You’ve run over another binge-eating bump. You’re down on yourself. You’re feeling awful.
But you can get back to where you want to be.
1. Don’t beat yourself up.
Anyone who has been there knows the feeling. The aftermath of a binge is the worst.
“Emotionally and mentally, you just really have destroyed yourself,” says Christine Hirsh, an administrative assistant from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who has been struggling with binge eating for years.
“People who binge, it’s a very hurried, exciting ... it’s like somebody who is seeking a drug. Food is a drug for people who binge. So the emotion and stress and figuring out how you’re going to get what you want, and actually getting it and getting it down before you’re discovered ... You’re exhausted.”
That’s just the start. Once you finish your binge, all the negative emotions begin to pile on.
“There’s a lot of shame, a lot of hopelessness, they often feel a lot of anger at themselves,” says Ann Kearney-Cooke, a psychologist at The Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute.
“You just get this overwhelming feeling of, ‘I really blew it,’” she says.
Maybe the first thing you should know after a binge is that -- it happens.
“One of the things I always tell people is … you’re going to binge,” says Amy Pershing, the clinical director for the Center for Eating Disorders in Ann Arbor, MI. “That’s how we build resiliency, it’s how we build the ability to course-correct. It’s how we learn how to stay in recovery.”
She’s a recovered binge eater, too.
“Recovery’s not about never ever bingeing again,” she says. It’s about “less and less frequent and less and less severe, and we’re much more quickly able to get out of the cycle of it, recognize what happened, and meet those needs in other ways.
“That’s what recovery is -- not to never binge again.”
In other words, go easy on yourself after one happens.
“I always say you have to get past the guilt. You can’t change it,” Hirsh says. “It’s not like you have superpowers and can move the clock back an hour. It’s done,” Hirsh says.
“Beating up on yourself is really easy to do. But nothing good ever comes out of self-torture.”
Instead, take time to care for yourself, to “befriend” your body, as Pershing puts it. Realize it’s your home and not a billboard you show the world.
“Consider saying to yourself, ‘My body is just as worthy of love and respect now as it was before the binge,’” Pershing says. “‘What do I need right now to take care of my body in this moment?’”
2. Find out what went wrong.
Post-binge is time for a little sleuthing. What might have set off the binge? Hunger? (Bingers often starve themselves before a binge, setting off a cycle that’s sometimes hard to break.) Sadness? A negative encounter with someone?
“You need to be really curious about why you haven’t done this for three weeks and why did this happen today,” Kearney-Cooke says. “‘What is happening in my relationships? Was I really hungry? Was I really tired?’ See it as a source of information.”
Whatever it is, identify it and understand it. That can help you next time around.
“Recognizing what’s happening with the binge and then taking some steps to move forward from it can really help you to avoid it becoming a weekly occurrence, for example,” says Kathleen Ashton, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Getting right back on track as soon as possible is really important.”
3. Stick to your schedule.
Kearney-Cooke has a simple ritual for those who binge. It starts with brushing your teeth. That signifies an end to the binge and a start to a new commitment to health.
“What a lot of bingers feel like is, ‘Hell, I’ve blown it. I’m going to let it rip,’” she says. “I want them to start to say, ‘OK, I’ve binged. Now, for the next 24 hours, I’m going to immediately get back to healthy eating.’”
That doesn’t mean dieting or not eating -- something experts call “restricting” -- to try to make up for the binge. That often leads to more bingeing.
4. Get out and about.
Few binges take place in a restaurant or in front of family or friends.
“It’s really a disease of isolation,” Ashton says.
To leave the binge behind or not have another, it often helps to get out of the house and away from the refrigerator and take some time for something you like to do. Walking your dog. Going to a movie. Taking a class.
“Once a person realizes that food isn’t the only thing that you can use to take away the loneliness, the pain, the anger, the sadness -- that there are so many other great really things to do,” Hirsh says, “once they realize that and they find another activity or multiple activities, it becomes easier and easier for the person to separate themselves from the food.”
5. Reach out for help.
Find family, friends, and professionals who can help. Many people and organizations, including online groups consisting of folks who struggle with binge eating, are there for you. From 1% to 5% of Americans have binge eating disorder. They’re some of the more than 30 million Americans who will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
You are not alone.
“It’s not something that people typically talk about. There’s a lot of shame associated with it. And often, it’s shameful for them to kind of see what’s going on; they avoid thinking about it and talking about it,” Ashton says. “It definitely takes a lot of courage and bravery to face it. But if you do face it, there’s a lot of good treatment out there. And it can really improve the quality of your life.”
It’s important to note that binge eating disorder is now well-defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and that the FDA is starting to evaluate and approve medicine specifically for it.
Talk with your doctor about your options.