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What is the impact of dieting on binge eating and overeating?
Let’s talk about food restriction—aka dieting—and how it may impact episodes of binge eating or overeating.
Wanting to diet can make sense for many reasons, but what are the longer term effects on your eating patterns?
Listen in to learn two action steps that help soothe the body and, together, can be really effective in preventing a binge.
View full episode transcript
So you can see how, by allowing herself to eat more each day, Zoe ends up eating significantly less over the course of a week.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it?
Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.
This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food,
so that you can show up for your life on your terms.
I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.
There is a way out.
Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.
Hello and welcome.
In this episode we’ll be exploring how eating a little more can actually end up meaning you’re eating less.
If that sounds kind’ve odd, keep listening!
In episode 6, part of what I covered was the 6 reasons you might be overeating.
I won’t go through them again now or I’ll become boringly repetitive, but go back and listen to episode 6 if you’d like to hear those reasons, and also to find a tool that will help you identify which ones are applicable for you.
The first reason I’m going to explore in a bit more depth is one that affects many people who struggle with overeating or bingeing. It can also be one of the most straight forward to resolve and some people stop bingeing by just making this single change.
We’re gonna talk about food restriction, which often takes the form of dieting.
Now, if you’re regularly eating more food than your body needs, it makes sense that you might want to compensate, to lose a few pounds or to stop the impact of the food from showing on your body. You almost certainly want to feel better in yourself—because bingeing can really take you down physically, mentally & emotionally.
Or, you might be desperate for some semblance of control so want to follow a regimented plan to try and gain that control and to reduce the number of decisions you need to make about food on a moment-by-moment basis.
There are times that kind of structure can feel genuinely liberating, but often it can feel like more restriction, more deprivation, more hunger.
You may well have got to the stage where you’ve lost trust in yourself completely and want to outsource your eating to an expert who’s promising they have the answers you need.
Whatever your reason for food restriction, it makes a lot of sense.
But it might be interesting to know that food restriction has been linked to bingeing.
A recent study included dietary restraint—in other words, food restriction—as a factor in binge eating. That doesn’t mean restriction is the cause of bingeing, and there’s actually quite a bit of disagreement and discussion about that idea within the research community—-but it is for sure an associated behaviour.
To be honest, scientific debate can happen endlessly in the background, but what I’m interested in is the very best and most effective ways to ease back from bingeing or overeating and to start eating in a way that feels nourishing, energising, supportive and sustainable.
And this is one of those ways! It’s a really common issue in the clients I see and I’m guessing you might recognise it in your life too.
Food restriction or dieting can create a stress response in the body.
It makes sense right? Our bodies need food to survive, and if that food is not forthcoming, survival instincts push us to seek it out.
In my experience, once that panicky response is activated, it’s very difficult for any attempts at an alternative argument or reasoning to have any impact.
It makes me think of my daughter who’s still at primary school. There was an incident recently where another child accused her of doing something and she got in trouble and her teacher shouted at her.
She’s a sensitive soul and was really, really upset. If you’ve ever seen children who are sobbing inconsolably, red faced, puffy eyed and gasping for air—that was her.
I have to say my slightly tiger-mumma instinct was to march into the school, call out the other kid and make it all better with her teacher, but thankfully I managed to hold off.
Because what she really needed was for it to be ok to be upset and feel everything she was feeling, for me to be there for her, nurture her and love her no matter what.
There was definitely no room for talking it through, rationalising or making it go away, and to have a person close by who was there only for her and who she could lean on was all she had the capacity for—and all she really needed in that moment.
So there were lots of cuddles and soothing and whispering reassurance and all that stuff I’m sure you can imagine, until she felt ok to take some time to herself and realise she really was ok.
She needed to be able to get to that point before she could think about, talk about or in any way rationalise what had happened.
A bit like that story of a distressed little girl, one of the ways you can ease your body out of an emergency reaction is to ensure you eat, or plan to eat, to prevent hunger really ramping up.
If it’s helpful, you might even like to think of the lack of food or hunger as the cross teacher and the part of you that wants to eat as the child who responds so viscerally.
And, although it can sound a bit strange, you can also soothe your body with words.
Murmured promises like,
- I promise to feed you when you’re hungry
- I am listening
- It’s ok, we don’t do starvation any more
- I haven’t got anything to eat right now, but we’ll be home in five minutes
Those types of self-talk can also really help ease the panic response which can lead to a single-focused eating in a way that feels out-of-control.
If you’re not convinced about the idea of eating more, I wonder if it’ll be interesting to crunch some numbers.
I learned this technique from my brilliant mentor and teacher, Martha Ayim—and I’ll link to her in the show notes so you can find out more about her and her work if you’d like to.
I’ve got to start with a caveat here. I don’t love calorie counting. There was a time I carried one of those little books that listed all the foods and their calorie contents everywhere with me and I could quote the calorie content of everything I ate.
And I’ve just realised how much that dates me—can you imagine carrying around a book like that now? It just wouldn’t happen, would it—-all the information would be on a smart phone!
But anyway, I was a calorie-counter extraordinaire BUT it’s something that I don’t gravitate toward at all any more and that’s really worked well for me.
There’s a lot of research to back up how calorie counting doesn’t deliver on its promise of longterm weight management. More of that in future episodes.
However, calories are really useful for this example, and the idea itself can be broadened to whatever is relevant and resonates for you.
So, let’s take Zoe as our person who’s trying really hard to find a way to stop binge eating and to drop a few excess pounds she’s carrying on her body.
Zoe’s ideal, and what she calls “being good”, is sticking to 1,500 kcal per day, which is 10 thousand 500 calories per week.
She’s hungry some of the time, but feels alert and light-in-spirit when she’s sticking to this “being good.”
She still thinks about food more than she’d like to and feels relief at bed time because she can go to sleep and the temptation of eating is removed—it means she’s got through another day of sticking to her eating plan.
The only problem is, however much Zoe tries, she falls off the wagon about 3 times a week … in a good week. The evening comes and she’s tired, a little wired after work, and just wants to collapse in front of the TV with some treats.
When she thinks back to what she tends to eat when that happens, it’s about 5000 calories per bingeing episode. That’s pretty much the equivalent of a tub of Ben and Jerrys and a big bar of chocolate—not even a particularly excessive example of a binge for many binge eaters.
Zoe beats herself up about the binges and gets right back on her diet the next day, but—-with 3 binges per week—-she’s more than doubling her weekly calories from 10 thousand 500, to 25 thousand 500.
So her aim of 1 thousand 500 calories per day has turned into over 3,600.
It might take some convincing, but if Zoe were to allow herself an additional 1,000 calories every day in her food plan, she wouldn’t get nearly so ravenously hungry and her body would be likely to feel way more supported and, therefore, much calmer and more content.
In other words, her body would ease out of panic mode, and she’d be less likely to binge to compensate for the food she’s missing.
An extra 1,000 kcal per day would mean she’s getting 2,500 calories with the additional snacks or larger meals, which is still over a thousand calories fewer than her daily intake when she’d been bingeing three times a week.
So you can see how, by allowing herself to eat more each day, Zoe ends up eating significantly less over the course of a week.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I wonder how that lands with you.
I guarantee that, for some people, allowing themselves enough food so that they don’t feel hungry is enough to stop the binge eating.
Of course, what exactly that looks like for different people varies, but the premise is the same—-that is supporting and calming the body so that it knows for sure it’s going to be fed and looked after.
If one of the questions that comes up now for you is, “yes but Gemma, that’s all very well but how am I going to lose my excess weight if I eat more?”—-well, of course that makes sense too.
You’ll hear more on weight loss in future episodes because, let’s face it, we all want to feel amazing in our bodies and if there is excess weight you want to drop, that’s totally ok.
It’s brilliant to love your body exactly as it is. And it’s also brilliant if you’d feel better living life a little lighter, because you can get there and actually enjoy the process too.
For now, I can offer that—like the story of the tortoise and hare—many people reach a body weight they love AND that they can easily maintain by focusing on stopping the bingeing or overeating first
and then, when they feel much calmer and more confident with their progress there, moving on to address the weight.
So, to summarise this episode,
Dietary restriction is associated with binge eating and I think it’s reasonable to extrapolate that could also mean it’s associated with overeating for some people.
When the body’s been in panic mode or survival mode due to hunger, there are two action steps that are very much entwined and, together, can be really effective in preventing a binge episode:
The first is to eat enough nourishing food to feel physically satisfied—enough to avoid any extended period of time when you’re experiencing uncomfortable levels of hunger.
In other words, enough food to ease the type of hunger where you have to grit your teeth and clench your fists and try to power your way through using willpower.
The second action step is to reassure your body using thoughts and even words outloud. Think of treating your body like a frightened animal or young child.
You might say something like, “I PROMISE you I’ll eat when you’re hungry”, or “you have MY WORD I won’t put you through another extreme diet ever again.”
Speaking to your body like that can work wonders to calm it and soothe urges to overeat or binge.
It’s amazing to witness, because for many, many people, this one step of eating enough food is all they need to stop the bingeing.
That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.
I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.
And, if you liked what you heard, it would be wonderful if you’d take a moment to rate this podcast on whichever platform you listen on.
Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.
Links mentioned in this episode
- Listen to the 6 reasons you might be overeating or bingeing in The YoYo Freedom Podcast, episode #006: Get to the bottom of, “Why do I eat like this?”
- Click here for more about Martha Ayim.
- Research reference: Burton, A.L. and Abbott, M.J., 2019. Processes and pathways to binge eating: development of an integrated cognitive and behavioural model of binge eating. Journal of eating disorders, 7(1), pp.1-9.
Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.