After a Binge: What To Do

Binge

Yesterday, I shared some tips that helped me when I was recovering from binge eating disorder. 

Very briefly, let’s discuss a truth about eating disorders—and perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind: Recovery is a process. Whatever eating disorder behaviors you're engaging in are there for a reason; they’re serving you in a some way. A huge part of recovery is learning new behaviors to replace whatever the eating disorder has been providing you. With that, it’s 100% okay to stumble along the way. New behaviors don’t often stick overnight. There are going to be days when you take a few steps backwards on the road to recovery, and this is okay. What matters is how quickly you get back on track after one of these stumbles.

With that said, here are five things that worked for me the morning after a binge— 

Get Moving

I used to binge in the evenings, right before bed. I'd wake up the next morning bloated, frustrated and sad. My first thought was aways to reach for more food to make those feelings go away. My thinking went, I've already messed up, so I might as well continue with this binge

This did not serve me.

As hard as it was, over time, I learned to force myself to get up, make the bed and get my butt moving. If you can, I highly suggest getting in a light workout the morning after a binge. Rather than burning off the food from the night before, focus on moving your body with the goal of changing your emotional state. The workout can be something as simple as a 10-minute workout in your room, some sun salutations or a brisk walk around the block.

The purpose of the morning-after workout isn’t to rid yourself of the excess calories; the purpose is to generate positive energy. When you begin a binge, your brain is flooded with dopamine from that initial rush of sugar. After a binge, you're depleted, dragging and disappointed in yourself. Through exercise, you're getting back that dopamine in a healthy and positive way. This in turn will change your energy state and improve your mood.

Eat When Hunger Strikes

The biggest mistake we tend to make when we’re trying to recover from binge eating is restricting what we eat after a binge. This never works. I remember trying to push my next meal after a binge as long as possible, but what would inevitably happen is that I’d be so ravenous once I finally let myself eat that I'd end up binging again. 

Don't be like me. When you get hungry after a binge—which I promise you will—eat. Even if part of your brain is screaming at you to push aside your hunger, make yourself eat a well-rounded meal, and let yourself enjoy it. You want to get back on your regular eating schedule as quickly as possible, and there is no need to punish yourself.

Explore Your Triggers

Here’s the thing: There’s something that led you to binge, and whatever that trigger is, it’s likely going to come up again. For example, if you were home alone, it was a Friday night, your ex sent you a text, you were feeling a little bit restless and decided to eat some cookies, which turned into a full-blown binge, all of this is data. Write this down. Examine what happened; examine what you were feeling. 

Binging is a way to take care of yourself. We binge because we’re needing something that in that moment that we don’t know how to give to ourselves. Whatever we’re feeling, whatever situation we’re facing just seems too overwhelming, so we choose to check out. The binge comforts us and makes the feelings go away—temporarily. Figuring out your triggers are is HUGE. Once you know what sets off your binges, you can track the pattern and start to understand yourself better. Sometimes forcing yourself to sit down and write out the stuff that lead to a binge isn’t fun, but it’s really rewarding when you realize that binging isn’t something that just happens to you out of the blue; it’s triggered by a set pattern.

Write Down What you Could Have Done Differently

Once you’ve explored what led you to binge, rewrite the experience. Take a few minutes to write out what you could have done differently—but write it as if it actually happened. So, instead of saying “I could have XYZ,” write, “I love that I XYZ.” Write it as if this alternative reality was real.

As you’re rewriting the experience, allow yourself to feel the emotions that go along with this alternative story. Allow yourself to experience how good it feels to give yourself something other than food in that situation. Write about how good the rest of your evening/day/week went without the binge. You want to make that reality as vivid as possible, so you start to truly believe that this is how you can respond the next time you're presented with a similar situation. You can make yourself feel this way in the future!

Reward Yourself

Okay, so here’s the thing. After a binge, we tend to beat ourselves up…a lot. But the truth is, you can’t shame yourself enough to stop binging. If you could, the binges would have stopped a long time ago.

You must be kind to yourself after a binge.

The abuse that the binge put your body through is punishment enough. The most important thing after a binge is to show yourself that you can trust yourself. Rewarding yourself doesn’t mean you are rewarding the binge; it means that you are taking care of yourself in a way the binging could not. Take a long bubble bath. Watch your favorite movie. Do something that is going to comfort yourself in the way that the binge was trying to but didn’t. You must be kind to yourself—even if it’s the last thing you want to do. The binging is a coping mechanism—albeit faulty—and you have to keep in mind that your binges are an attempt to take care of yourself. 

When I was recovering from binge eating disorder, I stumbled…a lot. There were times when I could go weeks without binging, and then I’d fall back into the habit of binging for nights in a row. It felt like the binges would never end. What I learned, though, is that what you do after a binge is vital when it comes to getting back on track and ridding yourself of the disorder. The more you can show yourself that you can take care of yourself without turning to food, the quicker the binges will stop.

And remember: There’s no shame in binging. The only shame comes from staying stuck in the disorder through self-blaming and giving up. The binges are trying to tell you something, and you must listen to yourself and realize that you have the ability to overcome this. Be patient when you stumble, pick yourself up and keep the focus on where you're going.

You can overcome this. 

Enjoying Halloween When Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder

BingeEating

I am someone who loves candy.

Like, the kind of person who would eat candy for every meal if it had the nutritional value to sustain me for the rest of my life.

It’s a serious love.

So Halloween, a day devoted to candy, is my holiday. But when I was struggling with binge eating, Halloween became a nightmare. There were years when I vowed I wouldn’t touch any candy, and sometimes I’d make it all way through October 31. But then, on November 1, not wanting the leftover, half-priced candy to go to waste, I’d buy multiple bags and binge until I couldn’t breathe.

Other years, I’d start early, and the month of October would turn into a month-long candy binge. Day after day I’d find myself at CVS, buying another bag of fun size Skittles or Snickers.

I felt completely out of control.

Since recovering from an eating disorder, Halloween looks much different. There’s no more dread as September and October approach. And while I’m still tempted by the candy aisle, I’ve learned how to indulge just enough, without my love for candy turning into an out-of-control feast.

Here are some tips that have helped me—

Have a Plan

Rather than avoid candy—which will likely lead to a binge later on—it’s super important that you give yourself whatever you’re craving. That said, if you struggle with binge eating, having a huge bag of candy in your house can spark a ton of anxiety. In this situation, I suggest planning ahead. For example, whenever you buy a bag of chips, candy, whatever might be a common binge food for you, make sure you give yourself permission to eat a little bit more than you might actually want the first night. Doing this signals to your brain that this food isn’t a scarce commodity. It also allows the novelty to wear off a little bit.

When it comes to Halloween candy, it also helped me to make sure that I ate a piece after every meal—even breakfast. Again, this allowed me to relax and realize that I was allowed to give myself candy multiple times a day. Knowing that you can have another piece of candy at the next meal calms your mind and lets it focus on other things other than food.

Create More Pleasure

One of the main reasons why anyone binges is because it’s pleasurable…until it’s not. Those first few bites of food are divine. They make all your problems seemingly disappear; all you can focus on is how good the food tastes. 

So when you’re working on stopping the behavior, it’s vital that you add more pleasure into your life—even if it’s only for a few minutes every day.

I’d often binge at night. Overeating was a way for me to relax after a long day. To combat this, I started to string together 3-5 activities that would give me a similar sense of calm that food gave me. I’d go for a walk outside right after dinner, take a long bubble bath, watch some reality TV, do my nails, call a friend.  Although in isolation none of these activities produced the instant rush that binging gave me, when I did these activities one right after the other, they created enough pleasure that I didn’t find myself reaching for candy as often. There were still times when the habit of binging took over—even after doing the activities—but I knew that what was driving the binge was just a habit, not a need for pleasure that I wasn’t giving myself. The ability to differentiate between the two helped me to stop binging because I could see that a habit was something that I could replace; it was just up to me to choose differently.

Delay Gratification & Track and Reward Progress

One of the side effects of adding a routine that will bring more pleasure to your life is that it allows you to delay a potential binge. Throughout the recovery process, I made a point of telling myself every night that I could binge if I wanted to—but only after I had done my 3-5 pleasurable activities. While the option to binge was always there, more of than not, by delaying gratification, I found I was already satisfied and didn’t feel the need to reach for food after my new nightly routine. 

Coupled with this, I made sure to track my progress. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but I’d put a little star next to the days on the calendar when I didn’t binge. Seeing my progress on the calendar gave me incentive to string together as many "star" days as possible. At the end of every binge-free week, I’d reward myself with either a new item of clothing, a manicure, a pedicure or a massage. And, on the weeks when I wasn’t as successful with my goal of not binging, I didn’t beat myself up; I promised myself to shift my focus to the next week. If you’re recovering from binge eating, there’s going to be many ups and downs. The kinder you can be to yourself, the better. This is a process, and you have to know that even during the downs, you will overcome this.

Figure Out What’s Eating at You

Binging doesn’t just happen. Usually, it can start after you’ve been restricting for a long time and your body desperately needs more calories. Sometimes, though, there isn’t any restricting involved; the binging may be a way to protect yourself or a way to give yourself attention that you're not receiving in another area of your life. There's always a good reason why you’re binging; this disorder is serving you in some way. Figuring out why you’re binging—getting to the root of the emotional reason—is important. Journaling, seeing a therapist and meditating helped me immensely during the recovery process. Eating disorders are never about food. Your obsession with food is just a symptom of what’s going on emotionally. It really helps to keep that in mind.

Give Yourself Permission to Indulge

Finally, give yourself permission to eat a little bit more than you might physically need to on Halloween. This circles back to the first tip: plan ahead to give yourself whatever candy you want on the actual holiday. Overeating is quite different from binging. When you're binging, you've lost control. Planning an evening to indulge means that you might end the evening more full than usual, but you haven't hurt yourself with the amount of food you've chosen to eat. I think as long as you’re in control, it’s okay to overeat from time to time; in fact, it’s quite healthy. And, one day of overindulging doesn’t mean you’ll gain weight or lose progress when it comes to recovery; it just means you’re letting yourself indulge in something that gives you pleasure. 

There's no right way to recover from an eating disorder. Every person's recovery process is different. In the end, you are the one who knows your body best. Binging is incredibly frustrating and defeating, and unless you've been through it, it's hard to understand how challenging this disorder can be. If you're in the midst of it, just know that you have the ability to make it through the other side. Be patient with yourself, and reward yourself for every. little. victory. 

Ditch the Diet

IntuitiveEating

Whenever someone sends me a message sharing that they’re tired of living consumed by thoughts of food and weight, I always tell them to read Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. This book changed my life. There are ten principles of intuitive eating; these three are the biggest takeaways (in my opinion):

Eat Whatever you Have a Taste for

So, maybe the book doesn’t list the principle in this exact wording, but this is how I view it :)

Basically, whatever your body wants, whatever food you’re craving, eat it. If it's 9 am, and you can’t stop thinking about cake, eat a slice of cake. There are zero rules in terms of when and what you can and cannot eat when it comes to intuitive eating; truly, the only rule is that you listen to yourself and give yourself what you're craving. While knowing exactly what you want after years of following a diet can be challenging, stick with the process. When you first start to eat intuitively, you may end up binging on all the foods that you weren’t allowed to eat when you were following XYZ diet. This is normal. Stick with it. Even though it might initially feel like you’ll ever stop eating the cake or donuts that you’re suddenly allowed to eat, there will come a time—usually far sooner than you expect—when your body will get tired of sugar and you'll crave more healthy foods. 

Giving yourself permission to eat whatever you have a taste for is how you gain trust back with yourself. Gaining that trust back requires you to look out for your best interest. This means you must—

Plan Ahead

As a general guideline, if you’re not physically hungry, it’s probably best not to eat—except for a few situations. Say you’re heading some place where you know you won’t be able to eat anything for the next four hours. In this situation, I’ve found it’s helpful to make yourself eat a little snack beforehand even if you’re not physically hungry.

With this, make sure to always have a snack or two on hand, so when hunger does strike, you're ready to take care of yourself. This means having an extra stash of energy bars, almonds, anything easy that won’t perish in your car, office, purse, wherever you spend your time. By planning ahead, you're showing yourself that you're never going to be without food. Psychologically, it rids you of the food scarcity mentality, which leads to binging. Having food on hand, whenever you may need it, enables you to relax and realize that food isn't a sparse commodity. Food will always be there.

Honoring your hunger

When hunger strikes, let yourself eat!  It sounds so basic—and it is—but this is probably the hardest principle at first to adopt. When you’ve restricted what you’ve allowed yourself to eat in the past, there’s this little voice in your head that may want you to push hunger aside. Acknowledge it, and eat anyway.  

If you’ve been emotionally eating or overeating for years, you may have lost sight of what true hunger feels like. Maybe you’ve learned to confuse hunger with sadness, anger or happiness. Honoring your hunger means getting in touch with what experiencing hunger is like for you. You might feel a hollowness in your stomach; your stomach might start making noises; you might feel lightheaded. For each person, hunger feels a little bit different. A good rule to follow when you first embark on intuitive eating is to eat every 2.5-4 hours. Checking in with myself every 2.5 hours to see if I was experiencing hunger helped me immensely after years of erratic eating.

Whenever you’re following a diet, you're following someone else's rules. With intuitive eating, you get to make the rules. Once you start eating intuitively, you begin to listen to and trust your own voice. Only you know what your body truly needs. Only you know what’s truly best for you. And if that’s a donut and a salad for dinner, or chicken noodle soup in July, eat it! Without apologizing. Without judgment. Eat it, and enjoy it. Your body will return to its natural shape, and there will be no more fluctuation in your weight due to food. Your intuition is guiding you in all aspects of your life. And when you give yourself permission to follow it, you will always be lead in the right direction. I promise.

It's Not About the Food

EatingDisorder

I had many "aha" moments when I was recovering from an eating disorder. The first—and possibly most memorable—came on a Sunday morning.

I had spent the previous night like I had nearly every night for the past year: knee deep in junk food, lost in another binge. Each night, I’d get under the covers, almost fall asleep, when this thing would come over me. It was an uncontrollable—trust me, I had tried everything I could to control it—urge to eat Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies. In a seemingly dissociative state, I’d grab my keys, head to the gas station down the road and buy a box. Still in my pajamas, still with the white pimple cream on my face, I’d tell myself that I was just going to have just one cookie, but I’d end up eating nearly the entire box…followed by raw oatmeal from the jar, frozen bread from the back of the freezer, ANYTHING I could get my hands on.

On that morning after the binge, I remember sitting on my bed staring at the sole remaining cookie. I couldn’t understand how this little thing had such control over me. I had gone 18 years as someone who could eat one cookie and stop, so why, night after night, was I eating nearly a dozen cookies—and then continuing to gorge myself to the point of physical pain? I was convinced I was a sugar addict. I believed if I could just lock myself away in a room, away from anything sweet, I would be able to get a handle on this food thing. But even when I tried that—many times—night after night I ended up in the same spot: at the local gas station, in my pajamas with the zit cream on my face, buying the same cookies. 

A couple of days later, I finally “gave in” and went to see a therapist.  I asked her for a magic cure, something to help me steer clear of chocolate chip cookies. She kindly yet forcefully informed me that there was nothing wrong with the cookies. I was not a food addict. Instead, I was someone who was in emotional pain, and the cookies—whether I believed it at the time or not—were taking care of me. Eating the cookies was my attempt to comfort myself during an incredibly stressful time in my life. 

It was never the cookies' fault.

My experience is something we've probably all seen in one form or another. Whether it’s been someone who is facing eating disorder or a friend who is a compulsive dieter, a family member or ourselves, this person is convinced that the food is the issue. The thinking goes like this: if I can just get a handle on my love of sugar, my “addiction” to baked goods, or rid my kitchen of carbs, I’ll be okay. Once I figure out how to stop eating this and only eat that, my life will improve. If I stick to this diet, I will be "good."

When you develop an eating disorder, the belief that food has a magical power over your life controls your life. Your world gets divided into “good” and “bad” foods; everything in life is suddenly black and white. When you’re binging, food is the enemy. You believe if only you were stronger, you wouldn't "give in" to the cookies, and you’d finally feel that sense of control over your life that you so desperately desire. And when you’re restricting what you eat, you feel victorious over the food. You are fueled by a false sense of security that your life is finally in your hands.

But the truth is, it’s never about the food. 

Someone develops a food obsession, and eating disorders are born, when an individual lacks healthy coping mechanisms. Food becomes the focus when we’ve experienced trauma or challenging experiences in our childhood that we haven’t yet processed. Our world becomes divided into “good” and “bad” foods when we feel overwhelmed by emotions that seem just too big to understand, and we haven't yet learned how to effectively manage these emotions. Or, we attempt to control what we eat when we feel that we’re lacking efficacy in some aspect of our lives.

What I realized in subsequent therapy sessions, and I now understand today, is that once you unmask the core issue, the cookies no longer interest you. Once you learn that it's okay to feel sad, that you can comfort yourself through difficult life transitions and challenging emotional states, your obsession with food just melts away. The space in your brain that was once occupied with thoughts of what you can and cannot eat becomes occupied with life's myriad facets. A dozen cookies turns back into eating just one because you now have the tools to cope with whatever life throws at you. It doesn't mean you never fall back into old patterns from time to time, but for the most part, you never obsess or think about what you can and cannot eat. At all. Like, ever. 

Eating disorders are sneaky because they can take over your life seemingly overnight, and they can trick you into thinking they're all about food. But underneath that obsession will always lie the core issue. Having the willingness to see if there's something behind this food thing and seeking help can be scary, but learning new coping skills, embracing the messiness of uncomfortable emotions and the grayness of life is. so. worth. it. Once you realize that the power that the food once held is really your power, life opens up, and you'll see: beyond being a delicious treat that is yours to enjoy whenever you crave it, the cookie will always just be a cookie.

What is Recovery From an Eating Disorder?

EatingDisorderRecovery

One of my favorite parts of moving to Boise has been spending more time with my nephews. 

Ben’s five, and today is Henry’s seventh birthday. I love watching them interact with each other and noting how different their personalities are. I also love watching how free they are with food and their bodies. They are in constant motion—swimming, dancing around, tackling each other—and they usually will know exactly what they want to eat. (Henry insisted on a chocolate chip cookie birthday cake this year—with extra chocolate chips.) If they don’t like something, they leave it on their plate because food is just food

When I was a kid, I remember living the same way. I didn’t wake up thinking about what I could or could not eat that day.  Some days I ate too much and got a stomachache. (Once, while I was watching the 1994 Olympic bobsledding event I mindlessly ate an entire box of Captain Crunch cereal. I have not been able to touch Captain Crunch since—bless.) And at other times, food just didn’t interest me. There were no rules I had to follow when it came to my body. Exercise meant chasing the boys in my neighborhood and was a means to express myself through activities like ballet and then skating.

To me, living like I did when I was a kid is recovery.

Recovery is viewing food the way you did when were seven and having the relationship you had with you body before you ever realized there could be anything “wrong” with it. It’s going to bed with a clear mind, never thinking about what you did or didn’t eat that day. It’s waking up in the morning excited for the day ahead, rather than dreading the number on the scale. It’s learning to cook and giving yourself the foods you truly enjoy. And, recovery is that moment during the day when you catch yourself appreciating your body for lifting a 100lb box of furniture or finishing a 5-mile run. These are the moments when you have a true respect for your body, without any thoughts of how that run could help shrink the size of your thighs or waistline.

Recovery is also driving to the grocery store for a box of donuts after you’ve had a bad day, because in that moment of frustration and stress you just can’t think of anything else that could make you feel better. It’s when your “skinny” jeans no longer fit, and so you let yourself have a good cry about it. It’s asking the doctor to weigh you facing backwards because you know if you see the number it will be stuck in your head for days, and you just don’t want to deal with that right now. It’s looking out for your best interest.

Recovery is a process. It is messy at times, and there are days when you feel like you’re taking two steps forward and then a giant leap backwards.  I wish I could write this post as a “5 Steps to Recovery," and any time someone sends me a message telling me they’re in the midst of an eating disorder struggle, I want so badly to be able to give them instructions providing a clear path to recovery. But there is no clear path—and that is the hardest but best and best part about this. When you develop an eating disorder, you’re usually someone who has perfectionistic traits. The idea of something being a process, of “screwing up” at times and not being able to perfectly following a Recovery Plan,  terrifies you. But that messiness—and learning to embrace it—is perhaps the biggest gift of recovery. Life is messy, and learning to thrive in the midst of its complexity is true bliss.

LifeQuote

There are so many gifts that you find along the path to recovery, and the scenery is different for every person. I don’t think you ever fully “arrive” at your destination, but I also don’t think that matters. What matters are those moments when you realize that you’re viewing your body and food like you did as a kid, moments where you truly understand that food holds no emotional weight and your body is actually here to help you. Recovery is making a cookie cake for your nephew and thoroughly enjoying your slice.

Recovery can be messy, and at times complicated, but I can’t stress this enough:

It is so worth it.