The most painful part of the binge eating cycle is usually straight after you’ve just binged. You’re physically uncomfortable and you’re feeling disappointed that you “caved in” again. Guilt and shame are common reactions in the binge aftermath and it’s a horrible place to be. You’ll probably want to make big promises to yourself about what you’ll do tomorrow to make up for it, but did you know this could be exactly what sets you up for the next binge? How you respond after a binge is extremely important, you have a window of opportunity to try something new.
Here are three things you can do that may help to get yourself back onto an even keel after you’ve just binged.
1. Set an intention – Telling yourself that tomorrow you’re not going to eat, or you’re only going to eat soup and salad, is not helpful. Restricting your food intake makes bingeing inevitable. It’s not just the physical restriction either. Even simply planning to restrict can trigger the deprivation response. This means your biology will be working against you and the biology of your appetite is incredibly powerful. When you are feeling out of control, the temptation is to try and take control but the appetite does not like to be caged.
Instead of planning to restrict, try setting yourself a gentle intention that will support you to find balance. This might be an intention to be very present when you eat tomorrow, instead of distracting yourself. It could be an intention to take a quick moment of appreciation for the food each time you eat. If you can focus on feeling thankful for food, you shift the way you feel when you eat. Feeling better when you eat reduces the chances of it turning into another binge.
2. Ask a question – You’re probably beating yourself up right now. How you talk to yourself matters. Being very self-critical often makes self-sabotaging behaviour continue. Breaking out of a bingeing cycle requires you to treat yourself like someone who is worth looking after. This can be very difficult if you are feeling frustrated towards yourself.
Rather than trying to reassure yourself that everything is ok (you probably won’t believe that anyway) try asking yourself the question: What is the kindest interpretation of this moment? By phrasing it as a question, your brain has to try and come up with an answer for you. It doesn’t even have to be super kind (although the kinder the better), but it needs to feel true. This might be telling yourself that you’re still figuring this stuff out, instead of telling yourself you’re a failure who will never change. Sit with the question and find alternative ways to think about the fact you’ve just binged.
3. Connect to the body – Bingeing involves an annihilation of awareness. Some people describe going into a trance-like state or feeling numb when they binge. It can be a form of escapism. In order to consume large amounts of food, you have to cut yourself off from your body’s signals. It’s only later that the physical discomfort hits you. You may feel disgust, which is the ultimate self-rejection. Are you willing to reconnect with your body? You can’t break out of the binge eating cycle without being willing to connect with the body and be present in it. If you keep disconnecting, you won’t be able to manage and respond to your hunger in an appropriate way. Signals get confused and bingeing continues.
To reconnect with your body, I highly recommend a guided body scan meditation. My favourite one is available here. You may not want to be present in your body after a binge, but if you can tolerate it, your body can become your ally as you try to break free from bingeing eat behaviour.