Binge Eating: Keeping a Healthy Weight

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If you have binge eating disorder, getting well needs to be your No. 1 priority. You’ll first need counseling to find out why you are overeating and how to stop.

When your bingeing stops, you’ll probably lose weight. Keeping that weight off -- and reaching a healthy weight -- is important for your overall health. That can be hard for anyone, but it may be especially tricky for binge eaters. You’ll want to work with your doctors and a dietitian to make sure you don’t have a setback.

“You want to establish a healthy eating pattern and not slip into dieting, which could set up the next round of bingeing," says Randy Flanery, PhD. He is the program director for Webster Wellness Professionals, an eating disorders clinic in St. Louis. "You might be able to lose 20 to 30 pounds [when you stop bingeing], but you'll probably gain it all back plus another 10 if you don't address the underlying issues first.”

Here are 5 ways to help you maintain a healthy weight without risking a setback.

1. Don't obsess over the number on the scale.

Weight loss should not be your main focus while getting better. Focusing on it can interfere with your treatment, says Cynthia Bulik, PhD, distinguished professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. Talk to your doctors about a realistic goal weight.

Keep in mind, it may be different from what you think or what’s considered “healthy” for your height on a body-mass index (BMI) chart. Flanery says such charts are helpful but not always perfect. For example, if you've been 200 pounds for most of your adult life, it might make sense to aim for 160 even if the BMI chart says 130 is the healthy weight.

2. Don't go long periods without eating.

Many people who struggle with their weight believe that they have to deprive themselves in order to slim down. That might work in the short run, but it's bound to backfire, says Timothy Brewerton, MD, executive medical director of The Hearth Center for Eating Disorders in Columbia, SC.

"It's very hard for people to grasp the idea that to weigh less you have to eat more, by which I mean eating regularly throughout the day," Brewerton says. Ask your doctors how much you should be eating.

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3. Focus on adding healthy foods rather than eliminating "bad" ones.

Don’t cut out entire food groups, Bulik says. Instead, choose healthy foods -- lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Try to avoid processed foods. They're often high in sugar, fat, and salt -- an unhealthy combination that makes you more likely to binge.

Most binge eaters eventually lose weight by choosing healthy foods and getting counseling. It's a slow process, but you'll be more apt to keep the weight off, Flanery says.

4. Practice mindful eating.

Really pay attention to what you're eating -- what it looks like, how it smells, and how it tastes. This may help prevent overeating. "A lot of times people eat almost automatically without thinking about it," Flanery says. He suggests sitting down at a table (without any computers, TV, or books in front of you) so you can truly savor your meal. If you're feeling stressed or upset, learning to calm down before eating can also help you avoid overdoing it.

5 Get moving.

Physical activity not only slims the body, it's also important for helping you feel good again. Exercise can boost your mood and ease anxiety and depression. Working out is a great way to distract yourself if you are tempted to binge. "Most importantly, it helps to develop respect for your body and a focus on what it requires for health and well-being," Bulik says.

If you’ve been treated for binge eating disorder and still need or want to lose weight, talk to your doctors and dietitian. They can help you plan your next steps.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on January 20, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Timothy Brewerton, MD, executive medical director, The Hearth Center for Eating Disorders, Columbia, SC; clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Medical University of South Carolina.

Cynthia Bulik, PhD, distinguished professor of eating disorders, University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

Randy Flanery, PhD, program director for outpatient center, Webster Wellness Professionals, St. Louis; adjunct faculty, St. Louis University School of Medicine.

Grilo, C. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, August 2011.

Weight-Control Information Network: "Binge Eating Disorder."

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