Q: Erika, I screwed up. I had a stressful week, and this weekend I went on a sugar bender! And when I woke up, I realized I’d put on 3 whole pounds! WTF?? I’m so ashamed of myself and I want to get back on track right away. Do you have any advice to help me undo this mess I’ve done?
Firstly, take a deep breath! It happens. Sometimes, if we’re used to using food as a coping mechanism, and take away that option before we have adequate replacement methods for coping, we find ourselves overwhelmed with anxiety at the end of the week, resulting in a bad binge-type situation. It’s nothing to feel ashamed of, but if you feel anything, it’s likely guilt because you know better and didn’t do better. The truth is, because you might not’ve been fully prepared, you likely wouldn’t have been able to do better. We’ve all been there. It’s okay.
And, because it’s okay, you should also know this isn’t something to react to in a drastic manner. I know some people like to try to trigger themselves to vomit or take excessive amounts of laxatives in hopes of undoing the “damage” they’ve done. Not only does this not work, but it’s also dangerous both mentally and physically.
So many people think that a drastic event like a binge requires a drastic response, because we are very attached to the idea that we must “suffer” a “punishment” for a bad decision. This kind of thinking not only overlooks the fact that there are already consequences that we’ve simply been conditioned to ignore, but perpetuates the belief that we should be cruel to ourselves in response to bad choice-making. It’s unhealthy both physically and mentally—physically because your body cannot healthily withstand constant purging or laxative-triggered episodes; mentally because it is an irrational attempt at self-control using the wrong tools. It’s literally the equivalent of using your body to stand in front of a car as a means of stopping it, instead of pulling the emergency brake.
Here’s what you have to understand: this isn’t a “fault” situation, so don’t fixate on the idea of “blaming” yourself; it isn’t helpful. This is an opportunity for assessment. How has your week been going? Were you particularly stressed out? Has work been on your last nerve? Is your boo on your reserve nerve? Are the kids making your hair fall out? Do you have money troubles that are making it hard to feel good about anything? Be honest with yourself. Something might’ve caused you to feel like you needed an escape or release. Something made you feel like the overeating session is your escape. You have to adequately address that—find a new coping mechanism, and learn how to use it before things get this bad. Without doing so, you’re far more likely to return to this bad habit over time.
You also have to talk to yourself—yes, I said it, talk to yourself—about why this particular habit is bad for you. Do your research. Understand why eating a whole pint of ice cream in a sitting might not be the move. Realize what that whole two-liter of pineapple sodapop—okay, maybe I’m talking to myself, here—is doing to you, both inside and out. Think critically about why all that sugar, fat, and salt are so troublesome and, frankly, worrisome. And then, when you catch yourself sliding towards revisiting that bad habit, talk to yourself. Recite everything you learned. Even talk yourself out of it. It won’t always work, but that’s okay—trust me, it eventually will.
And, eventually, you won’t even need to talk to yourself at all because you won’t return to that bad habit at all. You’ll be free from it altogether.
If you’re looking for a specific action plan you can use for when things go badly, here it is: take a deep breath, write down what has been frustrating you, write down what you wished you would’ve done instead, write down what you will do to ensure that you make better choices the next time you feel this way, and then get the resources you need to help make that happen. And then, at your next meal, nourish yourself gently and generously. Make yourself a salad with fresh dark leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, a good protein like chicken or chickpeas, and a healthy dose of a vinaigrette with olive oil and apple cider vinegar—not simply because your body will be begging for it after a bad episode, but because you need to make it a habit to be gentle to yourself and with yourself.
Be thoughtful, careful, and deliberate with yourself… yes, even after a bad binge session. Especially after a bad binge session. Whether you believe it or not, you deserve that goodness. That’s a part of healing, learning, and growing—you deserve those three things, too.