Okay, so you over-did-it.
Whether your go-to tool of choice is something sweet, or a buzz from alcohol, many of us will find temporary relief from the stresses of the day by over-indulging. That’s because it works: There are real, chemical changes in the body that consuming sugar and alcohol ignite, helping us avoid uncomfortable feelings and stress.
And then there’s the holidays, when over-indulging is embraced, just ‘cuz.
Learning to face and experience our feelings is something we can all learn to do better; this post, however, is about how to constructively recover from an over-indulgence.
Being a recovering binger myself, I’m prone to over-indulging. After that first piece of cake or glass of wine, a little voice inside my head says, “what the hell,” and reaches for another. That’s a habit that can be re-trained, something we explore in the online course Breaking Free from Sugar. This article is more focused on how to recover from a binge, and applies equally to food and drink.
1. Don’t berate yourself. While you might think that punishing yourself with negative self-talk will teach you a lesson and inspire you to do things differently next time, it actually has the opposite effect. When you berate yourself, which may include terms like: you suck; that was dumb; see, you’re a failure; you’re totally out-of-control, that was bad, etc, your thoughts are reinforcing beliefs about yourself. Your body listens to your thoughts! Self-punishing thoughts squash your sense of personal agency. Instead, work on seeding new beliefs.
2. Seed new beliefs. Depending on what you believe about what happened, will set you up for the future. If binging is something you’ve been dealing with in your past, then somewhere there is a belief that “This is just what I do.” Now is the time to try-on some new beliefs, such as “That was a once-in-a-long while thing,” or, “That was more of an aberration than business-as-usual,” or, “Glad to get that out of my system, now I can get back to the habits that serve me.”
3. Revise. Revision is an awesome tool for laying the groundwork for change. Use your imagination to go back to the moment when you reached for the second glass of wine or second (or first) piece of cake. Imagine that you took a pause, a deep breath, and were able to stop the momentum of the moving train just long enough to change directions, and reach for a glass of water instead. Disaster averted. The water feels good. I am happy with my decision.
4. Do one small thing to yourself back on the positive trajectory. Do one thing, anything pro-health, to demonstrate to yourself that you’re back on track. Start with one small positive step, like drinking a glass of water. It’s refreshing, it feels good, and is the best thing you can drink. Reinforce that small-but-meaningful action with affirming thoughts while you’re doing it. “See, I’m taking good care of myself.”
5. Repeat after me: “I have what it takes.” Yep, you do. Repeat this phrase every morning, evening, and throughout the day. It feels good to say it, and will help shape your actions.
Now, it’s one thing to read and understand intellectually, and it is totally another thing to actually do it. In fact, the only way we can change is by putting new causes into motion, which will reap new effects. If you want different outcomes in your life, then you’ll need to put new causes into motion. And that starts with your thoughts.
These 5 steps are practical, effective, and you don’t even have to DO anything except get up and get a glass of water; they mostly take place in your thoughts. And yet, they are tangible steps you can take to walk away from the vicious cycle of binging →feeling bad →hating on yourself (which may include severe food restrictions or angry promises to yourself including denial) → then affirming those bad feelings or boomeranging with binging. They can help you start a cycle of health-affirming thoughts and actions that can change your health trajectory for the better. Give ’em a try.
All that said, I do believe in the adage: Everything in moderation, including moderation. A blow-out on occasion allows us to feel the raw power of the body. The trick is to direct our learning from it.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.com.