Now that you downed that whole sleeve of cookies or bag of chips—or both—you may feel as though spending the rest of your days in a pair of sweatpants is a solid life plan. They’re so roomy. So cozy. So stretchy. And best of all, they perfectly hide your food baby. While a life in elastic pants may sound cushy at first, after further assessing the caloric damage of your food free-for-all, you may be wondering what to do after a binge.
That’s when the fantasy fizzles and the horror and panic take over. But don’t fret: We’re here to tell you that the situation is not as bad as it seems. The odds are in your favor that the temporary weight gain and bloat brought on by your binge will not become permanent additions to your frame.
Although experts say that after overeating it may take up to three days to feel like your old self again, there are some exercise, diet, and motivational tips that can help you get back on track right away. We enlisted the expertise of registered dietitians, nutritionists, and doctors to find out the best ways to bounce back from a binge, so you can continue living your life in a regular (read: not spandex) pair of pants the very next day.
First of All, Forgive Yourself
Listen up: It’s not a crime to indulge. You’re only human, after all. So if you’re feeling fat, bloated, and mad at yourself for overdoing it, just stop. Dwelling on your binge will only make you more upset, which could lead to emotional bouts of overeating down the road. “Moving past the guilt is the first step toward getting back on track,” says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist based in New York City. “It’s important to realize, too, that if it was just one overindulgent meal, it won’t do too much damage. Generally, this would only set someone back a day or two.” So keep your head up; you’ve still got this.
Yeah, we get it. When you’re super full the last thing you want to do is guzzle down water. But it’s for your own good. “Staying hydrated can aid in binge recovery by aiding digestion and fighting gas-induced bloat,” says Minchen. “Also, staying hydrated supports a healthy metabolism and satiety, making recovery more manageable for the body.” Drink a large glass before bed and a few large glasses the next morning. It’s also advisable to keep a water bottle by your side over the next two days. Doing so will help flush out any excess salt that’s making you bloated.
Get Quality Shut-Eye
Getting seven to nine hours of sleep is one of the best things you can do to get back on track after a binge. Why? It may make it easier to turn down fat and carb-laden trigger foods the next day. In a University of Colorado study, participants who were only permitted to sleep a mere five hours ate more the next day than those who got nine hours of shut-eye. Researchers observed that the well-rested crew had more “food restraint,” while those who were sleep-deprived not only took in more calories, but more calories from carbs and fat.
Fill Up on Fiber and Protein at Breakfast
It’s the weirdest thing: After eating a huge meal, we oftentimes swear we will never eat again only to wake up the next morning feeling more ravenous than ever before. Why does this happen? “After eating a big dinner, insulin levels spike. This is often followed by a blood sugar drop, which increases feelings of hunger the next morning,” explains Minchen. Instead of heading to the cupboard and stuffing your face with sugary cereal, Minchen suggests fixing a balanced breakfast with a mix of protein, carbs, and fat. This will help tame your crazy hunger and aid in the continued digestion of last night’s heavy meal. Minchen’s breakfast of choice? Two whole eggs (or just the whites) topped with a fourth of an avocado and a cup of fruit.
I generally caution my patients to be careful about viewing exercise as a way to counteract overeating, says Minchen. “This approach can fuel guilt and shame about eating habits. Plus, it’s not realistic or effective to chase every calorie with exercise. Even so, breaking a sweat the day after a binge can help deliver oxygen to the digestive tract, which keeps food moving through smoothly and can help people feel less blah.” Minchen recommends 30 minutes of light cardio, such as walking, jogging, or an at-home cardio DVD. If you’re pressed for time, turn your trip to the mall into a mini-workout. Park as far away from the mall as possible and power-walk to and from the entrance.
Avoid Hard-to-Digest Foods
If you’ve got a case of post-binge digestive distress, steer clear of any foods that may disrupt your tummy further. Big culprits include gluten, dairy products, coffee, refined sugar, carbonated beverages, and acidic foods like fruit juice, pasta, alcohol, fatty meats, and chocolate. On the other hand, fruits, vegetables, green teas, almonds, lentils, and avocados are all more alkaline and won’t upset those prone to acid reflux. “Focus first on eliminating known problem foods, and then decide if there are any others that you may need to avoid for a day or two to restore balance,” says Minchen.
Keep Lunch and Dinner ‘Clean’
There is absolutely no need to put yourself through a full-blown cleanse post-binge, but eating “clean” whole foods the day after overeating will make you feel refreshed and put you back in the right frame of mind to reach your goals. Minchen suggests whipping up meals comprised of a good balance of protein, fiber-filled carbs, and fat. Here are some examples that fit the bill:
- A grilled salmon fillet with one cup quinoa and three cups leafy greens dressed in an olive oil and lemon dressing.
- A baked chicken breast with half a sweet potato topped with one tablespoon of butter and two cups steamed broccoli.
- Four cups of leafy greens and other veggies topped with grilled steak, 1/4th of an avocado, 1/4th cup dried cranberries, and balsamic vinegar
Don’t Starve as Penance
If you’re hungry between meals, eat something! Don’t deprive yourself of food just because you overdid it yesterday. “Skipping usual meals or snacks the day after a binge will only increase the desire to overeat again,” says Minchen. She recommends reaching for snacks rich in protein to promote satiety, like plain Greek yogurt with berries, organic turkey slices with avocado, a Quest Bar, or two eggs with a piece of fruit.
Allow Flexibility In Your Diet
“Eliminate the urge to binge by allowing more flexibility and freedom into food choices and meal plans throughout the week,” says Sara De Luca, RD, CPT. “Labeling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will only lead to restrictive behaviors that will ultimately trigger a binge when the ‘bad’ foods are reintroduced into the diet! As long as portion sizes and calories are controlled, there should be no foods that are off limits.”
Shun the Scale
The scale is not your friend the day following a big binge. It may display a number higher than what you’re used to as a result of the extra food sitting in your stomach and the water retention brought on by eating those salty pretzels. “Many of my patients find it defeating and discouraging to step on the scale after they’ve binged because it makes them feel like they lost all their progress, which isn’t typically the case. Wait two days before weighing yourself to see what the lasting damage is,” says Minchen.
Talk to Someone
Much like most obstacles, the best way to tackle them is head-on, which is why Dr. Michael Jay Nusbaum, MD, FACS, FASMBS, Chief of Bariatric Surgery at Morristown Medical Center, advises to get to the root of the problem. “Binge eating is not uncommon, but what triggered it? Was it stress, a fight with a lover? A fight with a friend? Or you’re just feeling overwhelmed? Regardless of the reason, it’s best to get it off of your chest. If not a friend or a parent, then find a therapist and talk it out,” Nusbaum says.
Consult a Dietician
Because binge eating is a true eating disorder—it’s actually the most common eating disorder in the U.S.—consulting a dietitian would be your best bet to overcome it. “If a person is struggling with this, they do not have to go at it alone,” says Summer Yule, MS, RDN. “There are registered dietitians who specialize in eating disorders who can help the person to develop a healthier relationship with food.”
Focus on the Big Picture
“I like to remind my clients that having one bad day out of 365 days a year is really not that bad after all!,” says De Luca. “It is my job as a registered dietitian to not only educate my clients about nutrition, but to also provide support during these hard times and to teach them how to develop a resilient mindset so that they can bounce back quickly after a binge and continue on the path toward goal attainment. After all, consistency is key!”
Reframe Your Mindset
“The reframing technique helps change your overall perspective of the situation,” De Luca says. “Reframing is great because it shifts the individual’s mindset in such a way that it allows forgiveness and makes the client feel more in control of the situation. For example, if I were to reframe the thought process after a binge, it [would change from] ‘I just binge ate and I feel like a failure; I have no self-control’ to ‘I ate a little more food than I would have liked to, but tomorrow is a new day and I will get right back on track.’ Your thoughts control your actions! If we can reframe the negative connotations that surround binge eating, then we are more likely to bounce back quickly after a binge.”
Get Your Greens In
Re-incorporating healthy fruits and vegetables is a sure-fire way to overcome a day of bad eating. “Re-adding healthy fruits and vegetables to your diet ups your fiber intake, which can improve satiety and help decrease cravings,” Brittany Michels, RDN for The Vitamin Shoppe, tells us. “For those that prefer on-the-go options, greens powders are an easy way to up your greens. Plnt BioGreens is one great option and can be added to a smoothie or mixed into any drink.”
Rid Your Kitchen of Binge Triggers
Is that sleeve of Snickerdoodle cookies in your cabinet eyeing you? Or maybe you can’t get your mind off the Costco-sized bag of sour cream and onion chips in the pantry? Either way, ridding your kitchen of trigger foods is a solid way to avoid another binge. “Throw out (or give away) all the leftovers and treats that may tempt you. Restock the pantry with healthy staples,” Rebekah Blakely, RDN for The Vitamin Shoppe, says.
“Remember that every meal is a new meal,” Blakely says. “Try to avoid the ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ mentality. Start now! Have a large glass of water, go for a walk, and choose your favorite healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner meal. Just because you’re getting back on track doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a treat again. You’re just resetting into the healthy routine you want to be your lifestyle.”