By Veronica Chu/ Personal Trainer And Bikini Fitness Competitor
As a competitive bikini athlete and personal trainer, I know first- hand how easy it is to slip into binge eating habits. Binge eating is defined as ‘episodes of rapid and excessive food consumption not necessarily driven by hunger or metabolic need.’ It can be a problematic issue to deal with, usually resulting in a cycle of dieting and/or extra exercise to compensate for the extra calories eaten.
Binge eating can be a common occurrence amongst competitive bodybuilders, as strict dieting is often required all year round, especially in the run up to a show. It can also happen to people who put themselves on restrictive diets, especially if they are on extremely low calories, as the body releases hormones such as ghrelin, which makes us more susceptible to extreme hunger and bingeing as a result.
As human beings, we have a limited amount of willpower and often when our willpower slips and our guard is down, this can lead to a binge eating episode. For me, I experienced my first episodes of binge eating after I competed in my first bodybuilding show. After being on a restricted diet for months, suddenly being allowed to eat whatever I wanted, without feeling guilty, meant my love for sugar took over, and I found myself gorging on sweets, chocolate, cake, ice cream and all other kinds of desserts repeatedly. Due to the serotonin produced by the body in reaction to these foods, they are increasingly addictive, making it hard to stop consuming them once you’ve started.
Binge eating, when it is a frequent occurrence, can derail your hard work in the gym, your motivation and in more serious cases can even progress to an eating disorder. A few months down the line and I have learnt from my mistakes, and hope to provide some advice in this article so that you too can avoid binge eating, before the problem gets too serious.
#Tip 1: Flexible dieting/IIFYM
When you say IIFYM, many people associate this with crazy concoctions of Oreos, cereal, chocolate, sweets and ice cream…all on top of a base of oats to create the classic ‘flexbowl’ to appeal to the fitness side of us. However, if I included these bowls in my diet daily, my health would definitely suffer, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. To me, flexible dieting means that my diet is varied – the majority of my diet comes from whole, nutrient-dense foods BUT I am also allowed to have the occasional treat as I can count it into my macros. This is different from the traditional ‘bro diet’ or bodybuilders diet as I like to term it, whereby you rotate the ‘clean’ foods such as sweet potato, oats, chicken, white fish, rice and broccoli, and stick to these foods religiously.
I think flexible dieting helps prevent binge eating down the line, as you are allowed to have the foods which you enjoy and crave when dieting, even if they are junk food, albeit it in small amounts, you won’t feel the need to stuff your face with the food when you are eventually allowed to eat it. The more restrictive your diet is, the more likely it is you’ll go crazy and binge- eat it when your diet is relaxed.
For example, if you’re allowed one square of chocolate every day, you won’t feel the need to stuff yourself with bars and bars of it when your diet ends, or on a cheat day.
#Tip 2: Plan ahead
One of the best ways to prevent binge eating is to eat frequently, and plan your meals ahead of time. I prepare my day’s meals ahead of time, to prevent me reaching for junk foods and unhealthy food options.
If you plan frequent meals (every 3-4 hours), this avoids you getting to the point where you’re absolutely starving, and so more likely to stuff yourself. Studies show that when you’re ravenous, you’re more likely to choose fatty/sugary food as this is your body’s natural food choice to replenish glucose stores quickly, if it is in starvation mode.
#Tip 3: Know your triggers and avoid cues to binge
Some people have ‘trigger’ food or hyperpalatable food. Once you start eating, you cannot stop. Some common hyperpalatable foods are chocolate, bread, ice cream or sugary cereal. If you know some foods are hyperpatable for you, then these are best avoided to prevent binge eating.
Some people also have trigger situations which can result in binge eating. For example, some of the more common ones are eating in front of the TV, when trying to complete some work at home, or when in a stressful/upset state of mind. If you know your trigger situations, recognise them and tackle the problem before you start eating.
The best thing to do in these situations is not to begin eating to start with (unless it is actually meal time) or to distract yourself from the situation. For example, go for a walk, or do something else which occupies your mind.
#Tip 4: Manage your mindset
Some of the key signs of binge eating is uncontrollable, mindless eating which isn’t driven by hunger. Therefore, one of the best ways to avoid this, is tackle your mindset when you’re tempted to binge eat. Take yourself out of the situation and ask yourself, if you’re actually hungry? If you actually need any of these foods? Will one square of chocolate suffice instead of multiple bars of the stuff?
If you question your urge to binge eat, often the binge can be stopped. Think of the consequences of your actions if you binge eat (usually bloatedness, sluggishness and fat gain) and walk away from the situation.
I hope this article has helped those who have suffered from binge eating, or prevented a problem before it happens. Just remember, food can be enjoyed in moderation!