What To Do After A Binge

Binge eating can leave you feeling overwhelmed, guilty, and out of control. After a binge, it’s easy to fall into self-criticism and despair, which is all too often followed by more binge eating. It is possible to break that vicious cycle.

Whether you’re dealing with this for the first time or it’s an ongoing struggle, knowing what to do after a binge eating episode can turn a challenging moment into an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.

Table of Contents

What is Binge Eating?

Some people say they “binged” when they ate four cookies. Others describe a binge as eating 40 cookies, and that’s just the beginning. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), a binge eating episode is characterized by:

1. Eating, within a discrete period of time (e.g., within 2 hours), an amount of food that is larger than what most people would eat in a similar period under similar circumstances.

2. Lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that you cannot stop eating or control what or how much you’re eating).

Each binge eating episode is associated with three (or more) of the following:

  • Eating much more quickly than normal.
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or very guilty afterward

Why Binge Eating Is NOT About Food

As counterintuitive as it may sound, binge eating is not about willpower, control, or addiction. It’s not even about food.

Binge eating is a negative coping strategy that people use to numb, soothe or distract themselves from difficult emotions like anxiety, loneliness, anger, or sadness. Food becomes a temporary escape from emotional pain.

Of course, the relief is short-lived, and ultimately binge eating intensifies feelings of shame, powerlessness, and self-loathing. 

Freedom is possible by getting to the heart of what’s  eating “at” you, rather than focusing on food.

In this way, binge eating can be understood as a form of communication – your psyche’s way of expressing something that you may not recognize or be able to put into words. 

What to do After a Binge: Immediate Steps

After a binge, your first instinct might be to restrict food or punish yourself with exercise. That will only backfire. Instead, here are some guidelines on what to do after a binge: 

1. Do NOT go on a Diet

Dieting immediately after a binge eating episode can perpetuate a cycle of restriction and overeating. Even if it seems as if you’re “being good” by restricting, that deprivation only amplifies the urge to binge later. 

Restrictive dieting also negatively impacts your metabolism. When you drastically cut calories, your body responds by slowing down your metabolic rate.

This can make it harder to lose weight in the long term and can lead to feelings of frustration and failure–which in turn, can trigger a binge.

Focusing on dieting after a binge shifts your attention away from the underlying psychological triggers that led to bingeing in the first place. 

Staying preoccupied with food rules and restrictions, does not address the root cause of the binge eating behavior or help you after a binge.

2. Do NOT Over Exercise to Compensate for the Binge

Engaging in restrictive dieting or overexercising after a binge is a way of trying to regain control or make up for the calories you ate while binging. 

Yet over-exercising disconnects you from your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals.

When you’re not honoring your physical needs and are instead trying to adhere to rigid external rules, you’re more likely to swing between the extremes of deprivation and binging. 

Sustainable change comes from understanding and addressing the emotional drivers of the behavior.

When you compassionately seek to understand the deeper meaning of the binge, you create conditions for true healing and liberation from binge eating.

3. DO Turn your Critic Into a Friend

After a binge eating episode, it’s very common and understandable to feel intense shame, self-loathing, and an urge to punish yourself.

You may accuse yourself of lacking willpower, feel disgusted by your body, or criticize yourself for “failing” yet again.

This perpetuates the cycle of emotional distress and binge eating. Beating yourself up does nothing to address the actual reasons you binged in the first place and only makes you feel helpless, depressed, and worthless – feelings that trigger the urge to binge again, as a way of coping.  

Instead of attacking yourself, stay curious about what led to the binge. Ask yourself with genuine interest: What was I feeling before I binged? Was I anxious, lonely, bored, sad, or angry?

What did I need in that moment that I was trying to get from food? How can I respond to these needs and feelings in a more self-nurturing way next time?

Remember, you are not the problem–binge eating is the problem, and attacking yourself will not solve it. Bullying yourself won’t change anything. Instead, be willing to learn from your experiences.

4. DO Practice Self-Reflection

Instead of criticizing yourself after a binge, pause and take a moment for self-reflection. Remember, the binge is trying to tell you something – your goal is to understand its message.

Reflect on what triggered the episode.Understanding these emotions can help you address the root cause rather than just the symptom. So, be curious about your thoughts and beliefs in the moments leading up to the binge.

Investigate what needs you were trying to meet with food. Maybe you were seeking comfort, distraction, or were symbolically filling a void?

Consider how you can meet those needs in a way that feels genuinely nurturing and aligned with your values. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What were you feeling before the binge?

Were you avoiding a hard emotion such as sadness, stress, or boredom? If you were feeling anxious before the binge, learn to name the emotion, express it, and respond to yourself.

If you were bored and restless, consider what you could do instead, such as do a project, read a book, watch a show, or do something creative. 

If you feel lonely, consider cultivating solitude, which is the experience of being there for yourself when you’re alone, so that you can be alone without feeling lonely. If you are frustrated, express that by journaling and exercising. 

  1. What were you thinking before the binge?

Pay attention to your thoughts. Were you telling yourself that you’re not good enough? These negative beliefs make you feel bad about yourself and often lead to bingeing for comfort or escape.

Instead, challenge the idea that you’re not good enough. You learned that belief, and you can unlearn it and discover a new way of being with yourself.

By approaching binge eating with the mindset of a compassionate detective rather than a harsh critic, you create the foundation for true healing and transformation.

With practice, you can nourish yourself emotionally and break free from the binge eating cycle for good.

  1. What were you needing before the binge?

Binge eating is often a response to “emotional hunger.” Consider what you are hungry for in your life.

Are you hungry for love, or starving for attention? Developing strategies to meet these underlying needs will liberate you from the cycle of binge eating.

Take a moment to ask yourself, “What am I truly hungry for?” Allow the answer to come from a deep, intuitive place within you. It may be a need for connection, self-expression, rest, or a sense of meaning and purpose. 

Once you identify the underlying need, brainstorm ways you could meet that need directly, without turning to food. For example, if you’re hungry for connection, you could contact a friend, join a support group, or engage in a community activity.

If you’re starving for self-expression, you could journal, paint, dance, or engage in any creative activity that allows you to express your inner world.

Keep in mind that meeting these deeper needs is an ongoing process. It requires patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to try new things.

You may not always get it “right,” and that’s okay. What matters is that you’re turning toward your emotional needs with care and curiosity.

As you practice this self-reflection and self-care, you may find that those urges to binge start to diminish. When you’re regularly nourishing yourself emotionally, the need to turn to food for comfort becomes less intense.

By staying curious about your inner world and committed to your own growth, you can develop a deeply nurturing relationship with yourself – one that sustains you from the inside out.

Building Resilience Against Future Binge Episodes

Each binge episode offers a chance to build resilience and gain deeper insights into your eating habits.

While it’s crucial to address the immediate aftermath, cultivating long-term strategies can make all the difference in preventing future episodes.

Let’s explore how you can create lasting changes that promote a healthier relationship with food and your emotions.

  1. Develop New Coping Mechanisms

Once you recognize the deeper emotional needs and unresolved conflicts that drive your binge eating, you can develop new, healthier ways of coping with these underlying issues.

That involves learning to tolerate and process difficult emotions, rather than immediately acting on them through bingeing.

  1. Get comfortable with emotions

When feelings like anxiety, loneliness, frustration, or sadness arise, practice identifying them first and gauging their intensity on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most intense.

This may be difficult at first, as bingeing has likely been your go-to way of dealing with these emotions. By experiencing the feelings without judgment, you build emotional resilience. 

As you practice tolerating hard feelings, also work on expressing them in healthier ways. This means journaling about them, sharing them with a trusted friend or therapist, art, music, or movement.

Find outlets that allow you to process and release your emotions in a way that feels authentic and cathartic. 

  1. Get comfortable with self-reflection

Regularly check in with yourself and ask: “What’s going on with me right now? What do I need in this moment?”

This self-attunement helps you identify and respond to your needs proactively, rather than letting them build until a binge feels inevitable.

Remember, developing new coping mechanisms is a gradual process. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you learn these new skills. 

Celebrate each moment of progress, whether you’re tolerating difficult feelings for a few minutes longer, expressing yourself differently, or practicing self-encouragement.

Each time you choose a healthier coping strategy, you’re rewiring your brain and strengthening your capacity to care for yourself. With practice and persistence, these new ways of coping will feel more natural.

When you respond to yourself compassionately, you stop using food for comfort or distraction.

Conclusion

Understanding the meaning behind your binges is key to lasting change. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to develop new patterns of thinking and responding to difficult emotions.

Celebrate any insights you gain, no matter how small. Each moment of self-reflection is planting a seed for change. 

Also, seek professional help. A trained therapist can provide the support and guidance needed to navigate this complex issue.

Remember, the behavior of binge eating is not about willpower, control, or addiction. It means a part of you trying to communicate something important to yourself.

By knowing what to do after a binge, you open the door to profound healing and growth.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Frequently Asked Questions

In this FAQ section on what to do after a binge, we address common questions to help you navigate the aftermath of binge eating with compassion and understanding.

Whether it’s your first experience or a recurring struggle, these answers provide practical guidance for turning challenging moments into opportunities for growth and self-care.

1. What should I do immediately after a binge eating episode?

After a binge, it’s important to avoid restrictive dieting or over-exercising as these behaviors can perpetuate the cycle of binge eating. Instead, focus on self-compassion and self-reflection.

Acknowledge your feelings without judgment and identify the emotions or triggers that led to the binge. Consider what needs you were trying to meet with food and explore healthier ways to address those needs.

2. How can I stop feeling guilty or ashamed after a binge?

Breaking the cycle of emotional eating often involves learning new coping mechanisms, understanding the emotional triggers, and forming a healthier relationship with food. Therapy can also be beneficial to unearth deep-seated issues facilitating emotional eating.

How can I determine if I’m emotionally eating?How can I determine if I’m emotionally eating?

3. Why shouldn’t I go on a diet after a binge?

Dieting after a binge can reinforce the cycle of restriction and overeating. When you drastically cut calories, your body responds by slowing down your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight and potentially triggering future binges.

Instead of focusing on dieting, address the psychological triggers behind your binge eating and develop healthier eating habits over time.

4. How can I build resilience against future binge episodes?

Building resilience involves developing new coping mechanisms to deal with difficult emotions. Practice identifying and tolerating emotions without acting on them through binge eating.

Regularly check in with yourself to understand your needs and respond to them proactively. Engaging in activities like journaling, talking to a trusted friend, or seeking therapy can help you process emotions in a healthier way.

5. Is professional help necessary to overcome binge eating?

Professional help can be highly beneficial in overcoming binge eating. A trained therapist can provide support, guidance, and tools to help you understand and address the underlying emotional triggers.

Therapy can also help you develop healthier coping strategies and build a more nurturing relationship with yourself. Seeking professional help is a positive step towards lasting change and recovery.

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 The Author



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Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a renowned author and podcast host and one of the nation’s leading psychoanalysts known for the psychology of eating. Her signature message of, “It’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating ‘at’ you” has resonated with hundreds of thousands of listeners from around the globe in 40 countries. As founder of The Binge Cure Method, she guides emotional eaters to create lasting food freedom so they can take back control of their lives and feel good in their bodies.


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