15 Steps to Having a Successful Thanksgiving without Binge Eating

Thanksgiving can be a nightmare for anyone dealing with binge eating, bulimia or other compulsive eating issues.  For many people, being around the stress of family coupled with giant amounts of food can be a recipe for acting out excessively with food.  Be prepared before you go to Thanksgiving Dinner.

1.)Have an intention around food and drinking. Think about what you are going to choose to eat and drink and how much. Making this intention will help you to empower yourself around food and alcohol rather than  letting the food take over.  Share this intention with a family member or supportive friend or a therapist.

2.)If you don’t have anyone supportive at the Thanksgiving meal, see if you can bring a a support resource with you, a friend who might be going through recovery with you or someone you feel safe with. If you cannot do that, have a support person who you can talk to on the phone intermittently throughout the meal.

3.)Make sure that you eat a good solid breakfast before you go to Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t show up hungry. If you do, your hunger might take over and squelch your intention.

4.)Just because there are several new and interesting foods there, you don’t have to eat everything. Make sure that you let yourself have a solid dinner, with protein, vegetables and a starch if you wish. If you just snack or graze on a bunch of different foods, you will inevitably wind up feeling unsatisfied, as though you’ve not really had a meal. This could lead to feeling too full and trigger a binge.

5.)Talk to people in rooms away from food. You don’t have to sit on a couch in front of a giant platter of cheese and crackers and nuts and hors d’œuvres talking to your aunt. Try to concentrate on conversations with  people.

6.)Eat slowly and mindfully. It’s not a race to the end. You can enjoy good food and good conversation.

7.)Don’t compulsively overexercise in anticipation of “eating extra calories.”  It will leave you very tired and hungry, again, unable to empower yourself to hold your intention.

8.)Take walks or time outs. Let yourself leave the situation and take mini breaks. Let yourself get away from the stress of the food and the stress of family that sometimes exists.  If it’s too cold or not realistic for you to leave, take your cell phone into another room and say you need to make an important call and talk to your support person.

9.)Bring your journal with you so that you can sit and relax and process your feelings during the meal rather than stuff your feelings.

10.)Bring your ipod with some mediation music or relaxing music that puts you in a calm mood.

11.)Make a gratitude list! Think about what you are grateful for during the holiday.

12.)If there are children there, spend time playing with them. If there are elders there, spend time talking to and getting to know them. Both things that will be enriching and get your mind off of food.

13.)Mediate. Sit quietly in the bathroom for five minutes and take deep slow breaths into your belly. Inhale slowly  to the count of five and exhale slowly to the count of five. This will calm your body and allow you to let go of any stress or anxiety that your body is holding on to.

14.)Remember that if it seems like it might be too hard this year,  you don’t have to go. It’s true, you might let some people down. But you can always explain to them that it’s important for you to take care of yourself in this way this year. If you don’t think that they’d be amenable to this, or you think that they will accuse you of being self centered or self absorbed, don’t offer any explanation that might leave you vulnerable to being shamed or insulted.

15.)Create loving boundaries for yourself. Think of your inner child and think about how you would help your child if they wanted to eat all the pie and all the mashed potatoes. You would be kind and understanding but explain to them that you didn’t want them to get a bellyache! So of course they are allowed to eat pie and mashed potatoes, but in moderate amounts. A good rule of thumb, keep portion sizes for your Thanksgiving treats to about the size of the palm of your hand.

For information on how to help a loved one with an eating disorder, please read this article.

I would love to know what kind of intentions people are setting to make their Thanksgiving safe and fun this year. Please don’t hesitate to post your Thanksgiving intentions in the comments. If you have any additional ideas on how to make the holiday safe, please post those as well!


Q & A Friday- How can I avoid binges in the college dining hall?

This one comes to us from a reader in Vermont.

I am a junior in college and struggled with bulimia last semester. It got pretty bad but over the holidays I was able to recover and am now doing much better. However, now that I am back at school, I am finding it difficult to avoid binges in the dining hall. It is an ‘all you can eat’ system, with many many options at every meal. I usually find that I eat a healthy meal, but then fall to temptation for desserts, and end up eating a lot of chocolate chips or oreos or other desserts even when I am not hungry, just out of greediness. I am afraid of falling back into my old habits and I really want to avoid that since I feel so much better now. I have found several things that help with binges outside of meal times (drinking tea, water, making sure I get a protein-filled breakfast, etc.) Do you have any tips or advice on how to avoid dining hall binges, and how to avoid getting up for seconds or thirds out of greediness instead of out of hunger, particularly for desserts and sweets?
Thank you so, so much I really appreciate your help!


Hi D,

First off, congratulations on your recovery from bulimia. It’s awful to go through and challenging to recover from.

You’re certainly not the only person suffering from dining hall overwhelm. With an amazing amount of choices, and long leisurely meals that accompany the college lifestyle, it’s hard not to have some trouble with bingeing in school if you are prone to it.

1.)Before you start your meal, set your intention about what and how much you are going to eat.

2.)Make sure that when you make your meal, you eat enough. Don’t skimp or restrict.  This will set up a binge. Have a good amount of protein and a lot of vegetables and salad and perhaps a cup of soup, food that will take you a long time to eat so that you have food on your plate for a while.

3.)When you go up for desert, grab some fruit, an apple or an orange, or a grapefruit,  something that is relatively labor intensive so that it takes you some time to unpeel and to eat.

4.)Make sure that you have some healthy snacks in your dorm room or apartment so that you don’t have that sense of “I have to eat as much as I can now.” I went to a tiny liberal arts college in the middle of the woods in Upstate New York in the 90s. There was no way to get food between meals as there were no stores around or public transportation to get off of campus to get food. If you didn’t have a car, you were screwed. This kind of set up a hoarding mentality around food where we would eat as much as we could at each meal or make loads of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep in our rooms in case it was too cold or snowy to walk to the dining hall later.  Making sure that you  have  a good supply of healthy food in your room will save you from thinking that you have to be full or that you have to eat as much as you can in the moment because you might not have food later.

5.)Don’t restrict yourself. No “I can’t have any desert or any chocolate” because that line of polarized thinking can set up a binge. Instead, say something like, “If I want it I can have it.” Before you get up, ask yourself if you really want it and if you really need it, if the answer is no, try to sit through it and let it go. If the answer is yes, get yourself one or two cookies or one small serving and eat your choices slowly and mindfully, savor them. Tell yourself that you can have another serving tomorrow, so that there is not a feeling of, “I have to eat all these cookies now because as of tomorrow, no more cookies ever again.”

6.)Whenever you get up, always have your tea cup with you so that if you find you are getting up compulsively because you are anxious or fidgety,  you can refill with herbal tea rather than compulsively getting food.

7.)Don’t stay in the dining hall that long. Go in for a short amount of time, eat a healthy meal, then get up and leave when you are done.  If you feel you’re missing out on social time, just tell people that you’ll catch up with them later. It’s important to take care of yourself implicitly. Your social life will suffer more if you are dealing with an eating disorder or an obsession with food as will your studies. Taking care of yourself around food will help you all around, even socially and academically.

8.)Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. Not sleeping enough can make one reach for sweets for energy and alertness.

I hope that this is helpful. Does anyone else have any good tips for dealing with the dining hall? Please post in the comments!

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Friday Q & A- How do I know if what I'm eating actually constitutes a binge?


Submitted via email from Rachel in Wilmington, NC

Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m actually bingeing.  How do I know if a binge is really a binge?  Last night I thought that I had binged. I ate two apples and two slices of toast after dinner. I was furious with myself, but my husband said that it wasn’t a binge. It felt like a binge because I wasn’t hungry. I was just grabbing food for no reason. But my husband said that two apples and two slices of toast aren’t a binge. I think it was. Was it?


Hi Rachel,

That’s a complicated question without a clear answer. In order to deconstruct it, let’s first look at the proposed diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder:

1. eating, in a discrete period of time (for example, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances

2. a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (for example, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)

B. The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:

1. eating much more rapidly than normal

2. eating until feeling uncomfortably full

3. eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

4. eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating

5. feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards

C. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.

D. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.

E. The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (for example, purging) and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

So in terms of the amount of food you ate, it probably would not be considered a binge. However, what is important here is that a.)You ate when you were not hungry and b.)You say that you were furious with yourself.

This is an opportunity to try and understand what was driving you to eat. Were you bored? Were you tired? Were you procrastinating or trying to avoid something? Were you depressed? How do you know that you weren’t hungry? Did you eat enough during the day or at dinner?

Every time you eat when you aren’t hungry, it’s not necessarily a binge, but sometimes, it is an attempt to meet some unidentified need that you are having. When you are heading to the kitchen after dinner, it’s important to check in with what you are feeling and really think about what’s happening. In recovery, there is a saying: H.A.L.T. Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?

Having a snack or a desert after dinner or before bed is fine. But, as you begin to recover, watching yourself with an observing ego (the part of you that watches what you do and say without judgment or agenda, your own internal therapist), can be incredibly illuminating to better understand your eating patterns, and  your patterns of guilt or shame associated with eating.

The fact that you felt so angry with yourself after you ate these things is poignant. So much of binge eating disorder is wrapped up in guilt and shame. As if eating too much is a crime against humanity. We put so many judgments on food and eating. Food is not a moral issue. A cookie is not bad and a carrot is not good. They are just food. Eating a carrot doesn’t make you virtuous nor does eating a cookie make you bad. It’s difficult to conceptualize that because we are so conditioned by the media to split foods and eating behaviors into “good” or “bad.” But eating 2 apples and 2 pieces of bread doesn’t make you bad.

The irony is that you are so angry at yourself when in reality, the binge indicates that you are needing some compassion, especially from yourself. There is something going on emotionally that needs tending to. So, when you find yourself angry at yourself for something that you’ve eaten, dig a little deeper. This is a good indication that you are needing self care and self love.

As you begin to “catch” these behaviors and your instincts to eat when you are actually needing something else, (such as talking to your husband, getting sleep, taking a bath, writing in your journal, talking to your best friend) you will find that your compulsions to binge decrease. This is because you are learning to tend to your needs rather than stuff them with food and the guilt that comes with it. You will remember that eating only temporarily relieves whatever pain you are having. You will have to deal with it at some point and unfortunately, the guilt and shame associated with binge eating will only serve to compound your pain and possibly deflect from what you are really needing to pay attention to. Guilt, shame, and self loathing after a binge are a great indicator that you need to be giving yourself compassion.

So, again, think about what was happening for you emotionally before you went for the toast and apples and try to find some kindness for yourself.

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to  bingeeatingtherapy at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Holding On…

Sometimes, a binge can be a way to hold tightly onto very uncomfortable emotions; like fear, like depression, like pain, like sadness, like anxiety… Sometimes, when a feeling begins to show through, the instinct would be to push it down tightly by eating and making the feeling go away.  Unfortunately, this is temporary. Very temporary. It ends up making you feel even worse about yourself. Feeling horribly uncomfortable in your body, feeling angry at yourself for the binge and feeling all the uncomfortable effects of overeating especially sugar, flour, alcohol and other foods that can make you feel tired, foggy and depressed.

So, when you feel a binge coming on,  experiment with letting go.

Write about it. What are you feeling? What hurts? What are you afraid of?

Tell someone. Talk about your fear and your anxiety. Confront it. Don’t let it be bigger than you. Don’t try to push it down. It will come back at you with a vengeance.

How? Carry a journal around with you, start an anonymous blog, talk to supportive people, sit alone and meditate, take a slow meditative walk, try to relax before you take that first step toward a binge…


Month after month, my clients come in after suffering miserably for the whole week before their periods, wishing they could take back the previous week, having binged the whole week before. What is it about PMS that makes us so bingey?

I can’t tell you that I know what makes us get to the point that we’re eating a bag of lays, a box of cupcakes and a whole pizza, but I can tell you that it makes our hormones go crazy. GO CRAZY!  And as our brains are attempting to balance our hormones, we become deficient in seratonin. Good ole’ seratonin.

 So…  nutritionally, there are a few things that you can do to help balance your hormones.

First off, the following supplements seem to help, Magnesium, Vitamin E, a B-complex, Omega 3s and Omega 6s, and Evening Primrose Oil.  Take low dosage daily throughout the month. Even a potent vitamin mineral formula for women should be good.

Because there are so many hormones in meat and dairy products, I’d reccommend switching to Organic meat and dairy if it’s viable for you.

Something else that you can do is place a castor oil pack over your liver during your time of the month. This is done by soaking a or flannel cloth with castor oil and applying it to the lower right side of your abdomen. Cover the cloth with saran wrap, and then apply a heating pad over this pack. You can just let yourself relax, maybe watch a fun movie or read a book while it’s there. It should be very relaxing to you and supposedly will help to detoxify your liver and balance hormones.

Relaxation is key, because your body is working very hard during your time of the month and you will attempt to take care of yourself through food. Clearly, it’s not the best medicine.

Remind yourself that you are having PMS and that it’s time to be gentle with yourself.


I can’t tell you that I fully understand anxiety.  I’m not sure why some people are controlled by their anxiety and some people are fully able integrate life into their day-to-day without being ruled by anxiety.

Anxiety is fear on caffeine pills.

Often times, binges come out of anxiety. The flood of seratonin that you get from the binge will help calm you down. Hellish bliss. Because then, comes all the anxiety from the binge.  Did I just make myself fat? Am I fat? Should I purge? What should I do? I just ruined it!

Anxiety is not simple. And it’s sneaky. Even if you try to interupt your thoughts, it will come back in other ways.

Delving into the anxiety is one way that I believe it will begin to dissipate.

Sometimes a thought pops up. And then, before you know it, your head is in the refrigerator. Possibly going back to the thought again and again and being with the anxiety a bit until the shock of it dulls a bit.

And then following the anxiety to the source of it.

for example: “I look fat… If I look fat, people won’t like me. If people don’t like me, no one will want to be around me. My boyfriend/girlfriend will leave me, I’ll never find someone to love me, I’ll be completely alone and then I’ll die alone and rats will eat my decaying body…”

Most anxiety, in it’s truest form is existential angst, the fear of death or being alone and dying alone.  Anything that we can do to lessen that fear, (which puts us in a place of uncomfortable, heightened state of vigilance) we will do. Bingeing is certainly one way to lessen anxiety.  But clearly not the healthiest. And it becomes a vicious cycle.

Other ways to work with anxiety.

1. Acceptance– when you accept that you have no control over life, an amazing sense of peace drapes over you. Also known as surrender.

2. Meditation— lessens anxiety. Allows you to be in the present moment.

3. Exercise– being in your body and in the moment gets you out of your head and helps you stop “future tripping.”

4. Sleep– getting enough sleep balances brain chemistry to help lessen anxiety as well.