After you’ve binged on sugar or food, you may feel physically uncomfortable: bloated, overly full, gassy, or irritable. You may have a headache, feel a sugar buzz, feel wired, or sleepy. You may have strong sugar or salt cravings. Beyond how your body feels, you may be filled with uncomfortable emotions as well. These can include shame, frustration, hopelessness, regret, or anger.
In the following post, I’ll share you how to care for your body, your heart and emotions after a binge. I’ll also share some thoughts on how you can prevent a binge next time. You’ll also find resources if you’re open to outgrowing a habit of binge eating.
Ways to support your physical body after a binge:
1. Eat regular meals. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but fasting or skipping meals after a binge will only destabilize your blood sugar, which can easily lead to another binge and feelings of hopelessness.
When you’re hungry again, eat. If you binged at night, start fresh by giving yourself a healthy breakfast. Stick to clean, whole foods and drink lots of water. Broth based soups and vegetable based meals often feel good after a binge.
Starving yourself after a binge can be a subtle form of punishment – “I was so bad yesterday I don’t deserve to eat today.” By contrast, feeding yourself when you’re hungry again is a tangible way of saying, “I forgive myself. I don’t have to suffer because I made a mistake.”
2. Give your body gentle support. To help your body detox from lots of food, fat, salt or sugar, you may try having a cup of mint tea to soothe your digestion. (Celestial Seasonings’ Grandma’s Tummy Mint tea is especially nice.) Eating probiotic rich foods – kombucha, fermented vegetables, yogurt, kefir – can also help settle and support your digestion.
A shower or hot bath with Epsom salts may help you feel better both mentally and physically.
3. Offer yourself regular, rhythmic self care.
If you binged on lots of sugary or fatty foods, you may have intense food cravings for a few days. Your body may feel out of sorts as your body processes the excess sugar and fat.
What helps you move through this period of discomfort is structure, routine, and rhythmic support, what I call grounding. Grounding helps you feel nourished, capable, and strong. The power lies in its rhythmic nature: the routine itself can take over when you feel tired, overwhelmed, or inside out. You can ground yourself with regular meals, a daily routine, sleep, and gentle exercise. Learn more about grounding in 5 ways to stop a relapse and Help! I’m gaining weight and bingeing again.
Ways to support your heart and mind after a binge:
4. Offer yourself compassion and self forgiveness. Beating yourself up doesn’t facilitate change. Here’s why: when you’re caught in self blame and shame, your brain moves to defend you, to protect you from too much wounding. The consequence is that you’re not free to adapt and grow: you’re not able to learn from your mistakes. Compassion, on the other hand, moves your brain into a space of safety, freeing you to learn and grow.
You can try comforting yourself just as you would a small child or talking to yourself in reassuring tones, “It’s okay, honey. You’re going to be okay.” Try picturing someone who loves you unconditionally and talk to yourself as this person would. I talk more about self forgiveness here and here.
5. Move the emotions through your body. A binge brings up strong emotions. A walk is a great way to move the painful regret, sadness, frustration and even loathing (which is actually frustration that has simply found a target) after a binge. A good cry can also move the strong emotion of frustration. Other ways to move the emotions: writing, exercise, gentle yoga, stretching, deep breathing, rocking in a rocking chair or swing, meditation and dancing.
6. Remind yourself of your wholeness. When you offer yourself mercy, you’re offering yourself unconditional love: I love you so much even though you slipped up. This is important, because it reminds you of your wholeness. You are so much bigger than your thoughts, emotions and behavior – even bingeing.
One way to convey unconditional love is to put up photos of yourself as a young child in your home. Looking at these pictures can remind you that you still carry that child with you. You’re not a horrible person because you messed up; merely human. Learn more here about reconnecting with your goodness.
7. Get support. You may find yourself hiding after a binge, feeling caught in shame. There’s tremendous vulnerability in sharing ourselves so intimately with another. But in reaching out, there’s also a big pay off: connection instead of isolation.
When you’ve binged, I gently invite you to reach out for support and to talk with a trusted friend (the key word here is trusted), someone who can remind you of your wholeness and the bigger picture. When we move through our fear and reach out for support, sharing our pain with a trusted loved one, we often find acceptance, connection and belonging. This brings relief.
You can also offer yourself empathy. Listening to your own heart and caring for your feelings can prevent a binge, a process I describe in the post, Stop a binge in its tracks with empathy.
Ways to grow out of a pattern of binge eating:
8. Seek understanding. One of the most powerful ways you can foster self forgiveness is to reframe why you binge. Many people see bingeing as a problem of poor will power, lack of self discipline, or a character flaw. When they binge, they then see themselves as someone with poor will power, selfishness, or low character. Oh, ouch! No wonder that point of view causes so much shame and feels so painful.
I offer a different perspective: You’re not bingeing on purpose. You’re bingeing to meet a need. Binge eating is an emotional coping strategy driven by deep, unmet needs. On this emotional level, your bingeing makes absolute sense, as messy or illogical as the overeating may appear on the surface.
This new way of thinking frees us from the pain of self blame.
9. Foster “and” thinking. When you’ve made a mistake, like a binge, it’s easy to get caught in intense emotions of hopelessness or frustration. These feelings can feel so big and true that you lose hope. You may feel like it will never be different or that you’ll never be able to change.
What shifts these feelings is integrative functioning – to see the other side. Integrative thinking is “and” vs. either/or thinking. It’s holding onto both the discomfort – I feel frustrated, I feel discouraged, I feel like I’ll never stop bingeing – and the hope – I know I can do better tomorrow. I know this will pass. This isn’t the end of my story.
How do you remember the hope? Honestly, when we’re caught in intense emotions, we often can’t. The emotions are too intense to mix. This is where loved ones, support partners, therapists, and sponsors can help. They can help you hold onto your integrative functioning when you can’t do this on your own. They can bring the hope when you can’t.
10. Fully feel the grief. I used to believe – and teach – that when we know better, we do better. But I learned a different perspective from developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld that changed the foundation of my approach to healing binge eating. You do better – you make different choices – as a by product of emotional development, not knowledge.
Emotional development is the key to maturation, to outgrowing patterns of binge eating. It’s fostered by fully feeling the futility of your actions. This means that you have to fully feel that what you’re doing (the binge eating) isn’t working – it doesn’t bring you the relief you seek, it doesn’t truly meet your needs, and it causes pain and suffering in your life.
When you fully feel the futility of “This doesn’t work,” you’re able to move forward and change. It’s how you do something different. I appreciate how vulnerable this is, because futility is a place of loss, letting go, and surrender. Paradoxically, it’s also the doorway to healing and growth. As spring follows winter, grief leads to new life. As you fully feel that the binge eating doesn’t work, you’re able to change your habits with food.