Many of my clients over the years have done it - some over and over, despite my recommendations to go in a different direction.
This article covers the biggest mistake you can make if you had a junk-out or mini-binge last night, what to do instead, and why.
Okay, last night's junk-out. Maybe it started with crackers and segued into a large bag of chips or cookies, which you polished off completely.
What happens the next day is critical.
What many of my clients used to do was skip eating for almost half the day, or even more. To me, this is a mistake with massive impact.
It seems to be based on the common "a-calorie-is-a-calorie" perspective (it's tempting to say "myth"). Calories do matter, but avoiding food for much of the day following a late-night binge can be a bad idea for several reasons.
A late-night binge will seldom center on broccoli, kale or asparagus. It usually involves junkier foods - crackers, chips, cookies, and so on. As a result, it affects a number of factors.
Junk-outs impact blood sugar (glucose).
Bingeing on junky carbs can result in a reactive hypoglycemic response, making the morning glucose level lower than normal. Some people are more susceptible to this than others, of course, but that doesn't mean it seldom happens. It can be fairly common, and those who binge frequently may be among the susceptible ones.
Junk-outs impact brain chemistry.
Again, a binge typically consists of junky foods, which have fairly predictable effects on brain chemistry. I'll address only a few of those effects.
• For those who are susceptible, these binge foods may trigger an addictive response. That response will virtually guarantee a repeat binge that involves the same addictive foods or others like them.
• The binge foods are likely to trigger cravings the next day for the same foods or similarly troublesome ones.
• The after-effect of the binge may be a drop in key brain chemicals, which in turn leaves us feeling blah, cranky, or worse. Such emotionally "low" states are more likely to prompt the desire to self-medicate the next day just to change the mood or feeling.
Junk-outs impact several hormones.
These may include insulin, ghrelin, CCK and others.
These hormones, along with the other factors above, in turn influence appetite, food preferences, and even a degree of emotional attachment to the foods.
Junk-outs delay breakfast.
The following day's desire to eat will likely be pushed back by hours. This is probably due to the calories consumed during the binge and may be the only factor that calories control directly.
What's wrong with postponing breakfast?
Skipping food until late in the day, even late in the morning, allows all of the effects that last night's binge had on glucose, brain chemicals, hormones, appetite, food preferences, cravings, mood (and more) to control the next day.
What Should You Do Instead?
Take control immediately. Wake up at your usual time, use the bathroom as usual, go directly to the kitchen, and eat. No, it's not necessary to eat a full breakfast if you really don't want it, but at least have protein.
Why protein? Protein - even by itself - will address most, if not all, of the problems listed above:
• It will help to raise low blood glucose to a healthy level.
• It will boost metabolic rate from its morning low.
• It will trigger brain production and release of chemicals that are mood boosters.
• It will trigger the release of the hormone CCK (cholecystokinin), which reduces both appetite and the desire for carbohydrates, especially junky ones.
• It will trigger release of glucagon, a hormone that opposes the not-always-beneficial effects of insulin. Protein is the only food-type that will do this - the only other way is through exercise.
• Eating first thing in the morning may help to prevent the shift of calorie intake to the late hours of the day, where they may negatively impact weight management.
What About a Full Morning Meal?
A full meal is fine, as long as it includes a full serving (20-plus grams) of protein. The problem is that many late-night binge eaters don't want a meal early in the morning and continue the habit of putting off eating till the afternoon, or at least till late morning. That mistake has far-reaching consequences, so have protein first thing the next morning.
Which Foods Have Protein?
Examples include eggs, chicken, fish, shrimp, beef, lamb, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt with 20 grams of protein per serving.
Yes, you can eat chicken or fish in the morning.
Vegans may want to use plant proteins. Hemp, pea or vegetable protein powders would be a good choice.
Please note: Nuts are NOT protein; they're fats. Quinoa is NOT protein; it's a carbohydrate.
What About the Rest of the Day's Food?
My recommendation is to build meals (and even snacks, if you need them) that include protein, vegetables, healthful fats, and complex starches.
Bottom line: Don't try to 'starve off' a late-night binge. Instead, take control of the next day immediately by eating promptly after waking - or within 30 minutes at most - and having protein, either by itself or within a solid meal as described above.