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Binge eating disorder is a complex condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide (though it can make you feel like you are utterly alone). If you’re reading this, you are likely VERY aware of what binge eating disorder is, but just in case you’re not, bingeing involves consuming large quantities of food in a short period, often accompanied by a sense of loss of control. While there are many causes of binge eating, one common mistake people make when trying to overcome it is restricting their food intake. Many of us think, “I clearly cannot be trusted around this food, I will keep it out of the house” or “I’m eating too much, I need to cut back.” Paradoxically, this approach can exacerbate the problem and make it even harder to break free from the cycle of binge eating. Let’s talk about the reasons why restricting food makes binge eating harder to stop.
First thing’s first: restricting food triggers a survival response in our bodies. Your body is like “WOAH hold up… this isn’t good.” When we restrict ourselves of certain foods or drastically reduce our caloric intake, our brain interprets this as a threat to our survival.
When this happens, a series of physiological and psychological reactions are triggered, including increased cravings and major preoccupation with food (cue: being completely unable to stop thinking about those Oreos that we told ourselves we shouldn’t eat). Our bodies instinctively respond to the threat of decreased food by increasing our desire to eat and preserving energy through heightened hunger signals.
Eventually, this deprivation-rebound cycle leads to intense cravings and a loss of control, which often culminate in binge eating episodes. By restricting food, we inadvertently set ourselves up for failure, as our body’s natural response to deprivation drives us toward overeating.
Restricting food not only affects us physically, but it also has huge psychological implications. The act of forbidding ourselves from eating certain foods or putting strict rules down around our diet can create a sense of guilt, shame, and anxiety. These negative emotions can actually trigger binge eating as a coping mechanism to soothe and escape from the emotional distress caused by the restrictions (ironic, right?)
Strict food rules also tend to create a big divide between “good” and “bad” foods, which reinforces the idea that certain foods are off-limits or forbidden. This sets up a frustrating mental dynamic where off-limits foods become even more desirable, leading to intense cravings and an increased likelihood of bingeing when the restrictions are lifted (or when you eventually “give in”)
Many people who struggle with binge eating tend to have an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to food. I see this all in my clients (with food, exercise, lifestyle, etc). They may view certain foods as completely off-limits or see any deviation from their rigid eating plan as a failure. Diet culture has us believing all sorts of myths) This black-and-white thinking perpetuates the cycle of binge eating, as the slightest slip-up leads to feeling super guilty and like they are completely out of control — triggering a binge episode.
By allowing a more flexible approach to eating, where no foods are inherently good or bad, individuals can break free from this cycle. Embracing a balanced, non-restrictive approach allows for mindful and intuitive eating, fostering a healthier relationship with food and reducing the likelihood of binge eating episodes. This is an incredibly important step. It’s difficult, but this is exactly the type of work that I do with my clients within my F*ck Your Diet coaching program.
Severely restricting food intake can lead to nutritional deficiencies and negatively impact our overall physical well-being. When we deprive ourselves of essential nutrients (including the often demonized carbohydrate!), our body’s physiological functions are compromised. This can result in low energy levels, poor concentration, mood swings, and increased vulnerability to binge eating. I see lots of gut issues (including bloating) and hormonal imbalances (hello, PCOS!) in my client population.
Additionally, severe calorie restriction often leads to an unsustainable cycle of deprivation and overeating, which can wreak havoc on our metabolism and make it harder to maintain a consistent weight in the long run.
While it may seem counterintuitive, restricting food is not an effective strategy for overcoming binge eating. Instead, it often exacerbates the problem and perpetuates the cycle of binging and guilt. To break free from the grips of binge eating disorder, it is crucial to adopt a balanced, non-restrictive approach to eating, focusing on nourishing our bodies and cultivating a healthy relationship with food.
If you are ready to learn more about how to stop binge eating for good, check out my nutrition services!