Those who struggle with disordered eating may have had or currently have thoughts that sound like, “If I eat less/ restrict my food, then I will lose weight quicker” or even “I feel so out of control and overwhelmed around food, it is constantly preoccupying my mind.”
As a registered eating disorder dietitians, I am here to tell you that even though it may sound counterintuitive, under-eating is more likely to cause binging or overeating. Restriction of our food intake or certain foods begins a cycle known as the “Restrict-Binge Cycle.”
Once we restrict ourselves through a new diet or cutting down the amount of food that we ingest, we often end up feeling deprived. Physically, mentally, and emotionally deprived.
The Overwhelming Urge to Eat
As those deprivation feelings continue to rise, so does the overwhelming urge to eat and satisfy those cravings. At this point, it can sometimes feel like the only thing on our mind is food, the constant battle of “I shouldn’t eat this, but it's all I can think about”, so naturally, our bodies seem to require that it is a necessity to overeat that certain food and binge. Typically, post-binge, there comes feelings of being out of control, shame, guilt, or fear that leads us right back to trying to restrict our food intake again.
This cycle doesn’t just happen because of a lack of willpower or discipline, it happens because of the complex physical, biochemical, and emotional effects that undereating and restriction have on our bodies.
How Undereating Causes Overeating
To break it down even further, let's look at three different examples of dieting and restrictive eating that sets the stage for binging, overeating, cravings, guilt, and shame:
Restrictive eating and dieting can force us to ignore hunger cues and/or skip meals (especially breakfast and lunches). When we do this, our body continues to produce Ghrelin, which is the hormone that signals hunger. This leads us to get too hungry, eat faster, then eat richer foods, which sets the stage for binging, overeating, cravings, guilt, and shame.
When we choose to diet or restrict, it puts our bodies in a state of chronic low-level stress about our weight and food, our bodies then increase cortisol and insulin, signaling our body to store fat and interfere with building muscle. Basically, we are telling our body to go into starvation mode, because our bodies don't know the difference between restriction from a diet versus starvation from being stuck in the wilderness. Again, this leads to binging, overeating, and feelings of guilt and shame.
If you have ever attempted to diet or restrict your food intake, it's highly likely that it causes you to think more about food, even obsess over it. Food and weight are the only things running through your mind. When this happens, it naturally leads to you overeating when you finally stop denying yourself. Creating the pattern of all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking is when we believe that we have to be totally restrictive, and one step outside of that box, and it all goes out the window towards overeating. There is no balance in all or nothing, and this thought pattern can become increasingly destructive as it sets the stage for overeating, cravings, guilt, and shame.
Can you relate to the Restrict-Binge Cycle? Or any of these patterns of undereating that lead to over-eating? If so, I want you to know that it can get better. There is a way to get out of these cycles and find freedom with food. You deserve to get your life back.
As a reminder, the Branz Nutrition blog is nutritional information, not medical nutrition therapy or professional consultation. Branz Nutrition cannot provide medical nutrition therapy to individuals who are not our patients. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please schedule an appointment with our team.