Binge Eating: 6 Strategies to Take Control (cont.)

Special occasions are part of a complex web of hobgoblins that ensnare us in spite of our good intentions. Stress, loneliness, boredom, and feelings of deprivation all contribute.

Deprivation is one of the big ones for dieters, says Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, CD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Dieting for some people means skipping meals and getting overly hungry," she says. "That could cause a binge. You'll crave the foods you're leaving out."

Can You Stop Mid-Binge?

One way to turn off a binge is to get away from the stimulus, says Christian Crandall, PhD, professor of social psychology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

"Drop the candy in a Dumpster," Crandall says. "If you're home alone, call someone to come over who will interfere with your ability to binge, or leave home and go out in public. The car doesn't count."

Sandquist, manager of the Nutrition and Diabetes Center at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., says while it's not easy to stop mid-binge, it is possible. First, ask yourself if the binge is really worth it.

Then notice what triggered the binge. "For example, if I get overtired I tend to eat too much," says Sandquist. "We need to learn how to express ourselves and find out what we need instead of food for comfort."

Finally, write down your strategies for weight control -- the ones that sustained you before the binge. And be gentle with yourself. "If you stop with five cookies instead of 10, you've made progress." Sandquist says. "It's a process."

She recommends not trying to ignore cravings, which can lead to feelings of deprivation. Instead, manage them by enjoying bite-sized indulgences.

For example, you can satisfy a chocolate craving with a small piece of dark chocolate: "Make it an event. Give it 10 or 15 minutes." Alternately, she suggests, "try low-fat chocolate milk, or mix unsweetened cocoa, nonfat milk, and artificial sweetener."

If you're tempted to think -- as dieters often do -- that once you've blown your diet you might as well keep on going, consider what Katz has to say:

"No matter how good a person you are or how good a driver you are, if you drive far enough, you'll eventually get a flat tire. Do you hop out of your car, pull out a pocketknife, and puncture the other three tires? That's the kind of response people have to dieting. You're cruising along, you run into trouble, but instead of fixing it and getting back on track, they do the dietary equivalent of puncturing the other three tires."

Our three experts say it's important to remember that to binge is to be human. In fact, we're hard-wired for it, says Katz, who directs the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

"Primitive people had to go long periods without eating, and the natural response to food was to eat everything in sight," Katz says. "When modern people go too long without eating, they reactivate that primal response. It becomes a behavioral pattern that propagates itself."

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