Earlier this week I bought, opened, and finished a full-size bag of Zapp’s Voodoo flavor potato chips all on the same day. While I didn’t eat the chips in one fell swoop (it was two fell swoops, actually), finishing the bag in a single day could definitely be classified as overeating or even binge behavior. What is there to learn from eating too much? Actually, quite a bit.
Journey To The Bottom Of A Bag Of Chips
I first discovered the Voodoo chips at a sandwich shop in San Francisco last year, and I absolutely loved them. I’ve had snack-sized bags a handful of times since because our local co-op sells them, but I really don’t eat potato chips very often. We are a tortilla chips kind of house (Texas, y’all!).
Speaking of tortilla chips, earlier this week I needed to run to the grocery store to get a couple of items, and my husband asked if I could get more tortilla chips. It had been a long time since I’d been in the chips aisle because my husband is usually in charge of grocery shopping, so I was delighted to discover full-size bags of the Voodoo chips and decided to buy one.
This bag of chips was sized somewhere in between a full-size bag of say, Lays chips, and a snack-size bag of chips (the label said it was 5 servings). I ate about 1/3 of the bag with my lunch almost as soon as I got home, and then I put them away. Later that night, I decided that some more chips sounded good. It was past 11:00 PM, and while I wasn’t fully hungry, the idea of the chips was in my head.
So I opened the bag and started eating. And the chips were fantastic. So I continued to eat them. And before long I noticed that I was getting pretty close to the bottom of the bag. I figured I should probably stop eating the chips, but truthfully, I didn’t want to. So I checked in with how I was feeling:
Rational Me: “So right now you’re eating a hyper-palatable food straight from the bag and if you don’t put them away right now you’re probably going to finish the bag. You cool with that?”
Chips-Munching Me: “Yep. These taste delicious. In hindsight I probably should have pre-portioned them into a bowl to avoid this, but I’m still enjoying myself, and I’m eating at a slow enough pace that I don’t feel out of control.”
Rational Me: “Alright. You do you, babe.”
So I finished off the chips, threw away the bag, and then went and got ready for bed.
How We React To Overeating Is More Important Than The Overeating Itself
When we overeat or binge on food it can feel all-consuming both during and after. We are centered on eating the food until the food is gone. Then, once it’s gone and we realize why it’s gone, we usually become centered on how awful we feel. This can lead to:
- Beating ourselves up or allowing ourselves to drown in guilt or shame spiral;
- Calculating out the calories or macros of what we ate in despair;
- Restricting our food intake the day after to “balance out” what we ate; or
- Punishing ourselves with exercise to “burn off” the food.
There was once a time when I would have done all of the above at the first sign of overeating, but I’ve come a long way from the shaming and blaming experiences of past binge behavior. The truth is, we all overeat sometimes. And it’s especially easy to binge on hyper-palatable foods that were literally designed to keep us from wanting to put them down using the precise right amounts of fat, sugar, and salt to light up the pleasure centers in our brains. You know that feeling like you just can’t stop when you’re eating chips or ice cream or candy? There’s actually science behind that feeling.
But how we react to our binges is so much more important than the binges themselves. Everytime we binge or overeat it is an opportunity to get curious about our behaviors. Overeating gives us a chance to learn something about ourselves in a nonjudgmental way and to think of variables we can play with the next time we overeat (like how I realized in the middle of my chip binge that I might have stopped eating sooner if I had put some chips in a bowl to enjoy and placed the rest of the bag back in the pantry).
Approach Your Overeating With Curiosity And Self-Compassion
If every time you overate you viewed the experience as a learning opportunity instead of a failure, with continued practice you would overeat a lot less, and you would also discover a lot about yourself and your relationship with food in the process. But when you’re knee deep in cheese or cupcakes it can be difficult to imagine what lessons there might be hidden in an empty wrapper. So here are some strategies you can use the next time you find yourself in a binge scenario*:
1. Slow down. The out-of-control nature of a binge comes from going on autopilot and eating the food as quickly as possible without really feeling or tasting any of it. Slowing down can completely change your experience. Try to chew more slowly and put your utensils or the piece of food down in between bites. Focus on the sensation of the food on your tongue, trying to truly taste it and enjoy it.
2. Check in with yourself. Bring awareness to the binging experience by continuing to check in with yourself while you’re eating. How do you physically feel? What is your mental state? Are you meeting a physical hunger or a different kind of hunger? Have your reached fullness? Does the food taste as good as you thought it would? Get curious! Maybe even take notes or write about what you’re experiencing in a journal.
3. Be self-compassionate. After you have recognized that what you’re doing is binging, be kind and gentle with yourself. Try to redirect negative self-talk to self-talk that is more neutral or positive. If you find yourself thinking something like, “I am such an idiot. I can’t believe I ate that entire cake. I’m a failure,” you might redirect your thoughts to something like, “While I’m upset with myself for eating the cake, I know that eating the cake served a purpose for me, and what I eat does not determine my intelligence or self-worth.” Further, don’t punish yourself after the fact by restricting food or forcing yourself to exercise.
4. Be the scientist and gather data. The best time to gather information about what triggers overeating for you is while you’re overeating. Sounds crazy, right? Treat the behavior as an opportunity to think about how you were feeling before, during, and after the binge. What were you thinking about? What was going on around you? Over time you will probably be able to spot patterns, which may help you think of changes you could make to lessen the impact of the next overeating episode.
*Please note that these steps are intended to help those whose binging behavior does not amount to a psychological disorder such as binge eating disorder or bulimia, both of which are conditions that require treatment by medical and mental health professionals.
Your Mind And Body Can Be Great Teachers If You’re Willing To Listen
While binging behavior can easily make you feel powerless, following the above strategies will help you regain your power and reconnect with your body in the process. Our bodies are incredibly wise, and when we strengthen the connection between mind and body with purposeful actions we can learn a lot. Don’t worry if you try some of these tactics and they don’t feel like a slam dunk at first. If you consistently use these tools to change your experience with overeating, it will start to feel a lot less scary over time.
And if you’re still feeling a disconnect, reach out! I coach women every day on how to tune back into their bodies in order to more fully discover their wants and needs around food, exercise, and more.