How to Cope With Binges and Slips While Trying to Recover

Coping with binges. Illustration of hands holding a green cup.


One of the most frustrating issues while in recovery from eating disorders such as binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa, is the fact that you reach a milestone of having achieved a noteworthy number of days symptom-free, and then slip. A setback like this can be demotivating, leaving you feeling unequipped to cope with the aftermath of a binge.

What’s worse, after a slip, it can sometimes take days or weeks to pick yourself back up.

“You just have to learn to let it go and move on…accept what’s done,” we’d hear from our therapist. Panic would still rise.

“HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CHANGE AND GET BETTER IF I ACCEPT A SLIP??!!” we wanted to scream.

Learning to forgive ourselves for slips and moving on is one of the biggest hurdles in recovery. As if beating ourselves up and wallowing in self-loathing is what will keep us from all-out food debauchery, we hold on for dear life to our punishing self-talk.

“See, you’re fooling yourself”

“You can’t recover. You’ll never recover”

“What is wrong with you? How could you do this again?”

“Back to square one… then again, why bother?”

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How to cope with binges

How has kicking someone while they’re down ever worked… for anyone? Why do we do this to ourselves when it’s more likely to fuel further disordered behaviors and binges?

Because many of us believe that forgiving ourselves or giving ourselves permission to slip while in recovery is akin to resignation or apathy.

We irrationally fear that accepting a binge will lead to permissiveness. And lack of control to the point that we will no longer be motivated to improve, change, or grow.

Saying it another way,  we seem to unconsciously act as if practicing some self-compassion will stunt our recovery. Of course, rationally, this makes zero sense. But in the heat of battle, we refuse ourselves the compassion we deserve. And that we’d unquestionably offer another suffering being.

Acceptance

Ruby (name changed for privacy reasons) shared with us that after years of struggle and countless relapses, she got to a breaking point. She just couldn’t beat herself up anymore. She was so exhausted and so ready to give up that she figured she had nothing to lose. So, she decided to just keep doing her best, and accept that she was going to slip. That perhaps, she was never going to be completely free.

Ruby knew it sounded crazy. But it was a completely game-changing transformative experience.  

Green background with text on it and flower and headphone icons. On the side, a phone mockup showing a podcast player.

She told us that she remembered the first time she tried acceptance and self-love after a binge/purge episode. It was hard.

She’d been feeling stuck in the cycle for several days, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to get back on track to recovery again. Through tears and desperation, she told herself:

It’s okay Ruby… so you binged again. You’re hurting. This really sucks, but I know you’re doing your best. You’ve been working really hard, for so long, and you’ve had some wins. You are getting better. I promise that I will never ever give up on you no matter how many times you fall. Tomorrow is another opportunity to start fresh and do better.

The first time she had this little chat with herself, she had to repeat it like a mantra. It was hard to believe the words she was speaking and she cried. But it certainly felt better than the alternative dialogue she was used to. She said:

I vowed that no matter what, I would no longer allow myself to wallow in self-loathing after a binge.

Keep going

Ruby kept at it, and it finally happened.

She finally believed the words of kindness she spoke to herself. And a calm peace washed over her like a warm hug.

She felt the certainty that she was, indeed, going to recover. She was going to be okay. It was such a beautiful feeling.

Imagine her surprise when the next day rolled around and she felt no fear or anxiety. She knew that she was going to be back on track, and not binge. She had found a new way to cope with binges.

As she continued to practice acceptance and self-compassion, within a matter of weeks, she began to make more progress. She felt better than she had in years.

That is what self-kindness can do. When the anxiety you feel after a binge diminishes, when you let go of the self-loathing, the fear, and the shame, the urges become manageable. Suddenly, there is more space for your more rational and loving self to intervene. And stop a binge before it happens.

Fear and shame are exhausting. They cloud your judgment. They create stress and deplete the mental and emotional resources we need to keep doing the work of recovery. They fuel our disease.

Acceptance, love, and compassion fuel our courage and resilience.

They are energizing and inspiring emotions. When you begin to accept your slips, and show yourself more compassion, you have more reserves to keep going.

Let’s face it: as much as we want to stop binging, the alternative of beating ourselves up simply does not work.

Leora Fulvio, MFT, and author says that it’s important to think about yourself the way you would think about your best friend if he or she called you up and said I had a really bad night with food. I need to get out of my house, I need your support. Do you hate me? Say what? Do I hate you because you’ve binged? Of course not. You’d tell them you love them and you’d listen and give them a hug. You’d tell them to be kind to themselves. And that’s how you have to treat yourself with love and respect and kindness, and then just move forward in your recovery.

So after years of practicing here’s what we recommend to cope with binges:

  1. First, swear off beating yourself up after a binge. Write it out. Make a contract with yourself that you refuse to treat yourself badly after a binge from this day forward. 
  2. Write out a self-acceptance and love mantra. If this is difficult, pretend that someone else you love dearly, who you know is wanting and trying to recover, just shared with you that she/he slipped. How would you speak to him/her?
  3. If you slip, acknowledge out loud to yourself that you slipped. Validate your suffering. Tell yourself “wow, this hurts.” It’s okay to hurt and feel disappointed. Acknowledge that you are human and that everyone makes mistakes and slips in life. Leora Fulvio, MFT, emphasizes that you can think of it as an opportunity for learning. “What happened here? Why do I think this happened? What was my trigger? Where did it start? What could I have done differently now that I know, how can I prepare for this in the future? So having it be a teachable moment for yourself and saying, oh, great, this is actually an opportunity for me to understand my triggers more.
  4. Go to your self-acceptance and compassion mantra and go over and over it. Imagine hugging yourself, and remind yourself that you will never give up on yourself.

Most important friends, do not give up this practice. You may have to do it dozens of times. We know that there were days we practiced, only to find ourselves in the middle of a binge again within hours.

As difficult as it is, the diligence and refusal to give up are what works here.

Remember this: Has there ever been anyone in your life that you loved, and that you were not highly motivated to nurture, protect, grow, improve and encourage? I didn’t think so… and so it is with you.

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2 Comments

  1. says: Nathalie

    I can totally identify with this post. After years of starving, then binge/purge/starving, recovery was never going to be easy, and sometimes seemed it was never possible at all. But after years of trying to recover things only really got better when I learned to forgive myself, and, crucially, not punish myself. It was a strange and difficult mindset to get into, to think “ok, I “slipped up” today, things haven’t gone as I’d like them to – and that’s ok. I’ll just try again tomorrow.” And after a while of not punishing myself, the binges and the urge to binge started to lose their grip on me. Now, I’m at a place where I can have a chocolate bar and it’s not the trigger for 3 days of non stop eating. And it’s not just that I’m able to stop myself bingeing, but the urge to binge is gone. Because, I see now, the bingeing was punishment as much as the starving. So when I was able to forgive myself for not being as “good” at recovery as I’d like to, recovery became so much easier – because forgiveness turned out to be such a big part of it.
    My only regret is that I wasn’t able to forgive myself sooner, because my recovery accelerated incredibly once I began to try and practice it.
    Sorry for the long post, but you have helped me acknowledge something imperative in my own recovery, that it helps to remind myself of 🙂

  2. says: Rana Olk

    Nathalie, thank you so much for your inspiring comment! I’ve been on vacation and so am just getting back to you.

    You are so right in saying that it is a strange and difficult mindset to begin forgiving ourselves, and saying “it’s okay” in response to our slips. It seems so counterintuitive, but it brings to mind the maxim “what you resist persists”. The more we resist our slips, and respond negatively to them, the more they persist! I truly do believe that relaxing and not stressing about our slips is a critical element of recovery. We simply cannot really recover without learning how to NOT punish ourselves.

    Recovery is a journey on which we learn so many lessons. You say you regret not learning how to forgive yourself sooner – I do too sometimes. But I do continue to apply this lesson to all areas of my life – and it’s a lesson that many people, sadly, never learn. We are lucky in that sense:)

    Sending you love and light!

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