A few weeks ago, I wrote that many people feel some trepidation when approaching the holiday season because they’re concerned that nutrition will fall by the wayside. Well, some people fear holiday meals, buffets, cookie exchanges and gifted boxes of chocolates because they may trigger a binge.
Technically, a binge is eating an amount of food in a short period of time (about two hours) that is definitely larger than what most people would eat under similar circumstances, accompanied by a sense of loss of control. However, many people who describe themselves as having binged feel of being out of control, but the amount of food they ate may not be perceived as especially large by other people. What both types of binge eating have in common is eating quickly, often in the absence of hunger, until uncomfortably full — possibly “in secret” due to embarrassment.
So what triggers a binge? Physiological binges are often triggered by food restriction, such as food insecurity or rigid food rules. Emotional binges are triggered by uncomfortable feelings. No matter the trigger or scope of the binge, how you respond to the physical and emotional discomfort that follows — including — feelings such as shame, frustration and even disgust — influences how likely the binge is to snowball into more binging. Here are some steps you can take to help yourself recover from a binge — however you experience it.
Go for a walk. Walking can help speed up stomach emptying and improve your mood, which may relieve uncomfortable physical sensations of fullness or bloating and reduce some of the negative emotions that follow — and even perpetuate — binging. It also provides a change of scenery from where the binge happened.
Shift your focus. Whether it’s going for a walk, calling a friend, reading a book, knitting or watching a favorite show, doing something that doesn’t involve food and eating will occupy your attention and make it easier to allow negative thoughts, emotions, and urges to taper off. Eventually, you’ll feel ready to move on and focus on other important things in your life.
Don’t restrict. While it may be tempting to skip meals or adopt a set of restrictive food rules following a binge, eating at regular, flexible intervals is more likely to help you recover. If your binge is early in the day, eating again at your usual mealtimes the rest of the day will help prevent a nighttime binge. If you binge in the evening, be sure to eat breakfast. If you’re not very hungry, eat a snack-size meal, but eat something. Skipping meals or banning certain foods may enhance cravings or feelings of restriction, increasing the likelihood of another binge — possibly leading to a binge-restrict cycle.
Put pen to paper. Write down what you were thinking and feeling before and after the binge, where you were, why you binged and what you ate. This is especially important if binges happen somewhat regularly. Gathering this information can help you see patterns, which increases the odds you can prevent a binge in the future.
Be kind. Binging doesn’t feel good once the binge is over, but it generally serves some sort of purpose while it’s happening. Maybe you were “feeding” some too-big or otherwise uncomfortable feelings. Maybe your body was fighting back against food restrictions. You’re not a bad person for binging. However, you likely have some issues that need exploring, possibly with professional help. And even though these issues involve food, they may not actually be about the food.