Are you trapped in the binge-starve cycle?
Weight loss is easy, right? All you have to do is eat less and exercise more... Well not quite. This common message around weight loss often does more harm than good. As a registered nutritionist, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, I regularly see individuals trapped in the cycle of embarking on an extremely restrictive diet, only to then “fall off the wagon” and find themselves overeating and binge-eating for a period of time.
Many individuals find themselves trapped in this cycle of restricting and overeating, only to put on weight (rather than achieve their weight loss goals) long-term.
While many clients I work with won't meet the specific criteria to be formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, I see many individuals that are trapped with disordered eating patterns. They may find themselves obsessing over food and worrying about eating “bad” foods, obsessively counting calories and worrying about going over their set calorie limit, or they may feel so restricted by their diet that they don’t want to go out and socialise around food.
They may feel they are "just on a diet" and this isn't indicative of a disordered relationship with food, this approach often has a very negative impact on their mental health.
Many people seeking help for weight loss will seek a quick-fix, looking to the next diet-plan or very restrictive diet. They will focus on counting calories or restricting their food intake, without ever addressing the psychological drivers for their food choices and finding a healthy way to eat that they can sustain for the long-term.
I tend to find that most people already know what they should be eating to be healthy. Often their issue lies in why they turn to food and the relationship that they have with eating.
Dear Diet, Things just aren't going to work between us. It's not me, it's you. You're tasteless, boring and I can't stop cheating on you. Let's break up.
For some, food is a coping mechanism in times of sadness, loneliness or stress. For others, food is a way of occupying them through boredom. Some people will experience so much guilt in what they've eaten that they find themselves either on a very limited diet or over-eating following restriction. Without help, people become trapped in this binge-starve cycle.
Common signs you may be trapped in this cycle include:
- obsessing over food a lot of the time
- having really restrictive rules around food e.g. banning carbs or other food groups
- exercising because you feel that you have to in order to lose/maintain your weight rather than because you enjoy the movement
- feeling low or anxious a lot of the time, often when worrying about food choices or your weight
- feeling a lot of guilt when eating or feeling as though you have to compensate for a big meal by starving yourself the next day or over-exercising
- noticing that you are either “on a diet” or “off the wagon” and eating excessively
always hoping to start a new diet or meal plan “tomorrow” or “next week”
- finding that you can’t concentrate on or enjoy day-to-day life with worries about food and your weight taking over
Often when it comes to weight loss, the focus is just on what food we are eating. However, I tend to find that an approach that maximises our mental health is the most helpful and sustainable over the long-term. Rebuilding a positive relationship with food, rather than just trying to starve yourself thin, is something that is much more likely to stick over the years.
So, yes, technically weight loss is about eating less and exercising more. However, if you do so in a way that gets you trapped in this binge-starve-cycle, eating less often just leads to over-eating or binge-eating, which in turn has the long-term effect of causing weight gain.
Food, nutrition and weight loss is a sector dominated by fads and quick fixes - with lots of people promising miraculous results for following a restrictive diet plan. Yet the reality is that any of those diet plans are likely the work.
The problem in the weight loss field is that nobody usually signs up to a diet thinking that they will stick to it for the long-term - it's a temporary solution. Think, what happens when you return to eating “normally” again? Your physical and mental health suffers, and you get trapped back in that cycle of restricting and over-eating.
If you are thinking about losing weight and getting healthy, consider speaking with a professional. Understand what your body needs and how your lifestyle is impacting your health and find an approach to achieve this that will be good for your mind and body that will allow you to improve your relationship with food and your body over the long-term.
Your body and mind deserve to be nourished with healthy meals and taken care of rather than punished with restrictive diets and starvation.
...And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.
- Nayyirah Waheed.