The Late-Afternoon Binge


By Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC

You’ve been running all day. You get the kids off to school, race to work, get a few errands done and, if you have time, try to knock off a few more things on your to-do list. Now it’s about three o’clock. You’ve just made it home in time for the school bus and start to think about your children’s afternoon activities, responsibilities and what you can whip up for dinner. You’re tired and frustrated, and all you can think about is what you’re about to eat the minute you get your hands on some food.


Sound familiar? It’s a common scenario with a predicable outcome. The children race in, backpacks flying everywhere; the dog starts barking; everyone winds up in the kitchen—and what happens? As your children eat everything in sight out of hunger, you eat twice as much, possibly out of fatigue, anxiety or as a means of self-soothing yourself after a stressful day. After the last bite or handful goes down, the familiar feeling of discomfort, disgust and guilt takes over.

Why do you do this, and why is the outcome so predictable? Unfortunately, it has become a habit that you have incorporated into your routine. You may have found mindless munching to be the quickest, easiest method to boost your energy. Maybe you are “stuffing” your feelings as a way to keep them at bay. Finally, you may never have considered that your body is “hungry” for some nurturing self-care.

Every reason for the binge offers valuable clues as to what we really need. The least it shows us is the need to preplan for the inevitable. More often, the binge is trying to fill a greater need for something we feel is missing from our lives. Whatever the reason, it leaves us feeling empty, uncomfortable and out of control. So what do you do?

First of all, berating yourself for bingeing only encourages another binge. Remember, it is a self-soothing technique you have employed to help yourself feel better. Imagine a hurt child who’s trying to tell you why she’s hurt. Typically, telling you her story is the first step to feeling better. Once she feels heard, she feels as though a weight has been lifted. She feels understood, validated, loved and can happily move on after a few minutes of explaining her feelings and receiving a supportive hug from someone who cares. Now imagine that same child, but instead of listening to her “crisis,” you forbid her from explaining her pain or feeling her emotions, and you choose to feed her instead. How does she feel?

  • She’s frustrated with the feeling of being squelched.
  • She’s unlikely to feel better because she’s still dealing with emotions that haven’t been adequately felt and dealt with.
  • She’s never had an opportunity to resolve the conflict that caused the pain, so the painful feelings remain.
  • She feels hopeless that this feeling will ever change.

This is what we do to ourselves when we binge. We squelch that hurt child and fail to uncover the unmet need. The need remains unmet; we remain unhappy, unfulfilled and overweight. This cycle of binge, feel bad, binge again leads to nowhere but bigger clothes and less self-esteem. So what can you do?

The first step is to acknowledge what you are doing. You may not even be aware of this pattern but have begun to notice a change in weight. Next, you must believe this is something you can change. You have the power to change the way you think, feel and behave. Once you believe that, you can work toward changing whatever behavior no longer suits you.

The next step is to preplan. Having healthy, crunchy alternatives is a substitution for the behavior that will at least prevent further weight gain until you determine what you really need. Next, ask the question, “What do I really need right now?” Maybe it’s more sleep, better relationships, more downtime, confidence or respect. The key is in the three Rs: Recognize what you are doing, realize it is your body’s way of signaling a need for greater self-care, and respect the message your body is trying to tell you.

Once you recognize that you are bingeing to fill a void, squelch an emotion or prevent a painful feeling from erupting, you’re on the right road to recovery. Now it’s time to listen to that hurt little girl with an ear willing to listen and a heart filled with compassion. By discovering what you truly need, you’ll begin to nourish yourself with the “food” you’ve been so desperately searching for.

Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC, is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, whole health coach and president of Lifestyle Fitness, Inc. She is a lifestyle expert who has worked exclusively with moms for nearly 20 years, inspiring and empowering them to become physically fit and emotionally strong through gradual lifestyle changes. For more information, click here

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