The Real Reason You Feel "Out of Control" Around Food
When engaging in dieting and disordered eating we often get stuck in a restriction-binge cycle. When we begin “dieting” ie: restricting, following food rules, tracking calories, avoiding carbs or sugar, exercising as form of penance etc. we begin to lose weight. The weight loss is often culturally reinforced by those around us who compliment us, congratulate us, and ask what we are doing differently.
However we are usually unaware that our body is entering a state of psychological and biological deprivation.
When you diet your brain chemicals sense that you are in danger and will alter the way your weight is regulated. One way that your body does this is by shifting hormones that control your appetite so that as you begin to lose weight, the hormones that help you feel hungry increase and the hormones that help you feel full decrease. Additionally, neurological changes take place, causing your brain to become overly responsive to food, making it seem more tempting and irresistible. As a result, you may find yourself hungry and thinking about food all of the time. However, we often ignore these powerful biological signals because our desire to lose weight overrides them.
We may continue to control our eating until we experience a life stressor, or we are presented with an enjoyable food, or we can’t bear one more day of restrictive eating, at which point we can no longer control ourselves. We find ourselves bingeing (usually on high fat, high carb foods), overeating, or eating until the point of discomfort. This is followed by feelings of guilt and shame which we try to alleviate by putting a new “plan” in place (ie: food rules). The restriction begins again followed by deprivation and overeating. Once we are in that cycle it feels impossible to get out.
Christy Harrison, an anti-diet dietician and founder of Food Psych podcast, has termed this “the restriction pendulum.”
When the pendulum swings over to restriction, there will inevitably be a swing back in the other direction, with equal force.
When the pendulum swings to restriction, we may find ourselves eating clean, following food rules, engaging in a lifestyle change etc. and when the pendulum swings to the other side and we find ourselves feeling out of control around food, overeating, and feeling uncomfortable. With the latter, self criticism tells us that we lack willpower and self control. We might see someone around us enjoying just one cookie and yet find ourselves finishing the whole box. We may refuse to even have cookies in our home out of fear that we can’t be trusted around food. Perhaps we declare ourselves “addicted’ to sugar or lacking in self control. We find ourselves drowning in shame and more rules and restriction are put in place so that we can better “control” ourselves. What we might not know is that this is not our fault. It is not a matter of willpower.
When we are restricting and depriving ourselves of food, our bodies will respond with powerful biological and psychological mechanisms to maintain our survival and keep us at our biological set point.
This is not a sign of failure. This is a natural response to famine which is how your body interprets restriction.
In order to keep ourselves from getting stuck in this cycle, to stop the pendulum from swinging, we need to stop restriction. Ironically, we tend to target the bingeing and overeating as problematic but the real reason that we feel out of control around food begins with restriction. We need to recognize the ways in which we are still stuck in the diet mentality and begin to cultivate self-compassion.
There is a way out of the cycle and there is way to enjoy all foods without feelings out of control around them. There is a way to feel satisfied after enjoying just a few cookies.
Through intuitive eating coaching, I can help you to learn how to reconnect with your body’s wisdom and hunger, fullness and satisfaction so that you can enjoy all foods free of guilt. By stopping restriction, you can learn to trust yourself and your body and let go of anxiety and thoughts about food so that you can be more present and engaged in your life.
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program That Works. New York: St. Martin’s Press.