If you’ve ever struggled with binge eating at night or you’ve felt the guilt and frustration after a binge and wondered why nothing you’ve tried has worked for your eating, hear this:
You’re in the right place!
I intend to make this blog post a safe space to explore why you’ve struggled with binge eating at night or any other time of day and how to stop binge eating, all the while maintaining the point of view that:
- Struggling with binge eating does not mean you are “broken”.
- You are doing the best you can in the moment.
- And sometimes the best you can do results in binging, which means you need specific support, not that you’re a failure.
Good news: it’s 100% possible to stop binge eating, and the first step is to know the answers to a few key questions:
- What is binge eating?
- What is the difference between binge eating and emotional eating?
- Why do I binge eat at night?
- How to stop binge eating at night? Try these 7 hacks
What is binge eating?
Binge eating is an out-of-control eating episode where you at a lot of food at once. To be categorized as binge eating, the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder states eating episodes must include both eating a large amount of food in a short period of time and feeling unable to stop or control the amount of food eaten.
These episodes are also associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
Binge eating is classified as an eating disorder when it frequently occurs, at least one day a week for 3 months. If you believe you may have an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association has resources to help you.
What is the difference between binge eating and emotional eating?
The difference between binge eating and emotional eating is that binge eating is a specific type of emotional eating.
Emotional eating is when your desire to eat is not influenced by physical hunger but rather emotional hunger.
Sometimes people are aware of the emotional trigger that started the emotional eating, and sometimes they are not. Similarly, someone may be aware of feeling comforted by food, or food may be working so well to distance someone from the discomfort that they don’t notice feeling better.
The terms binge eating and emotional binge eating mean the same thing.
If you struggle with emotional eating, make sure to grab the free Cravings Busting Audio Guide to help you ride the wave of food cravings without indulging.
What is emotional binge eating?
Emotional binge eating is when your binge is triggered by emotions. It can be difficult to recognize you are emotionally binge eating because binging can work to shut down emotions allowing you to dissociate from how you are feeling.
PsychCentral describes dissociation as an “involuntary detachment from reality”. You may notice an “out-of-body” experience or not remember eating at all.
Whatever it feels like, dissociation is your body’s way of protecting you, and seeing it as such can lessen the frustration and fear as you get support to heal.
Emotional binge eating has little to do with food.
As you can see from the graphic below, originally published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, there are many mental and behavioral processes that contribute to the act of binge eating, all stemming from a core of low self-esteem.
Emotionally, negative affect and difficulty with emotional regulation are precursors to binge eating. Therefore, you can’t just address eating issues and expect to stop binge eating at night.
Why do I binge eat at night?
There are many reasons you might struggle with eating at night, we explore several here.
The most important thing to know is that there are very good biological and emotional reasons to binge. Binging is usually meeting a need, and is your body’s way of protecting you. It is not a shameful thing to do, even if you have very good reasons to change your behavior.
No matter why you binge eat at night, grab the Cravings Busting Audio Guide to use when the desire to binge arises.
1. Why do I binge eat at night?: Because ‘All or Nothing Dieting’ has set you up for failure.
The primary way people try to control eating struggles of any kind is with All or Nothing Dieting, where you either have to follow food rules “perfectly”, or “what’s the point”?.
Unfortunately, All or Nothing Dieting sets you up to struggle with eating.
All or Nothing Dieting moralizes food, and rewards not eating a lot of food:
You are “good” when you aren’t eating a lot and you’re eating the right foods, you are “bad” when you are not. This leads to blood sugar imbalance and not eating enough during the day, both of which can contribute to nighttime binging.
2. You are using food to comfort or numb
Another way All or Nothing Dieting leads to binging is because it pushes you into a cycle of using food to comfort or numb when you are in the “nothing” cycle of food rules.
You may be aware of emotional comfort from eating, or binging may work so well to numb underlying emotional distress and allow you to disconnect from your physical body that you don’t even realize you are using food this way.
How to stop binge eating at night? Try these 7 hacks
1. Ground yourself
As discussed earlier, binge eating is often accompanied by dissociation. One way to combat dissociation is to stay present to the act of eating is to ground yourself.
Grounding techniques include breathing practices, holding an ice cube, and listening to sounds around you, among others.
My clients have told me the most effective grounding technique they have found is the Cravings Busting Audio Guide. This 10-minute recording helps you connect with your body and feelings to stay grounded.
2. Feel your feelings
Many of us are trained from a young age that our feelings are too much or inappropriate, so we learn to ignore them, and may even eat to hide them.
Mindfully and self-compassionately engaging with your feelings can provide a safe space to meet your needs instead of eating to disengage from feelings.
The best way to start safely engaging with your feelings is to use the free Craving Busting Audio Guide.
3. Calm your nervous system
Often, underlying stress or anxiety can lead to eating for comfort.
And if I had a dollar for every medical professional who told me to “manage my stress”, I’d own an island so I’m not going to do that to you. Because you’re probably already trying your best.
Some strategies I’ve personally found helpful are mindfulness-based self-compassion (which the Cravings Busting Audio Guide is based on) and tapping for stress eating, along with evidence-based supplementation and medication.
4. Eat regularly throughout the day with a balance of protein + fiber
While blood sugar disorders, like Type 2 Diabetes, are associated with an increased risk of Binge Eating Disorder, blood sugar management is important for anyone who struggles with extra eating.
You see, blood sugar fluctuations can increase levels of appetite and stress hormones, leading you to eat with more urgency and feelings of panic. Blood sugar imbalance may be what triggers a binge.
To help manage blood sugar, make sure you are not going long periods without eating during the day. I recommend my clients eat every 4ish hours and use protein and fiber as scaffolds to build meals and snacks around.
5. Stop moralizing food
Food and weight are neither “good” nor “bad”, and the same applies to you no matter what you eat or what you weigh.
Moralizing food leads to shame, believing you are unworthy of love and connection with others if you eat or look a certain way.
It also leads to the “last supper phenomenon” where you feel you have to eat something “bad” when it’s around otherwise you won’t get it later, and this is a perfect trigger for binge eating.
One of my favorite resources to untrain yourself to moralize food is the original Intuitive Eating book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
6. Practice self-compassion
Low levels of self-compassion have been related to increased risk of Binge Eating Disorder, and in a pilot program where self-compassion was used as an intervention for Binge Eating Disorder, (successfully, I might add), fear of self-compassion was a barrier that held people back from getting better.
Hear this again: fear of self-compassion made it hard for people to practice self-compassion, which can help heal Binge Eating Disorders.
So, before I instruct you to be nice to yourself, mindful of your feelings, and recognize you aren’t alone in your suffering (the 3 elements of self-compassion as defined by Dr. Kristin Neff), I recommend you wrestle with this:
What do you risk by being kinder to yourself?
7. Pause before the binge
Right now, your brain is trained to reward the impulse to indulge immediately by binging. Retrain your brain by pausing between impulse and indulgence.
This tip isn’t going to stop binge eating overnight, and yet lengthening the time of your pause while working on some of these other tips can go a long way towards healing.
The best method to help you pause is to use the Cravings Busting Audio Guide which you can download for free and use whenever you feel the impulse to indulge.