Binge Eating: 6 Strategies to Take Control (cont.)

In other words, cut yourself some slack.

And whether your binge was one supersized meal, a week of holiday treats, or an indulgent monthlong vacation, don't try to make up for it with a punishing regimen of diet and exercise.

"It will work, but you'll gain the weight back at the first opportunity," says Katz. "It sets up a crazy pattern of going from extremes of indulgence to deprivation, and it makes you desperately anxious about your relationship with food.

"Remember the fable of the tortoise and hare? Everybody in dieting wants to be the hare. But who won that race?"

Strategies for Taking Charge of Special Occasions

And what can you do to stop a binge before it starts? Our experts have some tips for handing occasions that are likely to lead you to overeat.

1. Already bought your Halloween candy? There's still time to stop yourself. "Save a bite-sized piece, eat it, and enjoy it," says Sandquist. "Give the rest to a homeless shelter. Don't take it to work." Put your imagination to work on alternative treats to hand out -- like raisins, cereal, pencils, party favors, etc. -- and don't feel guilty. "You can count on your neighbors to provide chocolate to the kids," says Crandall.

2. Have a plan. Eat a nutritious snack before going to a party. Tell yourself you'll eat just half of what's served, then stick to your vow.

3. Plan active days off and vacations. "I love days of intense physical activity -- hiking, horseback riding, skiing, and wonderful celebratory meals at the end of the day," says Katz. "Don't assume you have to gain weight if you're indulging. Compensate with physical activity."

4. Identify your triggers. For example, if you're going to a family gathering, are you likely to feel resentful or guilty about long-standing differences with certain family members? Deal with these issues. Food can mask them but won't make them disappear.

5. Distinguish between indulging and bingeing. Occasionally allow yourself to indulge without eating out of control. The tendency to engage in black-and-white thinking is the hallmark of a problem with food, says Crandall. "If you think one Snickers makes a disaster, then you might think, 'Why not go all the way and really binge?'"

6. Snack often on nutritious foods to keep from getting overly hungry. Katz carries an insulated snack pack everywhere. It's filled with foods such as dried and fresh fruits, baby carrots, nonfat yogurt, trail mix, whole-grain cereal, nuts, and baked chips. "You have to defend yourself," he says. "You can't go out into the modern 'obese-ogenic' environment and hope not to get fat, just as you wouldn't go out in the rain without an umbrella and expect to not get wet."

Originally published October 24, 2004.
Medically updated December 2006.

SOURCES: Christian Crandall, PhD, professor, social psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence. David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; co-author, The Way To Eat. Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, CD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; manager, Nutrition and Diabetes Center, Southwest Washington Medical Center, Vancouver, Wash.

Last Editorial Review: 12/4/2006

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