When talking about bingeing, it can be helpful to think of our brain as having two parts. These could be called the emotional and logical brain. In bingeing the emotional brain is in charge, for most of us, when our logical brain is fully in charge, we can withstand any impulses or compulsions to binge.

When we feel stressed, shame or extreme emotions, our emotional brain is loud and often in charge. These strong emotions often feel intensely uncomfortable, are linked to survival and were developed before we could speak. Therefore, they are felt in the body, and it is difficult to adequately describe these feelings with words. As these feelings are often stored in the primitive, emotional brain, this can make us feel like we are out of control, such as with bingeing. In these emotionally charged times, the emotional ‘binge’ brain can easily win over our logical brain. Our logical brain usually doesn’t want to binge.
When we want to binge, we are out of our calm, relatively comfortable daily life mode where we feel safe. In this green zone, we have a steady heart rate, full ability of facial expressions, are at relative ease with social engagements, are feeling calm and able to relate to others. Our digestion functions properly.
When those visceral emotions kick in, we go into our binge zone. These are often called amber or red zones of fight, flight, or freeze. In amber, fight, or flight, we sense danger and mobilise. We may have excess energy, feel restless and anxious. We lose full control of our facial muscles, which may feel tense, and our voice may change, we feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to focus on what other people are saying. Our digestion slows. This can progress to red where we freeze and feel as if our life is in danger, we may shut down. We tend to have a slower heart rate and may feel faint. We feel the red zone in our guts, our face may feel blank, and our voice is weak. Our digestion fails and we may feel sick.
Distracting ourselves can take us away from the visceral discomfort by calming our nervous system and help us feel safe and therefore more able to control our eating. When we are in the green calm zone, our logical brain is more often in charge, and we are much less likely to binge.
Steps for switching on our logical brain:
The first step to distracting ourselves from these intense feelings is noticing it is happening. When we notice that we are becoming emotionally uncomfortable, we can take steps to calm ourselves down. Unless we are feeling calm, it is very difficult to avoid bingeing impulses.
  1. Notice emotional discomfort.
Signs include feeling numb, hot, breathless, dizzy, overwhelmed, ‘itchy’, restless, or sick. It is always wise to see your GP if you regularly experience any of these symptoms to rule out other causes. However, if it is due to emotional discomfort, when you feel any of these things, then it is likely that bingeing urges may soon follow.
  1. Breathe.
Slow deep breaths relax your nervous system and calm you down. When we are feeling calm, we are more likely to manage bingeing triggers.
Sometimes breathing on its own does not feel enough and we need something more to help us calm down, switch our logical brain on and avoid bingeing. Distraction can help with this.
  1. Distraction.
You could try some different strategies to distract yourself so you can get bac into the calm green zone, so that you are ‘safe’ from freeze, fight, flight or bingeing. In the calm green zone, your logical brain can look after you and make sensible decisions.
Some of these distractions can also self-soothe which also helps to calm down that emotional brain and feel more able to manage bingeing impulses.
Here are some ideas to try, different things will work for different people and some of these may even be triggering for some people, so only try things that appeal to you.
Experimenting with what might work for you is also a distraction as it gives you a logical purpose when you notice those bingeing triggers.
A lot of these ideas stimulate your physical senses so that you can be more in the moment, or mindful, which helps us switch on our logical brain and find space from the uncomfortable thoughts and discomfort.

  • Splash cold water on your face.
  • Use a particular scent which reminds you of calm.
  • Light a candle (safely).
  • Find things that you can touch, hear, see, smell and taste.
  • Write what is going through your mind and describe how you feel.
  • Draw your feelings.
  • Have a mascot object that reminds you that you can manage bingeing. Go and get it.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Jump up and down.
  • Do some yoga.
  • Listen to an audiobook, to reconnect with a human voice.
  • Listen to music that makes you happy and relaxed.
  • Cuddle a pet or another person.
  • Put on your favourite music and dance around the house (the sillier the better).
  • Scream (if you won’t scare anyone).
  • Smile even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Make a noise that expresses how you are feeling.
  • Do a power pose.
  • Phone a friend.
  • Do something for someone else.
  • Do something that you have been avoiding.
  • Write a list of things that annoy you on loo roll and flush it away.
Some of these things might sound simple or silly, but these things all have the ability to change our mindset, help us find calm, release emotions or help us escape from the feeling of compulsion and lack of control.
Although it may take an effort to start with, changing behaviour takes practice. The more we practice, the easier it becomes. It is a bit like going to the gym, rather than training physical muscles, we are training binge-resistance muscles and building confidence in being able to manage what can feel like uncontrollable bingeing impulses.
Binge Eating Therapy

I specialise in eating disorders and have 17 years’ experience as a behaviour change and obesity prevention scientist at Cambridge University. I’ve been there and I get it, and now support people with binge eating, emotional eating, weight loss struggles, and bulimia.
I help clients discover and take charge of their hidden eating triggers and transform their relationship with food. Sessions often focus on getting freedom from constant thoughts about food and weight and escaping the cycle of yo-yo dieting and weight gain. Gain understanding about what has prevented you from recovery in the past so you can overcome that, and live life without restriction or bingeing.
I combine counselling, to understand and overcome emotional barriers, with the strategies and tools of health coaching. The combination of counselling and coaching is powerful for making lasting change.

Hear from people who have worked with me...

"Kirsten supported me through a really difficult time when I was using binge-eating to avoid feelings around a relatively new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. My binge-eating had a seriously negative impact on my mental health, self-esteem and relationships. With Kirsten’s help and expertise, I finally have my life back and it changed my life. I cannot thank her enough and fully recommend her services. Thank you Kirsten."

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The information in this website is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr Kirsten Keighley on behalf of Dr Kirsten Keighley Ltd. We recommend you make your own health decisions based on your own research and consultation with a qualified health professional. We recommend that you consult your and your child’s doctor and/or dietician before beginning a new diet or exercise programme.