Standing in the kitchen I felt sick: stuffed and full of shame. I’d just eaten three fourths of a pint of ice cream, a stale pastry, a bag of chips, and half a bottle of blue cheese dressing with crackers. And yet I was still rummaging for food.
It was a painful and frightening experience. I no longer binge, but it’s not something easily forgotten.
The worst binges come seemingly out of the blue and take on a life of their own. You may feel unable to stop or as if you are in an altered state of consciousness. Afterwards, you feel disgusted. You vow to never, ever do that again. And that makes it even more heartbreaking when you find yourself in another binge eating episode.
There’s a reason why your commitment to stop binging hasn’t worked. And that’s because focusing on the binge itself is misguided. It’s actually the time after a binge that matters the most.
The following are three important steps you can take to help you recover faster and set the stage for exiting the binging cycle.
Getting Back In Balance Is the First Step To Reduce Future Binging
It’s logical to think that since you took in many excess calories in a binge that you should starve yourself the next day. But that’s not how it works. Balance, not penance, is what’s called for.
Your body has already stored the excess and still needs current fuel. If you aren’t hungry, it’s not necessary to eat. But if you are hungry, then follow your appetite cues no matter how much you ate earlier. This is not the time to grab a quick pastry, but to sit down to a balanced meal.
This is also not the time for excess exercise. If you would normally take a walk or go to the gym, that’s fine. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to burn off the excess intake of the binge.
Depriving yourself of food or trying to work off the excess intake will only create deprivation and depletion. And those are drivers for more binging in the future.
One of the reasons that diets don’t work is that they create a backlog of deprivation that drives binging as well as overeating and poor food choices. If you are experiencing binging, this is your sign that it’s time to stop dieting. Instead reconnect to your internal wisdom of what, when, and how much to eat.
If you are binging in the afternoon and evening, make sure that you are getting good quality nutrition throughout the day. Much binging can be avoided by simply eating more for breakfast and lunch.
Kindness to Yourself is the Key to Ending Binging
It seems logical to punish yourself after a binge. After all, you made bad choices didn’t you? But that is actually counterproductive.
When you beat yourself up, you start to feel like a failure and this triggers a flood of fear and disconnection. And these emotions are among the ones that jump start binge eating.
Instead take an approach of self compassion. Try treating yourself as you would a young child that you love. Speak to yourself kindly, and give yourself some extra self care. Get some extra sleep, do some comforting and restorative activities, and in general, just take it easy.
You cannot hate yourself into changing your binging. And staying stuck in self hate will keep you from being open to the final, and most powerful, step.
Use Curiosity To Stop The Binging Cycle
The final step is to bring in curiosity. While the binge is fresh in your mind you have a unique opportunity to glimpse the motivations that drove your eating frenzy. To do this, ask yourself some questions:
What happened in the moments, hours, and even days before that could have triggered self doubt or fear of not being good enough?
Were you feeling deprived in any way (of food or anything else)?
Were you feeling depleted or experiencing any other uncomfortable emotions?
Using curiosity keeps you from over reliance on willpower. And it keeps you out of the magical thinking that you can simply muster enough resolve to not binge again.
Binges don’t happen in a vacuum. They are triggered by self doubt, fear, depletion, deprivation, and other uncomfortable emotions. When you stay in curiosity, you stay open and aware to how these triggers are operating. And your awareness allows you to take preventive action to give yourself what you really need before binge behavior kicks in.
But the biggest payoff is that by cultivating the habit of curiosity, you will eventually be able to glimpse what’s going on below your current level of consciousness when you binge.
And then, bam. Your life can change in an instant.
My binging stopped almost completely after one moment of glimpsing what had previously been unconscious, and so can yours. Clients tell me this often — that they suddenly understood what was going on, and that took all the power out of their urge to binge.
Change Your Focus To Change Your Binging
Binging may feel shameful, but it’s actually just a coping skill that’s become a deeply ingrained habit. When you feel depleted or overwhelmed by self doubt you unconsciously reach for food.
Getting back in balance allows you to recover physically. Practicing self compassion, even when you feel you don’t deserve it, allows you to recover emotionally. And using curiosity allows you to uncover the binging triggers that are currently obscured.
It likely won’t happen in one cycle. But over time these three steps can reduce your binges and help you feel less at the mercy of seemingly uncontrollable urges to eat.
This article originally appeared as a post on Medium. You can find it here.