As a non-diet dietitian, here are my top tips on what to do after a binge.
What Is A Binge?
Before we discuss what to do after a binge, let’s define what constitutes a binge. A binge has two key characteristics:
- Eating a large amount of food in a short period of time.
- Feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to stop it.
In other words, there is a behavioral AND emotional component to it. The behavior is pretty standard across the board: eating a large quantity of food. However, the emotions can range from guilt, shame, fear, disgust, hopelessness, or depression.
Not sure what counts as a “large” amount of food? I won’t name calories, but I will say it’s often an amount of food that leads to severe physical discomfort. It’s more an extra snack or second helping of food here and there.
A Note On Binge Eating Disorder
It is possible to experience binge eating, without meeting the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder (BED). BED is a severe condition characterized by recurrent binges over an extended period of time. For more information and complete diagnostic criteria on BED, visit the National Eating Disorders Association.
The Binge Restrict Cycle
Here’s what most people get wrong about binge eating: they think it’s due to a lack of willpower. I hear this all the time from my clients: “If I don’t let myself keep cookies in the house, then I will stop binge eating.”
But what happens when you’re at a birthday party with cookies? What happens when your roommate bakes a batch of cookies? You eat as many cookies as possible!
This example illustrates that the problem is NOT lack of willpower. The problem IS restriction.
The top predictor of binge eating is restriction. This is explained by the Binge-Restrict Cycle.
Let’s break down each stage of this cycle:
- Restriction. Withholding a certain food, food group, or amounts of food. (For example: restricting cookies because you’re avoiding all sugar.)
- Craving. The heightened desire for the restricted food. (Wanting the cookie even more because it’s “off-limits.”)
- Binge. Feeling out-of-control around food and eating large quantities at once. (Eating multiple cookies at once because you couldn’t stop after one.)
- Guilt. The feeling of shame and defeat that follows a binge. (It’s my fault for eating too many cookies. I’m a failure.)
The cookie example is just one form of restriction. Additionally, the restriction can also look like avoiding certain food groups, like limiting carbohydrates or grains. Another common example of restriction is “eating clean” during the week leading to binge eating on the weekend.
Does This Sound Like You?
Tell me if this sounds like you:
- You’re more likely to binge eat in the evening after a day of eating “super-healthy”
- You hide the food wrappers from your family and feel like it’s your dirty secret
- You can’t help but eat a package of Oreos if they are in the house
If you said “yes” to any of the above, keep reading. I’m about to teach you what to do after a binge so that you can finally feel CALM around food.
What To Do After A Binge: 3 Tips
Tip 1: Choose compassion over criticism.
The voice of your inner critic is LOUD after a binge. It’s the voice that says: “I’m so bad for x & I always fail at y.” This type of negative self-talk is like tossing fuel on the fire of your next binge.
I understand that it might feel impossible to quiet your inner critic voice altogether. But what if you could quiet it? What if you could invite a voice of self-compassion?
Even when you can’t change the thoughts in your head, you CAN choose which one you act upon.
I highly recommend Tara Brach’s RAIN Meditation to work through this mindfulness technique of recognizing, allowing, investigating, and nurturing compassionate self-talk.
Here is a link to her 10 Minute Guided Mediation: Tara Brach Leads RAIN Meditation (bookmark this on your computer to come back to during times of need!)
Tip 2: Enjoy your next meal (don’t skip it).
After you invite compassionate thoughts, take compassionate action. Ask: What is one way I can take care of myself today? What can I do to nourish my body?
Ways to take care of your body include:
- Prioritize a good night’s sleep
- Call a friend to chat
- Watch your favorite feel-good TV show
- Take a hot bubble bath
- Enjoy gentle/joyful movement
- Eating regular meals and snacks
The inner critic would tell you to skip your next meal. But remember, this only fuels binge eating. Instead, be compassionate and respectful towards your body by eating regular snacks and meals during the day.
Tip 3: Give yourself permission to eat all foods.
Unless you have an allergy or intolerance, it’s not necessary to label food as “off-limits.” Labeling food as “bad” or “off-limits” creates a fear-based mindset around food, which can trigger overeating or binge eating. Prevent future binges by giving yourself permission to eat what you want, when you want.
When you truly believe that you can eat chocolate whenever you want it, the urgency to eat a ton of it in one sitting diminishes. This is the path to food freedom. Saying “YES” to the foods you love when you want them, but also “NO” when you don’t want them.
- Resist the urge to restrict food. Restriction fuels binges.
- Changing binge eating behavior doesn’t happen overnight. But each time you recognize the behavior, investigate non-judgementally, and choose compassion…you’re winning.
- If you feel overwhelmed trying to change binge eating behavior on your own, reach out for support! Asking for support is a sign of strength. Talk to your friends, family, or certified health professional. To chat with a non-diet dietitian, schedule your free discovery call here.