How to get back on track after binge eating

Mental Health
Many people find it challenging not to overeat sometimes. It can feel frustrating to fall off track, particularly if people are trying to lose weight or stick to a healthful diet.

After binge eating, the best thing a person can do is stay positive and return to healthful habits. It can be useful to remember that, just as one day of dieting will not cause a person to lose weight, a day of binge eating will not cause weight gain.

Although an episode of overeating can happen to anyone occasionally, some people have a binge eating disorder, which usually requires professional attention. We will cover how to seek help for a binge eating disorder later in this article.

Ways to get back on track after a binge include:

1. Doing gentle exercise

Woman walking in city listening to headphones looking at phone
Gentle exercise, such as walking, may help ease bloating and anxiety,

Gently exercising, such as going for a brisk walk, may help people feel less full or bloated after binge eating.

The authors of a 2015 meta-analysis found that walking helped empty the stomach quicker than more intense exercise, such as cycling.

If people find that they are overeating due to emotional or stress-related reasons, exercise might also ease anxiety and help people feel calmer and more positive.


2. Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness practices, such as mindful eating and meditation, may help reduce binge and emotional eating.

Some research shows that mindfulness helps people feel a greater sense of well-being and reduces “negative mood states.”

Being mindful means bringing awareness to the present moment without any judgment.

A 2014 clinical trial involving 150 participants who were overweight or had obesity studied the effects of mindfulness training on their eating patterns. Over half of the participants had binge eating disorder.

Over the course of the study, they developed a greater awareness of whether they felt hungry or full and what triggered their eating patterns. After 4 months, 95% of those with binge eating disorder no longer met the criteria for the condition.


3. Drinking water

Staying hydrated throughout the day can help prevent further overeating. Many people eat when they are actually thirsty because they confuse thirst for hunger.

Drinking plenty of water can also help reduce appetite. In one 2014 study, 50 female participants who were overweight drank 500 milliliters of water 30 minutes before three meals every day.

After 8 weeks, they had a reduction in appetite, as well as reduced body weight and body mass index (BMI).


4. Keeping a food diary

Man writing in journal, diary, or log.
Some people may benefit from keeping a food diary, but speak to a doctor if it causes extra stress.

Some people might find it helpful to monitor their food and drink consumption throughout the days that follow the binge.

An older study from 2008 showed that keeping a food diary, along with regularly exercising and attending check-in sessions, was effective in helping people lose weight.

People can write down what they eat and how much, when they eat it, and how they are feeling at the time.

This can also help people identify any triggers that may be causing them to binge eat.

However, research from 2017 found not only that people with bulimia nervosa, which is a type of eating disorder, find it hard to adhere to a food diary long-term, but also that recording their food intake could prompt low mood and feelings of shame and distress.

Anyone with an eating disorder or who finds that recording food intake adds stress rather than alleviates it may wish to speak to a healthcare professional before using a food diary.

5. Sleeping well

Getting enough sleep may help people get back on track with their eating patterns.

The National Sleep Foundation recommend that adults get 7–9 hours sleep each night. Research suggests that people who sleep for shorter than this may have less regular eating patterns and eat higher energy foods more frequently.

A lack of sleep also can affect the hormones that control appetite. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite.

Leptin levels may decrease with less sleep, while ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, increases.


6. Getting back to a routine

Getting back to a healthful routine as soon as possible can help people move forward after a binge.

A good routine may involve exercising, eating nutritious foods, or doing an enjoyable activity. Some people find that even brushing the teeth afterward can help signal an end to overeating.

People may feel that skipping a meal after a binge will help them stay on track with their health goals, but food restriction may lead to overeating again later on.

Returning to regular meal times can help people reestablish their usual eating patterns.

7. Getting enough fiber

People can increase the amount of fiber they eat during their next meal to help their digestive system after a binge and reduce feelings of bloating. Eating more fiber can also help keep people feeling fuller and prevent overeating.

Vegetables, fruit, and legumes are all good sources of fiber. A 2014 study investigated whether eating more vegetables could aid weight loss in 120 adults who were overweight.

The researchers found that a greater intake of vegetables increased weight loss. The participants who ate double the amount of vegetables than the control group reported feeling less hungry.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend a daily intake of 25 grams (g) of fiber for female adults and 38 g for male adults.


8. Eating protein

Increasing protein intake at each meal may help people reduce binge eating by creating a greater sense of fullness.

Research has shown that diets higher in protein can help people reduce their appetite and manage their body weight.

Meals with higher levels of protein can keep people feeling fuller for longer and can lead to reduced overall calorie intake throughout the day.


9. Practicing yoga

Studies suggest that yoga can help treat binge eating.
Studies suggest that yoga can help treat binge eating.

Reducing stress and anxiety using yoga may help prevent binge eating habits.

A 2016 study in women at risk of obesity looked at whether regular heated hatha yoga practice could reduce binge eating. After 8 weeks, those that took part in regular yoga sessions reported less frequent binge eating and eating as a coping mechanism.

Another study that scientists analyzed in a systematic review studied the effects of yoga on 90 women who were either overweight or had obesity with symptoms of binge eating.

After 12 weeks of yoga practice, their binge eating score was lower by around 50%. They reduced their classification of binge eating from severe to absent, compared with no improvement in the control group.


10. Seeking professional help

If people find it difficult to stop overeating or if it occurs often, they should seek help from a healthcare professional.

If people find themselves binge eating regularly, they may have binge eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), a person may have binge eating disorder if they binge eat at least once per week over a period of 3 months.

Factors that may signal binge eating can include:

  • eating large quantities of food in a short period of time (for example, within a 2-hour period)
  • eating amounts larger than what most people would eat under similar circumstances
  • having a subjective feeling of lack of control over what or how much one eats
  • eating after feeling full, to the point of becoming uncomfortably full
  • eating alone due to embarrassment over how much one eats
  • being distressed or having depressed feelings or feelings of disgust with oneself after the binge eating episode

Anyone concerned about the activities above can talk to a doctor or trusted healthcare professional. NEDA also have a helpline at 1 (800) 931-2237, as well as online chat tools and a texting helpline.

Summary

Many people overeat occasionally, but following these tips and returning to healthful habits may help them get back on track quickly.

If a recent binge eating episode causes anxiety or stress, remember that one day of overeating is no more likely to cause weight gain than a single day of dieting will cause weight loss.

If people find that a certain trigger causes them to overeat, removing the trigger or finding a positive activity to do instead may help prevent binge eating.

Following a diet that feels very restrictive may cause people to binge eat more frequently. Finding a healthful, balanced diet that is tasty, enjoyable, and filling can help a person reduce binge eating.

Anyone who feels that they may have binge eating disorder they should visit a doctor, who will work with them to create an individualized treatment plan.

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