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10 Ways to Help a Binge Eater

A Recovering Binge Eater Offers Tips and Advice for Family and Friends

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Updated August 05, 2010
As a recovering binge eater, I understand what those suffering from Binge Eating Disorder may need in order to make progress. And as someone with caring and concerned parents and friends, I realize how those who know about your struggles with food will often want to help you.

While it is natural to reach out to someone near and dear to you, this disorder - just like any addiction, disease, or even personality trait - can be extremely difficult to comprehend if you yourself do not have it.

Below are 10 ways you can understand, talk with, and help a loved one who has Binge Eating Disorder:

  1. Do your research
    It's hard to help if you don’t know the basics. You should know what Binge Eating Disorder is, who suffers from it, why it happens, how it can be treated, etc. (Here's a brief explanation.) For more in-depth information, the internet offers excellent resources. The book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher G. Fairburn is recommended by many therapists and provides a ton of information on B.E.D. and how to start the recovery process.
  2. Encourage the binger to research
    Individuals who binge simply cannot expect to get better unless they take matters into their own hands. At the end of the day, family and friends can be there for support, but it is up to the binger to tackle the problem. Having some background knowledge about this problem is the first step.
  3. Lend an ear
    Sometimes we all just need someone to sit down, shut up, and listen to us. We want others to understand who we are, how we think, and why we do what we do. And sometimes we just need to vent. An eating disorder is a deeply personal issue. As someone the binger loves and trusts, you are the person she or he would want to share with. So at some point, the binger may open up to you. Just start by listening to what she/he has to say.
  4. Positive comments only
    I remember my Mom asking to me once, “Did you eat the whole chocolate cake last night?” Embarrassed, I nodded, barely even able to look her in the eye. “Oh my God!” she went on. “How did you do that? That’s disgusting!” Now I know that wasn’t her being mean or hurtful. She just truly couldn’t believe I ate a whole cake. That's understandable. But binge eaters feel guilty enough after a huge binge; the last thing they need is someone else, particularly someone important to them, to make them feel even guiltier. (My Mom knows a lot better now.)
  5. Remove trigger foods
    I’m currently attending college, so while I’m gone, my Mom can have whatever junk food she pleases in the house—and she sure does. But when I’m coming home to visit, I ask if she could go a few days without having foods in the house that trigger me to binge.

    If you live with a binge eater, be prepared to discuss ways that you can have the foods you want while allowing him or her to be in a non-trigger food environment.

    One suggestion is to get the not-so-healthy foods you love in single servings. So if you’re craving ice cream, grab a cone from your local ice cream parlor instead of buying a huge tub from the supermarket. No, it might not be as economical; but on the bright side, you will truly be helping your loved one to get better (not to mention sparing yourself a few calories). The best way to not binge is to not have the trigger foods there to begin with.

    Another option could be to purchase a trunk that you can lock up trigger foods in. Yes, this may be strange. But if it can help then who really cares?

  6. Offer to be a diversion
    The binge eater will often read about or be told by a therapist to create a list of activities that he or she can turn to when they feel a binge coming on in order to prevent it. Let your loved one know that one of her/his options (if you are available) can be to call or spend time with you until the cravings pass. Since my binges have generally occurred at night, my Mom has told me that when I feel like I’m going to binge I can wake her up and talk with her to shake the feeling. Getting away from where food is for a little while is an excellent strategy to throw off one’s original temptation to binge.
  7. Do not recommend diets
    Strict diets set people up to binge. Needless to say, they are even worse for those already prone to binging. Right now, the binger’s goal is simply to lessen the amounts of binges, lessen the amount of food consumed during binges, and eventually become binge free. Even after he or she overcomes the disorder, it is important that they keep their focus mainly on not binging (while of course trying to be as healthy as possible - eating right and exercising).

    Which reminds me: PLEASE don’t point out how skinny so-and-so looks in People magazine. These crazy body expectations that society puts on people - women in particular - probably added to the reason why your loved one has an eating disorder in the first place.

  8. Do plan fun (food-free) activities
    Many social gatherings revolve around food, but there are tons of fun things to do that do not. When you want to spend time with this person, go for a walk, to a concert, to a spa. Anything that is fun, relaxing, and does not involve food should be included on the list of options.
  9. Have patience
    It might be hard for you to watch someone you care about struggle with food (not to mention self-esteem). And honestly, I’m sure it also gets hard hearing about it so much and having to be so supportive all the time. But whatever you do, please show no signs of frustration. Trust me - bingers need all the love they can get. All the research, therapy, and support in the world will not make Binge Eating Disorder just go away - it takes time. Which is why any little sign of progress - such as refusing a third huge helping of mac ‘n’ cheese or recognizing causes for a binge - should be praised and rewarded.
  10. Don’t become over-involved
    Refer back to tip #3. Sometimes individuals just need others to hear them out, and nothing more. Also, the more you push change on someone who is not ready to change, the further they will push you away. It is an admirable desire to help them get started on the road to a healthier life, but once they’re on that road, it’s best to take a backseat role from there on out.

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