How I Overcame Binge Eating and Restrictive Eating

  • Copy by: Jackie Saffert
  • Feature Image By: Ali Inay

I grew up in a household filled with food and a mind filled with insecurity. Throughout my teen years I obsessed over my weight and always fluctuated between opposite ends of eating extremes. I was overcome with an unquenchable need to fit in—to be pretty and popular and thin. It’s the standard teenage story, right? I’m 25 now, and I can see very clearly how much all of those things didn’t actually matter. But then? It was a different story.

I convinced myself that being thin would make everything else better. I often skipped breakfast and lunch and came home, exhausted and ravenous, feeling like a complete failure as I ate everything in sight in my kitchen. From restrictive eating to binge eating, I ran the gamut of eating extremes. It was a cycle—one that caused me stress and guilt—and it was something I just couldn’t stop. Food was all about control. When I was following patterns of restriction, I felt like I was in control. When I fell into a cycle of binging, I felt like I had lost control.

These cycles continued for years, but as I got older it was binge eating that became my main source of contention. Most people looking at me wouldn’t have known I was dealing with any eating issues; I was active, physically healthy, and always an average weight. But when I was alone I would often mindlessly snack, continuing to eat until I was physically uncomfortable, and long after the initial feeling of hunger or boredom had faded. By this point I had come to feel very guilty about my relationship with food, but I didn’t know how to make myself change.

Looking back now, I can see that it wasn’t an exact moment, but rather a series of small discoveries that led me to slowly shift my eating habits.

Looking back now, I can see that it wasn’t an exact moment, but rather a series of small discoveries that led me to slowly shift my eating habits. Toward the end of college I started teaching myself how to cook. I learned about ingredients and how to make food taste good. I found a cooking guide on The Everygirl and plowed through the recipes with excitement and zest. I began to learn that eating quality food could make me feel good.

A few years later another shift occurred that led me to evolve a little more. I was stressed at work, rarely exercising, and commuting over three hours every day. All of these factors combined took a toll on my body. My once incredibly adaptive digestive system was not treating me well, I felt terrible, and out of necessity I had to make changes. I started exercising again, I truly started to focus on what (and how much) I was eating—over time I started to feel better.

Eventually, I was able to change my eating habits. Learning to cook was a small catalyst but being forced to deal with digestion issues was another. I had also gotten older and my values had changed. Instead of valuing appearance and being thin above all else, I had grown to value health and wellness.

I finally feel like I’ve made it to the other side of the metaphorical tunnel that is emotional eating. I have control over my eating habits now. Not the kind of control I used to crave, but the kind that allows me to stop eating when I’m no longer hungry; the one that makes me feel good about the choices I make.

Whether or not you have dealt with restrictive or binge eating, it’s likely that a family member or a friend has. It’s very common but not often discussed.

After more than a decade of dealing with these issues on my own, there are a few insights I’d love to share with women who may be going through something similar.

Focus on how food makes you feel.

When I healthy food, I feel so much better, my digestion is better, I have more energy, I’m less anxious, and my skin is clearer. I’ve learned that making food choices based on how I want to feel resonates more deeply and has a longer lasting effect than making food choices based on weight goals alone.

Learn to cook.

I get that we’re not all Julia Child, but I really believe that by learning to cook everyone can develop a better relationship with food and their own eating habits. Start with simple meals. Start a few times a week. Just start somewhere.

Avoid fad diets.

Low carb! Low fat! Cabbage soup diet! I have an aversion to fad diets and it’s because they just don’t seem to affect positive change. I am all about making lifestyle changes, but a diet that is highly restrictive and only meant to last for a set period of time? Not my cup of tea.

Be conscious of what you buy.

I make a point to plan a shopping list before stepping foot into a store. Planning helps curb the inevitable temptation that occurs when I pop into Target for toiletries and find myself being mysteriously drawn toward the chip and cookie aisle. Know that the scale is not your best friend. I completely understand if someone needs to use a scale to track weight for health reasons. But if you’re weighing yourself to feed your ego (and if you’re doing it constantly), it’s probably time to take a break from the habit.

Be kind to yourself.

If (and when) you don’t eat well or eat more than you intended, don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s only going to cause you more stress and will probably lead to more overeating in the future. When you overeat, simply acknowledge it and move on. We’re all human after all.

If you have your own story or piece of advice to share, I would love to hear it in the comments below.

  • thanksforthepost

    Thanks for writing this! I really identify with a lot of what you’re saying. I’ve learned over the past few months (after taking a serious look at my relationship with food) that guilt and obsession were major influences on my life without me even realizing it. I’ve learned that my whole life has been about punishing myself for eating “bad” food or “tons” of food or just food in general and all I had to show for it was a poor self image. Giving yourself credit for making choices that make you feel better and healthier is so much more constructive than bashing yourself for eating. I’m trying to stop labeling things as “good” and “bad” for me and reminding myself constantly that it’s just food! The only person who gives it power over me is me and if I learn to listen to my body instead of my mental broken record of guilt, I’ll feel better and healthier and have a better self image. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Really good advice Jackie! Cooking your own food is a self-nurturing and self-loving act that can be life-transforming if this is something you haven’t done before. It helps you control what goes through your mouth and feel good about yourself.

    I like the idea of a shopping list. But I would add some flexibility to what I cook every day otherwise it would feel like a meal plan/diet too much.

    Food markets are great not to be tempted also. Fortunately for me, my will-power is so minimal I can last only two days on a diet. But I think they suck in general. They make me obsess on food all day and eat food I wouldn’t have even considered otherwise so a triple yes for this one.

    Valuing your health and well-being over your looks and your weight, is a major key. Too bad so many people overlook it…

  • I eat healthy meals and like to cook, but I often struggle with my sweet tooth. I like what you said about paying attention to how food makes you feel, and then eating intuitively. For example, I have so much more energy when I eat avocado toast and 1/2 a grapefruit, or oatmeal with tea, instead of a pastry and coffee for breakfast! Makes a huge difference. My aunt who is a trainer always says to think of food as fuel for your body to run its best, and not of your stomach as a waste basket for junk.

  • Simpli Whimsy

    Thank you for posting this. I have suffered for many years with an eating disorder. I always had a love/hate relationship with food. About two year’s ago I was diagnosed with an IBD and new it was time for me to start accepting all types of foods and for what they are… a way to nourish yourself and enjoy the flavors of life. I try to practice Mindful Eating and it is still a struggle but loved how you shared your experience. It made me not feel alone. Thank you!

  • Nikki Laraja

    Fantastic post, thank you so much for sharing Jackie!

  • Ashley

    I am still In the struggle I weighed 128 now I’m down to 107 I go through the cycles, it never ending with me! I want to be up to my normal weight so bad in haven’t in years! And I stress about it! When I stress I noticed I get restricted on foods..I don’t know how to turn this monster around! When I was in my 20s I was in a size 7 now I can barely fit into a 2! I am very hard on my self also! I’ll go a good week and eat and eat good then it flips..right when I start gaining weight, I drop because of the eating disorder! It plays a major role in my life! I don’t know what to do? This is the first blog iv ran across! For the longest time I did not know what was wrong with me!? Please help..and thanks for your story

    • Amy

      Ashley, I know exactly what you mean by ‘the monster’! It is not easy to turn it around, but recovery is absolutely possible! I’ve been following this blog – – written by a woman who recovered from an eating disorder herself and has lots of good advice and counsel there and on her podcast. This is a particularly good episode – Good luck, you’ve already done best first step by recognizing the disorder for what it is and wanting to get help.

  • Kidd_Alpha

    There is nothing wrong with cookies. Too many cookies is the problem. Keto/Vegan/Vegetarian/Dash and on and on – they are all bunk and not sustainable. We only live once. We have taste buds for a reason. Food is supposed to be enjoyable, one of the great pleasures of life. You just have to eat everything in moderation. If you want pizza, go ahead. If you want a few cookies, go ahead. If you want to eat some Doritos, enjoy. Just don’t eat the whole pizza or 20 cookies or the whole bag of chips. Exercise daily. ENJOY LIFE. If you eat pizza for dinner, have a salad for lunch the next day and some healthy nuts. BALANCE. Scarfed down a bunch of oreos for dessert? No problem, just hit Chiptole and get a burrito bowl for dinner the next night without a ton of carbs in it. Please PLEASE just enjoy the life you have.