I used to struggle with bingeing, some of my clients struggle with bingeing, and I know many of you struggle with bingeing. So, whether you struggle with big binges or consistently overeating, I hope this posts helps to give you the guidance you need on how to treat yourself AFTERWARDS.
For me, binges used to be a release. I’d get home from a long day of working (and dieting) and out of hunger, I’d walk over to the cupboard. If I couldn’t find something quick and healthy and tasty to make within 2.5 seconds, I’d reach for the quickest thing.
Just one chocolate. Just one chip. Just one cracker.
And then I’d get the taste for it (which would be incredible) and would want more instantly. I’d continue to promise myself “okay, just one more.” Sometimes, I’d even walk away, and then right back to the cupboard.
This would continue until I’d had so many snacks that whatever dinner was on my mind would no longer be an option (or so I thought). I’d snacked so much that it felt too weird to then say “okay, now make dinner.” However, I’d still be unsatisfied, due to the fact that all I’d done was snack (while standing).
So I’d make a dinner that felt in line with my binge. A dinner that allowed me to “be bad” since I’d already “messed up” and was going to have to “be better” tomorrow. Like, a plate of nachos. Or, a grilled cheese. Or, the leftover pizza that was in the fridge. Things that were quick and normally “forbidden.”
I’d continue the eating fest until my stomach hurt so much that I physically couldn’t eat anymore. I’d feel gross. Part of me would wish I could take the binge back and the other part of me thought that perhaps I’d ate so much, and grossed myself out so much, that it would finally be my last binge.
OH, HOW I WANTED IT to be my last binge.
However, as the story goes… and as I learned over time… bingeing yourself out of bingeing is NEVER the way that binge eating stops. NEVER. When we binge, we’re just continuing to build the habit and momentum of bingeing. We’re really just getting better at BINGEING.
So, to take a different route… if you’re like I was and WANT to stop bingeing, here are some more productive steps that you can take after a binge (instead of promising to be better, or even telling yourself while you’re bingeing that this will be the last time – never true, by the way).
Guilt never helps
First of all, I want to start by sharing a lesson that it took me a long time to learn: guilt never helps.
When we feel guilty about food choices we’ve made, it only leads us to feel worse about ourselves, and therefore ends up keeping us stuck in a cycle of feeling bad (aka, eating more junk food – we already feel bad, so what’s the point?).
Sometimes this guilt sets in DURING the binge. The guilt gremlin is the one that sounds like “this is so bad. Why do you always do this? Why can’t you stop doing it? Seriously, this has to be your last time. You’re never going to do this again. Just stop. Tomorrow, you should be SO much better.”
The guilt gremlin is also the one that fires up that self-talk that tells you you’ve been SO BAD today, but tomorrow, you’ll wake up wanting to be so good. You’ll have so much willpower. TOMORROW will be the start of a clean slate.
NO. This is the guilt gremlin, feeling bad about the binge, trying to make up for it…
Let the guilt go with self-compassion.
Instead of holding on to the guilt (which will eventually turn into shame – “I AM bad” – if we don’t let it go) we want to work on forgiving ourselves. What can help here is self-compassion.
Self-compassion might sound like saying to yourself what I or a best friend might say to you:
“Wow, Paige. You had such a long day, with so much activity, and you’re so over tired. You probably needed more food today, and didn’t even realize it. Anyone would feel this way after a long day and little food. No wonder it was so easy to binge on snacks before dinner. Next time, on a day like such as this I’ll try to eat fuller meals more regularly through the day – maybe pack a good sized sandwich with fruit and chips for lunch, and bring some of my own satisfying/feel-good snacks to have on hand. Maybe even have one of these snacks on my drive home from work so I’m not famished when I walk through the door.”
Self-compassion helps to make sense of the situation (to put yourself in your own shoes and be NICE to yourself) while also making a gentle plan for later. It assumes that you’re not alone in anything – this happens to other people too. You’re not bad, it’s okay. Let’s get through it.
Neutral thinking & eating normally the next day
Next, avoid any extreme thinking like: “I’m going to be good tomorrow” or, “I’ll eat totally clean tomorrow.”
What this does, is put a TON of unrealistic pressure on us when we’re already in a vulnerable state of not feeling well.
Instead, we want to have a neutral mindset around food:
“I’ll eat normally tomorrow. I’ll have three full meals, and if I need snacks, I’ll have that too. I’ll keep myself well fed and treat myself well. I know from my past that putting pressure on myself and trying to eat less or super clean only backfires. It’s better to be neutral. I deserve to feel good and eat normally tomorrow.”
The truth is, you’re going to wake up the same person you were the night of the binge. You’re not going to be superwoman who all of the sudden is graced with the worlds strongest will power. No, and we don’t want that. You don’t NEED that.
Instead, we need to learn to think more in the middle; not so black and white or extreme. Here are some examples of shifting our thinking:
I’m going to eat perfectly clean tomorrow –> I’m going to eat normally tomorrow, and have three regular meals, and snacks if I’m hungry.
I’m going to exercise PERFECTLY this week –> I’ll aim to exercise a few times, and I’ll encourage myself along the way, but there’s no pressure here. We’re doing this to feel good and move more, that’s all.
(Simi and I talk go more in depth about eating normally in session 7 of Finally Free)
You see, the extreme thinking is over-rated. And most of us don’t like being told what to do. So why are we out here telling ourselves what we have to do all the time? We’re obligating our future selves to act perfectly – and deep down, we hate that.
We’re assuming that tomorrow and for the next week we’ll all of the sudden have the desire to “be and do perfectly.” NO. Not the truth. Your future self is going to be the same you who is sitting here reading this post right now. So give her a break. Help her to build a life that feels good and is pleasurable.
I hope this post helps and encourages you! Let’s live fuller, more loving lives TOGETHER.