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Can Intuitive Eating Help Binge Eating?

intuitive eating Jun 27, 2022

If you've ever felt guilty after eating a whole bag of chips or an entire pizza all to yourself, you're not alone. And if those feelings have led you to restrict your food intake the next day, that could lead to binge eating.

Binge eating entails eating large amounts of food in a short period, often in secret and to the point of discomfort. Binge eating can be triggered by emotional distress, but it can also occur in people who restrict their food intake or whose bodies are starved for nutrients.

While binge eating is a problem for many people, Intuitive Eating (IE) may be the solution. IE is an approach to nutrition based on listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues rather than following a specific diet plan.

Could IE help with your binge eating struggles? Yes! In this article, I share what you need to know about IE and how it can help you recover from binge eating.

 

What is Intuitive Eating, and Can it Help Binge Eaters?

IE is a philosophy that encourages people to listen to their hunger cues and eat in response to them. The reason is that when you allow yourself to eat when you're hungry and consume foods you love without restriction, you'll be less likely to binge eat. If that sounds great in theory, I'm happy to confirm that it's rooted in science.

Research has shown that IE can help people shift away from restrictive dieting and emotional eating.[1] Further, IE shows that you're less likely to go overboard when you're not constantly depriving yourself of food. Intuitive eating may not be a cure-all for binge eating, but it could help some people control their urge to eat more than they intend.

I can share from personal experience that I was a person that has benefited tremendously from IE. As someone who struggled with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) throughout my Marine Corps career, IE allowed me to develop healthier relationships with food. Instead of seeing food as something that was either good or bad, I began to reframe my thoughts around food. That reframe helped me recognize that my food choices were precisely that, choices. When I permitted myself to eat whatever I wanted, I realized I had less desire for certain foods.

Of course, if you're struggling with BED or any eating disorder, it's always best to consult a professional before making any significant changes. But if you're curious whether intuitive eating could work for you, it's worth exploring.

 

The Benefits of Intuitive Eating for those Struggling with Binge Eating

If you're struggling with binge eating, you might be looking for a way to change your relationship with food. There are many benefits of intuitive eating, but I've shared some of the most notable below.

For one, it can help break the binge eating cycle. One of the significant aspects of IE is that it promotes mindfulness. Studies have shown that mindfulness can decrease binge eating and emotional eating behaviors.[2] When you're more mindful about your food choices, there's less of an urge to restrict yourself, which means you're less likely to eat more than you intended.

IE can also help you become more in tune with your body's needs, which can lead to improved overall health. Contrary to popular opinion, IE is focused on not just honoring our food choices but honoring our health through behavior change. As research has shown, promoting behavioral changes related to dietary habits and physical activity can improve binge eating behaviors.[3]

Lastly, when you allow yourself to eat intuitively, you're more likely to make truly satisfying choices, both physically and emotionally. That can make all the difference for someone struggling with binge eating. It just might be the key to making peace with food.

 

How to Start Using Intuitive Eating to Overcome Binge Eating

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as everyone's journey to intuitive eating will be unique. However, if you're ready to give up counting calories and start trusting your body again, here's how to get started with intuitive eating.

#1 - Ditch the Diet Mentality

The first step is to ditch the diet mentality, which means letting go of the idea that there are "good" and "bad" foods. Instead, honoring your body's cravings is essential for binge eating because it is different between consuming food for physical and emotional hunger.

Removing the diet mentality helps you understand that restriction is what will drive your binge eating. Rather than trying to suppress your hunger, if you're starving, slowly eat whatever you're in the mood for rather than trying to suppress your appetite. Take time to savor every bite and allow your body to enjoy the meals.

By doing so, you're not just nourishing your body but nourishing your soul by savoring the entire experience.

#2 - Tune into Hunger Cues

The second step is learning to tune in to your hunger cues which doesn't mean waiting until you're so hungry that you feel out of control when you eat. Instead, it's about checking in with yourself regularly throughout the day and listening to what your body needs.

You're allowing yourself to be in the present moment by tuning into your hunger cues. So often, when we binge eat, we're not being present without ourselves. We're eating unconsciously and often so quickly that we don't even realize we're full until we're stuffed.

When we bring ourselves back into the present moment with our foods, we're better able to eat when we're hungry and stop when we're full.

#3 - Permit Yourself to Indulge

And finally, the third step is permitting yourself to indulge - within reason. Moderation is key here. Remember, you're not trying to deprive yourself; instead, find a healthy balance. That means indulging in foods you've previously restricted yourself from eating.

When we talk about indulgence, the critical thing to remember here is that there will be some foods you indulge in that might not be the most nutritious. However, with some planning, you can ensure that you're getting adequate nutrition from the other foods on your plate.

So, recognize that indulging doesn't need to look like a cheat day where you eat foods with little to no nutritional value. Instead, indulgence can be a healthy balance of food satisfying your cravings and daily dietary intake.

 

So there, you have three simple steps to start using intuitive eating and overcome binge eating for good! Hopefully, this has answered some of your questions about IE! So now go forth and listen to your body's wisdom.

 

Source

  1. Carbonneau, E., Bégin, C., Lemieux, S., Mongeau, L., Paquette, M. C., Turcotte, M., Labonté, M. È., & Provencher, V. (2017). A Health at Every Size intervention improves intuitive eating and diet quality in Canadian women. Clinical Nutrition, 36(3), 747–754. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2016.06.008
  2. Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the "obesity problem." Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223 
  3. Provencher, V., Bégin, C., Tremblay, A., Mongeau, L., Boivin, S., & Lemieux, S. (2007). Short-term effects of a "health-at-every-size" approach on eating behaviors and appetite ratings. Obesity, 15(4), 957–966. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2007.638