How to stop binge eating? It’s a very common question that I get asked by clients as a Certified Nutritionist. Binge eating is something almost everyone does at least occasionally. But how to stop binge eating if it’s totally out of control ?

Most of us resort to food to satisfy emotional needs. We’re all familiar with stress eating, but scarfing down comfort food is not limited to stress relief. We may also reach for the cookies and chips if we’re bored, aggravated, in need of a reward, a bit anxious, finally grabbing some “me time,” or because it compliments Netflix perfectly.

Reaching for a treat is the easiest way to feed those feelings. Most of us have tempting snacks readily available in the kitchen, and if we don’t, it’s too easy to jump in the car or get them DoorDashed. Junk food is inexpensive, plentiful, and formulated to addict our tastebuds. It’s also legal and still permitted under even the harshest Covid restrictions.

Why We Want Comfort Foods

According to recent surveys, two-thirds of people in the U.S. say they’ve been eating more feel-good foods, such as pizza, ice cream and French fries, since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Most of us learned to associate such calorie-dense foods with comfort as kids — we got a cookie to soothe the pain of a skinned knee or an ice cream cone after a shot at the doctor’s office.

According to Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist and emotional-eating expert at the Cleveland Clinic, “The idea that comfort food is rewarding is ingrained in our culture and our brains, so it’s not surprising that we seek it out as a way to soothe ourselves when we’re stressed.”

Physiology is at play, as well. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that, among other things, plays a role in eating behavior and food choices. Short-term stress, like racing to meet a deadline, typically tamps down appetite.
But when cortisol stays elevated, as it does when you’re dealing with long-term distress from situations like a months-long pandemic or job insecurity, it not only stimulates appetite but triggers cravings for highly palatable, fatty, sugary fare.

“We’ve also found that stress might raise the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that signals your body it’s time to eat,” says Ariana Chao, a stress and food researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, whose studies have shown that high cortisol and chronic stress can lead to weight gain.

The Truth about Comfort Food

When you’re midway through a slice of pizza or a handful of potato chips, you may indeed feel a little less edgy. “Comfort food distracts us from our problems, tastes good and stimulates the brain’s reward system, so you get a hit of pleasure,” Albers explains.

But, according to Traci Mann, a professor of psychology and food researcher at the University of Minnesota: As a true stress-relief tool, unhealthy treats are actually no more effective than fruit or vegetables or no food at all. There’s nothing wrong with having a treat when you’re stressed. But we’ve found that if you’re eating comfort food to improve your mood, you’d be just as well off eating a bowl of broccoli.

How to Stop Binge Eating: 10 Tips to Try

Here are strategies for how to stop binge eating.

1. Rate your hunger on a scale of 0 to 10. If you’re on the lower end of the range, you may be able to talk yourself out of a binge.

2. Don’t bring junk food into the house. You may be too lazy to go get it.

3. Try snacking on something healthy. Fruit may work for a sweet craving. Popcorn might satisfy a crunchy, salty urge.

4. Wait 5 minutes and see if the urge persists. In the meantime, distract your brain with something else. The passage of time often allows the urge to pass.

5. Eat a healthy diet. Doing so keeps your body and mind on an even keel, whereas sugar and caffeine cause more ups and downs in your mood and energy and exacerbate stress.

6. Go for a walk. Often getting out of the food environment helps.

7. Talk to a loved one or friend. Getting absorbed in a conversation may distract you.

8. Portion out your snack. Leave the rest of the package in the kitchen so you’ll do less damage

9. Get adequate sleep. You’ll have a better chance of defeating comfort urges if you’re well rested and your hunger hormones are properly reset.

10. Analyze your binge triggers. Then experiment with other ways to satisfy them.

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