The morning after a night (or day or week) of over-indulging with food, or after a binge, it's tempting, to say, "I need to stop eating so much junk. I'm going to go on a cleanse or a low-carb diet."
I definitely understand that reaction. So often, we feel like we've over-indulged, so it's time to cut back in a big way.
But to be honest, that doesn't work for me. Going on a cleanse ultimately leads to yo-yoing between restriction and indulgence, and doesn't make me feel balanced or happy.
And in my work helping others who find themselves obsessing about food or feeling unhappy about their eating and their weight, I find that they have the same experience. It's tempting to want to restrict what you eat, but it ultimately leads to a vicious cycle.
So I wanted to share with you five techniques that really work for me:
1. Acknowledge the real problem
It's worthwhile to acknowledge that the problem isn't necessarily the cake or the onion rings or the pizza you ate last night. True, none of those things are the healthiest foods, but it's fully possible to have a meal that includes some or all of them without ending up feeling sludgy and pudgy and like an extra layer is coating your body the next day.
The real problem is that you ate those foods in a way that wasn't what your body needed.
The real problem is that you didn't take care of yourself around food, and you didn't listen closely to your true desires.
The reason why this step is so important is because it guides your next actions. If you think the problem was the food, you will want to make a radical change around food (e.g., eat only vegetables for 48 hours). But if you can acknowledge that the problem was that you didn't take good enough care of yourself, it opens up a whole world of possibilities.
2. Take amazingly good care of yourself, without food
If you're willing to explore the idea that your over-eating was caused by not taking care of yourself around food, now is the time to reverse that trend.
How would you take care of yourself if no one would judge you for being over-indulgent or selfish?
Now is the time to take radiantly, generous, joyfully good care of yourself. Now is the time to go above-and-beyond, to roll out the red carpet and really indulge yourself.
Cancel that appointment, put off the to-do list for a few hours, and prioritize whatever it is that allows you to take wonderful good care of yourself.
Now is the time to wear that silk shirt that is only for special occasions but makes you feel soft and beautiful.
Now is the time to put off doing your errands and curl up on your couch with tea and a good book.
Now is the time to go window shopping and touch high quality couches or scented candles or gorgeous bouquets. Now is the time to get a pedicure. Now is the time to call a friend or your mom, and even though you feel like a wimp, whine about whatever it is that has been bothering you.
3. Do something that helps gently return sensation to your body
I'm separating this from #2, because it's so important that you have some kind of self-care that is specifically body-focused.
So often when we over-indulge or binge, we become numb. Then we can't even tell if we are hungry or full, much less what would be pleasurable or what we really need.
Some ideas to return sensation to your body could be:
- Taking a bath and taking extra care to touch, with care and love, each part of your body
- Rubbing scented lotion on your body
- Taking a gentle walk (don't push yourself today). See how it feels for your feet to touch the ground, how your ankles, calves, and thighs feel as they propel you.
- Going to a gentle yoga class
- Putting on some happy, slow music and dancing (you may feel like a new-age hippy, but it works)
- Just lying on your bed and feeling each part of your body from your toes to your head.
It might be intense or unpleasant to pay attention to your body, after being numb for so long. Try to be gentle with yourself.
4. Take amazingly good care of yourself, with food
If you possibly can, don't punish yourself and take away all of your luscious, indulgent, fun foods, just because you think you need to "cut back." And don't punish yourself by making yourself go hungry.
Instead, wait until you are hungry, and then deeply ask yourself what you want to eat. Be willing to be surprised about what it is. It might be half a dark chocolate brownie with sea salt, four bites of chicken tikka masala, and a plate of roasted broccoli.
Your deepest self might be a bit capricious - wanting a bit of this, two bites of that. That's often a sign that she (or he) wants to see if you're truly listening. Just because it doesn't look like a meal that you'd expect you "should" eat, doesn't mean that it can't be nourishing and gentle to your over-stimulated self.
Of course, your deepest self may want grilled chicken and roasted asparagus for lunch and dinner. That's great! The point is that when you listen to yourself, rather than impose strict guidelines around food, you remind yourself that when you take good care of yourself, food isn't the issue.
5. Once you feel calm, have a conversation with yourself.
Once you've completed steps two, three, and four, you should be feeling a better in your mind and your body.
But you're not all the way there yet. You've only dealt the aftermath of your over-eating, and haven't yet addressed the root cause that led you to binge. In a sense, it's like treating the symptoms of a sickness, without treating the sickness itself.
Until you address the root cause, it is likely to happen again.
So make yourself a cup of tea, go somewhere where you can be alone, and take out a piece of paper. Then answer the following questions:
- What was going on in my life right before I found myself over-eating?
- Were there any feelings or signals from my body that I ignored?
- What could I have done to take better care of myself in those moments?
- Are there any gentle changes that I can make now, to prevent situations like this in the future?
- It's very tempting to skip this step. After all, you're probably feeling pretty good, and don't want to revisit a painful or uncomfortable time.
But I'd really urge you to take even a few minutes to do this exercise. Think of it as a gift to your future self.
I'd love to hear from you: What works for you, after a period of over-indulging or even bingeing? Or if you try one of these techniques, let me know how it goes! I'd love to chat with you in the comments.
Wondering if your eating, exercise, and life could feel more authentic and easy? Check out Katie's free "What's Your Eating Style" Quiz, with recommendations tailored just for you.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.