Binge eating is a growing problem in the U. S. today.   It is estimated that 30% of those seeking weight loss treatment engage in binge eating.  Binge eating implies a loss of control.  Overeating typically does not.  Binge eating is often used as a way to cope with feelings.  Even if you do not suffer with binge eating, you may know someone who does and be able to help them as you learn about it yourself.  Many of these strategies are applicable not only to dealing with binge eating, but they can also be applied to shaping other dysfunctional eating behaviors.  Practicing maintenance nowtaking baby stepsstopping “diet” mentality, and several others are just some examples.

Binge eating is best addressed in a therapeutic situation.  The strategies discussed here are not a substitute for counseling, but they can give you some ideas as to how to walk out your behaviors as you are making a change.

The following are symptoms of binge eating.

  • Feeling out of control when you are eating
  • Thinking about food all the time
  • Eating in secret
  • Eating until you feel sick
  • Eating to escape from worries or to comfort yourself
  • Feeling disgusted or ashamed after eating

For the purpose of this article, we are going to address emotional eating, not binge eating.  The two are most certainly similar, therefore similar strategies can be used.

Many people eat for emotional reasons.  Boredom, happiness, loneliness, and depression are just a few common emotions that can lead to overeating.  It is important to understand that this is a behavior pattern that took a long time to develop and will not go away overnight.  Recognizing your patterns and taking proactive steps can help you begin the process of self-discovery and change.  Take some time to really read through the steps listed below.  Decide what really applies to you and what does not.  I will spend the following two weeks on emotional eating as well, so take some time to truly reflect on where you are on your own journey and tocommit to taking some steps to make an even greater, lasting change.

Important steps to stop the cycle of emotional eating

  1. Be honest with yourself.  It is important to admit to yourself that your behavior is self-destructive and will not lead to positive life changes.
  2. Confide in someone else.  Find a trusted individual in your life that you can confide in about your behavior.
  3. Seek help.  Find a counselor or support group in your area (overeaters anonymous) of other individuals who struggle with binge eating.
  4. Be accountable.  Find an individual that you can be daily accountable to.  You may find it helpful to share diet logs with someone or come to an understanding with a friend that you can confide in when/if you binge.  This step is vital as binge eating is often done in secret.  Bringing it into the open can make the behavior less frequent.
  5. Learn to identify the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.  Physical hunger comes on gradually.  Emotional hunger is instant.
  6. Practice maintenance now.  Develop a maintenance mentality during your weight loss.  If you are using strategies that you cannot sustain long-term, ask yourself what the value is of these strategies.  Some strategies are ok on the short-term as long as you have a plan for transition from them that will allow you to maintain your weight loss.  I challenge you to use strategies that are simple that you can make a part of your lifestyle.
  7. Especially in the beginning, DO NOT TRUST YOURSELF.  Intuitive eating is a skill to be developed, but it takes a great deal of time and perseverance.  If you have been overweight for a long period of time, your mind has learned to misread your body’s cues for satisfaction/fullness.  It is important to just stick with a very specific plan at first until you really feel like you can make those decisions based on your body’s cues.  Keep in mind, some people never get to the point where they can completely read these cues.  Sticking to a plan may become a way of life for you.
  8. Take baby steps.  I know that it is tempting to make a complete overhaul all at once.  Some people have the type of personality that will sustain that, but I have certainly not found that to be the norm.  Taking small steps is one of the underlying principles of this program.  I would like for you to take one step per week while taking the time to develop the lifestyle strategies to support it.
  9. Do not succumb to the on a diet/off a diet mentality.  You will have to be aware of health, fitness, and exercise for the rest of your life.  Living a lifestyle of health involves avoiding deprivation, gaining education, finding support, and developing new behavior patterns.  Putting these things into place will allow you to change your food and exercise regimen as your body ages and situations in your life change.  Gaining 5 lbs. or even 10 does not necessitate that you go on a diet.  It signals you that you need to create new behaviors to support losing the weight, not simply go on a diet to achieve the short-term goal of weight loss.
  10. Try not to focus on the inconvenience of your new lifestyle.  Remember:  it is inconvenient to be overweight (self conscious, uncomfortable, lifelong health problems, body breakdown).  It is inconvenient to lose weight (time commitment, physically challenging, change is uncomfortable from many perspectives).  It is inconvenient to maintain your weight (must be a priority, doesn’t always fit in the “plan” for that day, feelings of guilt).
  11. Remember the metabolic repercussions of yo-yo dieting.  Every time you repeat the gain, then lose cycle, the metabolism lowers as your body tries to adjust.  This can make losing weight harder the each time.  Think about this every time you are tempted to lose control and start again tomorrow.

Below is an example of a food and feelings journal.  This type of journal can also be applied to the elimination of other destructive behaviors.
Feelings After (physical-satisfaction) and emotional

Sample Journal Entries
Food – (8) Cookies

  • Time – 3:00
  • Situation – Kids coming home, running in the door acting crazy
  • Feelings Before – Stressed, like I had no control
  • Feelings After – Felt like the cookies soothed me so I could deal more effectively with the kids
  • Comments – Try eating a snack before they get home.  Enact some new rules for them so things don’t get so crazy.

Food – (1/2 bag) Chips

  • Time – 11:00
  • Situation – Didn’t get to eat breakfast
  • Feelings Before – Bored, didn’t really want to fix lunch
  • Feelings After – Guilty, not satisfied. Still wanted lunch
  • Comments – Eat breakfast. Have a mid-morning snack every day. Stay out of the kitchen if I’m bored!

Print out a Blank Copy of Food and Feelings Journal

Heart with Leaf


  • Read through the steps to stopping emotional eating several times.
  • Take some time to sit down and assess the role of emotional eating in your life.
  • Fill out the "food and feelings journal."
  • Use the journal to begin drawing your attention to the times in your day/life when you eat emotionally. Remember that this also applies to feelings of boredom, loneliness, etc. and does not have to be a heightened emotional state.
  • Begin thinking about strategies that you can employ to deal with each situation.