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Dieting and Binge Eating

Kaitlin Broderick LCPC

We live in a society where diets are extremely common. The majority of people-especially but not limited to women-have been on a diet at one point or another during their lifetime. As many people know from experience the restricting of calories that often goes along with dieting often eventually leads to binge eating. This can lead to a vicious cycle of restricting and then overeating which can result in feelings of disgust or shame. Many people feel like failures because they couldn’t stay on their restrictive diet. The key thing to remember here is that overeating after restricting does not make you a failure-it is your body’s natural response to overeat after being deprived of calories. Try to rewire your thinking: instead of thinking I failed again think of it as this diet failed me. Here are some tips for breaking the cycle of restricting and binging. 

  1. Ditch the diet. As most people who have attempted to diet know, the more you restrict your food, the more you obsess about food. If you begin to eat when you are hungry, this signals to the brain that you aren’t starving and that food is always available if you need it. This is effective for stopping binging (if the binges are mainly a result of dieting) and also helps to stabilize blood sugar and decrease sugar cravings. When you are restricting calories, it is a natural result that your body feels fatigued and more likely to reach for sugary treats that will give you a temporary energy boost. When you aren’t depriving yourself, the body will typically begin to crave healthier foods. It may feel scary to think of giving up dieting, but if there is a pattern of dieting not working in the long term (which is the case for most people) it is time to try something new that will work.
  2. Learn to eat mindfully and intuitively. When eating, notice when you start to feel satisfied. Try to slow down and really concentrate on the way your food tastes rather than eating in a rush or scrolling through your phone while eating. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods and be honest with yourself about what makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Foods high in sugar have been shown to increase anxiety, fatigue, and symptoms of depression. Good fats like nuts and salmon and protein are essential for mental clarity and energy. Eat more of the things that make you feel good. Instead of focusing solely on how you look, try to focus on providing nourishment for yourself. 

If you find yourself continuing to binge even if you aren’t on a restrictive diet, look at triggers and how you feel leading up to a binge. Stress, sadness, and even boredom can cause people to turn to food. Pay attention to what your triggers are and learn to find alternative coping methods. For example, if you are lonely try calling a friend before turning to food. If you are feeling stressed out you can try lighting candles and taking a soothing bath, which can provide comfort you may have been turning to food for. Also, pay attention to self-defeating thoughts and behaviors you may have around food. Some people feel like if they have one cupcake their entire day is shot and they may just as well eat as many desserts as possible and start fresh tomorrow. This can lead to binging and remorse. Or you may have a habit of “saving your calories” if you are going to a restaurant at night. This can lead to feeling so hungry that by the time you go out to dinner, you just end up overeating and once again fall into the cycle of feeling remorse and/or even physically sick.

A persistent cycle of dieting and then binging may be a sign of a more serious eating disorder. If this is something you are continuously struggling with, it may be helpful to see a professional. Connect with Symmetry Counseling in Chicago to explore our individual counseling services and meet with a therapist one-on-one or virtually through telehealth counseling.

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