Top 3 Tips to Stop Binge Eating at Night
A brief guide to breaking free from chaotic eating
Have you ever said to yourself, “I am going to eat better tomorrow,” “I have already messed up eating today, might as well keep going,” or “The diet starts Monday”? I hear many clients wrestling with these thoughts, particularly those who struggle with binge eating or who feel they often overeat. It is important to note bingeing can be defined differently from person to person. Clinically it is defined as eating an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time and feeling out of control over what and how much is eaten. It may also include eating very quickly, eating until uncomfortably full, eating in secrecy, and having intense feelings of guilt around the behaviour. A lot of individuals who struggle with these behaviours and thoughts are frustrated because they feel like they are doing their best to eat healthy during the day and reduce calories, but often it backfires. The intention to be “healthy” often leads to binging and feelings of shame and guilt. Why is this happening?
The Restrict-Binge Cycle
We need food to survive. It fuels our body, brain, muscles, and vital organs. In our society food has become difficult on many levels! There is a lot of conflicting information floating around and numerous diet plans: keto, intermittent fasting, paleo, juicing, the list goes on. A lot of these plans encourage restriction to some degree. It may look like eliminating carbohydrates, forgoing favourite foods, or generally trying to reduce intake to lose weight. Restriction of food can also happen unintentionally from being under high levels of stress (which blunts appetite), taking stimulants (such as caffeine and ADHD medication), being busy and skipping meals, or feeling too exhausted to prepare or access food. When the body goes into a restricted state the “primal brain” will kick in. This is our caveman, survival mode and we cannot logic our way out of it. The primal brain will ramp up thoughts about food and our appetite, often guiding us towards more energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods. This only makes sense as carbohydrates are our body’s preferred and most efficient energy source!
When this happens it often leads to what feels like “out of control” eating. After these episodes, feelings of guilt and shame often arise.
Thoughts such as “I should not have done that,” “Tomorrow I will eat better,” “I will stop binge eating for good” or “I will eat less tomorrow to make up for this” often come up.
These thoughts and feelings often lead back to restriction and so the cycle begins again! To break this cycle, we must get rid of restriction. It is usually impossible to get rid of binge eating or negative thoughts because the binge eating is coming from our body trying to protect us from restriction. Your mind may tell you that you are failing, have no willpower, and are not disciplined. This is not true. It is your survival system kicking into high gear to protect your body.
How to Say Goodbye to Restriction
1. Consistent eating
Has it been longer than 5 hours since your last meal? If you have answered yes, it is time to eat! Our bodies need to be fuelled at least every 3-5 hours, sometimes even more frequently depending on lifestyle, age, and activity level. Eating throughout the day provides our body with energy to function properly. If we go long periods without eating we are more likely to run into “rebound hunger” where the primal brain kicks in and demands food. Our body will adapt if we are following patterns of restriction for extended periods of time and hunger and fullness cues often go offline. This makes it difficult for some individuals to understand why they are over eating in the evenings when they just don’t feel hungry in the day. In addition, stimulants (such as coffee and certain medications) and stress will blunt our appetite as our nervous system goes into fight or flight mode. When our body is in fight or flight we are getting ready to fight a bear not digest a full meal so hunger is “turned off.” This can lead to “rebound hunger” later in the day, as described above.
2. Eating enough food
If you are eating frequently, but are eating only enough to take the edge off of your hunger, this is still restricting. Aiming to be comfortably full after meals is ideal. Note that hunger and fullness cues can be tricky for many individuals, especially if you have been eating inconsistently and/or restricting for an extended period of time. If this the case, working with a Registered Dietitian may be your best bet for ensuring you are getting enough food.
3. Allowing all foods
Restricting certain types of foods can also lead to increased cravings and appetite. Our body is smart! When we don’t eat enough carbohydrate, protein, or fat our body will demand more! Sometimes you need to start with mechanical eating which is following a prescribed plan by a Registered Dietitian. This is not a traditional meal plan, doesn’t restrict food, and is not a weight loss plan. It is a plan to ensure restriction is avoided! Mechanical eating helps to “train” the body through consistent eating/eating enough.
Note, binge eating and disordered eating patterns are often complex and multi-factorial. Binge eating often involves some form of restriction, but factors relating to mental health, food environment, and personal history can all influence eating patterns. Sometimes when restriction has resolved, over eating and binge eating can still show up.
If you are feeling out of control around food and identify with being stuck in the restrict-binge cycle, an Eating Disorder Dietitian can help you navigate how to work towards consistency, balance, and finding food freedom.
Looking to break free from chaotic eating and find food freedom? We can help!
Feeling out of control around food and stuck in the restrict-binge cycle? An Eating Disorder Dietitian can help.
We have several Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team with a unique specialization in nutrition support for eating disorder recovery. We collaborate with your family doctor and psychologist to move forward at a pace you can manage for recovery.
Check out these related blogs on our website:
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Chronic Disease
Thoughtful and empathetic are words often used to describe Courtney. She strives to create genuine connections with clients and works to create an inclusive space for all. She is passionate about working with individuals struggling with health issues, yo-yo dieting recovery, disordered eating and helping clients feel at peace with food and their bodies.