Here’s the not-so-dirty secret: Everybody overeats sometimes.
Think about the last time you declared, “Just one chip,” but finished with an upended bag of salty crumbs on your lips. What about that holiday feast turned food coma? The fact of the matter is it happened, and there’s no use pretending it didn’t.
What Is a Binge?
A binge is overeating in a short period of time. You go past satisfying hunger, despite feeling stuffed with food — and oftentimes regret. A binge happens unintentionally, unlike a “cheat meal,” which you can plan into a healthy eating regimen. (Note: Keep in mind that we’re talking about a binge in which you overindulge, and not a consistent pattern of binging that may be a sign of a more serious eating issue. To read more information about eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorder Association.)
Overeating can occur periodically, as in Thanksgiving dinner, or over a stretch of time like a weeklong cruise to Cancun featuring all-you-can-eat crab legs.
Just because we all overeat at some point doesn’t mean we can’t beat the bulge. Overeating can be discouraging, especially if you’ve just started to see progress on the scale. Follow these five steps, so you can get back on track.
Step 1: Do Emotional Damage Control
Unless you’re a special kind of saint, overeating may make you feel lousy. Guilt, shame, worthlessness, and disgust can be knee-jerk reactions afterwards. Catch yourself immediately!
You can’t change the past or let this define you. Here are a few tips to reign in your gloomy thoughts:
- Reframe the situation. This is not going to tank your progress. Your weight is affected by how much you eat averaged over a long period of time. Think of it as a learning opportunity, and use it to course correct for the future. It may be helpful to jot down your thoughts in a journal for when you can look back on this moment with a clearer mind, and glean insights from it.
- Get your mind off your mood. Feeling blue? Call up a close friend and plan something fun that doesn’t involve food. Now is the time to distract yourself with a hobby you love (yoga, anyone?). Bonus points if it involves light exercise.
- Don’t weigh yourself. Overeating could is a hard blow, especially if your self-esteem is tied up in your shape and weight. Do yourself a favor and stay off the scale for now.
Step 2: Pick a Fallback Nutrition Plan
So, you inhaled a large pepperoni pizza, now what? All that excess calories, fat, refined carbs, and salt can make you feel bloated and tired.
After dealing with the emotional hurdles, refocus your effort to get back on the healthy-eating horse. There’s no one answer to how to do this, but here are a few options you can try:
- Get back on the healthy habits horse as soon as possible. Resume an appropriately portioned, balanced diet. Word of caution: If you consumed a ton of calories, you may feel hungrier than normal the next morning. This is likely due to the sugary, high-glycemic index nature of the foods we’re likely to overeat, which can spike blood sugar and stimulate hunger.
- Focus on fluid and fiber. If you’re like me, you’ll get a bit queasy thinking about whatever it was you ate. On the flipside, a fresh salad or tangy fruit-and-veggie smoothie sounds like pure bliss. If this is you, kick off your next meal with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and water. The combination of fluid and fiber makes digestion more efficient, which helps move all of that right through your system. Avoid loading up on calorie-dense, high-fat foods at this point, as these will slow down digestion.
- Try out a non-gimmicky reset. Depending on just how much your overate, you may want to slate about two to three days to recuperate. Get back on track while eating simple meals of nutritious fruits, veggies, and good-for-you fats.
Step 3: Start Exercising (Again)
Obviously, intense exercise on a full stomach is barf-worthy, so give yourself time to digest.
Feeling antsy? Do a brisk walk with your dog or walking up and down the stairs several times. When you’re fully digested (think: the next day), you can sweat through a killer workout.
The excess glycogen stored from overeating can deliver a burst of energy to fuel your next jog or HIIT workout. The key here is that you’re exercising to be a healthier, fitter you, not to earn extra calories for food.
Note: If you try a cleanse, you may want to go easy when it comes to exercise intensity, as the cleanse will tax your body (and energy reserves) enough on its own.
Step 4: More Tips to Prevent Overeating
Be comfortable with the fact that you may overeat again. Then, work on ways you can safeguard yourself:
- Notice the warning signs. Instead of reaching for the entire bag of Oreos, reach deep down inside and figure out why you desire them. Overeating can be coping mechanism for tension or other taxing emotions. If this is the case, brainstorm some non-food ways to deal with your emotions. Also, don’t be afraid to get help. A health professional can help you figure out your triggers and find better ways to cope.
- Don’t keep those foods in the house. If you know certain foods can trigger you to eat more than you desire, by all means remove them from your home. You may not have established an appropriate relationship with those foods yet. Once you do so, they can be reintroduced into your home. Again, a health professional can help you figure this step out.
- Don’t eat on autopilot. Understand that at any point you can stop. Just because you’re satisfying an urge doesn’t mean you need to let it play all the way through. Pace yourself and try to enjoy the food.
- Loosen up your diet. For some, eating a restrictive diet (think: calorie-pinching to the point where you’re constantly under-eating) for a long period of time can lead to overeating. If this is you, liberalize your diet and allow some of the foods you love back in modest amounts. A healthful diet should allow you to enjoy them without guilt.
- Practice mindful eating. Mindful eating helps you learn the difference between physical hunger and emotional arousal, so you can consciously make the right call to eat. Research shows strong evidence that mindfulness can reduce the frequency and severity of overeating.
Be Kind to Yourself
Losing weight and getting to a healthier you is a journey, so you need to be patient and kind to yourself. Healthy eating for life is more about moderation, balance, and quality, and this is just one time.
With time, you will progress and learn more about what will and won’t work for your body. Until then, don’t beat yourself up!