As you recover from binge eating disorder, chances are you’ll have some questions. Should you completely avoid the "trigger foods" you once binged on? Or can you treat yourself every now and then?
“Everyone is a little different in terms of how they handle food and eating during and after recovery,” says Sondra Kronberg, RD. She's a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association.
Here are seven ways to help you stay on track.
Don’t Make Certain Foods Off-Limits for Good
If you’ve just begun the recovery process, you might want to avoid your binge foods until your symptoms ease up or go away completely.
If you do avoid them, don’t tell yourself you’ll never eat those foods again.
“Saying something is entirely off-limits forever can backfire. You can actually develop a fear of food,” says Jennifer Kramer, MSW, LCSW. She's the founder and director of the Metro Behavioral Health Associates Eating Disorder Treatment Center in New York City. “Once you overcome the urge and the habit of bingeing, you can reintroduce foods that you used to binge on.”
Need help in the meantime? Consider talking to a doctor, therapist, or other professional who specializes in eating disorders.
Avoid Stocking Up
Since most people binge in secret at home, one of the best ways to make sure you don’t overeat certain foods -- especially junk food and unhealthy snacks -- is to keep them out of the house.
“If you used to eat a jar of peanut butter in one or two sittings, it may not be the best idea to keep a jar at home, especially if you’re still recovering,” Kronberg says. “Instead, go to a restaurant and order a peanut butter sandwich. A set portion encourages you to eat in moderation.”
Eat Well All Day Long
Include protein (like eggs, chicken breasts, or Greek yogurt) in every meal, too. “It helps control blood sugar. That reduces cravings, especially for carbohydrates and unhealthy foods,” Kronberg says.
Don’t try to “make up” for having a large meal or a binge.
“Dieting, cutting back on calories, and/or depriving yourself sets you up for a cycle of bingeing,” Kronberg says. “You’re more likely to end up bingeing on a food that you would have otherwise eaten in moderation.”
Try Other Feel-Good Strategies
Stress, exhaustion, and emotions like sadness make you more likely to binge. If you’re having any of these feelings, it’s probably not a good time to eat a trigger food.
Instead, find a non-food way to feel better: Exercise, meditate, or talk to a friend, for examples.
Keep a Food Diary
It’s important to know what and how much you’re eating. Binge eating disorder therapists often encourage patients to keep a log, because it helps make you more aware of your food choices and habits. Each entry in your food diary should include:
- The time you ate
- The foods you ate
- How much you ate
- How you were feeling at the time
Doing this can help you spot patterns between your moods and the way you eat -- as well as healthy habits you’ll want to keep using.
Take a Time-out
During treatment, you learn how to stay away from your trigger foods or distract yourself when you feel a strong desire to binge.
One common lesson: “Walk away from whatever’s tempting you,” Kramer says.
Simply being in another room can help. For example, move to the living room if you were eyeing something in the pantry. Then, make an effort to focus on something else -- like the TV or a phone call -- for about 15 minutes. “That’s about how long it takes for an urge to pass,” she says.