How to Stop Binge Eating in 3 Proven StepsJul 20, 2021
There’s nothing worse than the feeling of not being able to stop eating.
You want to, but you can’t. Despite your best intentions, it’s like a part of you takes over and just eats, and eats, and eats, leaving you feeling completely powerless over food.
People who’ve never struggled with food can’t quite grasp this. When in passing you complain about how much weight you’ve gained recently, they respond by saying: “Well, just don’t eat as much then.”
Sigh. If only it was that easy.
Because God knows you’ve tried. My guess is that you’ve tried just about every single diet under the sun. You’ve tried every cellulite cream, weight loss pill and extreme workout regime. You’ve tried to drink more water to curb your appetite and brush your teeth after every meal to stop the cravings. But it only ever delays the inevitable — when a binge wants to happen, it’s gonna happen.
So when no amount of good intentions or resolve seem to budge the needle, how are we supposed to ever stop?
Our Food Cravings’ Hidden Meaning
What if I were to tell you that our food cravings aren’t the real issue here, but they’re actually a symptom of a deeper underlying problem?
After 20+ years of being stuck in the binge eating cycle, it’s this understanding that finally helped me put an end to my lifelong struggle with food and weight once and for all.
I came to realise that our food cravings are not a problem to be solved or willed away, they are a symptom of deeper underlying needs that aren’t getting met. These unmet needs create a void — which we then try to fill with food.
But it’s not really food we’re hungry for, which is why we can sometimes find ourselves eating to the point where we’re physically stuffed yet still crave more food. Because our food cravings are actually trying to draw our attention to a very different kind of hunger.
There’s four of them, in fact.
The 4 Hungers
Typically when we think about hunger, we think of physical hunger — you know, the rumbling belly kinda type. But most of us also know that there’s plenty of other reasons why we turn to food.
In addition to physical hunger, there’s also mental, emotional and spiritual hunger — and these last three tend to get completely ignored.
- Spiritual hunger happens when we’re living life according to other people’s standards and expectations in an attempt to get their approval and validation, rather than pursuing our own dreams and desires. Living this way takes the joy out of life, hence we go and look for it in food.
- Emotional hunger occurs when we’re faced with overwhelming emotions but don’t have the tools to cope with them. In those instances, food can provide a great temporary escape. Plus, it releases endorphins into the brain which is the body’s natural morphine supply, effectively numbing the pain of our emotions.
- Mental hunger gets created when our negative and critical thoughts set off a stress response in the body, which commonly happens when we think thoughts that evoke shame, guilt and fear. When our body releases the stress hormone cortisol, it increases our appetite, prompting us to turn to food for further stress relief.
- And then there’s physical hunger. Obviously there’s the kind of hunger we feel several times a day, signalling us it’s time to eat. But there’s also self-inflicted physical hunger and malnourishment that occurs as a result of chronic dieting. When the body senses we’re not getting enough nutrients for our needs, it forces us to fixate on food and will override any last ounce of willpower we might have in order to get us to eat.
These four hungers all represent different underlying needs that we have — and as human beings we only ever feel truly happy and fulfilled in life when all of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs are getting met. When they’re not, we don’t feel satisfied, and that’s when we find ourselves eating, and eating, and eating, without ever getting full.
We eat because we’re not full-filled in life. There’s something else that we’re fundamentally hungry for.
Notice the Warning Light
Our food cravings are like one of those dashboard warning lights in our car that switch on whenever there’s something that requires our attention. Whether the car is overheating, the tire pressure is low, or it’s time for an oil change, the dashboard light switches on to let us know there’s an issue under the hood that needs tending to. As soon as we take care of whatever needs to be done, the warning light on the dashboard switches off, and we’re on our way again.
Our food cravings are just like those little warning lights, trying to signal that something’s up, letting us know there’s an underlying physical, mental, emotional or spiritual need that’s not being met. And when we do what’s required to meet that need, our food cravings dissolve.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t understand what our food cravings are really trying to tell us. Instead, we’ve learned to fear our cravings. We’ve learned to judge them. We think there’s something wrong with us because we can’t control them.
So what do we do? We ignore the dashboard lights. We ignore the cravings. We hate that we have them and feel ashamed that we struggle to control them, so we just try to willpower our way through and pray that they stop.
But just because we ignore the light, it doesn’t make the underlying problem go away. In fact, it only gets worse. The longer we ignore the underlying problem, the more warning lights come on. The stronger the food cravings get. Until eventually, we give in. We eat everything in sight, all in an attempt to satisfy those cravings.
There’s only one problem: the food we eat may temporarily satisfy the cravings, but it does not satisfy the underlying need. Because we’re actually misinterpreting the warning light.
Instead of fixing our overheated engine and our flat tyre, we put more petrol in the car. But no matter how much fuel we put in, the light doesn’t switch off, because we’re not addressing the real problem. That’s why even though we end up binging way past the point of physical fullness, we still don’t feel satiated. We still don’t feel full-filled. Because we’re not dealing with the underlying unmet needs.
What Are You Really Craving?
To break the binge eating cycle we need to learn to meet our underlying physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs in a way that truly satisfies them. When our underlying needs are met, the warning light goes off and our food cravings disappear.
As psychologist Ashleigh Warner says: “Beneath every behaviour, there is a feeling. And beneath every feeling, there is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behaviour, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.”
So if you want to stop binge eating:
- Start by decoding your cravings to uncover which of your underlying physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs aren’t being met
- Meet those needs in a way that truly satisfies the craving
- Sit back, relax, and watch the food cravings dissolve
After 20 years of getting completely stuck in the vicious cycle of dieting and binge eating, it’s this 3-step approach that finally allowed me to break the cycle and end my lifelong struggle with food and weight, because I finally understood that what I was really craving had nothing to do with food at all.
What are you really craving?
Take the Decode Your Cravings quiz to uncover why you keep turning to food (even when you're determined not to!)