An eating disorder therapist’s tips for coping the day after bingeing.
She told herself that it wouldn’t happen again. Then, after dinner she found herself reaching into the pantry for the jar of peanut butter. The TV plays in the background, as she compulsively begins to eat a package of Oreos and peanut butter straight from the jar. She feels completely out of control and powerless to stop. Thirty minutes go by, and she finds herself surrounded by empty boxes, cartons, and wrappers, from all the food that she just consumed.
Her stomach aches painfully and her head is throbbing. Filled with a sense of guilt, shame, and self-loathing, she finally drifts off to sleep. It’s important to note that she is not simply “lacking willpower” or “making a choice” to eat until she feels sick. Rather, she is struggling with binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S., however it is often highly misunderstood, stigmatized, and not frequently discussed. Additionally, many people who are struggling do not seek treatment due to shame, guilt, and denial of the seriousness of the illness.
As an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, I am grateful to be able to help teens and adults to recover from binge eating disorder.
The following are my tips for how to cope the day after an episode of binge eating.
1. Practice self-compassion.
Many of the people that I work with express feelings of shame and guilt after binge eating. It’s important to note that you are so not alone in feeling this way or in struggling with binge eating disorder.
Binge eating disorder is a mental illness and you are not simply “lacking willpower” or a “undisciplined person.” No one would choose to eat until they feel physically sick. You are not choosing to struggle with an eating disorder, and you can make the choice to start working towards recovery.
Also, you did the best you could with the coping skills that you had in that moment, and you can also learn from this experience. It’s so important to practice self-compassion, as well as to explore your bingeing behavior from a place of curiosity and non-judgment.
“Beating yourself up” for bingeing will likely only serve to perpetuate the behavior and cause you to feel even worse.
Think about how you would talk to someone that you love who was suffering from an eating disorder. It’s unlikely that you would harshly criticize and berate them. It’s crucial to practice saying kind things to yourself. You deserve to extend the same kindness to yourself that you would give to someone you love.
2. Nourish yourself, rather than restricting.
The tendency or urge the day after binge eating is often to skip meals or to try to follow some kind of restrictive diet (yes, “clean eating” or cleansing falls under this category).
Here’s the thing, I always encourage my clients (even if they are not physically hungry) to have a solid breakfast (plus lunch, dinner, and snacks) the day after a binge episode. It may seem paradoxical, but it’s also important they are start to honor their specific food cravings and begin to incorporate them into their regular meals.
Restriction of food serves to perpetuate binge eating disorder and can be one of the triggers for bingeing (with emotional factors being another big one). If you restrict the day after a binge episode, you are actually fueling the eating disorder.
I explain to clients that bingeing is often a natural and adaptive bodily response to real or perceived deprivation. Our bodies evolved to ensure our survival as a species and it makes sense that physical and/or emotional restriction can trigger subsequent binging episodes. If there were times of famine or food scarcity, we were primed to eat as much as possible when we encountered food again.
Therefore, physical or emotional restriction of food can be a major trigger when it comes to binge eating. Physical restriction is the idea of depriving yourself of certain foods (i.e. not allowing myself to eat the brownie), whereas emotional restriction is eating a food while experiencing a sense of guilt or shame (i.e. I eat the brownie, but feel guilty about it). Thus, it’s important to work to challenge and eliminate any restriction, as part of your recovery from binge eating disorder.
Also, it’s crucial to note that compulsive exercise or trying to “compensate” in some other way following a binge, is also only going to serve to perpetuate the binge/restrict cycle.
3. Do NOT step on the scale and instead do some self-care.
If you still own a scale, I’d recommend throwing it out (although taking a hammer to it could also be therapeutic).
I find that for my clients knowing their weight is unhelpful. If their weight must be monitored, then I ask that they do “blind weights” with their doctor or registered dietitian.
Knowing the number that you are on the scale tells me nothing about your attractiveness, intellect, health, mental health, worthiness, or anything else of importance.
When we focus on this external measure, we lose touch with our bodies and engaging in food and movement choices that actually feel pleasurable to us.
Instead of stepping on a scale, I’d encourage you to practice some self-care. If you feel that your bingeing was triggered by emotional factors, I’d ask you to think about what feeling you were looking to experience (or to not feel) when you turned to food.
For instance, let’s say that you were looking to feel “comfort” or “companionship.” You might then start to explore some healthier ways that you can start to get these needs met. For example, you might consider getting together with a friend or family member, playing with a pet, or drinking a cup of warm tea while cuddled up with a blanket.
In therapy we also work on learning how to sit with and tolerate binge urges and uncomfortable emotions, primarily through using dialectical behavioral therapy skills. If you are not familiar with dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) i’d highly recommend looking into this approach.
The Bottom Line
Living with binge eating disorder feels miserable. You are not making the choice to struggle with an eating disorder, however you can choose to reach out for help from a professional (ideally one who specializes in eating disorders, health at every size, and a non-diet approach).
Seeking help when you are struggling is a sign of strength, not weakness.
With access to treatment and support, you can fully recover from your eating disorder, and find freedom with food, body-acceptance, and reconnect with your life values.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. She provides eating disorder recovery coaching via phone to people worldwide. Connect with Jennifer through her website: www.jenniferrollin.com