Have you heard of the binge-restrict cycle?
Do you know what it is? Do you know if you experience it?
Have you ever found yourself uncontrollably devouring a food you usually restrict? If so, you’ve likely experienced the binge-restrict cycle.
It’s commonly referred to in that order, binge-restrict, but I think it is more accurate to refer to it as the restrict-binge cycle because in reality it’s usually restricting which happens first, leading to bingeing.
If you can remember a time in your life that you felt good about your body, had a good relationship with food and had food security you probably don’t remember feeling like you binged a lot during that time. Enter feeling badly about your self worth because of diet culture or a bad relationship or like you’ve lost yourself or any of the other hundreds of reasons that happen in life. So, you start restricting or cutting out entire food categories and creating a bunch of food rules, like, “I only eat ice cream on Sunday” or, “I only eat chocolate if I run 10 km that day.”
When you create this restrictive way of eating, your body wants to rebel, and this leads to binge eating. Think of those teenage years when you’re trying to be heard and find your way in this world. If you were constantly being rejected or restricted or ignored you would have (and maybe did) rebelled. This is exactly the relationship that is occurring between your body and your mind when you are trying to ignore, restrict or reject any and all cravings that fall into the “off-limits” or “only if” categories.
Your body wants to be heard!
Now because you’ve told yourself you can only eat this food at this time or you can’t eat this food until you’re at your goal weight, you are going to have an extremely hard time knowing when to stop because you are satisfied. Your body will feel like it’s gone into another dimension and you just can’t stop eating that chocolate, ice cream, chips, fruit, pasta, whatever it is that you’ve decided deserves food rules around it. Usually at the end of the binge you feel worse about your self worth and feel like you need to increase your restrictions to prevent that from happening again.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Removing the restrictions and giving yourself permission to eat freely allows you to experience eating to satisfaction vs eating as much as you possibly can.
A lot of people get scared by this.
I don’t blame you, it’s a scary thing to blindly trust something you have been ignoring for years or maybe you don’t even have any communication anymore.
But one of you has to take the first step.
- To start with, make a list of all your food rules. This can be a daunting task but so worth it to track progress and know where you’re headed.
- Next write out all the foods you think you like to eat.
- Circle, underline or highlight any foods on your list that overlap with a food rule.
- Start with this list.
- Pick one. Yes, just one!
- Eat it. When you want and how much you want for the next week or two. One of those times try to practice mindful eating (click here to learn how to do this) to discover if you actually enjoy the food. Some people find that without the restrictions creating this heightened effect of making the food feel extra special, they don’t even enjoy the food all that much. Try to evaluate your level of satisfaction with this food during the week.
At the beginning it is normal to binge. You are teaching your body to trust you again.
Do not give up.
Do not beat yourself up.
Instead try telling yourself that it’s ok because you are working towards rebuilding a relationship. This will save you years of guilt and shame surrounding eating. It will save you years of depleting your self-worth and help you find time and energy to live the life you want to live.
If you allow yourself to fully eat that food without restrictions, and only stick to one food, typically by around late in the first week you aren’t craving that food as badly, your body feels more satisfied with less. You are able to find the feeling of satisfaction and learn what it feels like to be satisfied. This can be a lost sensation for many dieters out there. Eating what you were told to eat often numbs the enjoyment/satisfaction aspect of food. So, when it returns, even with just one food, it should be celebrated.
When you’ve reached the point of understanding your satisfaction with that food, your cravings have become less intense than at the beginning, and you truly enjoy the food, hold steady for another week. Allowing yourself to enjoy the food as cravings come up and trying to pay attention to when you feel satisfied with the food.
Then you can do the whole thing again with a different one of the foods you marked earlier in the exercise.
This may sound like a lot of work. But the thing is, you are undoing a lot of harm and disconnection that happened likely over years. The good news is your body is crazy adaptable. It’s really good at understanding that things are changing, and this process usually gets easier as you keep going down your list.
If this sounds great but you really feel like you need accountability and someone to help you get into the right mindset, I offer free 45-minute discovery sessions.
This is an opportunity for me to get to know you, your struggles, your goals, your motivations and help you map out a plan to truly feel freedom around food so you can put that energy towards more meaningful things. So, if that interests you and you’re looking to get some more clarity on what steps you should be taking to eat intuitively and leave feeling like a failure behind, you can apply here.