Binge Eating Disorder

How to stop binge eating during Thanksgiving? 5 tips that work.

November 17, 2023

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Binge eating can hurt your mental and physical health, causing significant distress
  • Manage food cravings with achievable goals, anticipate triggers, find what works for you, and practice mindful eating
  • Overcoming the urge to binge is not simple; a strong support system is key
  • A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you navigate the holiday season stress-free.

‘Tis the season for giving thanks, but if you struggle with binge eating, thoughts of Thanksgiving may bring dread instead. Managing an eating disorder is stressful during the holidays, but there is hope.

In this article, we will explore practical tips to help you enjoy the festivities and reclaim a sense of control over your food.

What is binge eating?

Binge eating involves eating a large amount of food rapidly in a short amount of time. Symptoms of binge eating disorder (BED) include feeling a loss of control over the food intake and binges that occur at least once a week for several months.

Why do you binge eat?

Binge eating is complex; there are many reasons why you may feel the urge to binge, including:

  • Dysfunction in the brain’s circuit connected with reward and pleasure
  • Gut imbalance
  • Insulin resistance
  • Negative body image
  • Numbing unpleasant emotions
  • A history of binge eating since childhood
  • Trauma from abuse and other such traumatic events.

About 80% of people with binge eating disorder also struggle with ADHD, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health conditions.

So, during the holidays, be kind to yourself and experiment with the tips below to curb your cravings.

1. Set achievable goals for success

Just like professional athletes cannot master new plays right before a high-stakes game, it’s not possible to gain complete control over your disordered eating overnight.

Overcoming binge eating is a journey that involves building mental and emotional muscle memory over time. Set reasonable expectations about what you hope to achieve.

Consider these questions to define your idea of success:

  • Would you only be satisfied if you avoided all your trigger foods?
  • Would eating 1-2 servings of your favorite foods and then stopping make you happy?
  • Could you be proud of yourself if you eat a bowl of fiber-rich salad with turkey before diving into comfort foods like stuffing and mashed potatoes?

These questions are just examples to help you understand that perfection isn't the goal; instead, it's about striving for daily improvement.

2. Anticipate triggers and plan ahead

You may have little control over the menu if you’re not the host of a social gathering.

However, here are strategies to help you manage your cravings:

  • Don’t overload your plate: Take smaller portions at a time, savor your food, and reassure yourself that you can always return for seconds.
  • Recruit protein and fiber as allies: Turkey is a fantastic source of protein, so for your first round, have a generous serving of turkey and nutrient-rich vegetables. Keep gravy, stuffing, and other side dishes to a minimum (at first).
  • Avoid a post-meal crash: Research shows that people with binge eating disorder are more likely to experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This dip in blood sugar levels can further trigger the urge to binge. 

    Here’s how to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping:

    • Eat more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They are loaded with fiber, which helps maintain blood sugar levels and curb cravings.
    • Proteins and healthy fats also help prevent blood sugar spikes.
    • Have consistent meals and snacks, and check in with yourself every 2-4 hours. Eating regular meals can help you regulate your blood sugar, appetite, and thoughts of food.
  • Drink water: Dehydration can lead to overeating salty snacks and ultra-processed foods. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  • Exercise before heading out to dinner: Even a brisk walk will do. Physical activity can help reduce binge eating. Exercise also improves symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other conditions that may co-exist.

A Registered Dietitian experienced with disordered eating can be an invaluable resource during the holidays. They can offer tailored advice and strategies, help you set realistic goals, and provide support and encouragement along your journey.

Use Fay to find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.

3. Reframe “failure”

Reframing the concept of failure is crucial in self-improvement, especially when dealing with issues like binge eating.

Ask yourself:

  • What emotional or external triggers led me to binge?
  • Were there certain situations in the past where I successfully avoided binging?
  • How did I feel before, during, and after each episode of binging?

However, navigating this process can be challenging and emotionally draining at times. If you find it difficult to do by yourself, consider reaching out for professional help.

4. Practice mindful eating

Stress and anxiety over food or social gatherings, and other emotional factors can often trigger binge eating. There’s usually a loss of control during a binge, which can be incredibly overwhelming. However, there is hope.

Studies show that mindful eating can help ground you in the moment. It's not about restricting yourself or judging what you eat; it's simply about being aware of the experience of eating, paying attention to your body's signals, and being present with your food.

When you feel familiar cravings creeping in or stress building up, take a minute to breathe, connect with your body, and approach your food with mindfulness.

It might sound simple, but doing this regularly can be a powerful way to take charge of your eating habits over time.

Here are a few tips on how to eat mindfully:

  • Take small bites and chew a little longer: Pay attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations of eating. If it helps, imagine you’re a judge on a competitive cooking show—how would you describe a contestant’s food to an audience?
  • Consider putting your fork down between bites: It may force your brain to savor the food in your mouth.
  • Try to ease up on guilt over food: Instead of focusing on whether you were ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ pay attention to how your mind and body feel in the moment. Think about the top three things you are grateful for or proud of this year.

5. Gather your support

This Thanksgiving, you may resist your cravings or give in and indulge during dinner.

Still, remember it’s just one meal. You are not doomed to a binge that lasts the entire holiday season.

So, consider stacking the odds in your favor with the following tips:

  • Stay on track with your meds: If you've been diagnosed with one or more mental or physical health conditions, set reminders and refill your prescriptions before the holidays start.
  • Get counseling during the holidays: If you’re seeing a therapist, try to schedule therapy sessions in advance for the next few months.
  • Recruit a trusted friend or professional: When you’re stressed or overwhelmed with the urge to binge, it helps to call or text someone who can calm you. If you prefer, you could join a support group for people who struggle with binge eating or consult a dietitian.

Do not get discouraged if you try these tips on your own and still binge. An experienced Registered Dietitian can help you heal your body and guide you through Thanksgiving, the holidays, and beyond.

Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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