What to Do After a Binge
If you have binge-eating disorder, you know you can't really take back an over-indulgence. But there are ways to react to a binge that can actually help you prevent the next one, experts say.
1. Analyze and learn.
Learn from your binge, says Doug Bunnell, PhD, former president of the National Eating Disorders Association. “Don’t feel ashamed" or think of it as a disaster. "Be honest with yourself in trying to go through and figure out, ‘How did that happen?’”
“That could mean writing in a diary or a journal: 'Where was I, what was I thinking or feeling, what happened just before, what happened during, what happened after the binge?'” Then, talk about it with someone you trust, Bunnell says.
A therapist, guided self-help resource (available on the web), or peer support group can help you spot patterns, he says. To find an eating disorder specialist, go to the National Eating Disorders Association web site.
Bunnell describes one client who realized certain interactions with his wife left him feeling dismissed or insignificant, which often led him to binge. With the help of therapy, Bunnell says, “He’s gotten really good at creating more space between the thoughts and feelings and the actual behavior.”
2. Go easy on yourself.
Nix the guilt and shame. Our failures help us learn.
“You have to be kind to yourself and give yourself a chance to learn from experience without condemning yourself too much,” says Russell Marx, MD. He is chief science officer at the National Eating Disorders Association.
3. 'Do the next right thing.'
This means practicing self-care and compassion. “It means eating the next meal and not restricting [food] to ‘make up’ for the binge,” says Jenni Schaefer, co-author of Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem?
Leslie Anderson, PhD, is training director at the Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research at University of California, San Diego. She stresses the importance of going back to a regular eating pattern.
“Sometimes people think, ‘Well I binged, so now I need to starve myself for the next couple meals to make up for it.’ But you’re just setting yourself up for another binge.” If you’re hungry, you’re more likely to lose control around food, says Anderson.
4. Recommit to not bingeing.
“It helps to make a commitment to yourself, or a therapist, or a friend or family member, that you will stop the behavior,” Anderson says. “You could use a statement like ‘bingeing is not an option’ that you tell yourself every day.”
She also suggests you make a list of the pros and cons of bingeing. Challenge the pros in writing. For example, “Pro: It makes me feel better. Challenge: It makes me feel better in the moment, but it makes me feel worse in the long term.” Put the list on the fridge and look at it often.
5. Get help if you need it.
People with binge-eating disorder often have depression and other mental health issues. It’s important to get treatment for those issues if you’re going to get a handle on the binge eating, Marx says. He suggests starting with a psychologist.