Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 1-7 March 2021: What is Binge Eating and How Do You Cure It?

Large potatoe crisp packets in a pile
Large potatoe crisp packets in a pile

Food supplies and England during the pandemic

We may have all heard many of our friends talk about the urge to eat and drink more frequently than usual because of the boredom, stress and the proximity to the refrigerator, as many folk are working from home and ‘staying indoors’ again this season. This is because of government issued guidance to create social distancing in order to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

Anxiety inducing news stories coupled with social, work and family life plans that have all been turned upside down in the last year, mean millions of households have serious problems to worry about, often affecting more than one aspect of their life. So it is not surprising comfort eating, for those that can afford to, has been a tempting little cushion that has softened an otherwise unsettlingly difficult period in all our lives.

Like many lifestyle factors eating too much and reaching for foods full of fat and sugar too often can be a habit that happens at different times for different people. Some men, women and children may overeat just once in a while when they are ‘having a bad day’ or perhaps they will put too much on their plate on a red letter day like Christmas, just for fun. The occasional celebration feast is a perfectly normal occurrence in our culture and that of many cultures around the world. However there are those that overindulge several times a week or on a daily basis which can create health issues. Lots of intelligent adults really struggle with controlling their calorie intake, in the western world.

With many of the usual clubs, gyms and recreational pursuits becoming impossible as they are closed, it is possible that some citizens have been building up a potential health crisis in their future, whilst they have been trying hard to stick to the rules and to keep themselves and others safe from coronavirus. Lockdown restrictions have meant solitude and isolation for millions of people who live alone. These individuals may have a special ‘bubble’ person but they may not have them living close by and able to visit them frequently.

A person who is usually happy living by themselves might be really struggling without their social clubs and their usual meetups. Loneliness and boredom have been a really tough part of the sacrifices that millions citizens across the country have been making, to do their part to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The restrictions were first announced by the UK government shortly after the outbreak of coronavirus in Europe in March 2020. Initially there were problems with a massive rise in consumer demand for all sorts of their favourite provisions. Panic buying ensued and some foods like flour and yeast became impossible to purchase. The nation wanted to stock up their cupboards in case they didn’t want to or couldn’t go out of the house. Since then the supermarkets have worked closely with their suppliers to get back on track. Those that were in the fortunate position of being able to, filled up their larders with store cupboard essentials. Thankfully the availability of food has not been a major issue in the UK in recent months, despite the gridlock at the ports ahead of Brexit which happened at the end of December 2020.

Cooking has become a very popular pastime as nearly everybody has a kitchen they can use and time to prepare delicious meals if they are ‘staying at home’. Getting creative and trying out new recipes can be interesting and relaxing and is usually fun for all ages as something to do. Most people balance enjoying freshly cooked and baked delicacies quite easily with their daily walk, run, cycle or a stroll around the supermarket when the need arises. However not everyone has a healthy relationship with food and controlling portion sizes can also be difficult to get right.

Understanding what is binge eating all about

According to the NHS binge eating can be defined as an eating disorder that “involves regularly eating a lot of food over a short period of time until you’re uncomfortably full”. Eating when not actually hungry, consuming food very fast, eating alone or secretly can be all signs of binge eating. The NHS guidance also explains that someone finds it difficult to stop eating when full may feel depressed, guilty, ashamed or disgusted after binge eating.

How can you get better and stop the binge eating cycle

“Binge eating is a serious mental illness that can affect one in 50 people.” say the organisation BeatingEatingDisorders which is based in the UK. This means more people suffer from binge eating than anorexia and bulimia which are eating disorders that are more well known. BeatingEatingDisorders offers a ‘Sanctuary’ which is an online chat room and also a helpline to support both those suffering with the condition and their family or close friends who may be trying to care and help their loved one get to a better healthy eating place in their lives. (4)

The good news is there is lots of help online and also through talking to a GP who may then recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The causes of binge eating can vary from person to person but it is thought that it can usually start from the teenage years upwards and often has a psychological cause. If you have been abused or have battled with addiction this can be a major factor. Being overly focused on weight and having worries about body image can also bring on the symptoms of binge eating. (2)

Different people need different types of therapy to recover from binge eating. These may include dealing with any personal body image worries and concerns. From teenage years onwards there can be pressure for males and females from social media to look a certain way. Online accounts such as Facebook and Instagram feature ‘feeds’ and ‘profiles’ that often portray unrealistically perfect figures or lifestyles in their updates.

Coping with change and anxiety can be a big trigger and many men and women may need help to manage their eating, as some things may look very different now this spring. As the restrictions slowly lift and the way forward becomes clearer, the options for what is available to Brits in the near future for their housing, education and career opportunities may be modified substantially.

Building increased resilience through exercise, talking therapy and finding ways to relax and positively distract somebody who suffers with binge eating may really help improve their well being. BeatEatingDisorders recommends a memorable technique for positive visualisations to feel better when a person is Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stressed or Tired which they call BLAST for short.

Finding a way to express your feelings positively can be key. Writing thoughts down, painting, listening to music, crafting, reading or learning a new skill can be really helpful for recovering from binge eating problems.

The ‘Mind over Body’ Approach

Glenn Livingstone Ph.D suggests a straightforward “Mind over Body” approach to eliminate overeating behaviours. He proposes that the solution is to understand that our brains are hardwired as part of the evolutionary process to give us the urge to crave foods as often as possible in order to follow the principles of the ‘survival of the fittest’. This goes back in history to a pre-industrialised world where we all had to physically hunt and gather for many hours to be well fed.

In the 21st century our societies have changed beyond recognition with fully stocked freezers, the availability of relatively cheap groceries and take-aways for sale on almost every street. Livingstone asserts that we need to consciously control our basic functioning inner ‘Lizard brain’ that tells us to quickly munch on more unhealthy snacks.

We need to take a few moments to think with our more sophisticated ‘Higher self brain. The ‘Higher self brain’ knows that binge eating is wrong and not good for us. Glenn Livingstone Ph.D states he has “treated more than 1000 people” and he has written several books on the subject. His book is also available on Audible as a download. “Eating by Design” he says “will retrain your brain in 7-14 days and make your craving much less severe.” (5) (6)

This method puts the emphasis on planning, what, where and when a person eats so they take control of their diet and calorie intake. Livingstone’s system means people previously susceptible to binge eating know they will be having a few treats during the week and when they will be. This helps overcome the urge to consume the wrong ingredients in the wrong quantities at the wrong times of day. (5)

Other books that are also available as audiobooks on Audible include ‘The Binge Code’ by UK based nutritional therapist Ali Kerr which focuses on “freeing emotions” to unlock binge eating. (7) In Kathryn Hansen’s book ‘Brain Over Binge’ Hansen explains “Why I was bulimic, why conventional therapy didn’t work, and how I recovered for good.” Kathryn Hansen also focuses on how the way our brains function automatically can hijack anyone’s well intentioned relationship with mealtimes.

This ‘Eating Disorders Week’ is a chance for all of us to think with consideration about our eating and how those around us that we care for are coping in these extraordinary times. There is lots of support out there for anyone who needs it. Nobody is perfect and we are all unique individuals. According to the experts the skills to develop more healthy eating habits can be practised and learnt by anyone who is affected by binge eating.

(1) ‘Does Skipping Fast Food Restaurants Prevent Obesity’, 6 May 2020 (1) ‘Does Skipping Fast Food Restaurants Prevent Obesity’

(2) ‘Binge Eating Disorder’ National Health Service Guidance, 26 February 2021 ‘Binge Eating Disorder’ National Health Service Guidance,

(3) ‘Eating Disorders Week’ 1-7 March 2021, Beat Eating Disorders, 26 February 2021 (3) ‘Eating Disorders Week’ 1-7 March 2021, Beat Eating Disorders #YouMightKnowMe

(4) ‘Eating Disorders and Coronavirus’ Beat Eating Disorders, 26 February 2021 (4) ‘Eating Disorders and Coronavirus’ Beat Eating Disorders, 26 February 2021

(5) ‘Never Binge Again’, 26 February 2021 (5) ‘Never Binge Again’, 26 February 2021

(6) ‘Never Binge Again’ Glenn Livingston Ph.D. on Audible (an Amazon company) 26 February 2021 ‘Never Binge Again’ Glenn Livingston Ph.D. on Audible

(7) ‘The Binge Code’ by Ali Kerr on Audible (an Amazon company) 26 February 2021 ‘The Binge Code’ by Ali Kerr on Audible

(8) ‘Kathryn Hansen’ Brain Over Binge on Audible (an Amazon company) 26 February 2021 ‘Kathryn Hansen’ Brain Over Binge on Audible