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How to know if your obsession with food has crossed the line

By Nicci Micco, April 7, 2010 - 12:02pm

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What’s your escape from a bad day? A massage? A walk with the dog? Or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? At one time or another, most of us have turned to food to soothe a negative mood. I know I have. And even celebrities do it too. But where does one draw the line between eating occasional treats to cheer up—and the type of bingeing for which you should seek help? American Idol judge, songwriter and music producer Kara DioGuardi recently has been talking about her struggle with binge eating disorder (BED), which is characterized by eating large amounts of food—not out of hunger but for emotional reasons—and feeling out of control while doing it. Could you be struggling with something similar? This short quiz can help you decide if you may have crossed that line.

Do you...

  1. Often eat when you’re not hungry?
  2. Often rely on noncaloric foods, such as diet soft drinks, coffee, mustard or gum, to satisfy your appetite?
  3. Experience dramatic weight fluctuations of 10 pounds or more?
  4. Divide foods or behaviors into clear-cut “good” or “bad” categories, and avoid certain foods like sugar or bread because they are “fattening”? (Overcome “all or nothing” thinking when it comes to food.)
  5. Make excuses for not eating while others are having a meal?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may benefit from taking an expanded quiz on binge eating. But even if you have a generally healthy relationship with food, staying in control of what you eat can be challenging in our world where tempting foods seem to loom at every turn. Here are three tips to beat the temptation to binge and improve your relationship with food:

1. Keep a food diary. Recording everything—the ice cream binge as well as the carrots and celery—“makes everything you eat part of the plan,” says Elena Ramirez, Ph.D., co-founder of the Vermont Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in South Burlington, Vermont. “It’s no longer a sneaky, bad thing.”

2. Give up grazing. While eating regularly helps prevent feeling deprived and hungry, “[grazing] can easily supply a binge’s worth of calories, a little at a time,” says Ramirez. Plan four “eating episodes” each day spaced at regular intervals to avoid going long stretches without eating—which can also trigger bingeing. Our easy-to-use 28-day meal plans make it fun to figure out what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks!

3. Plan for the occasional piece of cheesecake. Studies suggest that feeling deprived—even if you are consuming plenty of calories—can actually trigger overeating. Making any food off-limits just increases its allure. If pizza is your downfall, it might be too tempting to keep in your house—but you can learn to enjoy it in a “safe” environment. “Make a trip to a pizza place, order a slice and enjoy it out in the open,” says Ramirez. “The more you practice this, the more it becomes ingrained behavior.” Want more tips? Click here to discover 5 more ways to win the “food fight.”

For more information on binge eating and other eating disorders: National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), nationaleatingdisorders.org or 800-931-2237.

What triggers out-of-control eating for you? What healthy distractions keep you from bingeing? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Nicci Micco, Health Blog

Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.

Nicci asks: What triggers out-of-control eating for you? What healthy distractions keep you from bingeing?

Tell us what you think:

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