Then, there’s the free food phenomena. This is a binge eaters Achilles Heel. It sets up not just temptation, but a moral dilemma, “is it okay for me to waste this food?” There are many free food situations that get set up. But you have to look at the real cost in free food. Such as “if I eat this, will it set up a binge later?” “will I binge on this because it’s free?” “Is this unhealthy for me to be eating in quantity?”
There is the hidden cost involved with free food, and one that comes with a price tag that is much higher than the food. What will happen if you begin eating the free food? Ask yourself the following questions before you start.
1.)What is the cost/benefit analysis of eating this food?
2.)If I eat this food, just because it is free will I be happy?
3.)Will I be happier in the long term if I eat this free food?
4.)What are the consequences of eating this?
5.)After I am finished with the food, what might happen?
6.)If I eat this free food, will I be able to eat it moderately or will I begin to eat it compulsively?
7.)Will eating this food trigger a binge?
8.)If so, will I wind up bingeing for the rest of the day/night or for several more days?
9.)Will eating this food cause me to purge?
10.)If I don’t eat this food, will I feel badly?
11.)Will I feel worse if I don’t eat this food than if I do?
Here are some common free food situations and ways to counter them.
Situation: The parents have left tons of ice cream, candy, chips, cookies, cake, and other types of food and junkfood for you to snack on while you’re there.
How to Deal: No matter how old you are, babysitting can be a trigger. You are at home alone, with very little to do and a whole open refrigerator full of free and new food. Before you go to babysit, have a plan. You might put a boundary on yourself saying that won’t eat anything there at all and eat a healthy nutritious dinner before you go. If it’s an all day thing or a time that will coincide with your dinner, you can pack healthy meals to bring with you. If the kids are eating meals that you are likely to binge on, or are likely to trigger a binge (most often I hear mac-n-cheese or pizza) simply decide that you are going to have something different. While you are there, make sure that you have a great book, or a great movie for after the kids are asleep. You might even ask the parents if it’s okay for you to have a friend over. If so, bring a safe friend who won’t engage in binge eating behaviors with you and bring games to play after the kids go to sleep. If not, let someone know that you want to avoid binge eating have a friend to talk to and check in with while you are there. Bring something to do with your hands, like crafts to do with the kids, or knitting or jewelry making. Make sure to set your intention before you go there that you are not going to engage in binge eating there. The intention you set and the strategies that you set up will help you to refrain from acting out in eating disorder behaviors.
Scenario: Upgrade to First Class
Situation: You are fortunately upgraded to first class on a long flight. With that comes unlimited drinks and food and as many snack packs as you want. Even though you ate a good meal before you got on the flight, you find that it’s hard to refuse the free food, despite the fact that you are not hungry.
How To Deal: Check in with yourself to figure out whether you are hungry or not. If you are not, let the flight attendant know that you are not ready to eat yet and ask if you might be able to save your meal for later in the flight when you are hungry. If you do choose to drink, don’t have more than one drink. People tend to drink a great deal on long flights and this can be dangerous. You might become dehydrated and get a headache, then feel miserable when you land. Think about what might happen if you choose to overeat or drink a lot on the flight. If you do, will you land feeling ready for your visit or to come home and get back to work/school? Again, this is a cost/benefit analysis. Will eating and drinking make you feel better or worse in the long run? There are many other ways to make a long flight pleasurable besides eating and drinking, and it’s nice to land feeling strong and healthy rather than uncomfortable, bloated, headachey and sick.
Scenario: Food Basket
Situation: Christmas, Get Well, Easter, Thanksgiving… whatever! Someone has sent you a basket full of binge foods.
How To Deal: Be honest with yourself about whether or not you will be able to have them in your house to eat moderately. If not, regift it. Give it away, donate it, bring it to a homeless shelter, or a homeless person, or a friend.
Scenario: Free Pizza Party
Situation: You arrive at work/school and find that your class or team has won a free pizza party for whatever, but you know that pizza is either a binge food or a trigger food for you (a trigger food is one that you eat that you won’t necessarily binge on, but will trigger a binge later).
How To Deal: Again, think of the cost benefit analysis. Will you feel better or worse if you eat the pizza. Can you eat one or two slices and stop? Can you eat one or two slices without bingeing afterwards? Can you stop at one or two slices? If the answer is no to these questions, refuse the pizza and instead stick with lunch that you had planned. Is saving $5-$10 for lunch worth the way you are going to feel if you trigger a binge?
Scenario: Home to visit the parents
Situation: Parents house is completely full of junkfood. You are stressed out being at home– all the old feelings of your childhood have come up. You want to binge after they go to sleep.
How To Deal: Remember that you are no longer a kid and that you do have control. You can choose exactly what you want to eat, whether you want to binge or not, and what time you go to sleep. The food in their house won’t make you feel better, but it will trigger the old binge cycle. Tell yourself the first night that you are not going to touch the junkfood, but if you want to the next night, you can. See how you feel when you wake up the next morning. If you remember waking up in the past feeling full and uncomfortable and full of shame, notice how nice it is to wake up feeling well rested and comfortable in your body. If you choose to eat the junk food that night, make sure that you have a healthy dinner and choose one or two small things to eat. When you eat, do it slowly and mindfully. Check in, are you doing this to shut down? If so, try to stay conscious. Try to eat slowly and actually taste what you are actually eating. You will find that you are more satisfied with a small bit of the food than you are when you binge on it or compulsively stuff it down your throat.
Scenario: Someone is taking you out to dinner
Situation: You are invited out to dinner by a friend who wants to take you to a place where the food is unhealthy and triggering. They urge you to order foods that you know will trigger a binge.
How to Deal: Don’t go to the restaurant very hungry. Understand that you don’t have to eat to make anyone else happy. You eat to feed yourself. You don’t have to eat something that will make you feel uncomfortable or trigger a binge later. It’s okay to say, “no, actually I don’t want to order the macaroni and cheese or the s’mores pie…” or whatever your mate wants you to order that you know will hurt you. Tell them that because they are so excited for you to try that, you would love a sample of theirs, but you really are in the mood for something different. You never have to eat something to make someone feel better. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions, only your own.
Scenario: Happy hour- free bar snacks with drinks
Situation: You go for drinks after work with your friends and they are giving out free wings, mini eggrolls, chips, dips, ribs, pizza rolls, whatever! It’s free so it’s enticing, but you also know that it isn’t a proper dinner and if you get started you won’t stop.
How to Deal: Really, stop after one drink and have soda water. It’s very difficult to turn down free salty food when under the influence. Don’t stay too late and remember that you will feel better if you don’t drink or eat too much. Think about how free food is not necessarily good food. It’s unhealthy, and probably not prepared very well. It’s probably nothing more than microwaved or deep fried boxed foods, worth very little money. Again, let’s say you eat $$8.00 worth of free food. Then you feel yucky afterwards, did you actually save $8.00? Not really, the cost of feeling ill is much more than you saved. Decide that you are going to save your appetite for a proper dinner.
Scenario: Expensive All You Can Eat Buffet
Situation: You are in Las Vegas and it’s suggested that you go to the Bellagio for their Brunch Buffet. You pay $60 for the all you can eat buffet, but once you get there, you realize that all you really want is an omelet and some fruit salad. You become upset because you realize that you are going to have to pay all that money for a very small amount of food. What do you do?
How To Deal: This is a tough one. It’s really challenging to know that you paid that much money for a couple of eggs and a piece of melon. So here’s where you have to begin to think. What is my $60 worth here? Is it worth the company of my friends? Can I tell my friends that I’ll meet them afterwards and to enjoy their brunch? If not, can I enjoy the company without without bingeing? Can I eat slowly and moderately? If I pay $60 and I binge, is that okay? Did I pay all that money for yummy food or did I pay all that money to do something that made me feel horrible? These are things to think about carefully. If you feel horrible after the buffet, than that was not worth the $60. You can sample some things, but eat slowly and really taste and appreciate your food. Don’t turn it into a race to make back your money. Try to enjoy the environment, the company, and the food.