Why You Might Binge At First
In the beginning stages of recovery from food rules/restrictions and excessive exercise, you won’t be able to ‘just eat everything in moderation’. Rather, you’ll likely go through a period of overeating, even bingeing, and feeling out of control around food. This is normal.
Your hunger and satiety cues have been so suppressed and perhaps even stunted by your food rules and restrictions that it’s going to take time to resuscitate these cues and then re-sync with them.
Not only that, but your body thinks there’s been a famine. It doesn’t know you’ve been voluntarily subjecting yourself to undernourishment.
It’s not that you can’t trust your body to eat intuitively, it’s that your body can’t trust you to sufficiently feed and nourish itself.
Therefore, at first, your body is going to respond to being allowed to eat all foods by prudently stocking up (i.e. overeating, even binge eating) to get you through the perceived famine and to repair the damage done to your body as quickly as possible. This is a natural, adaptive physiological response to food restriction—not a character flaw. It’ll take some time for your body to recover and to realize that the famine truly is over before the overeating subsides and you’re able to eat more “normally”/moderately.
And I’m not just making shit up here. I’ve experienced it first-hand as have countless others who’ve recovered from disordered eating and exercise addiction. Not only that, it’s well-documented in the research.
Show Me The
In the 1940’s Dr. Ancel Keys conducted a now-famous experiment to study the effects of prolonged dietary restriction. It turns out that one of the effects observed was (surprise, surprise!) overeating and binge eating.
In this study, thirty-six participants were put on a restrictive, reduced calorie diet for six months followed by a three month re-feeding phase. As the food and caloric restrictions were lifted during the re-feeding phase, some of the participants began to overeat and binge eat to the point of feeling ill. They reported feeling out of control around food and unable to stop themselves from eating so much. One participant even had to be hospitalized as a result. (Mind you, none of the participants had any previous disordered eating behaviors or other mental health conditions.)* Researchers Dulloo et al. (1997) later determined that this overeating was an autoregulatory response to energy deprivation aimed at accelerating the recovery of depleted lean and fat tissue.*
Hold up because this is important and bears repeating—binge eating is an autoregulatory response to energy deprivation!
But, don’t worry—it doesn’t last forever! Eventually, after a period of about 5 months on average, the overeating and binge eating subsided. The participants began to eat ‘normally’ again, returning to how they ate before the food restriction phase of the study. They also returned to their pre-study body weights.*
Bingeing Is A sign Of Progress—Hang In There!
I tell you all of this because if you’re starting to ditch the food rules/restrictions and eat more intuitively, chances are you might feel out of control around food and overeat or binge no matter how hard you try to ‘just eat everything in moderation‘. Given what we know about your body’s natural physiological response to restrictive eating, this makes perfect sense. Hunger and satiety cues are out of whack and overridden by your body’s autoregulatory response to restore your optimal body weight/composition as well as your animal survival instinct to eat to stay alive.
Your body’s like, “Omg! Holy shit! There’s all this energy-dense food all of the sudden. Hallelujah! I better stock up and store up as much energy as possible because who knows when the next time I’m going to be adequately nourished again is. Fullness schmullness. Keep eating, baby!”
If and when this happens, you’re knee-jerk reaction might look something like this: you’ll be extremely harsh and cruel with yourself over the whole thing. You might feel horrible, sick, gross, anxious and out of control. You might endlessly berate yourself, calling yourself names, like ‘weak’, ‘disgusting’, ‘out of control’, and ‘lacking willpower’. Then you’ll point to what happened and tell yourself, “See, I just can’t do the ‘moderation’, intuitive eating thing. It’s all or nothing for me.”.
But, that’s not true.
What’s happening in this scenario isn’t a sign that you’re incapable of eating intuitively. It’s a sign that you’re in recovery from food restriction and excessive exercise and that your body is responding normally to being allowed energy-dense foods and sufficient nutrients/calories again, for which it’s in desperate need of. It’s a sign of progress—that your body is doing what it needs to do in order to restore your lean and fat tissue so that you can fully recover.
In other words, this is your body eating intuitively right now!
You aren’t gross, weak or whatever other cruel names your inner critic might hurl at you. You’re a brave and courageous recovery warrior who’s taking back control of your life! Because, in reality, you haven’t been in control anyways. The food rules have been ruling you, not the other way around. You’re changing that!
I encourage you to stick with the recovery process and fight the urge to run back to your food rules and restrictions. If you stick with it, the ‘out of control’ feeling around food and the binge phase will pass. Assuming you’re doing the work that recovery requires, you will get to a place where food is a non-issue.
In the meantime, it’s important to be extremely patient and kind with yourself.
Cultivate Self-Empathy & Practice Self-Compassion
Your judgmental, harsh, and mean inner critic is going to rear its head BIG TIME. Cultivating empathy for yourself and practicing self-compassion daily is going to be crucial to getting you through this stage of recovery.
To help you manage your inner critic and learn how to practice self-compassion, I’ve created a FREE 5 Day Self-Compassion Challenge for you. In this challenge, you’ll learn five specific research-based techniques for cultivating loving-kindness and compassion towards yourself. Get the challenge below.
FREE PDF GUIDE: 5 Day Self-Compassion Challenge
Self-compassion is POWERFUL shit and a KEY component to breaking free from food + exercise obsession! Download this FREE 5 Day Self-Compassion Challenge for five daily prompts and exercises to jump-start your self-compassion practice and quiet your harsh inner critic.
Awesome! The 5 Day Self-Compassion Challenge is waiting for you in your inbox. <3
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To putting the 'life' back into your healthy lifestyle!
Dulloo, A.G. et al. (1997). Poststarvation hyperphagia and body fat overshooting in humans: A role for feedback signals from lean and fat tissues. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 65(3), 717-723.
Garner, D. M. (1998). The effects of starvation on behavior: Implications for dieting and eating disorders. Healthy Weight Journal, 12(5), 68-72.
Garner, D.M. et al. (1984). Psychoeducational principles in the treatment of eating disorders. In: Handbook of psychotherapy for anorexia nervosa and bulimia. (513-572). D.M. Garner & P.E. Garfinkel (Eds). New York, NY: Guilford Press.