How to prevent binge eating as a vegan
Eating disorders including binge eating are more prevalent among vegans compared to the general population.
Here is everything you need to know about eating disorders and how to prevent binge eating as a vegan.
Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood and affect up to 5% of the population.
Eating disorders are behavioural conditions characterized by persistent disruption in eating behaviours as well as distressing thoughts and emotions. Individuals with eating disorders tend to be preoccupied with food, their weight, and their shape.
What’s more, consequences of eating disorders can negatively impact one’s physical, psychological, and social well-being, as well as their ability to function.
Binge eating disorder
People with binge eating disorders experience episodes of binging, defined as the intake of large portions of food during a brief period. Episodes of binge eating are characterized by emotional distress and a sense of lack of control.
Binge eating disorder differs from bulimia nervosa. More precisely, individuals with binge eating usually won’t use compensatory behaviours (vomiting, fasting, engaging in strenuous exercise, or using laxatives) to get rid of the calories ingested.
Binge eating disorder is diagnosed when binges are recurring (at least once a week for three months) and associated with a loss of self-control.
Furthermore, three or more of the following behaviours must be present:
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry
- Eating alone due to feeling of embarassement related to how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty afterward
If a person experiences frequent binges but doesn’t meet all criteria of a binge eating disorder, does it mean that they don’t have any real struggle with food? Not exactly.
Even in the absence of some of the traits of a binge eating disorder, individuals who experience regular binges can feel distressed, a lack of self-control and self-esteem, as well as social isolation.
Are binge eating and overeating the same thing?
While both binge eating and overeating imply eating mindlessly more than needed to feel satiated, there are fundamental distinctions between them.
Examples of overeating would be eating a piece of birthday cake despite being full or taking a second serving of a delicious meal cooked by a friend, even if we’re no longer hungry. While overeating might cause physical discomfort, it does not necessarily cause guilt.
On the other hand, binge eating, or emotional eating involves emotional shame and often occurs when we are alone. For instance, we might eat a whole pizza alone in one sitting and feel instant regret.
Are eating disorders manageable?
Eating disorders can often be associated with mood disorders and anxiety. They are multifactorial conditions that may require psychotherapy, behavioural therapy, and medical assistance.
With adequate care, it is possible to adopt healthy eating habits and manage an eating disorder. Reach out to our team of plant-based dietitians specialized in eating disorders to know about how we can help you develop a more peaceful relationship with food.
Binge eating as a vegan
What are the causes of vegan binge eating?
Firstly, binge eating can be highly related to our moods and state of mind. Increased levels of stress and anxiety, poor body image, and damaged self-esteem can contribute to emotional eating and binging.
Secondly, behaviours around food are often learned from our surroundings and are influenced by our family beliefs, as well as by our upbringing.
Furthermore, research suggests that some genetic predispositions can also increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
History of dieting
Thirdly, calorie restriction and successive attempts to lose weight can trigger our body’s natural protective instincts. Food deprivation and diminished energy levels can lead to an increased physiologic demand for high amounts of calories.
Abstaining from certain foods seen as ¨forbidden¨ can cause obsessive thoughts about them and an urgent need to eat them.
Refer to our article on intuitive eating as a vegan to learn more about how our bodies react to diets.
Does veganism lead to binge eating?
Although veganism is not the cause of disordered eating, it is not unusual to see people choose plant-based diets because they struggle with food, body image and a sense of lack of control over their diet.
To find more about how plant-based diets interact with eating disorders, read our article on veganism and orthorexia to see how they are related.
Restrictive veganism and an inadequately planned diet could lead to a disordered relationship with food and a higher risk of binge eating.
Simple shifts in our behaviours and food selections are sometimes sufficient to break the cycle of binging and restricting.
Here are some practical strategies to help you prevent binge eating as a vegan.
Tips to prevent binge eating as a vegan
Nourish your body
One of the first steps to prevent uncontrollable food binges is to feed your body with enough energy every day. To handle cravings, choose wholesome foods that are nourishing and feel satisfying.
So, recognize your early hunger cues and eat before feeling starved, irritable, and painfully hungry. If you deny your hunger for too long, chances are you will feel increasingly anxious to eat and indulge in less nutritive foods.
Plan your meals
When we eat regularly and don’t skip meals, our blood sugar remains steady throughout the day.
On the contrary, when we miss meals, our bodies urge us to eat by releasing higher amounts of hunger-stimulating hormones.
Overall, following a stable eating pattern decreases the tendency to binge. A good way to apply this strategy would be to eat a meal or a snack every 2 to 4 hours.
Choose foods that are high in vegan protein and fiber
Some foods are more filling than others, based on their nutrient content.
Hence, choose food higher in protein and fiber more often.
Proteins are known as building blocks for our bodies. They also impact satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrates and fat.
Furthermore, fiber is found in lots of vegan foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. It provides bulk to our plant-based meals and slows our digestion, allowing for higher satiety.
On the other hand, highly processed foods increase appetite. They provide high amounts of calories followed by a rapid crash in energy and more cravings.
Find out more about what a balanced plate would look like and how it can help prevent vegan binge eating by reaching out to our team of plant-based registered dietitians.
Allow trigger foods and practice food habituation
One of the strategies we often use to try to manage our cravings is to ban ¨trigger¨ foods from our house. It can be difficult to control ourselves around the foods associated with distress and uncontrolled behaviours.
However, the issue is, every time we have access to those forbidden foods, we tend to overeat to the point of feeling sick. When we restrict our access to the foods we desire, we initiate the cycle of binging.
Meanwhile, when we give ourselves regular access to them, over time, we develop resilience.
This principle is called habituation: increased exposure to a stimulus leads to a reduction in our psychological response to it.
Here’s how you can practice food habituation. However, remember that if access to that food was restricted for a prolonged period, you may still experience binging at the beginning.
Allow small amounts of your trigger foods in your house
Firstly, for a better sense of control, you can reintroduce one food at a time and pick the smaller package. Allow yourself to make that food a part of your balanced meals whenever you crave it.
Make access to the trigger food predictable
Secondly, you can choose a recurring time and a place to enjoy your trigger food regularly. For instance, you might decide to take a moment for yourself to appreciate your favourite ice cream after dinner.
Incorporate the food regularly in your diet until it is no longer associated with guilt and can be enjoyed peacefully.
Thirdly, try to connect with your meals by eating without
distractions. Some of the distractions most people encounter during meals are scrolling on their phones, reading their work emails, or catching up on their favourite shows.
Instead, focus on the food’s texture, flavour, and smell. Reflect on the joy it brings to you and the positive memories associated with it. Pay attention to the moment when it is no longer as enjoyable as it was at the first bite. Pause, and ask yourself if you want to continue eating or if you are satiated.
Repeat this process as often as you need to reconnect with the pleasure of eating your favourite foods.
To learn more about vegan mindful eating and how to cope with vegan binge eating, contact my team of plant-based registered nutritionists.
Although water is not a substitute for food, drinking enough water throughout the day can help prevent binge eating.
Not only water plays an essential role in our body’s good functioning, but it also boosts our metabolism and increases our level of energy.
Furthermore, studies show that our brains often confuse dehydration with hunger. If you’re someone who tends to forget to drink water, at times, you may confuse your thirst with hunger.
Furthermore, dehydration can cause fatigue, dizziness, and confusion, which can in turn impair our ability to make sound decisions about food.
How much water is enough?
The common belief that everyone needs to drink 8 glasses of water per day is simply not accurate.
Our water needs can vary based on numerous factors, including age, health, and physical activity.
The most accurate indication of hydration is the colour of urine; aim for a light yellow.
How can nutrition therapy help you overcome binge eating as a vegan?
In summary, eating disorders and disordered eating are common among the vegan population.
Nutrition counseling can help you better understand your relationship with food and provide you with a meal structure to prevent vegan binge eating.
Plant-based dietitians can also help you become a more mindful eater, while making sure your diet is providing you with all the essential nutrients your body needs.
Book your first session with a vegan registered dietitian now!