How to Eat Way, Way Too Much (and Not Go Crazy)

And that’s the trick, isn’t it?

Eating is easy. Eating too much, in a world of around the clock convenience, has become routine — an expected end-of-story for weekends, stressful days at work, and just about any mark on the calendar that starts with “holi” or “birth” and ends with “day.”

We eat too much.

But what if that weren’t the real problem? What if the act of overeating took second place to an ugly reality: what happens after?

I’ve been thinking about guilt, lately, and how quickly we fall back to self-loathing whenever we overshoot our daily needs. In so many ways, it’s a kind of paradox, an unfortunate truth about being human: we’re hard-wired to eat. We have a distinct evolutionary desire to store energy in the case of future famine, and it just so happens that we’re surrounded on every side by delicious, high-energy treats. It just so happens, too, that we’ve conditioned ourselves to feel like crap whenever we fulfill that instinctual desire, leaving us with mental/physical struggle that we fight—and often lose—every day of the week.

So what can we do about it? I have a few ideas.

0. Enjoy yourself.

That’s a weird number to kick things off with, but I think this bears mention before we dive into the aftermath of overeating: enjoy the food. Whatever the occasion might be, enjoy what you’re eating. Don’t let the guilt ruin every single part of the process, okay?

If you feel the uncertainity creeping on, just remember this: one day — or three, or five — can’t undo months upon months of healthy eating. And then proceed to stuff your face.

Case in point? I spent the last weekend in sunny, strange Austin, devouring food cart oddities left and right. As the Korean-Mexican burrito, bacon and maple donut, and large Summermoon latte might suggest, I took to the weekend with gusto — and that’s not even counting the bubble tea, peppercorn shrimp, and distinctly non-Paleo indulgences I encountered on every corner.

I ate. I drank. I smiled. Why? Because I knew what comes next.

1. Stop looking in the mirror (just for a few days).

Don’t do it.

It won’t help you. You’ll stare at smooth skin instead of those lines you had before, spending several depressing minutes wondering why all of your hard work managed to disappear in the span of a few meals.

But here’s a fortunate truth: you’re looking at water. The water weight that accompanies overeating (particularly of the high-carb variety) can do a staggering amount of cover-up on an otherwise healthy body, so do yourself a favor and stop looking at yourself for 48-72 hours.

Combined with a return to your regular diet, that’ll be time enough to let some of the bloating work its way out. I don’t know about you, folks, but I’d rather be looking mostly normal whenever I take my designated Vanity Time in front of the mirror.

2. Ignore the scale.

See above.

You don’t need to know the number it tells you. You don’t need to obsess over how many pounds you gained from your birthday celebrations, and you don’t need to spend the next six hours mentally calculating the caloric content of every single thing you ate.

Step away from the scale. If you still insist on using it, wait a few days before you hop on for the immediate aftermath to level out.

3. Listen to your stomach.

This is revolutionary thinking, I’m sure, but you do not need to follow up a few days of heavy eating with even more huge portions of food. Try and listen to your stomach, instead, whenever you’re tackling a meal, and don’t be afraid to seriously consider a few questions we don’t often like to ask:

  1. Am I actually hungry?
  2. If not, why in the hell am I still cleaning my plate?

Practice some mindfulness, in other words, and don’t stress while you do. There’s nothing wrong with eating smaller meals in the aftermath of a holiday celebration, and likewise there’s no harm in being a little skeptical of your stomach rumblings for a few days after. Ever noticed how your stomach might grumble and growl even after a night of heavy eating/drinking? That’s more down to a hormonal response than any actual hunger, so chug a glass of water or two and wait until the real hunger kicks in later.

4. Skip a meal.

If you’re keen on the idea, now would be an ideal time to incorporate a little intermittent fasting into your schedule.

Eat a staggering amount of food at one meal? Skip breakfast (and maybe lunch!) the next day. Overeat, as I did, for two straight days in a spectacular city? Try my approach: for each day that I overeat, follow up with a 24-hour fast. In my case, I’m going to do 2 twenty-four hour fasts this week, each spaced well apart so as to keep my sanity intact.

I did one on Monday, as an example, eating my last meal on Sunday around 7pm and then having my next at the same time on the next day. That first fast alone proved effective enough to cut out a lot of the bloating and water weight I had picked up, and I suspect the second fast coming on Thursday will put me right back where I want to be — if not even closer to my goals.

Simple as that.

5. Don’t stress. Smile.

Cheesy? Sure.

But there’s a simplicity to the approach, here, that I’m so excited to be living. My fun weekends, now, pan out a little like this:

  1. Realize that I want to try something obscenely weird/decadent.
  2. Eat.
  3. Smile, knowing that I’ll easily make up for it over the next week.
  4. And then do everything in points 0-4 above.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. There doesn’t have to be guilt, regret, and heartbreak come Monday morning, and there doesn’t have to be an angry shrill voice lurking in the back of your skull.

We can have simplicity instead. Most importantly, we can have happiness: excitement to try new, wonderful flavors, satisfaction at the memory of doing so, and the confidence in knowing that you’ll need just a week or so to get back to where you started.

Welcome to flexible living.

And just a reminder, folks, that today is the absolute last day to enter the contest to win a copy of my absolute favorite Paleo cookbook on the market: Well-Fed by Melissa Joulwan. Read my review, here, and check the bottom of the article for a chance to enter. Thanks to everyone who has entered so far! I’ll announce the winners either tomorrow or on Friday.

4 Comments

  1. Cait says:

    Great piece! I just got back from a week of over-indulging on a family vacation so it couldn’t be more timely. I noticed after a several days of indulgence, my appetite this week has been much lower and I even did an accidental 24h fast. Can’t wait for your next thoughtful piece!

  2. Lauren Marie says:

    Great post! Something that helps me a lot to remember is that “guilt is self imposed.” Instead of freaking out on myself for not eating what I think I “should have” I remember that there are no “should’s”, only “could’s” and since I could have eaten better I made a choice not to and I’m not going to feel guilty for making that choice!

  3. Marie says:

    So glad you wrote about this. My daughter says, “Mom, I’m so sick of hearing about how sick you are after eating non-Paleo foods.” So, guilt may be the rambling on after eating off the charts…liked your thoughts on it, alot!

  4. andrea says:

    I love this post! I just returned from a two week vacation where ironically I didn’t over indulge like I usually do although I did enjoy a few local treats…my problem came in about day three (today actually) while I’m still recovering from jet lag (I was 10 time zones away for 14 days!!!)…I’m a flight attendant and regularly fly international so I recognize this process easily but still can’t muscle through it! I have learned to just give in, feed my body (or mind really) what it’s asking for and then move on with a 24 hour fast. Easy peasy…life is too short to pile on the guilt! And for the record…my indulgence was simply a coconut flour belguim waffle topped with butter, maple syrup, chopped bananas and pecans…this is something I usually reserve for a special occasion breakfast.