How to Break the Restrict – Binge Cycle

In most eating disorders there is a pendulum that swings from restriction (not eating enough) to binging (eating a large quantity of food in a short period of time). Although there is no simple quick fix to breaking this cycle, there are some practical tips that can help you eradicate the restrict/binge cycle.  People often struggle with trying to eat enough but then feel like they’ve “all of the sudden they’ve eaten too much.”  When this occurs, all or nothing thinking often kicks in and the person feels like they’ve blown it, so might as well keep going. “What’s the point in stopping now? I’ll get on track tomorrow.” This is called the last supper mentality and keeps a person stuck in a pattern of ‘blowing it’ on a regular basis.

How restriction causes binging. If you are limiting your food intake or not eating for long periods of time, your body will begin to prompt ravenous cravings or urges to get you to eat. If you get into the habit of swinging from restriction to binging, your hunger and fullness cues stop working correctly. After being over-ridden and ignored for so long, the hormones in the gut stop conveying the information about hunger and fullness levels. This does correct and come back into balance as you start to eat on a more regular schedule — 3 meals a day and a snack or two.

Dangers of dieting. The body interprets diets as famine. Diets have been proven not to work in the long term. Yes, they can drop weight initially but virtually all diet participants regain all their weight, plus some after a two year period. That’s because the body is trying to help you by entering a process of weight restoration after the restrictive period of eating. If your diet is especially restrictive and leaves you feeling deprived, you are at a greater risk of developing binge urges. The body needs an array of nutritional requirements, vitamins, minerals, dietary fats, proteins and carbs. Yes carbs. Removing carbs from your daily intake is one way to develop more cravings and potential binge urges as carbs are the body’s go to for energy.

Other prompts for binging or restriction

Eating disorder behaviours are driven by two different primary forces — one is physical body urges related to food restriction and/or binging. The other force or prompt is emotional/mental factors. An eating disorder is a destructive coping skill that unfortunately does work to provide a momentary/short-term release or detachment. Sometimes this requires some professional counselling by an eating disorders specialist in order to break up the underlying pieces that drive the eating disorder, do healing work, and learn alternate coping skills. Depending on the severity of the behaviours it can also be helpful to also work with a registered dietitian who is an eating disorders specialist.

Getting rid of the good food/bad food mentality

Viewing different foods as being either ‘good or bad’ fuels eating disorder thinking. It can develop polarized thoughts about certain food groups and actually enforce the restrictive eating. For example, people tend to restrict and only eat their ‘safe’ foods and then binge on the foods they determine are bad. If food is JUST food, without judgment, a person can learn to make peace with the food and eat a nutritious variety of foods. This allows for ‘intuitive eating’ which is essentially the nutritional goal for eating disorder recovery. It is impossible to make peace with food if you continue to view it as good/healthy or bad/unhealthy. It may have a higher fat content or be higher in calories but that doesn’t make it good or bad it just makes it higher in fat content or calories. If you eat intuitively, your body will actually start to guide you with these different options in a healthy way. (Check out Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and the Intuitive Eating Workbook).


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