Recently, there has been a lot of attention to understanding and treating binge eating problems. There is good reason for this, because binge eating behavior is becoming more and more common, is highly distressing to the individual, and is associated with many different negative medical, psychological, and social consequences (Mitchison et al., 2012).
One interesting fact about binge eating is that the behavior usually occurs at night. If we think about all, most of the factors that trigger binge eating are exacerbated at night, including prolonged hunger, intense feelings of boredom or loneliness, and a lack of routine or structure.
This is why we can often find ourselves gorging on all our favorite foods in front of the TV at 1:00 am.
Addressing binge eating is an important public health priority, and in this article, I want to provide 4 simple, evidence-based steps designed to help you stop binge eating at night.
Let’s dive into these 4 steps.
Step 1. Search for Clues about your Eating Patterns
The first, most fundamental step is to ensure that you understand your eating patterns. This is because you need to have a strong understanding of what is triggering you to binge eat at night.
In fact, it will be very difficult to change your behavior if you don’t know what needs changing in the first place.
Therefore, I suggest you log your eating patterns for about a week or two. By this, I mean logging what you eat, what time you eat, where you eat, how hungry you were prior to eating, and any relevant thoughts, feelings, or behaviors experienced before, during or after eating.
No, this isn’t a diet strategy! It’s a self-monitoring exercise fundamental to standard cognitive-behavior therapy.
If you do this, you will be able to notice patterns in your behavior – you’ll pick up on subtle cues that could profoundly influence your binge eating.
For example, you may discover that you only night binge when you skip lunch that day, or if you’re starving come evening, or perhaps when you find yourself sitting on the couch, bored with nothing to do.
So, start understanding your eating patterns and identify the key night binge triggers! Once you do this, you can tackle these triggers head-on.
Step 2: Structure your Meals & Snacks
If you’re binge eating at night, it’s highly likely that you’re not eating enough during the day. In fact, physiological and psychological hunger is the primary driver for nighttime binge eating.
You need to prevent this; the best way to do this is to eat at regular intervals throughout the day.
You want to make sure you eat 3 meals and at least 3 snacks per day, no longer than 3 waking hours apart. This is what we call the “3-hour” rule.
If you eat in this way, you are more likely to feel in control, are less likely to experience prolonged hunger and are consequently less likely to find yourself bingeing at night.
Step 3: Make a Plan
Another important reason why we binge eat at night is that we’re either bored or lonely.
Think about it: being bored or lonely isn’t pleasant. We often try to do all we can to avoid these feelings, so what better way to do so if by eating all of our favorite foods at once?
The problem arises, however, when we’re left feeling more lonely, ashamed, and embarrassed than to begin with.
So, it is important to be proactive. By this, I mean making a plan about what you could do whenever you start feeling negative about something.
Have a list of pleasurable activities at your disposal, so whenever you encounter any negative feelings you can rely on those activities rather than resorting to food. If you do this, you’ll notice that the urge to binge will eventually subside.
Some great activities to consider might be: telephoning a friend; getting a massage; taking a hot bath; going for a walk; building a puzzle; or going for a swim.
Step 4: Try some Meditation
Meditation, a form of mindfulness, has been linked to many different positive health outcomes (Cavanaugh et al., 2014).
Binge eating is no exception.
There’s a good body of evidence showing that practicing meditation prevents the onset of binge eating episodes (Kristeller et al., 2014).
The reason for this is that meditation forces you to relax, remain in the present moment, and remove any judgment associated with an emotion, experience, or thought you might be experiencing.
And because binge eating is usually a reflexive response to some physiological or emotional cue, meditation serves as an excellent tool for preventing this impulsive-like behavior.
It’s important to stress that binge eating isn’t easy to stop. If you’ve found yourself binge eating for years, then it wouldn’t be wise to expect success overnight.
It takes time, patience, and perseverance.
If implemented correctly and consistently, the four steps listed here have been shown to reduce binge eating behavior by 70% in just 4 weeks (Grilo et al., 2007).
Give these steps your best shot because it could profoundly impact health and wellbeing.
Dr Jake Linardon (PhD) is the founder of Break Binge Eating and works as a Research Fellow at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. Jake’s work involves trying to better understand and treat eating disorders, particularly through the use of innovative technologies. Jake has published over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, across the world’s leading psychiatry and clinical psychology scientific journals, and serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Eating Disorders and Body Image. Jake is passionate about increasing access to evidence-based care among people with eating and body image issues.
● Website: https://breakbingeeating.com/
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Cavanagh, K., Strauss, C., Forder, L., & Jones, F. (2014). Can mindfulness and acceptance be learnt by self-help?: a systematic review and meta-analysis of mindfulness and acceptance-based self-help interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 34, 118-129. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2014.01.001
Grilo, C. M., Masheb, R. M., & Wilson, G. T. (2006). Rapid response to treatment for binge eating disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 602-613.
Kristeller, J., Wolever, R. Q., & Sheets, V. (2014). Mindfulness-based eating awareness training (MB-EAT) for binge eating: A randomized clinical trial. Mindfulness, 5, 282-297.
Mitchison, D., Hay, P. J., Slewa-Younan, S., & Mond, J. (2012). Time trends in population prevalence of eating disorder behaviors and their relationship to quality of life. PloS One, 7, 1-7.
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