This is the third and final post in my blog series on indulging in food. If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2, I recommend you do that before continuing with this post. In those previous two posts, I talked about what indulging may mean to you, how you can think about indulging, and I reminded you that’s it’s normal and okay to indulge in food.
But, what if you think your particular form of indulging is problematic? What if you feel your indulging is more frequent than it should be? What if you worry that you’re eating too much when you indulge? What if you think you are overindulging?
If you are certain that you’re not defining indulging with a restrictive mindset (see Part 1), then this may be something to look at and address.
In this post, I’m going to break down how and why indulging could be problematic, and I’ll give you some guidance in normalizing it. First, I’ll take you through a series of questions that will help you determine if this is an issue for you, and then I’ll explain how you can start to overcome it.
Is your indulging a problem?
Have you very recently stopped binge eating (or are you still binge eating)?
In the Brain over Binge Recovery Guide, I described a process that former binge eaters may go through when binge eating stops – I called it a bridge to normal eating. This is to meant to convey that you probably won’t go from binge eating to 100 percent normal eating habits overnight, and it could take time for you to feel like you are on steady ground with food. When you are a binge eater, you become accustomed to eating large amounts of food; and even when you stop the harmful binge eating behavior, you may find yourself overeating a little more than you’d like, and that includes over-indulging in pleasurable food a little more than you’d like.
I don’t think you should waste energy worrying about this, and instead you should stay focused on becoming confidently binge-free. Your physiology will gradually stabilize, blood sugar regulation can correct itself*, and the size of your stomach can return to normal, so that normal amounts of food and normal-sized indulgences will feel more satisfying. (*ln talking about physiological issues, I want to remind you to seek professional medical and nutritional support as needed).
So, if you are only recently removed from binge eating, and you think you may be overindulging, try to give it some time and allow your body to heal. If the issue does not resolve itself over time, then you can begin to address it. The same advice applies if you are still binge eating – try not to worry about any overindulging right now and focus instead on ending the binge eating habit and allowing your body to regulate. Then, you’ll be in a better place to work on any eating issues that remain.
Do strong cravings primarily drive your indulgences?
There’s a difference between deciding to go out for ice cream with your family, and impulsively driving to the nearest fast food restaurant for a milkshake in response to strong sugar cravings. Neither situation is a binge, but if you feel like you are being overrun by your cravings, then it’s going to feel more problematic than if your decision to indulge feels rather calm and relaxed. Even if the desserts in both scenarios contain a similar amount of sugar and calories, you’ll feel more conscious and in control in the first example of getting ice cream than in the second example, when you feel more like you are being controlled by your desires.
Even though there is certainly food pleasure in both situations, they feel very different. If strong and uncomfortable cravings are the driving force behind most of your indulgent eating, then I believe this is something to work on, and you can start by using the suggestions I’ll give at the end of this post.
Are you obsessing over your indulgences?
If thinking about your food indulgences and looking forward to them takes up too much mental space, that’s another reason indulging could feel like a problem to you. Normal indulgence isn’t something that consumes your thoughts in a bothersome way. It’s something you decide to do, either in the moment or by planning it beforehand, but it doesn’t feel like an absolute priority in your life. If getting your treats feels so important that you can’t focus on anything else, and it causes you to lose sight of what is truly important to you, then you’ll definitely want to bring food indulgence back into it’s proper place in your life.
Are the consequences of indulging too great?
Even if you don’t feel driven by strong cravings, and even if you aren’t obsessing about indulgences beforehand, you may be experiencing problems after indulging. You may be someone whose decision to have ice cream in the first example leads to uncomfortable digestive issues or an exacerbation of certain inflammatory symptoms. You may have a health condition that makes the indulgences you are choosing too physically damaging for you personally.
You can start to find replacements that are equally or nearly as enjoyable, or you may need to let certain indulgences go in the name of better health. Do not take this too far by completely banning anything that is not healthy, but if you have specific symptoms and issues with certain pleasurable foods, then it’s time to take a look at that and to change how you approach indulging in food.
Are you too often saying,”it’s okay to indulge”?
Yes, it’s true that indulging in food is okay, but if you hear this thought over and over in your head and it justifies overeating every day, or even at every meal, then it’s going to feel problematic. It’s definitely a good thing to remind yourself that indulging in food is okay, and that you don’t need to be restrictive (especially when you are learning to let go of dieting); but know that you don’t have to eat anything and everything that comes into your mind. Take an honest look at your behavior, and know that you get to decide when it is okay to indulge, and when it may not be the best idea. You get to strike a balance that works for you.
How to get over overindulging:
The simple advice I’m going to give you about dealing with overindulging can be organized into five D’s:
Define (what indulgences are okay to you) – Take some time to think about what indulging means to you and how you want it in your life (see Part 1 and Part 2 for help). This will provide guidance when you have opportunities and/or desires to indulge, and you hear that voice in your head saying “it’s okay to indulge.” If you’ve already defined what’s okay and not okay for your personally, then it becomes clear whether or not you will follow that voice. You do not need to set exact, strict rules, and in fact, I would not recommend that at all. It’s best just to have a general idea of what food indulgences you want in your life.
Desire (accept it and possibly address it) – Desire may or may not be present prior to indulging. If it is, it’s okay – a normal, healthy desire for pleasurable eating is not a problem. Desire is part of our human nature. I realize that here I could insert an entire book about the effects of modern foods on cravings, and I understand that many theories abound. However, I believe it’s best to keep it simple and realize that desire has always been a part of the human condition, but we have choice available to us.
Based on that, my first piece of advice about desire is to accept that desire is okay, but also to know that it doesn’t mean you are destined to have what you are craving.
When you have desires, try to pause and determine the course of action you want to take. That may be to have the indulgence you are craving (and not binge afterward); that may be to have a healthier food option; that may be to do another activity. That may also include developing an overall strategy for addressing the cravings you feel are out of the range of normal. Cravings can be dismissed like binge urges, but additionally, you may want to get help regulating blood sugar and hormones through nutritional support or a medical workup. You can also look into improving sleep, reducing stress, and improving hydration, which can all help reduce some cravings.
Decide – This is where your power of choice comes in. It’s important to realize that you are the one eating the food. Your cravings do not control your voluntary muscle movements, even if you have physiological imbalances that are causing those cravings. This is not about blame, it’s about empowering you to feel like you can choose what you indulge in.
I believe that bringing the power of choice into your eating decisions is how indulging stays in the proper place in your life. Because, even if strong cravings are present, and even if you do decide to have the indulgence you are craving, you can still feel conscious and in control. You have the freedom to decide to indulge anytime, and you also have the freedom to decide against it when it doesn’t feel like the right decision for you.
Deliberately enjoy the indulgence: You don’t have to eat super-slowly, or chew a certain number of times, or avoid doing anything else while you are eating; but try to slow down enough to enjoy what you are indulging in. If you are eating rapidly, or eating mindlessly in front of the TV or in the car, it will feel more impulsive and potentially problematic. Eating a little more deliberately goes hand in hand with deciding to indulge. It’s another way of keeping your higher brain engaged, realizing what you are doing, and proving to yourself that you are in control.
Delicious! – This is a bonus “D” to remind you that you can and should enjoy eating and indulging. When you indulge, it’s perfectly okay to soak in the pleasure (without the guilt!). Then, when you are done, put the food aside and move on with you life.
I hope this series on indulging has been helpful to you! I realize it’s been a lot of information, so thanks for staying with me!
If you want to end the binge eating habit, you can download my 30-page free eBook, which will teach you all of the basics of the Brain over Binge approach.