When was the last time you found yourself munching on a block of cheese or chocolate even though you swore to yourself you’d stick to your diet from now on? Feeling unable to control yourself around certain foods and falling off your dietary wagon can often end up in uncontrollable binge eating – and it’s most likely a result of restriction in some way.
This problem isn’t unique to vegans, though, since almost everyone is walking around with food rules in their mind these days. Granted, vegans theoretically have fewer foods to choose from, but with all of the plant-based alternatives on the market these days, you can almost always find a vegan equivalent to any animal-based food.
And honestly, most people think they really need to avoid fried foods or chocolate in order to be healthy, slim people with strong minds. Building up this exact resistance could be the cause you’re binge eating on a vegan diet – or any diet, for that matter.
But what if the difference between the war on food and peace around food isn’t much more than just your perception and mindset around them?
A quick disclaimer before we dive in is due. We are not health professionals and urge you to seek out help from a doctor, therapist, or nutritionist to further help you deal with your eating issues. As they can be potentially life-threatening, we want you to take really good care of yourself.
We say this because we are aware that the vegan movement seems to attract a large number of people who come from a background of disordered eating, thinking that this diet and lifestyle change might be what they need in order to recover. For some, this might be true, but being crazy around food and using it to deal with unpleasant feelings is about more than just watching what you eat.
It’s not true that eating a vegan diet means to just eat however much you want and you will be thin and healthy. In fact, this mindset could be the exact reason why you’re still trapped in binge eating, thinking that the sky is the limit when it comes to your portions. While we don’t want you to think that you need to restrict yourself, overstuffing isn’t much better, either. Our goal is to bring you to a place from which you can decide what and how much you want to eat in order to feel your best.
This post doesn’t deal with cravings for non-vegan food, per se. The strategies we’re about to offer can be used for anyone dealing with intense cravings for unhealthy food or for those who finally want to make peace with their binges. Let’s take a look at the most common reasons for binge eating as a vegan or a non-vegan.
4 Reasons for Binge Eating
If you're dealing with overeating or uncontrollable eating episodes, you might feel familiar with some of the following states.
Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or sad.
That’s where the emotional eating is most likely coming from. Wanting a way to release tension, feel warm and fuzzy, or just looking for reasons not to follow through with your tasks.
Lacking nutrients and energy.
This physical reason is more common than you would think. Many people restrict their carbohydrates these days and therefore lack great energy. But not eating enough veggies, fruits or legumes can also cause nutritional imbalances and deficiencies that result in huge cravings.
Learned behavior that’s easily triggered.
Let’s face it, you have turned to food to calm you down and give you happiness ever since you were a child, probably. This is a deeply engrained pattern and habit that you’ve built up over a long time. So, of course, it gets triggered in certain situations again and again, which can make you feel like you’re on autopilot.
Feeling restricted and not allowed certain foods.
This harmful mindset will make you want to binge on forbidden foods every time they are around. Only when you free yourself from restriction, you can actually make a choice whether or not you want to eat a certain food.
Now, being aware of the most common reasons for binge eating is a good first step but it doesn’t actually help you in terms of not binging anymore. This is why we’ve written down 5 powerful strategies that are key factors for most people on their journey to food freedom. They might not all resonate with you but we urge you to actually try as many as you can to find your personal missing piece.
5 Strategies that Prevent Binge Eating
1. Eat enough nutritious food on a regular basis
Since one of the most common reasons why people want to binge is actual physical hunger, let’s address this first. If you come from a history of cutting back on calories, restriction or even starvation, then you aren’t used to eating enough good food.
But not just small portions of food can be a problem here – shoveling in junk food doesn’t offer you much nutrition and, instead, causes inflammation and stress in the body. Heavily processed foods are often artificially created to make you overeat on them since they are highly palatable and activate the pleasure parts of your brain, keeping you coming back for more.
What you’re used to eating is what you most likely crave, so stepping away from processed junk and including more whole plant-based foods is crucial here. Make sure to include fruits and vegetables every day, opt for whole grains and get familiar with legumes. These foods are the basis of a nutritious diet. If you still want to have your cookies or chips, have something healthy first and then eat the foods you crave while paying close attention – this means no shoveling in hand after hand while watching TV or scrolling through Facebook.
Be with yourself in this moment and see if the food gives you what you were looking for. Does it really make you feel good during and after eating it? Most of the time, once you remove the guilt and fear around foods like potato chips, you’ll find that your tummy doesn’t really like them. That you feel kind of sluggish and not your best after eating them.
Coming clean about these effects will help you reach for a baked potato with a salad the next time – simply because you actually want to feel physically great after eating and you know that the chips won’t get you there.
2. Rest and relax as much as you need to
When we don’t sleep or rest enough, our hormones will get out of whack. The same goes for being stressed. These hormonal imbalances can mess with your appetite, your hunger signals, even your healing abilities. We cannot be stressed and have great digestion at the same time. Not only does being sleep deprived and constantly on the run mean that you actually need more food - which you can interpret as urges to binge out. But it also wears you out mentally and emotionally.
You might feel like you cannot look after yourself and your needs properly, you can feel used by others and overall not at ease. These feelings of being overwhelmed, out of energy and just plain stressed can lead to binging out of frustration, to calm yourself down or to just plain not lose your marbles. That’s why prevention is key here – so you hopefully never reach that state of being so overwhelmed that you cannot think straight and just act out of impulse.
This means getting a good night’s sleep of around 8 hours or even more, taking breaks throughout the day, and maybe even thinning out your schedule. We all think that we need to work and achieve lots of things every day without allowing ourselves to just be. From this place of feeling taken care of and having a clearer mind, you can make much better decisions that are in alignment with your true goals of being happy and healthy.
3. Separate yourself from your inner voice
Do you know that feeling of a binge coming along and you feel like the tides are too strong, that you couldn’t possibly prevent this from happening now? This could be the case when you think that you actually are that voice inside of you that tells you how much you need that box of chocolate in order to feel better again. That everything won’t work anyways. That it’s always been that way and that you won’t be able to change. And what happens when you try to ignore that voice and to keep it down? It comes back stronger.
What you resist persists. Much of our own struggling happens because we think we need to be different and feel different which leads to building up a lot of resistance. Your cravings aren’t wrong, you are not wrong and the food is not wrong. Stop judging everything and separate yourself from these thoughts. These are not you. These thoughts cannot make you do anything, they cannot make you stand up and get to the fridge.
Try to simply be with them, listen to them as if they were a little friend telling you about their fears and wishes. This can help you find out what is behind your cravings because you might find some kind of pattern. Does this voice come around when you feel overwhelmed by having too many tasks? Or does it speak it you when you’re alone?
These are hints for what really needs to change in your life to make you feel better – because the taste of chocolate will be gone after a few minutes, leaving you in the exact same place you were before. Just knowing that you are not your urges to binge and that these are just signs and impulses in your brain can be tremendously empowering. If you want to learn more about this, check out the book “Brain over Binge” by Kathryn Hansen.
4. Hold a vision of your perfect life
One of the biggest mistakes we see people make is not having a focus. If you’d ask any person they might agree that they would like to be healthy, fit, and happy. But are they actually focused on making this happen or are they just sitting around and waiting for it?
Changing your habits from binging on junk food to eating a salad every day isn’t very easy but it’s certainly possible. Thousands of people have done it before and they didn’t have anything special that you do not possess. One thing they probably have in common, though, is holding a vision of what they truly want in their mind.
Motivation is an important key to making change happen and it’s what you need to rely on in a lot of moments. It helps you shift your mind from wanting short-term pleasure to pursuing your long-term goal of being healthy and free. An awesome strategy to building a strong motivation is creating a vision of your perfect life: write down as detailed as possible what you would like to be, experience, and live on a daily basis. It’s like telling a friend you haven’t seen in many years what your life is like today and how awesome you feel.
Reading that vision on a daily basis will help you stay in a good mood and focus on your greater goals. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to have chocolate again, it just means that indulging too often wouldn’t be in alignment with your dream life and that building the habit of choosing veggies over junk food will be more likely to get you there.
5. Be grateful for the insight
Your cravings and your binges are not your enemies. As unpleasant as they might be and as much as you’d like to fight them and make them stop – they always come with an important message to you. They want to let you know that you should rest more, that you should say “no” more often, and that you should eat enough nutritious food. They want you to look after yourself and figure out how you feel your best.
Please don’t think you’re wrong or broken for wanting to binge. By making peace with these urges, separating yourself from them and then acting from a place of awareness, making choices that are in alignment with your perfect life, you will see just how much of a blessing and teacher they really are.
Have you been struggling with binge eating and do you know what that is? What's your number one strategy to deal with it? Let us know in the comments below.
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.