Closing Pandora’s Box (Binge Recovery)

Apr 27, 2012

Closing Pandora’s Box (Binge Recovery)

I get such a kick out of it when I hear myself say, in explaining some radical over-indulgence, “I ate more than I wanted to”.  Oh, come on, that’s not true.  I ate exactly what I wanted to.  That’s the problem.  The truth is that I ate more than I wish I wanted to.

Let’s face it; sometimes you just know you are going to overeat, despite your best-laid plans or semi-sincere hopes.  That’s what’s so useful about telling myself the truth about what I am really about – at least then I can prepare for my worst self.  And, with the sheer amount of blood, sweat and tears I have devoted to the topic of my weight over the years, the very least I would hope to come out with is the ability to be honest with myself and predict my overeating behaviors. Past experience can even arm me with the actual calorie number around which I need to work my budget.  Then it is no longer cheating, but a planned and intentionally accommodated indulgence – totally different mentality.

When I will/can honestly predict the overeating – be it intended (like vacations), unplanned but not exactly a surprise (like bingeing late at night or after a difficult event I just got through unscathed), or just the inevitables (buffets, weddings, bar mitzvahs, an undisciplined Costco visit!), there are lots of ways I can prepare, both calorically and psychologically.  The most important thing for me in these instances, outside of the obvious accountability, is containing the overeating to one event or at least one day.  It is the adding on to the original damage (be it more that same day, or days that escalate into weeks that threaten my ability to get or even want to get a grip back) that has really cost me.

One of my clients has a great analogy for this inexplicable logic that every chronic dieter understands – the I-already-blew-it so….” logic.  (BTW if you don’t know the rest of that sentence, what are you even doing reading this blog?!)  Anyway, here is her analogy:  it is like you are walking down a flight of cement steps.  You trip on the first step, and then, instead of grabbing the handrail, you say to yourself, “As long as I already tripped on this first step, I may as well just fling myself to the bottom of the flight.”  Makes sense to me 🙂

Because there is overeating, planned or otherwise, and then there is real bingeing, right?  And for me, there are even levels of bingeing.  There is the simple finishing-the-sleeve kind (that’s the single serving anyway, isn’t it?).  And, then there is total abandon kind that has this enormous price tag, maybe even more psychological than caloric.  It is truly baffling and deeply disturbing that an otherwise intelligent, competent and tenacious individual (me) can engage in this demoralizing and self-hate generating behavior over and over again.  And, I know that I have not been alone in my despair.  At least some of you know exactly what I am talking about.

I am so relieved that this kind of bingeing is no longer a regular occurrence in my life.  Time was that it was daily and even more than once a day – if I kept any residuals from the earlier disaster.  Man, was that hard to work around.  Payback was brutal.

I never anticipated any relief from this desire.  It was the unexpected result of a couple of key changes.  For one thing, the pain of reconciling my budget (in an effort to at least not to allow my bingeing to dictate my weight) did eventually create the leverage on myself I needed to push me to the next level of self-management.

Initially the improvement was totally to the credit of the environmental control I quickly realized was critical for me to keep any kind of grip at all.  Most of the bingeing I have not done is by circumstance, not virtue.  I didn’t eat it because I don’t own it, not because I teach weight management all day.  If I had donuts waiting on my counter at the end of a long day, I would be just as likely to eat them (or at least all the outsides) as any one of my most struggling clients.  Ninety percent of the time even now I keep my environment clean of junk and loaded with veggies in ready-to-be-eaten mode.  I have learned the hard way not to rest on my laurels in this area.

In hindsight though, I would have to credit much of my deliverance from the longing to chow down equally to actual nutritional upgrades in my diet.  Frankly, it’s really hard to continue to eat as badly when you know as much nutritional science as I do now.  At the long time recommendation of all those nutrition specialists I respect (I still consider myself to be somewhat the black sheep of that community), I learned to go against my natural instinct and to eat a lot or real food during the day.  What a concept…lots of healthy fats, plenty of protein, and veggies for volume.  I still relegate my junk to weekend evenings – a behavioral strategy for many years now that at least keeps it non-negotiable Monday through Friday (aka easier) and contained to two days.  As of late, it generally doesn’t contain flour – my apparent nemesis.  I simply wasn’t willing to do that year’s ago.  The pleasure was worth fighting the relentless tidal wave of my appetite.  Currently it isn’t.

But no matter your particular details, forewarned can still be forearmed.   Here are some thoughts and strategies for when you know it’s coming.

PRE-BINGE AVOIDANCE

  • Figure out specifically what you need to save up calorically so that the overeating day(s) can be fitted into the budget for the week you are in – just like money.  Carrying over or committing to pay back in the future is always suspect.  The extra pounds you are wearing now are the unpaid debts, those very unfulfilled promises.  If I know in advance what to save and don’t save it, what makes me think I will pay it back after the fact?  At least in advance it feels like getting rewarded for work well done.  You could try to convince yourself that of course you will be willing to pay back later because after all you don’t want to be overweight.  But if you are overweight now, then apparently paying back so that you will not be has not incentivized you enough so far.  Skinny days in advance guarantee that you will pay up because you already did.
  • Skinny days in advance can be really motivating to keep a better grip because you hate to “ruin” the good roll you have already created.  Case in point:  I have a client who travels all the time.  She has learned to make her travel days skinny days by creating an airport routine.  Not only has she bookended or contained the trip with skinny days on each end, she has also generated momentum to keep a grip at the beginning of the trip, and to get right back on track as soon as she is home.  She already has one good day under her belt before the trip is even over.  A by-product of this is that she now orders from PeaPod en route home, so she never plays that “I was away and there was nothing to eat in my house when I got home, so….” game.
  • Knowing that you already paid the debt will help you to get right back on track after the event. There is no outstanding debt hanging over your head, debt that it is tempting to add on to as long as you are going to have to deny yourself at some future point  – that is suspiciously any time except today.  When you don’t have that lingering debt, guilt and responsibility and are home free if you just get back to your usual routine, it is easier to do just that.
  • Eating well – aka nourishing yourself – even while banking works a lot better for keeping a grip.  Nothing is more dangerous than being underfed, undernourished, and eating poorly although skimpily prior to an eating event.  Every physiological justification (all those calories you have saved up and can now spend) as well as biochemical mechanisms to prevent you from starving yourself (appetite stimulating chemicals) are just waiting to spring into action to make it impossible for you to regain control of your appetite.

POST BINGE RECOVERY PLANS

  • Don’t starve – despite the fact that every fiber of your being will think this is the best solution.  It will come back to bite you biochemically every time, and besides it is the same thinking that got you in trouble to begin with.
  • Jump start your metabolism and get everything moving on down the line (so to speak) the very next day by eating a decent breakfast.  I know it seems counter-intuitive, but you’ll get rid of that overly full feeling faster if you eat right, and early in the day.  Plus you are acting like the reasonable person to whom you are trying to hand back the reigns.  I always feel like I am acting like an adult when I eat properly.  If you go low starchy carb in general for a couple of days right after the binge, you will drop all that extra water that extra calories, salt and starchy carbs pull in.
  • Make sure that breakfast contains proteins and healthy fats for appetite regulation, and vegetables for volume.  This will level off your blood sugar and send a message to your hypothalamus that you have been fed and to turn of the hunger signals.
  • Go for volume.  Have you ever noticed that we over-eaters tend to be more hungry after an indulgent day rather than less hungry?  I don’t know whether that is psychological or physiological, but thin people typically seem to be less hungry the next day.  They seem to have a natural shut off that we don’t have (or maybe we broke).  Ask an overweight person, and they will often tell you that after the initial self-flagellation, disgust and lack of hunger early, they actually end up hungrier following an overeating day.  Is this is just a function of opening Pandora’s box or a real biochemical thing?  Who knows.  Predictable though, even if not explicable.
  • Prepare the environment to get a few good days in a row.  Do whatever you need to do to remove triggers and prep the foods you “should” be eating.  If you have to go to great lengths to acquire them, you may not have the heart for it.  Your willpower, commitment and self-confidence may have taken a hit (binges beget binges).  I have often actually plated all the next day’s meals the night of the binge day, creating my own “Jenny Craig” plan.  It changes my “I’ll get back on track tomorrow” from a desperate promise into a commitment.
  • After one or two reasonable days you will regain that feeling of being “back on the beam”.  See below for a sample menu.  Metabolically:  cravings are gone or diminished, energy is back. Calorically:  you’ve already paid back some of those extra calories and begun to balance off your week.  Emotionally:  you feel “up to the task” again and able to stay the course.  Practice will let you know how many “good” days you typically need to get your mojo back.  I used to need three, but now one will do it for me.
  • Remind yourself that once you get a couple of on track days behind you, it will seem doable and even desirable again.  I have noticed that as the overeating continues and usually escalates, I feel increasingly unable to stem the tide.  I can’t even imagine how I live my life normally without this indulgence, even as I hate myself for every bite.  I now know that it comes with the binge package, and I have learned not to take it too seriously.  It will pass once I get my head and system realigned.
  • Don’t weigh yourself the day after a binge.  It will likely be falsely inflated with water weight and really demoralize you.  Give it a couple of days for the “dust to settle”.   A written record of the indulgence will be a much more valuable tool to deconstruct the behavior triggers and figure out the debt.
  • Exercise is the real magic bullet to get your head back in the right place…always.  Nothing gets a hold of your better self like exercise.  It generates the next closest feelings of self-mastery and being back in control of your life to those generated by weight loss.  Bingeing just annihilates them – exercise earns them back.

Need some ideas of what to eat the day after?  Here is a sample:

POST BINGE MENU PLAN

Breakfast:

4 egg whites + 1 yolk (or 1 slice lite cheese)

1+ cup(s) veggies (mushrooms, onions)

½ grapefruit or small apple

APPROX. 250 calories

Lunch:

4 cups mixed greens with tomato, cucumber, etc.

4 oz. shrimp (about 8-10 medium)

2 Tbs.regular or 4 Tbs. lite vinaigrette

2 cups vegetable soup (no starches or cream)

-or-

4 cups Chinese vegetables and shrimp

Drizzle on 3-4 Tbs. garlic sauce

APPROX. 450 calories

Dinner: 

6 oz. some kind of white fish broiled or grilled

1 Tbs. Parmesan grated and browned on top

2 cups any crunchy vegetables

1/2 Tbs. olive oil for sauteing

2 cups mixed salad

1 Tbs. regular or 2 Tbs. lite dressing

APPROX. 425 calories

Dessert (if ya gotta:):  ½ oz. of really dark chocolate (70+% cocoa)

APPROX. 75 calories

TOTAL CALORIES = 1200**

**For a more radical version (APPROX. 1000 calories) – try a 2 meal day, kicking on your metabolism soon after rising with something like a hard boiled egg.  Then stagger lunch and dinner at say, 11 am and 4 pm.  Fill the evening with a movie followed by a small frozen yogurt or another “safe” treat.

If you don’t have any safe treats yet, that is another tool that is invaluable to acquire.  You create what feels safe for you.  I created a safe bubble around stopping for frozen yogurt by never getting any toppings that would jeopardize the low calories and my perception of it as a “diet” treat.

Begin your final weight loss journey now…

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2 Comments

  1. Elinor Yarkoni

    The next day’s diet after a binge is very helpful. How to pick oneself up, rather than to keep going.

    I hope you’re well. I’m going to send this to my daughter in Lexington Mass.

    A great blog.

  2. Lori Ann

    What is the travel day skinny day airport routine? I can use a good airport strategy.

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