What To Do After Binge Eating: How To Recover

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 05/05/2022

Binge eating, binge-watching, binge drinking; a simple way to say “overindulgence,” and although it is tempting to binge, it usually doesn’t feel good after it’s over. You might be wondering what to do after a binge day.

Most people know what it’s like to eat too much of their favorite snack food or meal.

Maybe someone rattles off the phrase “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” when you pile a significant amount of food onto your plate.

Perhaps the most relatable nationwide example is the “food-coma” feeling after a hefty Thanksgiving dinner. Or, on the flip side, the temptation to indulge by whatever means necessary after a fast or period of food insecurity.

Food is a lot more than just what we use to sustain our energy levels. It has powerful cultural, psychological, and social relevance.

For many people, the relationship with food is complicated. The causes and circumstances can vary, but the effects of eating disorders do not discriminate. In addition, when it goes under-discussed, it can become taxing on the body and the mind. So, what is binge eating?

What Is Considered “Binge Eating?”

Binge eating is the act of overeating in a short period. There’s a lack of control in relation to both the amount of food consumed and the indication of when to stop. It is relatively unrelated to feelings of being hungry or full and can be draining on a person's physical and mental health.

Depending on age, gender, and weight, the average person can range in the number of calories they are “supposed” to consume each day to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines outlined by Health.gov, the average adult woman's recommended caloric intake is somewhere between 1,600-2,400 calories per day. The average adult man should consume between 2,000-3,000 calories per day.

These recommendations are further divided based on personal lifestyle. Those who participate in physical activity daily have a bit more leeway in calorie consumption, especially if they intend to lose weight. Additionally, the speed of a person’s metabolism can impact what a healthy choice might mean to them. Even just having a job that keeps you on your feet, like being a doctor or teacher, may influence the number of calories you need to consume to keep your energy up.

“Healthy” calorie consumption is also complicated, based on the type of food itself. There can be a significant difference between “good” calories and “bad” calories, which is often categorized by the combined amount of fat, sodium, or sugar that a piece of food contains.

A person who experiences binge eating typically eats over 1,000 calories in a single sitting, and on occasion, around 2,000 calories.

What Happens After Binge Eating

Many people struggle with what to do after a binge eating episode. Recovering from a binge can also entail unwanted physical and emotional discomfort. Those with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) often report feelings of embarrassment, guilt, and/or shame for their disorder, making it that much more challenging to handle.

After a binge, the feelings of sadness, isolation, and the misguided assumption that the individual needs to keep these emotions and these behaviors secretive is potentially why many people struggle to take control of their addiction.

To ease some of this anxiety and make it comprehensive, let’s break down what happens to the body during a binge and what to do about it.

Some foods are more addictive than others are. As our food becomes more processed, the presence of sugars, fats, sodium, and high fructose corn syrup is more and more evident. These foods are designed to make a person want more, without providing that satiated feeling that you get after a healthy meal rich in nutrients.

Processed foods also release the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin while eating. Dopamine and serotonin (“the happy hormone”) are directly related to the reward and pleasure centers, making the individual feel great while the binge is occurring. These chemicals can also lock in positive memories associated with eating and cause the person to repeat the action - despite the negative feelings that often follow.

After the body experiences a binge episode, your organs are forced to work harder to process the food, the stomach will expand, the metabolism will try to keep up, stomach acid can cause heartburn or acid reflux, a person's hormonal levels will most likely shift, along with their energy levels, leaving the body exhausted. Overeating can also disturb an individual's circadian rhythm, making them feel even more tired. This can cause a person to be less inclined to exercise, therefore feeding into the reality of obesity.

How Do I Stop The Urge To Binge Eat?

The power of association between food, and a person's emotions, can be very strong, and therefore very difficult to manage. Breaking a binge cycle should happen slowly so that it can then be sustainable. Rather than shying away from food, an individual with BED should learn about the healthy alternatives that are just as pleasurable but with better ingredients. Remember, the best diet is the diet that you can feasibly maintain.

Likewise, fitting exercise into a daily routine can curb the desire for unhealthy foods and overeating. Exercise is a good way to increase heart health, blood flow, oxygen levels, and it even lowers blood pressure.

Even just going for a walk before or after a meal can be a great way to start making daily exercise less daunting.

To change the behavior, it’s integral to change the thought patterns. The way you think about food and how you think about yourself will directly affect the recovery process for BED. Promoting mental health can be just as important as promoting physical health when learning how to manage an eating disorder.

So -- where to begin? Here are a few ways to break a binge eating cycle:

  1. Awareness: Understanding why you participate in this behavior is key. Perhaps there are a few things that trigger a binge-eating episode. Take time to find those, and begin to analyze the reason.
  2. Alternatives: Dieting or fasting is usually not a recommended alternative to curbing symptoms of BED. Instead, find other, healthier foods, or behaviors, that disrupt the desire to overeat.
  3. Planning: If possible, plan snacks and meals ahead of time. Though binge eating is not necessarily related to hunger in the first place, planning ahead can at least set a person up for success by changing their daily habits. This also can establish a routine so that you get hungry at a certain time each day.
  4. The Buddy System: Having someone hold you accountable for small actions can take some of the pressure off the individual with BED. Someone who understands the desires can help with positive reinforcement. They can encourage you to implement that daily walk or pack that alternative snack. Support groups can be a highly positive influence in this way.

Binge Eating And Other Eating Disorders 

Unlike those with Bulimia, individuals with BED do not purge after a binge episode. Individuals with either of these eating disorders might think about what to do after a binge to not gain weight. The reality is, getting professional assistance and using proper steps to break a binge cycle is the best method for how to recover from a binge long term.

Anorexia and bulimia are probably the most commonly known eating disorders. However, there are a few more that can be relevant to this category.

Orthorexia, for example, is an obsession with healthy food. Orthorexia is a great example of eating healthy does not mean having a balanced diet or a good relationship with food. Along with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, orthorexia can lead to comorbidities such as malnourishment, a lower immune system, and infertility.

Other ways people commonly mismanage their food intake include “drunkorexia” or “bigorexia.” Though these are not official medical terms, they show how complicated relationships with healthy eating can be.

Drunkorexia, which is more commonly seen in women, for example, refers to the behavior of dieting for the sole purpose of saving calories to “spend” on drinking alcohol. Bigorexia, which is more often seen in men, is the behavior of “bulking up” due to a fear of one’s body being too small.

Body dysmorphia can manifest itself in any type of person. Becoming aware of the behaviors and taking steps to address them can be an important way to change. If you think you’re experiencing binge eating, take this short, free assessment to better understand your condition. Remember, this online quiz is not meant to serve as a replacement for an official diagnosis. Still, it can be a helpful first step toward understanding your symptoms and finding helpful resources.

Risks

After a binge, a person’s body is at risk for small issues such as lethargy, sweating, acid reflux, or heartburn. But binge eating does entail many long-term risks that are often not noticeable until the behavior is repeated.

To elaborate on some of the risks previously mentioned, here are the top 8 major long term risks of binge eating (in no particular order):

  1. Obesity
  2. High Blood Pressure
  3. Mental Health Struggles
  4. Arthritis
  5. Heart Disease
  6. High Cholesterol
  7. Sleep Apnea
  8. Type II Diabetes

These risks can sound extremely intimidating. Obesity afflicts more people now than ever before, and in turn -- many of these co-occurring conditions as well. Between 2015-2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 39.8% of adults in the United States to classify as obese, and 71.6% classified as overweight (including those with obesity).

Seeking professional assistance for binge eating or any mentioned conditions is highly recommended.

Food Insecurity And Binge Eating

Good food is expensive. Cooking is time-consuming. Certain realities make the overeating of unhealthy foods tempting. Fast-food is typically accessible, inexpensive, and usually tastes good, given high salt, fat, and sugar levels.

But food security is often a privilege. The concept of eating a balanced diet, in many cases, can be easier said than done. Food deserts are massive areas in the United States, where access to healthy, affordable food is minimal.

On the other hand, food security does not necessarily indicate that a person is more or less likely to binge eat. This disorder is not always relative to circumstance and can be a problem for various people in all kinds of economic or physical situations.

Conclusion

Taking action does not need to happen overnight. Recognizing and evaluating the potential issue is a good place to start, and seeking assistance for binge eating and any additional comorbid conditions can increase the daily quality of life over time.

Most importantly, remember that you are always deserving of self-love and acceptance regardless of your mental and physical health. Some of the problems with binge eating could stem from issues with confidence or other aspects of your life. Once you accept and love yourself with any body type and at any phase in your mental health journey, you will most likely see improvements in your mental and physical state over time.