Binge Eating Therapy

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.

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