Do you ever eat waaaaaaay too much after you've been drinking?
You know, those times when you're out with your friends, having a great night and a little (or a lot) to drink. And then you're headed home, and the idea occurs to you: I know that I just ate dinner 2 hours ago, but I could really go for an entire large sausage and mushroom pizza right now.
I coach people on how to eat without dieting or needing to "obsess," and one of the top problems I hear is that it's really, really hard not to eat, say, an entire cheesesteak after a night out drinking.
Here's the thing. Whether you are drunk or sober, you need to call on your internal awareness in order to eat intuitively or without dieting.
By internal awareness, I mean that you must be at least somewhat aware of what is going on inside your body.
This is pretty obvious, right?
If you aren't aware of what's going on for you internally, there's no way that you can tell the difference between the desire to eat because your body wants food and the desire to eat because you are bored or awkward or happy or excited. Or because you know something is going to taste really, really good.
Bottom line: you have to be aware of what is going on, emotionally and physically, inside of your body. At least a little bit.
It's worthwhile noting that many (if not most) of us struggle with internal awareness, even when we are stone cold sober. When I started my eating journey, I was shocked to find that I was rarely, if ever, really consulting my body about when, how much, or what to eat.
In my experience, the challenging thing about drinking alcohol is this:
Alcohol can make internal awareness much more difficult.
Part of this is the emotional experience of alcohol intoxication. You feel euphoric and less socially inhibited. You might be laughing and talking with friends and dancing and feeling fabulous. As alcohol quiets the voices of your internal social inhibitions, it also quiets all of your internal voices, and your tendency to touch base with your thoughts and feelings.
This is exacerbated by how we generally consume alcohol. We often drink when we're at bars, restaurants, parties, or concerts. These situations usually involve a lot of stimulation: friends are around, exciting conversations are happening, there's often music and lots of people and lights.
This can make it doubly difficult to touch base with yourself.
Of course, I don't mean to say that you can't drink alcohol. Far from it.
But it's worthwhile to note that as your alcohol consumption goes up, it can be harder and harder to check in with your internal self.
With one or two glasses of wine, you might still be able to feel your hunger and fullness. Or maybe you're gone after half a glass -- you've gotta know yourself. But we all have point at which our decision making skills become feeble.
So, I find that you have three options. I'll tell you my favorite first, and then two others that will work if it comes down to it:
1. Plan to check in with yourself.
This means that at least one time during your night, plan to take a break from all of the excitement, go somewhere quiet, and check in with how you are doing. I find that the bathroom is a good place for this, because it is often the least externally-stimulating place that you can get to quickly -- bathrooms are generally quiet and calm, even if your bar has loud music and strobe lights.
You can check your phone or wash your hands, and just take a moment to slow down, get quiet, and check in with your body.
Then figure out if you are still hungry -- or if you are just eating more nachos because it feels good to shovel more into your mouth in time with the Katy Perry music at the restaurant.
You might decide that you'll do this check-in when you are halfway through your entrée, or at 10 o'clock, or after you've had your first glass of wine. But plan on it -- just because this can be a dangerous time, and it's good to know that you'll get a moment to reflect.
2. Decide that tonight you will let your brain to decide how much to eat.
I generally don't like using my brain as my primary decision-maker around food. This is mostly because I spent too long with a lot of brain-based "rules" about portion sizes and what I was "allowed" to eat. So now, I prefer to make decisions about what to eat based on hunger and fullness, and what I'm truly craving.
But if it's going to be really hard to even tell if you're hungry, I think that it's okay to use your brain to make some determinations in advance. For example: "Even if I seem to want to eat an half a cake after I just had an entire dinner, I'm not going to."
The reason why this isn't the option I like most is because, quite frankly, it can be hard to think implement rational plans when you've been drinking alcohol. You can see if it works for you.
3. Decide that you won't touch base with yourself.
You can decide that you're okay with going internally numb for a night, and likely eating more than you'd really want.
I don't recommend this as a long-term strategy, but it's not a crisis for one night. The key is: make sure to touch base with your inner self the next day. The longer you stay out of communication, the harder it can be to be able to hear your subtle internal cues.
You can do this by journaling, by lying on your bed and feeling your body, or by taking a slow walk and figuring out what thoughts are in your head. The dangerous thing about ceasing to be internally aware is that you can go on auto-pilot for days or weeks, and forget that you have an inner self who is able to communicate with you about what she wants and needs, food-wise.
Important note: don't make this a blame-fest. Acknowledge that you chose to do this, and even though you might not feel great with six tacos in your belly in the morning, you were satisfying other needs at the time (e.g., the need to have a fun time). Be kind, and reconnect with yourself so you don't disappear into a week-long eating fog.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments! How does drinking generally affect your eating? What do you do (or not do) to stay internally aware in those moments?
Katie spent years "planning" her eating and being frustrated with herself when she ruined her plans by eating too much. She eventually discovered how to trust herself around food -- read more about her story here, or get her free ebook.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.