‘Tis the season to overdo it with stuffing, turkey, buttery rolls, and pie, pie, and more pie. With all the office parties, cookie swaps, and holiday potlucks (just us?) this time of year, it’s especially hard to avoid overeating. But really, stuffing yourself rotten isn’t limited to the holidays. Sometimes that late-night frozen pizza somehow becomes single-serving with gut-busting repercussions.
Hey, it happens to the best of us. But the real problem is usually what happens after—in our body and our mind.
Are you filled with regret, dejectedly pondering starting a juice cleanse? Or do you feel the urge to go for broke, double down, and top it all off with a big bowl of froyo (or maybe a big bowl of Reese’s, mochi, Captain Crunch, and rainbow sprinkles)? Do you wallow in the damage for hours or even days?
And physically, do you fall into a food coma? Get that feeling like your food has turned to concrete in your abdomen and/or suffer from hours of nausea and discomfort?
Don't fret. Sometimes reframing the situation and having an action plan is all you need to rebound ASAP.
Emotionally: Reframe the Sitch
It can be easy, post-gluttony, to beat yourself up. Things like “no self-control,“ "lazy," and “gross” can get thrown around. Maybe you run five miles and end up making yourself sick. Or swear off eating for an entire day. It's super easy to treat your body to all types of abuse post-gorgefest, but here's where taking a step outside yourself is critical.
As the custodian for your body, you’re responsible for its care—just like you’d be responsible for a child that you’re babysitting. Imagine finding this kid knee-deep in candy bar wrappers, halfway into an all-out candy binge. Caught red-handed, this kid looks up at you, terrified, ashamed, awaiting punishment. What do you do? Do you yell insults at the child? March him or her over to the treadmill to run off every last calorie? Of course not. You're not Mommie Dearest. With that in mind, let any name calling and punishment stop. You will treat yourself with the same compassion you would treat this child.
Why is this helpful? In his book The Marshmallow Test, psychologist and Columbia professor Walter Mischel describes how emotional situations like this can stay in a heated place, which could lead to more self-destructive or self-punishing behavior. To counter that, it helps to cool your distress by “self distancing” and entering into “cognitive reappraisal." In other words, viewing yourself from a distance or as another (e.g. a child) helps engage a cool, rational reaction where you can regroup and rebound.
So what should you do to regroup? We're glad you asked...
Physically: Your Immediate Action Plan
Let's handle the physical symptoms for bloating and food coma first.
Don’t: Let the weight of your food baby take you down for the count (or straight to the couch). Lying down can give you heartburn and other gastro issues. It can even aggravate respiratory issues for people with asthma.
Do: Get moving. Light exercise is the best thing you can do to help your body bounce back. Operative word: light. Jogging around the block might not be smart, thanks to the high barf factor, but taking a walk can do a world of good. Not only does it speed up digestion, it’ll also even out your blood sugar and clear glucose out of your bloodstream. Another idea is light yoga. Certain twisting poses have been known to assist and alleviate digestive woes.
Don’t: Drink alcohol or coffee. Knocking back a boozy “digestif” drink after a calorie rager is a common practice for many, but they don’t actually assist with digestion. In fact, alcohol can pump the breaks on your body’s digestive process. Coffee may swing you back up from a food slump with a jolt of caffeine, but it also doesn’t do any good for digestion.
Do: Drink water, seltzer, or teas. It might seem counterintuitive to drink water when your belly is full to bursting, but H2O helps move along digestion. It can also battle sodium and carb bloat, and it’s a preemptive strike against any post-gluttony constipation. You can also try seltzer, which is proven to relieve indigestion. Herbal teas with ginger, peppermint, and fennel have been shown to ease that I’m-so-stuffed feeling. In short, keep these liquids coming.
Looking Ahead: Your Back-in-the-Game Action Plan
OK, you’ve got your head on straight and you’ve forgiven this entirely human moment of overdoing it. And after hitting the two W’s (water and walking) and letting a few hours lapse, your overstretched gut feels like it's returned to its normal size. Now what can you do to move forward from this food bender beyond the short-term? Start with this rebound checklist:
1. Plan your next healthy meal
Like we said before, it’s easy to rebound from a gluttonous moment and overreact by shunning food. But don’t let the pendulum swing to the other extreme. Ground yourself with a healthy meal that fits right in with your life pre-bender. Keep in mind, skipping meals can trigger another trip to Taco Town. Even if you’re not hungry, simply planning your next meal is a powerful act of self-care that can remind you that food is not public enemy No. 1.
2. Plan your next workout
Yes, you don’t want to go for a jog right after you did a faceplant into your mom’s pumpkin pie, but scheduling your next workout is also a strong reminder that after this gluttonous interlude, you’re getting back to your normal fitness routine. It’s also a great affirmation of how you see yourself: You are not defined by this food bender. For example, you could say, “I am not only the person who ate all the pumpkin pie. I am also a runner. A runner that just ate lots of pie. But a runner nonetheless.“
3. Get some perspective
The world is bigger than a bag of chips (or several bags). And this moment of indulgence is but a blip on the radar of life. Tune in to larger issues: Read a newspaper, a book, or even your old journals. There are bigger things to occupy your mind than this moment.
4. Call a friend or hug it out
Sometimes food benders come from a place of loneliness or discomfort. If you’ve realized your spree was triggered by these feelings, don’t ignore them just because “the damage is done.” Reach out to friends, hug it out, and get the companionship you need. Feed this emotional hunger. Likewise if you look back on a holiday or family celebration and realize you were stress-eating through it, give yourself the tools you need to de-stress and unpack some of that. And of course if you spot a reoccurring pattern with overeating, getting professional help from a therapist or counselor can be incredibly helpful.
Admit that overdoing it on food is the human condition. We all have our moments. How could we not, in a world where cronuts exist? As a popular inspirational quote says, "You are not defined by your mistakes, but your reaction." Or as a wise kitten once said, "Hang in there!" Getting back on that healthy-eating horse is as easy as practicing a little self-care.