If you feel like you’re gonna binge, throw yourself a party

A binge is not a binge if you give yourself permission; then it’s just eating. And begrudging permission won’t cut it; it must be unrestricted, guilt-free, no-strings-attached.

But…what the heck does that even feel like? If you’ve spent years feeling unimaginable guilt every time you even think about food, you may have to work to find that permission zone — that’s what I call the state of mind where you can start healing your relationship with food.

Thinking back to my disordered days, unconditional permission is something I granted myself only on certain special occasions: birthdays, holidays, parties. So I applied those memories to my binge eating recovery — whenever I got that unmistakable, unquietable itch to binge, I threw myself a metaphorical party instead.

And you can do it too. Dig into all the sense memories you associate with joyous gatherings and find your permission zone. The theme of your party is “Congratulations. You don’t have to be afraid of food anymore.”

Here’s how to do it:

Head to the grocery store and pick up the foods you really want. Parties are fun — no need to feel naughty or embarrassed! Remember those times you avoided eye contact with the cashier as you bought binge food? This is different. Throwing a party is nothing to be ashamed of. Enjoying food is nothing to feel ashamed of. No one can make you feel shame without your permission.

Speaking of permission: Permission is the very special guest at this event. Permission is the difference between a binge and a party. Do not panic and rescind permission halfway through the party!

When you’re ready to eat, make yourself feel at ease and welcome. Picture a host telling her guests, “Please…help yourself!” Now imagine the alternative: “There’s some food here but please don’t eat too much.” Not cool, party host!

Practice your best party behavior — put your phone away, turn the TV off, and engage. Taste your food. Listen to what’s happening inside your head. Strike up a friendly conversation with yourself if you like! “This food is delicious. It reminds me of my favorite snack growing up. I don’t need to feel guilt about it anymore, and that feels so freeing.”

At this party, no one hangs around the food table to comment on what foods are “good” and “bad” for you. Don’t be a party killer! Food judgments are not a good look at a party, and they’re not welcome at this party either.

Remember, when you throw a party, it’s impossible to predict the amount of food you’ll end up needing. And that’s okay! You might or might not eat all of the food you bought. Just eat until you’re full, and if there are leftovers, pack them up to enjoy when you get hungry again. If there are no leftovers, no worries!

And that’s that. The party’s over. Just like that, you redirected binge eating into just plain eating.

You may want to throw another party tomorrow, or next week, or next month. You may even find that the more parties you throw, the fewer you will crave. Remember that feeling when frat parties stopped being fun and started being…dumb? The frat parties didn’t change. You did.

Parties are awesome, but they have their limitations. They can’t make a happy life. When the party ends, you still have to face the “regular” stuff. A party can’t make your job more fulfilling or your deadlines disappear. A party can’t help you deal with anxiety. A party isn’t a therapist. A party may or may not be a tactic for avoiding other issues, and only you can know for sure.

As your body recovers from years of restriction, you may find that you don’t really need the parties anymore. But the permission can stay. That’s a houseguest you’ll never, ever want to leave.

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