11 Things NOT to Do After a Binge
For anyone going through troubling binge-eating behaviors, like I did for years, one of the scariest and most confusing moments is right after the binge. You’ve ostensibly “blown it” and lost all self-control (at least, that’s how it feels right now), and now you’re mortified that this might not even be the end of it.
How do you finally get back on track and not let this derail you?
Well, whatever you do, stay away from these 11 actions at all costs…
1. “Damage control”
Okay, how do you get back on track? You don’t. Clearly, this “track” has been leading you time and time again to the same behaviors (bingeing).
You see, we get so caught up in this black-or-white, good-or-bad mindset that we lose sight of the obvious… Attempts to “detox” or “diet the binge away” consistently lead to a worsening of the behaviors.
The diet industry is one conniving piece of work. It manages to convince you, after a stringent diet ends in the inevitable binge session, that not only was it not the fault of the strict diet, and not only was it actively your personal fault, but also that it’ll take more dieting to fix things! It would be hilarious were it not so tragic.
This is all to say, “damage control” is not going to work and in fact will almost definitely make things worse. This is because both words in this euphemism come from a false premise:
Damage? This implies the binge itself was the source of “damage.” But, in reality, it is the very strategies we use to “damage control” that cause the most damage.
For more on the paradoxical nature of this diet-induced “damage,” read: Is Sugar Addiction Real?
Control? This implies it’s a self-control issue that simply requires picking yourself up by the bootstraps and “being disciplined for once.” No.
For more on the concept of control, read: CDR: The One Concept I Teach All My Clients
2. Chug water
It’s hard to even explain why this is wrong, because I don’t even know where the initial pseudoscience that supported this claim originated. There’s not even a shred of truth to it.
The idea that a binge can be “fixed” by chugging large amounts of water fails on two main fronts (well, closer to a million, but these are the two big ones):
The GI tract is not just this simple transport system in which food can be “pushed out” by drinking more water. If that were the case, anyone drinking anywhere near the recommended water intake would need to be eating massive amounts of food just to keep it all in. Come on, people, think here!
Furthermore, even though water intake may aid in expediting gastric emptying, this only exists up to a certain point (i.e. it’s not a linear “well, if 64 L helps with gastric emptying, three gallons must be even better!”). And, not to mention, the issue itself isn’t even one of gastric emptying rates. Sure, loading an abnormally large bolus of food into the system is going to slow things down, but if the body was not primed to handle this, we would have died off as a species long, long ago (remember, before the Neolithic Revolution, early man was lucky to eat one big meal a day, and after a day of running around nonstop, hunting prey and doing other caveman things, you can bet your bottom dollar our ancestors would eat their faces off come mealtime).
And, to add yet another point here, fast gastric emptying rates aren’t even always a good thing. There’s an optimal point where things move through the stomach and intestines at just the right rate that we can maximize nutrient absorption and send appropriate appetite cues (via the stretch receptors) to the brain. This is one reason anorexic patients on a pure liquid nutrition diet are expected to be weaned off as soon as possible.
The implication is that what we’re “fixing” is the caloric intake of the binge. But, as I will be repeatedly pointing out, the calories consumed are not the problem here. Hell, the binge itself is not the problem here. It’s the dietary practices and mindset that led to the binge (or that lead to any eating behaviors you feel are out of your conscious control). This is akin to telling someone who’s trying to stop their tobacco chewing habit to “brush their teeth” more often. Except it’s worse than that, because at least brushing your teeth accomplishes the superficial issue you’re hoping to address.
3. Make any rash decisions
The absolute worst time to make big dietary decisions would have to be immediately post-binge, when your emotions are running high and distorting any sort of logic you could otherwise rely on. It’s critical that you take this time to take care of yourself, even when that seems like the last thing you want to do, because anything else will result in regrettable decisions.
Things are not as bad as they feel right now, I promise. Even if you’re still generally clouded with the restrict-binge mindset (and, let’s be honest, most of us are to some degree), you’ll still be markedly more clearheaded once you’ve waited this out a bit.
This really goes for any decisions in life, to be honest. It never hurts to say, “Okay, I’ll wait [x amount of time] and if by then, I still feel this way, then I’ll consider it.” Oftentimes that alone is sufficient to stave off some of the self-destructive thoughts a binge can bring on.
Above all else, remember that the thoughts racing through your mind after a binge are not just unproductive - they’re actively counter-productive. The entire reason you can’t seem to escape this predicament is that the restrict-binge cycle is a vicious beast that continually justifies itself.
“You’ve been so hard on yourself all week, so let’s binge on everything in sight once the coast is clear.”
“God, you’re a pig. Either purge this up right now or commit to a 2-day fast. Ugh.”
“That 2-day fast was no small feat… let’s get a spoonful of peanut butter and start feeling better again.”
Rinse and repeat.
4. Exercise (or purge)
Exercising after a binge - ostensibly to rid yourself of the calories you’ve piled on - is playing with fire. Not only will you quickly begin to associate exercise with punishment and “damage control,” you will also be putting unnecessary amounts of stress on yourself. And, again, even if you’re thinking this doesn’t matter - recall that this stress is a primary motivator of binge-eating behaviors.
The worst acute aspect of a binge is the emotional and psychological impact, not the calorie load. And things like compensatory exercise, laxative/diuretic/emetic abuse, and/or self-induced vomiting all seek to address the latter (and, I should mention, do a piss-poor job of it), while actively worsening the former.
Exercise can be an amazing thing, but it needs to be a celebration of what your body can do. The second you allow it to become a punitive practice that feeds into disordered thoughts, you rob yourself of one of life’s most amazing activities.
5. Feed into the same story
Consider the following two statements, and decide which sounds worse:
“I’m a binge eater.”
“I binge eat.”
The difference might seem subtle, but it’s hard to even capture how important it is. The first statement is an identifier. It links your fundamental identity to a behavior you’re shameful and embarrassed of, a behavior that fuels a dangerous psychopathology that keeps you depressed and insecure.
The second statement, on the other hand, removes any element of identity. It says “I,” meaning you - your personality, values, accomplishments, quirks, and all - just happen to engage in this behavior occasionally. It doesn’t downplay the severity of your disorder, but it does put it into perspective. This statement, unlike the first, actually gives you an opportunity to leave the behavior behind. It gives you a way out and doesn’t attempt to latch onto your identity like a parasite.
So, what are the practical implications of this? Immediately after a binge, it is imperative you avoid language that ties the behavior to your identity. No, you’re not a pig or a glutton or even a binge-eater. You’re a human being, you’re an important piece in the universal matrix, and you have so, so much more to offer to this world (and to yourself) than to be confined to this singular affliction.
Again, be kind to yourself. Now is not the time to think about “improving” or “fixing” things. Your body has been calling out for help, as evidenced by the binge session, and that’s what it needs right now. It’s not asking for further self-deprecation or punishment.
WATCH: You Are Enough.
6. Turn this into a “throwaway day”
On the flipside of the points made so far, don’t go to the opposite extreme and say “screw it.” Both extremes are antithetical to self-care: Whether you’re beating yourself up or you’re saying, “Ah, who cares anyway?” you’re avoiding the issue at hand.
So, you might be wondering, how in the world are you supposed to simultaneously avoid restriction and still refrain from bingeing further?
WELL, here’s one way: Check out 100 days of food freedom, the unbelievably simple day-by-day guide to full recovery from your eating disorder in just 100 days… yes, really.
To be sure, restriction is not how to quell binge-eating, and it in fact worsens the problem, as I mentioned earlier. You can acutely cease the behavior by distracting yourself and taking yourself out of the environment, and that’s exactly what you should be doing now. It’s not “self-love” or “self-care” to stay where you are and give up hope that things will get better.
With that said, it’s perfectly understandable that you would resort to this, so certainly don’t feel bad about it. But do take that initial [admittedly uncomfortable] step of removing yourself from the environment and distracting yourself with something, whether that be music, friends, a walk, window shopping, meditation, etc. Just no exercising.
7. Weigh yourself
This is pretty self-explanatory, but it does need to be in here, because this is one of the worst things you can do after a binge. Weighing yourself feeds into the negative self-talk and restrict-binge mentality that put you in this position to begin with.
Not to mention, there is literally nothing to be gained from doing this. You know rationally that this number is not indicative of any actual changes in body composition, so all you’re doing is scaring yourself and worsening that self-talk.
But even beyond that, nobody needs to weigh themselves in the first place. Weight is irrelevant… there, I said it! It’s a correlational health marker, but who the hell cares? So is respiratory rate, but I don’t see people obsessing over that (or shaming those with lower respiratory rates). If we’re being honest with ourselves, the importance of weight is a construct fed to us by the diet industry complex.
Two people who weigh the exact same yet have totally different bone masses, muscle glycogen capacities, hydration levels, and types of fat distribution (not to mention, genetic predispositions) will both be told the exact same thing by a doctor. If that doesn’t infuriate you, you probably have a pair of fatphobic blinders on. “Your weight is higher than it should be, so… you know, do something about that.” Thanks, doc! Where would we be without you?
No matter what you do to recover from your binge-eating, it can’t be done alone. Eating disorders peg you against yourself, and letting this “me vs. me” mentality persist will only exaggerate the problem. None of these other “things to avoid” even matter much if you are keeping to yourself and remaining in the very environment that triggered the behavior.
Before you start panicking and thinking this means you have to get up right now and throw a party, let’s stop and see this as a continuum. Keeping to yourself and remaining in this binge-inducing environment is clearly not a viable solution. Going to the opposite end of the extreme and trying to surround yourself with as many people as possible is probably not a realistic scenario, and chances are (unless you’re incredibly extroverted) the huge social stimulus will overstimulate you.
Somewhere in the middle is an answer that can work for you. That might mean calling up a best friend. That might mean going on a walk through your neighborhood. It might even just mean texting a friend (however, this won’t exactly remove you from the environment, so you might want to do this elsewhere). Or, could you see some family? Could you talk to a therapist (if you haven’t heard of TalkSpace, it’s an amazing app - that I make no money advertising - that allows you to check in with a licensed therapist in your state over phone and get responses the same day)?
Importantly, if trying to find a social surrounding in such a time is difficult for you, this means you need to be prioritizing finding a support network. We go over this ad nauseum in the relevant chapter in 100 Days of Food Freedom, in which you assemble your “Support Squad” with some pretty basic frameworks/templates. At the end of the day, you’ve already got so many stressors on your mind, and in a post-binge freakout situation, the last thing you want to have to mentally conquer is coming up with a way to be social. Having a “default” social support network is important beyond words.
9. Let the behavior chain roll on
Similar to the idea of turning this into a “throwaway day,” resist the temptation to throw the towel in and let other behaviors of the same brand to roll in. This could be a good opportunity to stop and take stock of which behaviors those even are.
What bad habits do you often fall into immediately after (or soon after) a binge? Do you use any illicit drugs to numb the feelings? Binge-watch TV? Watch porn? Self-harm*?
Some habits and behaviors might be a bit ambiguous. For example, is falling asleep after a binge harmful? For many people, no, not at all. In fact, if you feel like you’re on the verge of a panic attack after bingeing, once you’ve gone through any coping skills that work for you, take no shame in hitting the sheets. I know firsthand how unbelievably intense and frightening these feelings can be, and how loud the voice can be. Sleep can be your savior in such times.
*If this is the case, please don’t hesitate to call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255
10. Stay in the kitchen
I know this message is sounding repetitive at this point, but it bears repeating, and this point in particular does have some worthwhile distinctions. No matter what you do, it should be a top priority of yours that you stay out of the triggering environment, and of those, kitchens are the worst. Being surrounded by potential binge items, especially when by yourself, is a recipe for disaster.
If you live somewhere where staying out of the kitchen is a difficult task (i.e. a student in a campus suite that has a kitchen in it), make it a priority to stay out of the room during “weaker” periods. If you know you’re more prone to binge at night, being in the kitchen at that time won’t be helpful. But this also has implications for our current discussion, relating to what [not] to do after a binge. Staying in the kitchen will only lead to more opportunities to binge, and when the behavior chain is rolling on, it’s going to go full force. No amount of “willpower” or “motivation” will mean much in the moment, as you deal with the strong emotions it brings.
11. Blow it out of proportion
The final point here somewhat encapsulates everything we’ve so far discussed. Whatever happens, it’s vital that you not assign any more meaning to it than need be. In the grand scheme of things, one singular binge session will be relatively harmless. It only becomes harmful when it’s used to fuel guilt and shame, and when you decide the “solution” to it is another diet. A binge that is followed with self-love, self-care, and a healthy amount of perspective will be no more than a pebble dropped in the ocean. A binge that leads to a major depressive episode and fuels more and more restrictive dieting efforts will be the proverbial boulder dropped in a pond.
All in all, what you actually will benefit from doing immediately after a binge session is rather straightforward:
Take some deep breaths, find a familiar means of grounding yourself.
Distract yourself and do something enjoyable.
Spend time with others, even if that just means walking around outside or calling a loved one.
See the forest for the trees; remember that this binge session is only as bad as you make it out to be.
Decide today to drop the diets and start feeding your body according to what it wants.
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