I've never been much of a binger, but recently I had a humbling experience that gave me new insights into binge-eating -- not to mention a bad case of the bloats.
Suddenly, without warning, away from home and visiting family in Florida (who are blameless), I found myself unable to resist Cool Ranch Doritos. Morning, noon and especially at night, I was consumed by consumption.
Doritos with red pepper hummus, Doritos with hot salsa, even broken bits of Cool Ranch Doritos mixed into my organic field greens. I must have inhaled three big bags in five days, mouthful after mouthful, a lapse into nonstop snacking that left my fingers orange, my belly hurting and my spirit dulled by more Red 40, Blue 1 and Yellow 5 than I'd eaten in a lifetime.
It ended when I got home. Cool Ranch Doritos are not welcome in my house, even though they have their own Facebook page. I do admit to a lingering fondness for Kettle Brand potato chips (not a fake food! Only three ingredients!), but it's under control.
What also lingers is a question: What should I have done when I was under the spell, when I couldn't pass my sister's pantry without detouring into that siren sack of Doritos for one more handful, one more faux flavor fix?
For answers, I turned to a variety of eating disorder experts. Here's a blend of their best advice, not just because bingeing is something millions of us do but because some of the most effective strategies for not bingeing are completely counterintuitive:
DON'T BEAT YOURSELF UP. Bingeing happens. You can expect it to happen to you, and when it does, go easy on yourself. Instead of feeling guilty, feel curious. Instead of hating your body, befriend it.
"Consider saying to yourself, 'My body is just as worthy of love and respect as it was before the binge,'" advises Amy Pershing, clinical director for the Center for Eating Disorders at Ann Arbor, Michigan. "What do I need right now to take care of it?"
CARPE DIEM. If you find yourself in bingeing hell, the typical response is to think, "Oh well, I'll give in to this indulgence and just start eating right tomorrow."
Don't do that, says Valerie Berkowitz, director of Nutrition at the Center for Balanced Health in New York. "Don't wait until tomorrow," she insists. "If you slip and fall on the street, do you sit there for the rest of the day?"
(I might, if I had my Cool Ranch Doritos next to me...)
Get back on track immediately. Eat a yummy salad. Have a bowl of your favorite healthful soup. But don't do what many people think is the right thing to do, which is cut back on everything, eat less, to make up for the binge. That can lead to more bingeing, the experts say.
BE CURIOUS. Don't feel ashamed of your binge, but don't ignore it either. Stop and think: What might have triggered it? Were you upset about something? Tired because you're not getting enough sleep? Figure it out as best you can, without judging. Accepting what happened and getting back to your normal routine will move you toward fewer binges in the future. Stewing in your own juices, tasty as they may be, gets you nowhere.
RITUALS HELP. Declare your binge over with a ritual of some kind. Brush your teeth, one expert suggests. Go for a 15-minute stroll. Write: "This binge is finished!" on a piece of paper and burn it in the sink.
MOVE YOUR BODY. (You knew this was coming, right?) Shift your focus to another activity that brings you pleasure while it helps burn the extra Cool Ranch calories. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Escape to a yoga class. That will refocus your attention away from the negative and back to the positive.
JOURNAL. Write down your feelings about your indulgence. Was it worth it? Describe how it felt. Were you soothed? Excited? Nauseated? Then plan how you will do things differently next time.
My plan? The next time I visit my family in Florida, I'll throw a fit if my dear brother-in-law dares to walk in with a party-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! LET THE CHIPS FALL
"One of the things I tell everyone is, 'You're going to binge.'" -- Amy Pershing
Marilynn Preston writes the column "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. It can be found at creators.com.