Your Guilt Is Making You Binge
Updated: Sep 27
Most of us have been there: it's the end of a long day. Your stress levels have reached the heights of where no eathling has gone before. Your busy schedule has made it feel impossible to eat since breakfast. And a tub of cookie dough is calling your name. Before you know it, the tub is gone, and you're filled with regret, shame, and a wildly angry gut.
Most folks looking to address their binge eating expect a need for more rules around their eating to prevent such evenings. After all, if the problem is lack of control, more control should help -- right? Wrong, thankfully!
It turns out, food restriction, or threat of restriction--that is, limiting permission to eat any types and amounts of food, or even intending to do so--is the number one predictor of a binge. A binge following a period of restriction is so common, that there is a term widely used in treatment of disordered eating: The Restrict/Binge Cycle. Briefly, this is the cycle our bodies get into when we are restricting our food intake, which creates a physiological response from our bodies that pushes us to binge on high-energy foods (or whatever happens to be around, as in extreme hunger, the body does not discriminate). In the example above, the primary cause of the binge was actually no food since breakfast, even if that feeling of hunger was exacerbated by difficult emotions. This cycle can even occur if someone is not actively restricting their food intake, but considering doing so, or feeling they "should" do so. Our mindset around food factors in heavily. When we judge or shame ourselves for eating certain foods, it creates a scarcity mentality. Often that shameful thought is followed by some plan to correct the behavior -- "I'm so bad for eating these cookies. Starting tomorrow, I'm throwing all the sweets in my house away". While this may sound like a great way to control a binge, this thought actually sends your body the message that this food will soon be unavailable (i.e. "better stock up now before it goes away!). Eventually, you will be near a food like this again, whether at work, at a party, or at the grocery store, and you will feel a primal urge kick into gear that tells you not to get out of there without as many donuts as possible. This is not a moral failing on your part, or even a lack of will power. This is your body's way of making sure you don't starve in the face of perceived food insecurity. I know -- it feels totally backwards, and maybe even too good to be true that the answer is to EAT THE DAMN DONUT. But this is a truth backed by imperical evidence. Your body's primary job is to keep you alive, and in order to do that, it has to keep you fed. So it's geared up to anticipate barriers to this in the future. And if you're recovering from a lifetime of dieting, your body has had a lot of practice at anticipating upcoming scarcity, and will likely expect it more often than it expects abundance.
The solution here is rebuilding that trust with your body. Brene Brown talks about trust in relationships like a marble jar. If all the marbles in the jar that represents your relationship with your body have been dumped out, you'll need to start replacing them. And one by one, the marble jar fills back up. Each time you honor your body's hunger, and feed yourself enough without following up with a beating from your inner critic, you put some marbles back in that jar. After practicing this many times over, one day at a time, you will reach a point where your body doesn't need to binge, because it knows food is coming when it needs it. What is one step you can take today to add more marbles to that jar?