Binge Eating: 6 Strategies to Take Control (cont.)
Then notice what triggered the binge. "For example, if I get overtired I tend to eat too much," says Sandquist. "We need to learn how to express ourselves and find out what we need instead of food for comfort."
Finally, write down your strategies for weight control -- the ones that sustained you before the binge. And be gentle with yourself. "If you stop with five cookies instead of 10, you've made progress." Sandquist says. "It's a process."
She recommends not trying to ignore cravings, which can lead to feelings of deprivation. Instead, manage them by enjoying bite-sized indulgences.
For example, you can satisfy a chocolate craving with a small piece of dark chocolate: "Make it an event. Give it 10 or 15 minutes." Alternately, she suggests, "try low-fat chocolate milk, or mix unsweetened cocoa, nonfat milk, and artificial sweetener."
If you're tempted to think -- as dieters often do -- that once you've blown your diet you might as well keep on going, consider what Katz has to say:
"No matter how good a person you are or how good a driver you are, if you drive far enough, you'll eventually get a flat tire. Do you hop out of your car, pull out a pocketknife, and puncture the other three tires? That's the kind of response people have to dieting. You're cruising along, you run into trouble, but instead of fixing it and getting back on track, they do the dietary equivalent of puncturing the other three tires."
Our three experts say it's important to remember that to binge is to be human. In fact, we're hard-wired for it, says Katz, who directs the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.
"Primitive people had to go long periods without eating, and the natural response to food was to eat everything in sight," Katz says. "When modern people go too long without eating, they reactivate that primal response. It becomes a behavioral pattern that propagates itself."
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.
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