What to Do When You Fall Off the Wagon and Have a Food Meltdown

Falling off the wagonIn my book, The Hormone Reset Diet, I came clean and shared my history as a food addict. While I’ve been binge-free for more than 10 years, there’s an occasional moment when I start to slip. I have difficulty passing on the truffle fries or eating the chocolate bar. While it doesn’t trigger a journey to binge-land, it shines a light on my old habit of eating to soothe my emotions and the importance of a daily practice to prevent relapse. Now that I have personal integrity in my relationship to food, I’ve got better strategies in place, but I still come up against that raw pain of life’s challenges. Maybe you struggle with this too.

Anne Lamott describes the pain when she succumbed to an apple fritter: “I was so lost, and I couldn’t follow the bread crumbs back to the path of mental health, because I’d eaten them all. So I ended up eating junk, off and on, until bedtime. It is hard to remember that you are a cherished spiritual being when you’re burping up apple fritters and Cheetos.” She describes the next day being filled with guilt, shame, self-hatred and sentencing, promises, and punishment. It’s an aftermath so painful that it may only be soothed by more eating, an irony that fuels the cycle. Oh, Annie, we get it!

How to Recover from Falling off the Wagon

Whether you slipped and had a bite of something you are trying to eliminate, ate more at dinner than you planned, or found yourself face down in sea of Mexican food, it all falls under the “I blew it” feeling.

What happened? You were so motivated, so determined! 

You’re human. It happens. Now, graciously accept that reality and let’s move on.

You and I are on this path for the long haul. Reseting your relationship to food is a daily practice, not a sprint.

You simply stepped into one of the many booby traps hidden along the path to a healthier you.  Fortunately, booby traps aren’t permanent—you can forgive yourself and get back on track toward achieving your goals . . . and be all the wiser for getting through it.

My Hormone Reset Detox has been carefully designed as an evidence-based way to help you feel nourished and free from cravings. The goal is break unhealthy food seduction by changing your biochemistry. You develop your own personal food code, a short statement of your relationship to food and how to stay in integrity. On this blog, I’ve previously described ways to avoid temptation and slippery places; now let’s review how to mitigate damage after a food meltdown or binge. 

Step 1: Forgive yourself. That’s right. Pick yourself up. Be extra gentle with yourself. It helps to use the word “sweetheart,” as in: “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Take a breath and let’s pay attention to what’s occurring. Let’s investigate what’s under the pain.” Meanwhile, get right back on plan. The repercussions from a slip will not harm you.  Beating yourself up, wallowing in guilt, and/or continuing to feed the pain with food are what will harm you. Perfectionism can both make you fat. Negative mindset actually fuels the flames of inflammation as much or more than eating bad food. Studies show that feeling guilt about food may impair your immune system.1Nani, C. “Feeling Bad: The Health Risks of Guilt.” New Connexion (2007).

Step 2: Manage your false hunger: if you have a “food hangover” your blood sugar may fluctuate wildly. This will cause false hunger and a powerful desire to eat more sugar and/or carbs.

Step 3: Write in your food journal. What was happening in the day and moments before the incident? Were you hungry, cranky, sleep deprived? Feeling sad or lonely? Missing a certain food?

Step 4: Engage in exercise: Whether your go to is sprints or dancing or yoga, go sweat it out. It will quell the toxic emotions that linger after a binge.

Step 5: Resume normal eating habits. Repeat after me: Do not restrict. As long as your long-term habits are strong you’ll leave the binge in the rearview. Eat breakfast. Consume nutritionally-dense meals that satisfy you that have protein, fiber, veggies and good fats.

Step 6: Drink extra water. Water is essential to our detoxification processes because it flushes all of the contaminants away. It helps us get rid of wastes, reduces fluid retention and bloating, regulates bowel movements and fights inflammation. Make your water bottle one of your new besties.

Step 7. Make a meal plan. Is your fridge and pantry stocked with what you need for the week? Sketch out your meals and snacks for the next few days after your food binge. In our Detox, we offer you both “Meal Plan Basics” (for how to plan your meals), plus omnivore and vegetarian meal plans.

Step 8: Read it out. I too take comfort in reading self-help and motivation books. Check out Charles Duhigg. I also get insight into food addiction from writers such as Kay Shepard and Geneen Roth. 2Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change. Random House, 2013; Sheppard, Kay. Food addiction: The body knows. … Continue reading

Turning a Slip into Compost

Learn about your triggers and obstacles. Sometimes, in order to keep your skills sharp, you need to go back and review your actions and preceding emotions and actions. Check in with yourself about risky situations, such as eating out at a restaurant or a dinner party, going more than 4 to 6 hours without eating. Be proactive about giving yourself a reset as needed. Turn your so-called “failure” into something positive. In other words, take your slip and turn it into a “aha” moment. Eventually, accepting that you’re going to mess up once in awhile and realizing that it’s not the end of the world may even prevent them.

Forgiving yourself is one of the strongest tools in your personal toolbox. What’s done is behind you, and there’s no point in assigning guilt, shame, or blame to your actions. We all slip up from time to time, and make choices we regret. That’s human. You can’t change the past, but you can decide to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, which will change your future. Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it any time you have a thought of shame or guilt or wanting to punish yourself.3Kuijer, RG, and Boyce, JA. “Associating a Prototypical Forbidden Food Item with Guilt or Celebration: Relationships with Indicators of … Continue reading

Taking a few wrong dietary turns doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person, and you haven’t utterly destroyed your health or severely impaired your physical healing. Yes, all of the little daily choices matter, yet put things in perspective: a few days of sub-optimal eating isn’t going to make you sick when you eat according to your food code the rest of the time.

One of my favorite quotes came from the mouth of my daughter who wisely once said “I want to BE a red velvet cupcake.” It’s true (and a variation on an idea from Geneen Roth): it may be that you don’t want a cupcake, you want to be a cupcake.

Few things are as rewarding as living and eating in personal integrity. The ultimate way to keep yourself on the wagon (or give yourself a boost back on if you have fallen off) is to have a plan, do the prep work, trust the process and stay the course.


For more information and to register for the Hormone Reset Detox, click here.


1 Nani, C. “Feeling Bad: The Health Risks of Guilt.” New Connexion (2007).
2 Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change. Random House, 2013; Sheppard, Kay. Food addiction: The body knows. Health Communications, 1989; Roth, Geneen. Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. Simon and Schuster, 2010
3 Kuijer, RG, and Boyce, JA. “Associating a Prototypical Forbidden Food Item with Guilt or Celebration: Relationships with Indicators of (un)healthy Eating and the Moderating Role of Stress and Depressive Symptoms.” Psychology & Health 30, no. 2 (2014): 203-17.