How To Stop Binge-Eating When DrunkSep 30, 2021
Do you sometimes binge eat after alcohol? Do you rush home after a fun night only to sit there alone eating everything in sight? Do you wake up the next day feeling double the guilt - guilt from drinking so much AND from binge eating?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, stick around! We’re going to dive into:
- Why you are binge eating when drunk
- How to stop binging when drinking
- How to deal with the immense shame and guilt around binge eating when drunk
- Proof that it’s possible to not binge eat after alcohol
This topic isn’t talked about much but it definitely needs more attention because I’ve heard from so many women that it’s something they struggle with. I think more people struggle with it than we even know because it combines two struggles that hold shame: over-drinking and binge-eating.
To start off, I’ll share a little bit about my own experience with alcohol x binge-eating.
When my binge-eating was at its worst, particularly when I was living in Hong Kong at 20 years old, I was living alone. My friends would visit over the holidays because they used to live there too. It was that phase where clubbing and partying was novel and we were going out a lot. We thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I remember telling my boyfriend at the time that I thought I had this genius method to losing weight. The plan was to go out clubbing most nights of the week, stay out late, go to bed late, and therefore sleep through breakfast time and only eat two meals a day. I thought it was the most obvious and easy answer to my weight struggles.
Needless to say, it didn’t work. I was in a bad state of health, lots of drinking, lots of binge-eating, poor nutrition, poor hydration. It was not a good time!
In this period, though, I wasn’t binge-eating directly after drinking. I was binge-eating in the evenings (before getting drunk).
But there were other instances where when we'd all go out drinking around 4am, we’d end up at a Chinese fast food joint. I would be hunched over the table gobbling up as much fried rice as I could get in me. I remember feeling so free.
“Oh my God! I can finally eat this entire bowl of rice without my own self-judgement. I can enjoy it!” - I would think.
In fact, one New Year’s Eve party, we’d got so drunk by around 1a.m. that we decided to go sober up a bit by nipping to a fast food place and eating a bunch of rice and stir-fry. Afterwards, we went back to the party and got drunk again!
That was the kind of experience I was having with food and alcohol.
But what about if you’re getting home alone drunk and binge-eating on anything you can get your hands on?
BINGE EATING WHEN DRUNK
When women reach out to me about food x alcohol concerns, the biggest issue is getting home drunk, feeling so out-of-control in this free-for-all moment of bingeing. Of course, you wake up the next day feeling so guilty and annoyed at yourself knowing you not only consumed tons of calories in the binge but also all those ‘empty calories’ when drinking.
So why do we do it?
WHY DO I BINGE EAT AFTER DRINKING ALCOHOL?
My first response to this question is always restriction when sober.
It usually boils down to not eating enough food the day you go out drinking, or the week running up to it.
So once you’re drunk and your inhibitions are lowered, that controlling, over-thinking side of your lowers its guard too. When you’re in that fun, free, drunk state, you don’t have that willpower to fight off the urge to binge. When sober, you might be able to reason with yourself and stop the binge, but when drunk the floodgates are down. It’s like you can finally enjoy all that food you’ve been depriving yourself of without the self-judgement.
It’s a sign of physical restriction.
WHY ELSE MIGHT I BE BINGEING WHEN DRUNK?
Binge eating when drunk could be a sign of mental restriction. Referring back to my example of gorging on the fried rice when drunk - this was a classic sign of mental restriction. When sober, I’d never let myself enjoy a whole bowl of fried rice. There was always some limit I’d put on the quantity. And even with that limit, I wouldn’t let myself enjoy the carbs.
So once I was drunk, and that level of thinking wasn’t there, I felt like I could finally dig in! I remember feeling so excited to get to eat all of that deliciousness - I would eat it so quickly.
If you’ve got so many food rules and limits, then when your controls are lowered and you’re in this good mood (from alcohol), and you’re not judging your own weight, you go for these foods.
HOW TO STOP COMPULSIVE EATING AND DRINKING?
If we’re drunk and don’t have that level of self-control, how can we possibly stop ourselves from overeating or binge-eating?
As always, let’s heal from the root. Assess whether your binge-eating when drunk comes down to restriction or not. If it does, work on lifting restrictions when sober.
An experiment to try out is:
Ensure you have eaten a really delicious, satiating, substantial amount of food the day you plan to go out drinking (preferably do that every day!). Set yourself up for success.
Definitely don’t do what I used to do which was skip dinner before drinking so I’d get drunk faster and spend less money on alcohol. I used to think it’d rid me of the guilt of having both dinner and all of the calories from alcohol. But really, what ended up happening was I’d eat at 4 a.m. instead of having dinner. It’s not a good place to be.
So set yourself up for success. You’ll likely find that you won’t end up bingeing if you’ve eaten with unconditional permission when sober.
WHAT IF I'M STILL BINGE-EATING WHEN DRUNK AND I'M NOT RESTRICTING WHEN SOBER
This points towards emotional bingeing. Oftentimes, we binge eat to numb emotions that we don’t want to feel. Feelings like sadness, grief, heartbreak, stress, fear, self-hatred. They’re heavy emotions that are scary to confront. Food can be that quick fix in the short-term. It might be that, when sober, you’re able to fight off the desire to binge, or able to squash those emotions when they rise. When drunk you might lose the ability to do either of those things - those big emotions rise to the surface and suddenly you’re unequipped to face them AND you’re drunk. So it makes sense that you might go to food to quieten and distract from the emotions.
WHAT IF IT'S NOT EMOTIONAL OR RESTRICTION? I'M STILL BINGE-EATING WHEN DRUNK
If you’re getting enough food, you’re not continuously dieting, you’re allowing all foods, you’re feeling your feelings - but STILL bingeing when drunk. Here’s another test to try out:
Next time you go out, decrease the amount that you drink. See what happens. If you don’t binge, that indicates there’s something about drinking that sets off this action. Something about drinking that amount of alcohol just doesn’t align very well with you. Alcohol can make us do some silly things, things we don’t want to do or that don’t feel good for us - whether it’s oversharing with strangers, being sloppy, or overeating. Drinking can make us do stupid things - remember it is literally a harmful, poisonous substance.
This might just be a sign to decrease the amount you drink.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM A WEEKEND OF PARTYING AND EATING 'BADLY'
Another big question I get is how to recover from a crazy weekend of partying. How do I get back on track?
First off, let’s assume that you feel that the weekend was really fun and totally worth it. So it’s not something we need to regret or feel bad for. Yes, there may be some downsides to having a big party weekend, but if the memories and experiences were great, then cool. Worth it.
Now we’ve just got to deal with these negative side effects. Some of those are probably dehydration, skin breakouts, poor sleep, and probably eating food that wasn’t the healthiest.
It’s nothing we can’t overcome.
Going forward, you can choose to realign with how you really want to feel most of the time. How do you want to treat your body most of the time while releasing any pressure to punish yourself or undo the ‘bad things’ you did over the weekend (e.g. excessive drinking or eating non-nutritious foods).
Why not punish yourself?
As agreed - the weekend was fun and worth it. And holding onto the punishment mentality isn’t helpful. It’s fear-based and unkind. It keeps us stuck in the black-and-white, all-or-nothing cycle of diet and binge. We want to get out of that.
Instead, gently reinstate the habits you do most of the time when sober that feel good for you.
So far we’ve assumed the party weekend was fun and worth it. What if it wasn’t?
Maybe you had fun but now for four days after you feel crap physically and mentally. If the fun wasn’t worth it, maybe that’s a sign to start to wind things down, adjust the way you party or the frequency. Find that happy place for you where you’re respecting yourself and how you want to feel most of the time.
SHOULD I STOP DRINKING IN BINGE EATING RECOVERY: A CASE STUDY
I’m often asked this question - should I stop drinking alcohol while healing my food relationship? Alcohol can clearly affect how you eat, even if it’s not the root of the issue. I’ll share an example of a client who pressed pause on alcohol while she recovered.
This client, Mary, struggled for years with body image, binge-eating and drinking alcohol. She was in her early twenties moving to New York (i.e. lots of partying). She decided to press pause on alcohol to test out how it would change her binge-eating and food relationship.
For her, there was a linear relationship between bingeing and alcohol. As she decreased her alcohol intake, her binge-eating decreased too. It’s important to note that, in tandem, she was doing intense work on releasing restrictions in her diet along with body image work. She was healing from the root of the problem. Pressing pause on alcohol allowed her to feel most clear and energised while she moved through this journey. It took away one of her bingeing triggers, making the journey easier.
Once she learned to really understand why she was binge-eating, and improve her food and body relationship, she was able to slowly reintroduce alcohol successfully.
If you’re struggling with this issue too, I would definitely try pressing pause on alcohol. Try it out! Mary’s progress is also a testament to the power of the teachings in the 30 Day Reboot course where she learned how to heal from the root of the issue.
As she went through the course, she viewed many of the lessons through the lens of her own experience with alcohol and binge-eating. She applied changes that made sense for her, e.g. pausing alcohol consumption.
HOW TO CURB HUNGER WHEN DRINKING ALCOHOL
The simple answer is: to eat. Whether we're sober or drinking, the best way to deal with hunger is to eat. Hunger is a biological signal sent from your very evolved body - it is not to be ignored. Just like the urge to inhale or urinate are not to be ignored either.
One thing to remember is that when we are drinking, it usually extends late into the night many hours after our last meal (dinner). Where usually we may have already gone to sleep, when drinking and partying, we're expending more energy and staying up later. Your body probably feels hungry for good reason! It can be tempting to 'dance off' the alcohol 'wasted calories' and deny yourself a late night meal. Or to reason with yourself that you don't need a 4th meal in the day. But, it's likely that your body needs some extra fuel - and, as long as this isn't a daily occurence, then it's not much harm done! Remember also that drinking for long periods without food to help soak up the alcohol - can increase the likelihood of alcohol poisoning.
If you're finding that the drinking is becoming a regular problem - I'd recommend getting specialised help with addiction treatment. If over-eating is a side effect of alcohol addiction (where you might drink to numb from unwanted feelings, and perhaps over-eat to numb as well), then ensure you treat the root of the problem above all else. So instead of focusing on how to stop compulsive eating - focus on the drinking and root of that issue.
HOW TO DEAL WITH THE GUILT AND SHAME AFTER BINGEING WHEN DRUNK
The immense shame and guilt from binge-drinking and -eating in one night can feel overwhelming and keep us stuck in the diet binge cycle. The best way to handle this is a) prevention, i.e. heal from the root of your restriction and bingeing so that you don’t end up binge-eating when drunk, but b) in the meantime, learn how to apply kindness and compassion while giving yourself space to feel those emotions and learn from them. This is a huge component of the 30 Day Reboot course; emotional regulation.
You’ll also learn how to cope with the post-binge moment and apply actions that help break the cycle.
Learn more about the 30 Day Reboot course here.
To close off - as out-of-control as binge-eating when drunk can feel, know that there is a solution to it. There is a reason why it’s happening that can be managed. There is always hope!
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