We have all done it. After cruising along for a few weeks with great nutrition practices, one weekend comes along and seems to wreck all the progress we have made. I imagine that was the case this weekend with many of you. For whatever reason, Guinnesses just taste better on March 17th, and the extra servings of garlic-butter mashed potatoes seem to appear on your plate whether you wanted them or not (you did).
So after we binge and go off the handle a bit, how do we bounce back and get ourselves going again while minimizing the total damage done? The one thing we want to avoid more than anything else is an all-or-nothing mentality. This line of thinking is incredibly common among people who struggle to stick with a nutrition plan. The basic line of thinking is that you need to either be all-in on a meal plan and firing on all cylinders, and the slightest bit of cheating will throw a wrench in the whole system and cause you to go off the deep end and spiral out of control.
Clearly, this is not the goal of any nutrition plan. This typically happens because people have a tendency to try to rely on willpower to get them through difficult nutrition situations, but willpower is rarely as strong as people think it is. It is important to understand this point: systems will always prevail when willpower fails. That sentence is worth re-reading to drill it into your head. Systems will always prevail when willpower fails. Practically speaking, this means the best way to prevent a binge happening in the first place is to put systems in place in your life that avoid binging. If you know chocolate is your weakness, don’t keep chocolate in your house. If you know there’s a certain friend that always convinces you to put the diet on hold and eat an entire cheesecake with them, spend less time with that friend. Or make a no cheesecake rule with them.
However, if it is Monday morning and you are looking back on your weekend in horror thinking there is no way to possibly recover from the thousands of calories you consumed, and you have no idea how to bounce back, there are some actions you can take, and some actions you want to completely avoid.
What to Avoid:
- “Well I already cheated, might as well keep going.” This mentality ultimately turns a 2 day binge into a week-long or even longer binge. The result here can be some serious damage to the hard work that had been put into a nutrition plan thus far.
- “Oh no, I ruined my diet, I can never eat another calorie again.” People have a tendency to punish themselves for binging by overly-restricting their food intake, and creating a very unhealthy yo-yo effect. They restrict themselves to the point of nearly breaking, which leads to another binge when the weekend rolls back around 5 days later.
What to Do:
- The best thing you can do to bounce back from a binge, is to move back into your old habits as though nothing happened. This is much easier said than done, but as I mentioned before, systems are better than willpower. So the most effective method is to have short-term memory and quickly start relying on the default systems that you have previously established.
- One method I have found particularly effective for myself is to practice controlled intermittent fasting. If intermittent fasting is not something you are already familiar with, then this is not a great strategy. However, if you are at least a little bit experienced, it can be a very effective strategy. There is a fine line between intermittent fasting and restriction (which I advised against in the previous section) so you need to be careful with that. However, I have found the act of fasting for 18-24 hours following a binge a great method for hitting the reset button on nutrition and getting back into healthy habits.
- Get a hard workout in. Again, it is important to not use the workout as a “purging” tactic where exercise becomes a compulsive punishment for overeating, but it can be another great way to start triggering healthy habits again. For myself, a hard workout helps me get back on a solid nutrient timing schedule, which returns order to my life both nutritionally and otherwise.
These three methods are the most effective ways to bounce back after temporary lapses in previously-established habits. However, it is important to not get into a habit of being a weekend warrior and allowing yourself to fly off the handle every Friday night, knowing that you are able to pull in the reigns again come Monday morning. This is simply a strategy for undoing some of the damage that comes from the occasional over-indulgence.