Updated: Feb 28
Medically reviewed by Serena Benali, Registered Dietitian
Are you struggling with binge eating? While tips to stop binge eating are critical in the process of recovery, understanding what to do after a binge when it occurs is of equal importance in the journey towards healing your relationship with food and breaking the binge eating cycle.
After a binge, your emotions can run high and negative thoughts might seem impossible to shake. It is common to feel frustrated and down on yourself. You may be unsure of what to do next, and think: now what...?
Here are 9 proven strategies on what to do after a binge to get back on track so you can break the binge eating cycle:
1. Express self-compassion
Cultivating self-compassion can be an effective approach for reducing binge eating Practicing self-compassion has also been shown to reduce eating and weight concerns (1).
Offer yourself the same kindness and care you would offer a good friend when they are feeling inadequate or having a hard time. Think about what you would say to someone you care about deeply, and direct that acceptance and compassion inwards.
Dr Kristin Neff, a leader and researcher in self-compassion, has a library of free guided practices and meditations that you can explore. Mindfulness mediation has been shown to be effective in decreasing binge eating (2).
Summary Showing yourself some self-compassion and being your inner ally instead of your inner critic is more effective in reducing binge eating.
2. Sooth yourself with something warm
Feelings of loneliness, isolation and self-loathing can run high after a binge. Growing research reveals a warm body temperature is associated with greater feelings of connection (3).
Experiencing physical warmth can promote inner feelings of warmth like comfort. Taking a hot bubble bath or holding a hot beverage can prime you to direct that external warmth you feel towards yourself (4).
Take a moment to sooth yourself with something warm, whether a warm bath, heated blanket, hot beverage. You can even enhance this with some warm soft lighting and candles. Be present and mindful of the warm touch on your body and set the intention to bring this warmth inwards.
Summary Get warm! Feelings of external warmth, through a bath or hot beverage can help bring about feelings of internal warmth, connection.
3. Go for a Walk
The great thing about walking is you can do it just about anywhere. Walking provides us with plenty of physical and mental health benefits. Walking improves your mood, helps you de-stress, provides mental clarity and helps you get a better nights rest among many (5)!
Walking also speeds up stomach emptying which can help alleviate feeling uncomfortably full (6).
After a binge emotional and mental distress can feel overwhelming, walking improves your mood by calming the stress response of your body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (7).
Summary Take a hike! Well maybe not a hike but a walk. Walking can alleviate feelings of anxiousness and stress and bring about calm.
Yoga brings balance and health to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of our selves. Yoga incorporates breath control, control of the senses, concentration, mediation, physical posters and bliss, together these bring about something that is seen and felt internally and external.
There are many different styles of yoga, Hatha yoga involves a slower pace with easier movements. Hatha yoga in particular can be more soothing and calming (8).
A study that looked at the impact of yoga on binge eating behaviour in women and found that practicing five days a week significantly reduced incidences of binge eating and enhanced greater connection to one’s body and food choices (8).
For yoga practices, Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is one of my favourites! She has an extensive library that will help you find the right practice for you. Adriene has a way of weaving in messages of self-acceptance and body appreciation that can be so soothing.
Summary Yoga brings about greater connection to the body, among many other things, and has been shown to reduce incidences of binge eating.
5. Do something that brings you enjoyment
Doing something that brings you enjoyment will keep you from ruminating over the past and help to lift your mood. It is also a reminder that there is more to life than food and eating.
Instead of expending all your energy focusing on things you can’t change spend this time engaging in something that makes you happy – independent of food!
Indulge your creative side with drawing or painting
Listen to your favourite music
Knit or crochet
Reorganize your closet (while listening to your favourite music)
Build or make something
Taking time for activities like these, that you enjoy, have been shown to stimulate creativity, release dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter) and de-stress (9).
Take the time to do something you enjoy will help you to feel better. Everyone is different – think about what practices or activities promote your personal happiness and gift yourself the time to engage in the practice.
Summary Doing something that brings you enjoyment will help shift thoughts of contemplating your past actions to feeling good in the moment and moving forward with your life.
6. Don’t restrict or overcompensate
After a binge, it is not uncommon to feel as though you should “make up” for the previous day’s events. This can look like:
Introducing new, stricter food rules
Ignoring natural hunger cues
Googling ‘quick fixes’
Restricting your calories or skipping meals can lead your body to produce overpowering cravings and urges to binge ultimately leading to more binge eating to. Depriving yourself to ‘undo’ the damage will only lead to an increased desire to binge again. Meal skipping is associated with more binge eating episodes and worse health outcomes (10).
Instead of trying to overcompensate, get back to a normal eating routine with regular meals and snacks. Focus on lean protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Eating regular meals and snacks will help lower binge frequency (11).
Summary Eat regular meals and snacks, don’t try to compensate by skipping meals. Meal skipping or calorie restriction only increase food obsession and binge eating episodes. Provide your body with the nourishment it needs to feel physically and mentally well!
7. Get some sleep
Getting adequate sleep and rest after a binge is key to feeling refreshed and fighting off cravings post-binge. Even a modest amount of sleep deprivation can increase hunger, food cravings, food reward and portion sizes (12).
Evidence shows that sleep deprivation can alter your body’s natural hormone levels and may actually lead to increased appetite! (12).
There are several mechanisms which explain this association:
Sleep deprivation may lead to a decreased liking of low-energy (or low-calorie) foods, resulting in an increased preference for high-energy (or high-calorie) foods and the risk of a binge (12).
Sleep deprivation may have an effect on self-control and lead to less discrimination between which foods to consume, which can often result in giving in to cravings (13).
Increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin, which leads to increased feeling of hunger (12).
Decreased leptin (a hormone that prevents hunger) causing us to feel hungrier (12).
Food reward (the pleasure we receive from food) increases with reduced sleep with the hypothalamus region of the brain (12).
Remember – cravings are a natural part of human life and punishing yourself for having them is not the key to long term success. Ensuring you are well rested after a binge is just one way to reduce cravings that may present due to altered hormone levels rather than your body’s natural needs and desires.
Summary Inadequate sleep disrupts many of our hunger and fullness hormones causing us to crave more foods. After a binge, set your intention to rest and recharge and wake up ready to conquer a new day binge-free.
8. Mindful eating
Using principles of mindful eating are effective in reducing binge eating (14). Mindful eating allows us to enjoy food and the food experience more fully. As a result we eat what our body needs and not in excess because were more connected to the satisfaction and pleasure from eating.
A study showed, those with lower levels of mindfulness in eating had more sever mood disturbances and binge eating behaviours (15). Being mindful during our eating experience allows us to be present with our food choices and when you are present with your food choices the right food choice will happen for you.
Here's how you can start implementing mindful eating into your next meal:
Eat at the table. Eat in a nice environment, remove distractions and create a relaxing ambience.
Use all your senses, stay present. Eating mindfully enhances the pleasure and satisfaction we get from food. Tune into the textures, tastes, temperature and flavours.
Appreciate your food. Do you love food? Then show it! Reflect and give thanks for the food you have in front of you, savour each bite.
Extend your meal time, put the fork down between bites. It can take time for our brain to get the message that we're satisfied and full. Extending the meal time to allow time
Summary Mindful eating is an effective way to reduce incidences of binge eating while bringing greater awareness, presence and enjoyment to the eating experience.
9. Talk it out
Reach out to a friend or family member that you trust. Sharing your experience is a big part of the healing process and can help to instigate reflection into the root cause of the binge. Sometimes talking about your feelings out loud can help you to identify triggers that you otherwise wouldn’t have recognized through personal reflection alone. A strong support system is instrumental in breaking up with binge eating and producing long term behaviour change and developing healthy habits. Social support can help you accept setbacks, reduce stress, enhance problem solving and improve self-esteem.
Summary Reach out to someone you trust and talk out your feelings. This can bring some ease and bring some clarity around your relationship with food and binge eating.
The Bottom Line
Binge eating happens. It is not an indication of your worth or deservingness of self-love and respect. After a binge, your emotions can run high and negative thoughts might seem impossible to shake.
Understanding what to do after a binge is important in the recovery process and breaking the binge eating cycle. Next time, try using one of the 9 strategies to get back on track and help set you up for future success. Remember – you are not alone, and what you eat does not define you!
Want more support? Get my Breakup with Binge Eating: 5-Day Challenge! I walk you through, step-by-step, five pivotal concepts to help you breakup with binge eating.
Written by: Maria White, Dietetics Graduate