Before we start, I feel the need to define what “dieting” means before I could explain why they don’t work:
A diet often restricts your dietary intake in certain ways and sets rules around your eating. When a dieter follows these rules, they feel okay about themselves. But if they don’t, they feel guilty and ashamed of themselves and beat themselves up.
Food-triggered binges happen when someone restricts their food intake, either in terms of a “forbidden food list” or only a particular amount of food is allowed. For example, if a low-carb dieter had a high-carb food, such as chips, their brain would tell them “oh, I’ve failed today, I’ll binge until tomorrow and start my diet all over again”; or the same might apply to someone who has gone over the calorie limit they set for themselves.
I followed this cycle way too many times to count before I learnt a better approach. I hated the shame and guilt that came with feeling completely out of control around food. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to stop binging. I just couldn’t….
There are many reasons people binge but in this post I want to focus on food-triggered binges in particular and the relationship between body image, dieting and binge-eating. As you may have experienced, you often notice cravings or hunger while on restrictive diets and therefore, willpower and control are needed to stay on track. Unfortunately, most people give in to these cravings and lose control eventually and end up feeling ashamed and guilty. Many dieters would describe suddenly “letting go” and “getting out of control” when they give up and start grabbing everything edible in the house. The all-or-nothing mindset often makes people think they have failed that day anyway so they would go all-out and then tomorrow, or on Monday, or after the holiday, they would start the diet again. Sound familiar? Yet, interestingly, dieters almost never blame restrictive diets for their binging behavior—instead they blame themselves for lacking the willpower and control. What they are not aware is, it is not the lack of willpower, but the dieting itself, that causes binge eating.
No amount of willpower or self-control will fix your binge-eating problem. Restriction and control almost always backfire. Attempting to find a perfect diet or trying to find self-control will leave you feeling frustrated. This is a mindset problem.
Restriction has been shown to increase cravings for fat, sugars and items on the “banned food” list and dieters actually experience increased happiness and pleasure from these forbidden foods when they break their diets. So it’s not surprising that people can’t stop when they give in to their cravings!
So what if your goal wasn’t trying to stick to your “diet”? But instead, to eat with sanity?
The difference is NOT willpower. Normal eaters don’t try to control themselves around food. It’s the thinking, not the behavior that is going to make all the difference for you.
Most women aren’t happy with the way they eat because they aren’t happy with the way they look. They go on diets because they want to change the way they look. If we want to address our relationship with food, we need to address the shame and guilt that we feel related to our body before we can fully address our binge-eating problem. Dieting is triggered by poor body image and binge-eating is triggered by dieting. Binge-eating stems from shame and guilt and result in shame and guilt. Even just feeling fat can trigger a binge.
In order words, when someone’s belief about themselves isn’t based on their weight or size, they don’t feel guilty or ashamed around food and they don’t diet. And if they aren’t on a diet, they don’t deprive themselves and so, they don’t binge.
Therefore, changing your relationship with your body is one of the requirements for changing your relationship with food. If we don’t feel comfortable with our body, we can’t help but to judge our food as either good or bad, allowed or forbidden. When we like our body, we want to feel good and we want to take care of it. That’s why normal eaters don’t spend hours debating in their heads whether to have something or not, nor do they eat a whole jar of peanut butter in one sitting, because they want to feel physically well. They can have a bite of something, enjoy it, and then put it down.
Why not talk to yourself about your body in ways that accept your body while also acknowledging your feelings? Of course, going from “I hate my thighs” to “I love my body” is too big a jump and is too much to ask for but if you focus on small, objective actions or your body’s abilities, like “my legs allow me to play hide-and-seek with my kids”, that’s a big improvement from “I hate my thighs” and this is true and believable.
Additionally, we have a tendency to ignore our body sensations and experiences and focus solely on the negative aspects. How does your body make you feel when you are in a warm, pampering bath? How do your hands feel when holding a cup of tea? Does your body bring you pleasurable experiences?
Dieting and low self-esteem are unhealthy actions that are driven from near-impossible ideals communicated to us through the media. The vicious cycle of dieting, failing and binging can be stopped when you start building a healthier relationship with your body.
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