Oof: you’ve done it again – you ate all the cookies, all the chips and the pizza box is empty...and you feel gross and ashamed. What to do after a binge so you don’t have to feel this way again?
Friend, this post is for you.
In this post I'm going to share with you exactly what to do after overeating so you can start feeling FAB and stop feeling guilty! You can let Intuitive Eating be your guide for breaking this cycle, once and for all.
First of all, what is a “binge” exactly?
What is a binge?
Before we can describe what to do after a binge, let’s first explain what a binge is exactly.
A binge is eating a lot of food in a short amount of time. And I’m not talking about having an extra bowl of cereal here. I’m talking about unusually large amounts of food. During a binge, you don’t feel in control and you want to hide the behavior: you feel ashamed.
If this behavior continues, you may qualify for a diagnosis of Binge Eating Disorder.
And Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. BED is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder. It is characterized by:
- Recurring episodes of eating large quantities of food: often very quickly and usually to the point of discomfort
- A feeling of a loss of control during the binge
- Feelings of shame or guilt afterwards
- Not regularly purging
To be diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder, you have to meet specific criteria for three months. If you’re looking for help or support, I recommend visiting the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) helpline.
Is that the same thing as overeating?
Binge eating and overeating are not the exact same thing; I used the binge eating term in the title because that is often what people are looking for help with online.
Overeating can also be distressing, but it is less severe than Binge Eating Disorder. This can seem like a fine line, but you can keep in mind that we are talking about behavior along a spectrum.
Overeating is eating more than you might usually eat in one sitting...but it’s not an absurdly large amount of food for a person to consume (think an extra bowl of cereal VS a few boxes). Kind of like enjoying Thanksgiving dinner or having an extra slice of pizza because it is delicious, but less about feeling out of control.
Your belly might be giving you some feedback: oof! Information to reflect on, but nothing extreme.
This article is more geared towards folks who are overeating (i.e. without a diagnosis). While these strategies can help everyone, I recommend seeking professional help if you suspect that you might have BED.
Does this sound like you?
Let me describe a scenario and tell me if you can relate.
It's Sunday evening, you hop into bed after a loooong, jam packed weekend. I'm talking about the kind where you feel like you never even got a chance to sit down. As you reflect on the events from the past couple of days you think to yourself "Man, I ate like poop."
Or maybe you weren't super busy, and you plain and simple made some food choices that made your body feel not so great...again...and again…
Maybe you were feeling anxious or defeated by another long week and the only thing that felt good was some serious Netflix and snacks...but you just couldn’t find the brake pedal...and now you’re feeling embarrassed.
Where is the willpower that everyone else seems to have?
Does this sound familiar?
Well, that's me. Right now. As I am typing this. Between a super stressful week that induced some ice cream indulgence on Friday, a birthday party on Saturday and an anniversary party on Sunday, my body is physically feeling less than thrilled with my eating habits this weekend.
Tell a girl what to do after a weekend of overeating already, right?!
What to do after a binge? Three steps:
Ready to learn what to do after a binge or overeating? Basically, it is a three-step process.
- Identify why you think the binge happened to begin with (clue: it has nothing to do with you being a bad person or your lack of willpower. More on that in a sec).
- Reflect on the whole experience with curiosity, not judgment (far easier said than done, I know!).
- Move on (really!).
Let’s break each step down further and discuss how to actually do it.
Step 1: Identify the why
People binge eat for two main reasons: they have restrictive food rules and/or they’re not eating enough. Or...both.
Not eating enough
Fuel is not optional. Just like your car really can’t function without gas, your body cannot function without consistent fuel and hydration.
Just because an app says you “need” this many calories or servings doesn’t mean that you can thwart biology and skip the fuel you need.
If you’re eating less food than you need, your body tries to get your attention with hunger.
“Hello? Is anyone home? We need a refill, please!”
But if you continue to ignore your hunger, your body will get more creative and persistent. It’s its job!
Check out this blog post, Signs of Hunger: Your Body Wants Your Attention, if you’re worried that you’re missing out on your body’s hunger cues.
If you do continue to ignore or miss your body’s cues, things can get extreme. Once again, this has nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with biology. Check out The Truth About Extreme Hunger for more info.
The other reason you might overeat or binge? Too many dang rules!
Too many restrictive rules
Do you have a running list of which foods are “good” or “bad?” Do you have a long list of special requests when ordering your usual meals at a restaurant?
There is so much that you can micromanage if you wish...but I wish you wouldn’t. Having restrictive rules sets you up for feeling resentful...and your next binge.
Wanna know how many rules I recommend around food?
Not a stinking one. We don’t need rules to be healthy and happy.
I cover binge eating more in-depth in this blog post: Why Binge Eating Happens: The 2 Types.
For now, it is time for step two of our three-step process.
Step 2: Reflect on the experience
We sure do give hunger and eating a negative reputation. But do we blame our bladder for letting us know that it is time for a pit stop? Of course not!
But diet culture has us thinking about eating, hunger and weight in so many convoluted ways. But the truth is: hunger is just a signal that our body needs something.
We eat for a lot of reasons (and we skip eating for even more reasons). We might have hunger because we need food, we’re craving a specific thing or because we need comfort or entertainment. All are 100% valid – really!
Reflecting on an eating experience – with curiosity instead of judgement – allows us to get to know ourselves better as well as to build trust with our own body. Just like your friends need to know that you’ll respond to their needs, your body needs that same trust, too.
If you discover that sometimes you’re eating because you’re bored, I have a few strategies for you, here: How To Stop Boredom Eating In 4 Steps.
No matter what you discover, the idea is to let it all go. You don’t need to hold onto embarrassment or shame: you just tallied some data. That’s it! And that’s valuable data to use for next time to achieve a more comfortable outcome.
Step 3: Move on and let go
Let it go (Let it go, turn away and slam the door).
Give yourself a pat on the back for reflecting on your data about your recent experiences. Keep the information that was useful and let the rest go.
What to do after overeating? So many of us try to compensate for overeating by exercising a lot, eating less and generally making ourselves miserable. The only thing that “works” is the making yourself miserable part.
Trying to compensate will backfire
When we cut calories and/or over exercise, our bodies turn up the thermostat on our hunger hormone, ghrelin, driving us to want to eat even MORE. This will lead you to the restrict-binge cycle that is SO vicious.
I recommend continuing to eat normally. Trying to "make up" for it will only set you up for another round of eating way past fullness. Including a wide variety of foods is key. Adding in some protein and fiber can help to keep you full, satisfied, and keep your gut (and bowels) moving along!
Your body will adjust accordingly.
Our bodies know when we take in more than we need and will account for that. Either by an increase in energy for some in physical activity or lessening your hunger the next day; it'll adjust. Our bodies also have a "weight thermostat" if you will, and they want to keep us within our set point weight range. You can learn more about the set point weight theory here! Also to note, you may have eaten a larger than normal amount due to your body needing it!
You're building trust with your body.
Let me explain. So, if we never let our bodies eat a slice of cake or fried food EVER, it's going to want those off-limit foods even more. Allowing yourself to eat these foods when you want lets your body know that these foods are allowed if you want them – taking away the desire to rebel with "bad" foods. Make sense?
You can use this as a learning experience.
I firmly believe nothing is bad and everything can be a learning experience. Take a look at what happened and ask yourself, "What can I learn from this?" Maybe you learned that 5 slices of cake didn't feel good. Or that you showed up to the party SO hungry that it might be a good idea to have a snack before you go next time.
Maybe you learned that you ate the entire carton of ice cream because you were upset and that it might be a good idea to work on creating some other coping mechanisms. Take a look at the situation, learn from it, and create a plan for next time. My Emotional Self Care blog has some great ideas for tending to your emotional needs, in addition to food.
Skip the wallowing
I mean, really, what good is beating yourself up over food choices going to do? Nothing but make you wallow, which would probably lead to more bad food choices out of self-pity.
Morally wrong? Nope.
It's just food.
So, if you are in the same boat as me this Monday morning, I hope you choose to move on also. Think back on how the weekend was spent while indulging in those foods. I definitely don't regret the cake... that I ate at the Birthday party I threw my dog... Not kidding.
Practice builds confidence
I’ll never really say “practice makes perfect” because at the end of the day, we are human and imperfect. And that is how it should be.
But like any new skill, it takes practice to build confidence and to build competence. The more we practice, the easier it will feel to do it.
Along the way, know that there will be more lessons learned...and you may have more episodes of binge eating and overeating. But with time, you’ll learn to build a life with freedom from rules...and from binges.
Can you stop mid binge?
What if you’re practicing these new skills and find yourself feeling out of control? It can be possible to stop (but please don’t be upset with yourself if you can’t this time).
I have one key question I ask myself if I need to feel centered: I always ask myself, how does the food taste?
This simple question will bring you instantly back to the present moment and take you off of autopilot. Here you’re more likely to connect with yourself and understand if you want to continue eating, or if you’re ready to stop.
Key takeaways: what to do after a binge
Friend, I can tell you right now that you deserve freedom from this endless cycle of overeating, feeling guilty, restricting and doing it all over again.
With the right tools and support, practice AND patience, you can build new patterns that help you to feel great.
Ready to take charge? Download my free guide, the Ultimate 5-Step Guide To Food Freedom. If you’re sick of feeling consumed with food thoughts 24/7 and want to eat the foods you LOVE without guilt, this guide is for you!
Need more guidance? Be sure to checkout my YouTube channel for more tips to help in your intuitive eating journey and take the no food rules quiz which will tell you what's holding you back from truly finding food freedom and give you customized resources (and a workbook!) to overcome it!