10:05pm. The doorbell rings.
Reflexively, I rise, nerves dulled. I don’t care to put on a shirt.
My cheeks are burning hot and sweat has gathered cold on my forehead, or it was already there.
I open the door and there stands the same Mexican delivery boy from an hour ago, 20 years old, holding a brown paper bag. I pretend not to acknowledge him.
This is no time to be upset. Sweet baby Jesus, Chipotle has arrived! Dinner #2 for the night.
I say nothing, my eyeballs puffy and hand the kid a $20 bill.
I proceed inside my apartment, kicking the door shut behind me, unpack the football-sized mass I’d soon be ingesting and, standing in my kitchen, demolish the double-stuffed chicken burrito—filled with absolutely everything that could ever fit inside a burrito: extra barbacoa, black beans, white rice, fajita veggies, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, fresh tomato salsa, and guac.
Of course I didn’t forget the extra guac on the side to go with my chips. What am I, some sort of amateur?
In five minutes, the burrito is gone, and so am I. Exhausted, I find my way to the couch and feel an overwhelming sadness because there’s nothing left to eat.
Unthinkingly, I whip out my iPhone and pull up the Postmates delivery app for the third time that night. Then I order Pinkberry. The exclamation mark on the end of a soon-regrettable night of no-holds-barred binging.
Ever have a manic eating night like this? When you eat and eat and can’t stop and don’t want to stop?
A night that just somehow gets the best of you and then goes totally demented? You wake up in the morning and can’t believe what happened, don’t understand how you allowed it to go so far, and feel an overwhelming sense of shame and disappointment. A remorse deeper than you want to manage.
You pull the sheets over your head, metaphorically or literally, and sink into despair.
These sorts of nights used to happen frequently to me. They still do from time to time. Even as a high performance health coach and lifestyle strategist, I still battle the old addiction to binge.
Let’s Back up a Moment and See Where It All Went Wrong
The day was particularly grueling for a number of reasons. I’d slept poorly the night before and was playing catch up at work all day after having been in Austin for an extended business trip. This was followed by a series of client calls that demanded all my reserves. I felt beat up. Not wrecked, just overwhelmed.
I proceeded to make Dinner #1, the only intended meal of the night: an 8oz grass-fed ribeye, 2 strips of bacon, with a side of asparagus cooked in the bacon fat. Delicious, and completely satisfying.
I’d planned to go to sleep soon thereafter, but my business partner from my other company called and asked me to make a few key changes to the sales email that was scheduled to go out at 3am PST. It couldn’t wait.
More work. That was the trigger.
“Now I’m going to be up for hours,” is what the voice inside my head said. “You need energy.”
The emotional eater I am, I then proceeded to order one meal after the next from the Postmates delivery app, to eat away my frustrations, exhaustion, and loneliness, each successive ring of the doorbell firing off whatever dopamine was left in my stuffed and confused brain.
Can You Relate?
Whether it’s an unexpected, seemingly random night by yourself or a late-night weekend free-for-all after partying with your friends, do you know what I mean when it feels like food takes total control over you?
When one bad choice, or one key trigger, sets off a domino series of primitive and impulsive self-sabotaging behaviors that seemingly have no end?
Can you relate to the experience when you eat and eat and can’t stop eating? When you wipe yourself out or turn into someone else—something else? When you are no longer there?
What Do You Do? How Do You Come Back After This One?
Being that this is my job and all, I’ve developed a systemized approach to overcome the intense self-loathing and deep remorse that follows an all night binge.
Because here’s the thing: we all abuse food from time to time. We all misuse food to displace boredom, or to mask loneliness, or to relieve stress, or to stay up later.
For some of us, it happens far more often than we’d like to admit. Over the past year alone, hundreds of men have approached me and told me that this is something they experience but never talk about.
That’s what I’m here to talk about.
Here’s What to Do the next Morning After a Binge
Take caffeine. Drink black coffee or, if you hate coffee, tea. And then have another. Caffeine stimulates the metabolism, blunts appetite, increases energy levels, elevates fat mobilization and also heightens mental alertness. The stimulation will help clear your system and help you mobilize into action, not wallow around in self-pity.
Fast. Don’t eat anything until 1pm, or later. This isn’t about punishing yourself. It’s about clearing your system. Your stomach is either going to feel full and sick or, paradoxically, you’ll crave food, even though you’re stuffed. That’s your blood sugar dropping. Don’t give in to the craving.
Throw out the bad food. Throw out any remnants from the previous night’s binge. If there’s bad food around, you will eat it—if not today, then at some other time. Get rid of it. Literally, walk outside your apartment and place it in the trash. Yes, that means you have to get up out of bed!
Go for a walk. Chances are, you’re going to be playing some nasty self-destructive mind games with yourself. You can either allow those to get the best of you, or you can do something about it. Going for a walk is a proactive way of stepping into your body. It’s a powerful reminder that you can always use yourself to solve your problems.
Exercise. Whatever that means for you. Maybe it’s just a walk around your neighborhood, maybe it’s hopping on the elliptical in your basement, maybe it’s going to the gym. This isn’t punishment. This is a wake up. You need to stop feeling so bad about yourself. You’re replacing feelings of hopelessness and regret with feelings of empowerment and motivation. Powerful shift.
Strategize. Your identity is not fixed to this one event. Call last night’s binge this week’s cheat meal and move on.
Prepare. Take action now to get right back on track for the rest of the day, tomorrow, and the week ahead. Do you need to go food shopping? Have you completed your weekly scheduling and planning? Mobilize and get lunch prepared for tomorrow. Unthaw tomorrow night’s dinner. There’s always something you can do to get right back on track.
Our goal with the above strategies is to reduce the amount of time it takes to “bounce back.” Choosing to bounce back downgrades—or eliminates—the emotional cascade of judgment, self-deprecation and self-sabotaging behavior that often follows having made a mistake, or a night of binging.
By committing to a certain set of habits—our strategic anchors—the intention is to immediately snap back into pure presence so as to proactively take control of the situation along with your emotions when they’re leading you into unhealthy territory.
We often must physically redirect ourselves—literally disrupt our nervous system—and temporarily remove ourselves from certain pressured situations to snap back into pure presence. Training your reaction time is what’s key. The quicker you commit to bouncing back, the easier it will be over time. The longer you stew in what Steven Pressfield calls ‘the Resistance,’ the more impossible it will feel to bounce back.
Just remember, one night does not define you. It’s how you bounce back that counts.