addict, I can’t control myself. I’ve tried so many times!”

I want you to know that you’re not broken. Foods high in sugar are probably your binge foods because:

  • they’re foods you binged on in the past - you’ve set them up as your go-to binge food
  • they’re probably foods you think of as “bad”
  • they taste good! It’s natural to want more of a food that tastes good

You’ve put sugar up on a pedestal. These foods are so much more alluring than other foods because it’s elusive and a treat. I’m guessing that when you do eat sugar, you don’t just eat a little. You eat a lot. Lots of cookies, cake, donuts, chocolate, jelly sweets.

I know the most common sense solution is to cut out sugar. But you’ve tried that so many times. Even if it only lasted a few hours or a few days, your brain has made a connection that you restrict that food.

The solution to feel less out of control with sugar is one that normally makes people frown. You need to learn to live with it. If you finally want to be free from binging on sugar, you need to rewire your relationship to it.

“But how!?” I hear you say. I can help you with that. Or at least point you in the right direction to start.

The second piece of advice I’ve chosen is a pretty new one, but it’s rising in popularity so much I had to include it.

2. Try intermittent fasting

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that intermittent fasting is a cure for binge eating, I would be writing this on a private beach!

If you’re not familiar with intermittent fasting, it’s essentially a eating pattern where you need to eat in a dedicated window. The most popular option is only eating between 12pm and 8pm. This means there’s a 16 hour window where you can’t eat anything.

If you’re thinking, “that sounds like starving yourself!” - you would be right. But because intermittent fasting has appealed to so many people, it’s seen as a new health trend. In terms of the evidence for intermittent fasting, there are no health benefits you can’t get from a normal, healthy diet.

If you’ve ever tried intermittent fasting, you will know that your brain goes into overdrive. It constantly thinks about food. You quickly become obsessed with the window of time you’re allowed to eat in. You think about how much food you can fit in. 

What does that sound similar to? It sounds kind of like a binge, right?

  • How much food can I get in?
  • How should I prep for my binge?
  • What plans will I cancel to stay home and eat?
  • What foods should I eat now, because I won’t get them later?

Intermittent sounds sensible as a way to stop binge eating. It limits how much time you have to eat, so you will probably eat less, right? Not quite. What happens is you just eat more in the time you are allowed to eat.

But there’s a new restriction in time. You know you need to stock up on food. And in your mind, that “should” be healthy food. But since you’re imposing restrictions on yourself, it’s probably going to be “bad” food. This leads to guilt and shame, like a binge does. Except with intermittent fasting, you then have 16 whole hours until you can eat again.

Black and white thinking is not helpful. But so many people who binge eat are black and white thinkers. Intermittent fasting is a ticket to all or nothing thinking - you either do it right, or you’ve done it wrong.

I know you’re not a fool. You know intermittent fasting is a diet. It’s not healthy or balanced eating. But I know it’s tempting, because it feels like you’ve tried everything and it’s your last chance.

You’re allowed to try intermittent fasting, but when it does fail - I want you to know that it’s not you that has failed. Intermittent fasting has failed you. I hope my explanation of why it fails will be helpful.

I’m rooting for you, not intermittent fasting!

Next up is something that’s recommended for every condition and ailment…

3. Drink more water 

I will give this piece of advice it’s due, it’s not the most harmful offender. It’s just water! What’s the big deal?

Well, the root of this advice is where my problem comes in. Online forums recommend drinking water to stop eating so much. You know that actively doing something to eat less just increases the urge to binge. Over time anyway. Maybe it works for a little while, but these “sneaky” strategies usually collapse and make you feel pretty negative about yourself.

As someone who has experienced binge eating, and is now helping others stop binging: Let there is no way that chugging down water wards off binges. What it does do is make you feel pretty sick, and make you feel a bit weighed down.

It also sets you up to feel like you’ve failed. Is feeling like a failure a trigger for binges for you? It often is in the people I help.

Water won’t stop binge eating, and here’s why…

Water is not food (I think you already know that!). Our bodies are designed to know if what we consume has carbs, protein, and fats in it. And what doesn’t have any of those things? Water. 

If you have ever chugged water in hope it will stop you binging, you know it doesn’t work. You know it’s a temporary plaster. By all means drink water as part of taking care of yourself. But it won’t stop you binge eating.

How do you know advice on binge eating is helpful or harmful?

You know exactly where you want to be. You want a life that feels reliable, safe, and happy. Binge eating gets in the way of that. So it makes sense that you’re searching for solutions.

I’ve just spent quite a bit of time telling you advice not to follow. But how do I know this!? And how can you become a better B.E.B.A.D (Binge Eating Bad Advice Detector!) and know for yourself what’s right and wrong?

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Who is giving the information? Is the person qualified to give out this advice? Are they a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian? The person might be a Clinical Psychologist or a Psychotherapist. These are baseline qualifications. What further training and experience do they have? Do they solely work with people who binge eat? Are they a jack-of-all-trades?
  • Why are they telling you their tips? I hope that people giving you tips mean well. But if they’re trying to lead you down a path of feeling hopeless, they might be trying to sell you their approach. You know another 90-day weight loss plan will probably not be the most helpful. Be mindful of what people are hoping to sell you.
  • Do they have confusing messaging?

It’s really frustrating for me as someone who only works with those healing their relationship to food to see people hopping on bandwagons. One week they’re talking about weight loss, then the next about giving up dieting forever. It’s pretty confusing for even me, so I imagine it must be super strange for you. 

You deserve to be supported by someone who is all in. Someone who spends hours every single day helping people just like you with binge eating. Someone who has years of experience, and is constantly undergoing more training to help you even more.

What to do when you hear bad advice

It might be from social media, influencers, or even health care professionals. If you hear advice similar to the stuff I’ve mentioned in this article, you have my permission to completely disregard it. 

You don’t need another fad diet or more rules. That’s probably why you got to this point with binge eating in the first place. Next time you hear bad advice, notice it, and move on.

While you’re disregarding the latest trends, think about what you do want. What kind of life do you want, after binge eating? How would you get there?

If you have no clue, that’s totally ok. I’m not surprised you don’t know. You might have no clue how to even start. Most people I work with feel exactly the same way. I wish there was a 10-step guide, but unfortunately it’s not as simple as that.

You deserve personalised, one-to-one support to feel better. I hope you might be able to find that. I am available, if that’s something you would like to explore. You can visit my website and enquire (www.easenutritiontherapy.com) or use the email button on my Nutritionist Resource profile.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Manchester, Greater Manchester, M1
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Written by Shannon Western, Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating Nutritionist
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M1

Shannon is a Registered Associate Nutritionist who specialises in helping people recover from binge eating. She supports people with a person-centred approach that combines nutrition science, counselling tools, Non-Diet Approaches like Intuitive Eating, and valuing her client’s lived experience. She is available for one to one online support.

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