If you’ve ever been a binge eater, you know that awful feeling that comes along after a binge. Layers of shame, self-loathing, despair, and regret weigh you down, while you swear to yourself never again. These are difficult moments to navigate. What steps should you take, post-binge, to start steering yourself in a healthy direction?
This question is asked by many of our guests and by binge eaters everywhere. After all, binge eating is remarkably common. In the U.S., 2.8% of adults suffer from binge eating disorder at some point in their lives, while binge eating behavior (that doesn’t rise to the level of a full-on disorder) is even more prevalent.
To provide support for individuals prone to binge eating (and all the emotions that come along with it), here are three self-care steps for recovering post-binge:
1.) Make Sense of It
After binge eating, you’re physically uncomfortable and emotionally distraught. While your body and soul are recovering, you can call on your brain to help you out.
When you cognitively understand the dynamics of a binge – the triggers, the patterns – you can start to gain more control over your behavior. Leave out the self-judgment and examine the binge episode from a scientific perspective. Ask yourself “Why? How did it happen? When did I start thinking about food? What was happening leading up to this?”
After all, during a binge eating episode, your brain is playing a trick on you to highjack your willpower. Psychological studies confirm that binge eating shares many characteristics with addiction, making it inherently more difficult to avoid through determination alone.
But when you know the cues and triggers that tend to spur a binge, you can start avoiding them or recognizing them earlier on. Being aware of these patterns gives you opportunities to change them.
Another plus side of approaching a binge on the cognitive level first? Once you understand what’s going on in the brain more, self-compassion gets a little bit easier.
Binge eating, like so many other mental and emotionally-rooted issues, is a natural byproduct of our primitive brains coming to terms with living in modern society. Binge eating doesn’t mean that you are weak, lazy, or anything else. It’s scientifically proven to have psychological roots deep in the neurological paths of the brain that are intrinsically difficult to overcome without help and dedication.
After all, you didn’t ask to be prone to binge eating. You don’t want to have this compulsion. And at some point, this behavior might have served you or soothed you. So be patient with yourself. Care for yourself like you would a friend or loved one.
Positive self-talk goes a long way in helping you prevent future binges. Since binge eating has roots in poor self-image and other kinds of emotional voids, hating yourself for it perpetuates the cycle. If you try to punish yourself, you’re just going to want to binge more. On the other hand, self-compassion provides a breath of fresh air that helps you choose a new path.
3.) Put Some Distance Between Yourself and the Next Binge
Binges are marked by compulsion and loss of control, so this is easier said than done. Start small. One way to do this? Focus on getting through one finite amount of time without a binge.
After you’ve taken time to think and reflect, pull out a calendar. Choose a date – say, three days from your last binge – and circle it. Hang it on your fridge or anywhere else you will receive a strong visual reminder. Make it your priority to get to that date without a binge.
While the ultimate goal would be to never binge again, this kind of serenity doesn’t happen overnight. The addictive nature of binge eating means that relapses are incredibly common. Give yourself an obtainable goal, remember your triggers and patterns, and practice taking alternate action when you feel the impulse to binge eat. With time, this gets easier and easier.
You may find that a shorter or longer amount of time might be more appropriate for you. If just one binge-free day is a challenge, start there. Gradually increase the duration as your self-care practices deepen.
The goal here is not only to start a binge-free lifestyle, but also to spare yourself from the negative emotions that layer up with each binge and every other anxiety in life. Give yourself space, time to grow, and room to recover.