Help with Binge Eating

Of all the behaviours associated with being overweight, or having an Eating Disorder, Binge Eating Disorder is perhaps the most complex and hardest to tackle by clients.  I won’t go into the underlying factors of bingeing here in any great detail, it is enough to say that it is a form of Emotional Eating, and an activity you do in order to comfort yourself or ‘self-soothe’, or to distract yourself from something that is more difficult to think about or deal with.

The CBT based Delay, Distract, Decide tool is a useful strategy to use if you want to begin cutting down on your bingeing episodes.

When you feel the urge to binge coming on, many clients report going into a sort of fog, or disassociated state, where the urge to binge overtakes them, and it then has to ‘play itself out’ – so the feeling is one of not really being in control of the action when it’s actually happening.

When you can feel yourself moving towards a binge, before that urge completely overtakes you, stop and use this tool.   Delay-Distract-Decide-Worksheet

The principle behind this tool is that an urge to do something, for example  binge, have a drink, smoke, etc, actually only lasts several minutes.  If you can distract yourself for 20 minutes by doing something else, the urge can pass and you can avoid engaging in the behaviour.

I tell clients when using this tool that if you still want to binge after setting your alarm for 15 minutes, then go ahead.  It’s not about succeeding or failing in avoiding bingeing, it’s about trying to find different ways that work for you.  So please treat it as a trial and error strategy, which is not always going to work, and that’s ok.

The other strength of using this strategy is that if you decide after your 20 minute delay to binge anyway, then you have made a conscious decision to do so, and are not doing it from that more usual, “unaware” state that you might normally experience.  This will help to raise your awareness of bingeing and can help you stop and think about WHY you are bingeing, which is a more empowering place to be.

How to Use the Worksheet

  1. Print off a copy of the worksheet!
  2. Fill in the last section first.   This is to set your intention as to why you want to try and stop bingeing – reasons for doing it, reasons for not doing it, why you want to stop and then your ‘life goals’.  This is actually very important, because often clients put their bingeing or weight in their own way, as a barrier for getting on with their life.  I would often hear things like “I’d love to join a dance class, but I just can’t cope with everyone looking at me. When I lose the weight…..”

When you lose what Weight? What amount of Weight? What are you doing about The Weight?  Is The Weight going up or down, or staying the same? What’s changing? What’s not changing?

I write this, because that phrase “The Weight”, really drives me mad.  There is no goal, no action, no plan, attached to the phrase “Lose The Weight”.  It sounds like you have a weight in your handbag that you are planning to leave in the supermarket car park in an effort to ‘lose’ it!

So, writing down your life goals on the Delay, Distract, Decide Worksheet, reminds you of what you are NOT doing because you are bingeing.  Meet a partner, change jobs, go back to college and re-train, volunteer abroad, back pack around Asia…. it doesn’t matter what your personal goals are, the point is, you are pushing them off into some ‘never to be reached’ vague date in the future.  Writing them down on your sheet, gives you an opportunity to think of what you are NOT doing, whenever you choose to binge.  *I’ve one more thing to say about this further down.

3. Draw up a list of tasks and chores that have been hanging around on your To Do list forever.  For example:

  • Clear out my wardrobe and put a bag together for the charity shop;
  • Sort out, shred or file all my paperwork;
  • Gather up everything that needs mending, alteration or dry cleaning;
  • Clean out ‘that’ drawer or cupboard – we all have one!

You get the picture.  Have 8-10 tasks written down where you can easily find them when you need them.

4. Put your Delay Distract Decide sheet somewhere you can easily find it the next time you have an urge to binge.

5. Next time you have an urge to binge, set your alarm for 20 minutes, read your Life Goals, then get stuck into one of your tasks.  When the alarm goes – DECIDE. Will you stick with what you are doing, or binge?

* When you look at your life goals, or even the smaller “Join a dance class” type wishes you have, try this:

Write out “When I lose the weight I will……..”

Then write out “Even though… (I am not the weight I want to be), I can still… (join a dance class)… if I want to”.

Have a great day.

Emma Murphy is a Psychotherapist specialising in Eating Disorders. She designed and developed an online program for Emotional and Binge Eating, which incorporates multiple exercises and tools, including CBT methods, into the program sessions.  The program is a self-guided 12 week program, easily accessed online in a time and place that is comfortable and private for you.

This program can help you address and begin to change the relationship between your feelings and emotions, and food. You can get back into control. For more information visit  and use the code EDAW16 to get a€75 off the usual €125 cost for Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016. Valid until Sunday 6th March.