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The Worst Ways to Recover from a Food Binge

These common eating and exercise strategies are more like self-sabotage.
The Worst Ways to Recover from a Food Binge

With Thanksgiving behind us, let's take a moment to reflect on the (many) food and fitness lessons learned. If you're like us, you learned the hard way that you didn't need a third serving of sweet potato casserole, afterall. But the schooling probably carried over to the hours and days post-holiday. If you woke up and practically starved yourself the next day or went way, way too hard at the gym, you now know that's not the best way to recover from a food binge. But for those of you who are lucky enough to not have to learn these things the hard way, here's a list of what not to do the next time you overdo it.

And let's be real here: Most of us we are going to slip into at least one more food coma between Thanksgiving and New Years. A slip-up, however, doesn’t point to an inevitable downfall. That is, unless you make one of these common post-binge mistakes. 

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A lot of guys think that if they eat two days’ worth of calories one day, they can eat zero the next and it will be just like they never binged in the first place. Unfortunately, calorie math isn’t that straight forward, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. When you cut your calories to zero (or really to anything under about 1,400 calories a day) your body switches into starvation mode, slowing down your metabolism and promoting even more weight gain, he says. Plus, once your body mows through your liver’s stored carbohydrates, it could make you so ravenous that you end up binging yet again. And, honestly, who feels like hitting the gym when they haven’t eaten in nearly 24 hours?

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Kicking yourself over your eating mistakes backfires big time. It makes you feel crappy about yourself, which has a way of manifesting itself in second, third, and fourth binge sessions, he says. In fact, 2011 research published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology shows that perfectionists, by obsessing over their mistakes, are actually at an increased risk of suffering from a binge-eating disorder.

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The more days you spend eating that stuffing, pie, and mac and cheese, the more days you’re likely to gain, not lose, weight. “These simple carb-rich foods cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to shoot way up and down, so that you store your calories as fat,” Delbridge says. “When you snack on these leftovers, it’s basically like you’re following your one big binge with a bunch of smaller ones.” And, once your Tupperware containers finally do hit empty, it’ll be more difficult than ever to switch back to healthy eating, he says. “Your body adjusts to whatever you’ve been eating, so when you start eating smaller, healthier meals again, your body will think you’re starving.” Expect cravings, crazy-loud stomach growls, and the need for a lot of willpower.

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The day of a binge, any high-intensity workouts—especially those that involve a good bit of stomach jostling—may not be your best bet. After all, throwing up your mashed potatoes on the treadmill does no one, least of all your gym’s cleaning crew, any favors. Plus, right after a session of overeating, a surge of insulin hits your bloodstream to lower your crazy high blood sugar levels, he says. A couple of hours later (about the time your stomach no longer feels like it’s playing host to the predator), your blood sugar levels are likely pretty low, meaning that high-intensity workouts could give you a case of the spins.

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“This annoys me more than anything else,” Delbridge says. “Biologically, no cleanse can actually ‘detox’ your body. Your body detoxes itself on its own. But, since cleanses are extremely low-calorie and typically low in actual food, they do send your body into starvation mode and slow your metabolism.”

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Even if you aren’t logging a max-effort workout session, after a binge, you still need to move. If you just nap on the couch or follow your food binge with a Netflix marathon, the vast majority of the sugar coursing through your blood stream will end up being stored in your fat cells, he says. However, if you get in a light workout, or even just walk around the block immediately after your meal, you’ll use at least some of that sugar for energy. 

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Going straight from a binge into a full-fledged diet is like cannonballing, butt-naked, into a 33-degree pool. It sucks. “Psychologically, you resent the fact that you’re dieting and get angry about the foods you ‘can’ eat and the ones you ‘can’t,” Delbridge says. Hence why about a third of New Year resolution-makers have given up on their weight-loss efforts by February, according to research from the University of Scranton.

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