After you’ve binged on sugar or food, you usually feel terrible: bloated, overly full, gassy, and irritable. You may have a headache; feel a sugar rush or buzz, be wired or alternatively tired. You’ll probably have strong sugar cravings (learn how I kindly, and gently stopped eating sugar here) later that day or the next.
How can you love, nurture and care for yourself in this space?
1. Don’t starve yourself. Eat. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but fasting after a binge will only make you severely hungry, which can easily lead to another binge, decimating your self-esteem. When you’re hungry again, eat. If you binged at night, start fresh by giving yourself a healthy breakfast. Stick to clean, whole foods (sugar free if you can) and drink lots of water. Lots of veggies and lean protein works best for me. You can’t change the past, but you can prepare for your present and future by feeding yourself whole, healthy foods to prevent a future binge.
Starving ourselves is a subtle form of punishment – “I was so bad yesterday I don’t deserve to eat today.” By contrast, feeding ourselves when we’re hungry again is a tangible way of saying, “I forgive you. You don’t have to suffer because you made a mistake.”
2. Forgive yourself. Trying to starve yourself the next day is a sneaky way to try and get away with bingeing, to “make up” for your slip – “I’m going to make up for yesterday by not eating today.” Instead, admit you made a mistake. Forgive yourself. Be very, very kind to yourself: Beating yourself up or criticizing yourself won’t make you change. Compassion and regret (not shame – there is a difference!) can. I talk more about self forgiveness here and here.
One of the ways we can forgive ourselves is by recognizing that we don’t binge because we’re terrible, horrible people. We binge because we’re trying to meet a need. We’re trying to care for ourselves – as messy as it is. Learn more about why we binge here.
When we stop judging our bingeing and listen to it, we touch our unmet needs – all the hurts and wounds inside, all the things that aren’t working. By caring for these needs with understanding and compassion, we find the ability to care for ourselves without bingeing.
3. Move the emotions through your body. A walk after a binge is a great way to move the painful regret, sadness, frustration and loathing I feel through my body. A good cry also helps. I always feel better crying my tears, as if I were cleansed. Other ways to move the emotions: gentle yoga, stretching, deep breathing, rocking in a rocking chair or swing, meditation and dancing. I call this practice flowing – one of the 6 core practices of my compassion based approach to healing food stuff, growing human(kind)ness.
4. Detox. To help my body detox from so much food and sugar, I often take a bath or shower after a walk and cleansing my tears. I make my own bath salts with Epsom salts and essential oils; soaking in them helps me feel better both mentally and physically. I also make myself a large pot of Celestial Seasonings’ Tummy Mint tea. It soothes my digestion. That and a good book or a phone call with a friend boost my spirits and helps me move from regret to reconciliation: How can I do this differently next time?
5. Have a starting over ritual. Showering, bathing, walking, brushing your teeth: any thing that signals to you that you are starting over, starting afresh or anew is helpful after a slip. Writing out my feelings is part of my ritual. I get out my notebook and write down: “I am angry…,” “I am sad/regretful…”, “I am frustrated…” This emotional housecleaning feels so good. Then I offer myself compassion and forgiveness: I love you so much even though you slipped up. I am proud of you for getting back on track. I am hopeful that you can love and care for yourself. I also have several photos of myself as a young child in my home. Looking at these pictures reminds me that I still carry that child with me, and reconnects me to my goodness. I’m not a horrible person because I messed up; I’m merely human.
6. Get back on track as soon as you can. When you slip up with a sugar binge, you usually have terrible sugar cravings for the next 3 or 4 days. If you are trying to get back on track, do what you need to do to support yourself through the sugar cravings. Outside support is often crucial. I would tell my family, “Mommy slipped up and had some granola last night. Can you help me by hiding it again and encouraging me over the next few days? I’ll be craving sugar and could use some extra help.”
I’d also go back to grounding (another core practice of growing human(kind)ness) and give myself lots and lots of structure. The more the better, as it made getting back on track easier. Another note on getting back to your sugar abstinence: I wouldn’t wait too long. As more time passes, you’ll retrain your sugar habit, the brain will want its sugar hit, and it will be harder to go back to not eating it. For me, when I spent more than a few days in, “what the hell, I’ve slipped up, I might as well stay here a while and enjoy it” mode, it always turned into several months of sugar bingeing.
7. Offer yourself comfort. When you’re feeling remorseful about overeating, you don’t need to berate yourself any further. You already feel badly enough about bingeing. What you need is comfort, compassion and kindness so that you can objectively look at what happened and find ways to act differently the next time. In my experience, this is the difference between blame and learning.
Comfort yourself just as you would comfort a small child: cuddle in bed with a pillow or stuffed animal and cry, talk to yourself in reassuring tones, “It’s okay, honey. You’re going to be okay.” Or try picturing someone from your childhood who gave you unconditional love – a grandma, for example – and visualize her comforting you in the present moment. All of these things help ease the sting.
When your inner critic goes haywire, beating you up for your mistake, and you find yourself in a mental spin cycle of racing thoughts, I find it helpful to use these phrases: “Come back.” This reminds me to get out of my head and ground myself in my immediate physical experience. I also like the phrase, “Feel your feet on the floor” to reconnect with my body, the ground, the earth, my physical home.
“Just breathe” helps too!
To promote self acceptance, I love saying this phrase aloud, borrowed from a dear friend: “I love all of me.” It’s particularly helpful for me when the voice of, “Why can’t you be different?” starts its chorus. Try it. Take a moment and whisper to yourself, “I love *all* of me.” Doesn’t that feel soothing?
8. Move out of your head and get support. We tend to distance ourselves from friends and loved ones when we’re overeating or when we’ve made a mistake. We feel ashamed for being imperfect, so we try and hide it. However, when we break through this barrier, and share our pain with a compassionate listener, we find immediate relief. When you’ve been overeating, share on the free forums and reach out for support so that you don’t feel alone. Talk to a friend. Move the energy with expression.
It’s easy to delve into overthinking, where you get trapped into a mental rut, going over and over something in your mind. Telling your story stops the spin cycle and enables you to find the exit ramp.
You can also offer yourself compassion and empathy. Listening to our own hearts and caring for our feelings can even prevent a binge, a process I describe in the post, Stop a binge in its tracks with empathy.
9. Give yourself self acceptance. It’s easy to offer yourself approval when you’re on your “best” behavior. But what about when you’ve been overeating? Do you offer yourself love and support at those times, as well?
It’s ironic that these low times are when we need our approval the most. Without our approval, we feel bereft, judged, unacceptable. We feel unlovable and not okay.
When we’re in this space, it’s very easy to go back to overeating because we’re feeling so badly about ourselves. Self-acceptance is what breaks the chain, so that you stop after one mistake, instead of piling them up, one after the other, until you hit rock bottom. Your unconditional love creates a safe container for you to change. It is what enables you to put the fork down and ask yourself, “What is really going on here?” and shift.
10. When you’re ready, examine what happened. Binges are fabulous learning opportunities. Try and examine what was going on: how were you feeling beforehand? What thoughts were running through your head? What expectations or shoulds ran the show? Write about the event and see if you can make sense of it. This can help you prepare for the next time. Think of how you can support yourself next time so that you can act differently. As psychologist Rollo May said, “Nature does not require that we be perfect, it requires only that we grow, and we can do this as well from a mistake as from a success.”
Consider 5 kinds of support from First Ourselves to heal overeating, sugar addiction, and end the binge cycle:
- Download the free Binge Rescue worksheet to walk away from a binge, care for your feelings without eating them, and gain clarity on the next steps you need to take.
- For help with sugar bingeing, try Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life. This workbook explains the path that I used to stop eating sugar and teaches you how to compassionately heal a sugar addiction.
- Heal Overeating: Untangled heals the emotional roots of overeating. Learn how to unhook from the beliefs, thoughts and emotions that lead you to overeat or binge on any food.
- Listen to free podcasts on healing overeating: Trusting your needs, navigating transitions without food, help for “I can’t handle this!” moments, removing the barriers to love, and trusting in the growth you may not see.