So maybe you have just engaged in binge behaviors or are feeling guilt that you have broken one of your food rules. It’s in these moments that diet culture creeps in and has you thinking that the best next step is to go on a new, shiny diet, right? Or that drastically changing the way you eat, engaging in a new exercise routine is the only way out. Contrary to that popular belief, we’re here to tell you the truth: diets don't work.
These binge behaviors mentioned above aren't your fault. In diet culture, the act of eating passed comfortable fullness is always demonized. We are taught that we only need small amounts of food to feel satisfied which can potentially set you up for what we call the restrict/binge cycle.
What is the Restrict / Binge Cycle?
Dieting teaches us to restrict ourselves in order to change our body size. However, what diets don’t typically take into account is that our body's needs change on a daily basis based on a variety of factors (sleep, stress, hormones, etc). So when we are forced to follow external rules rather than tune into internal cues it can lead us to be undernourished throughout the day, only to come home ravinous and binge on anything and everything in the house. These binge behaviors then lead to feelings of shame or guilt that only further perpetuate the thought process of, "I'll be 'good' tomorrow". And the cycle starts over again.
So why does this happen?
This idea goes back to our caveman ancestors and how they responded to calorie restriction. We have to remember, that we are here today because of the amazing mechanisms our ancestors adapted to be able to survive all types of environments and situations.
When we are dieting, we are typically restricting ourselves in someway (either physically or psychologically). Our bodies respond to this how they would respond to a famine (this is why we sometimes call dieting a perceived famine by our bodies). Some mechanisms that happen are that metabolism slows and when we finally have access to foods our body kicks back into caveman mode and reaches for calorie dense, quick energy options to help counteract the perceived famine and make sure your body can survive!
So really, it is your body's way of keeping you alive.
Moving away from the restrict/binge cycle
Eating can be an emotional process and we’re here to tell you that that’s okay. It can be seen as a comforting thing when presented with different emotions that feel uncomfortable. It is okay to emotionally eat. I repeat, it is okay to emotionally eat.
What is important, though, is to recognize what is going on inside your body? We are quick to blame ourselves or the food but is there something else going on? How are you feeling? Do you have other tools in your self care toolbox to help you sit with these uncomfortable emotions or do you find that food is normally your one and only? Exploring these questions and topics is one of the many reasons a treatment team can be helpful (specifically an eating disorder experienced dietitian and therapist).
As you move through repairing your relationship with food, it is inevitable that there will be situations where you do eat past your comfortable fullness levels. We’re here to tell you that it is okay - you do not have to resort to a new diet plan after you do. There are other ways to help you after you have engaged in binge eating or eating past comfortable fullness that have nothing to do with restricting your intake (actually, quite the opposite).
What to do after you eat past comfortable fullness
Remember that the feeling of fullness will pass
Fullness, although sometimes can feel uncomfortable, is a normal sensation. Learning to understand that the feeling of fullness will pass and that it will not last forever. Our bodies are capable of handling the food we provide it and will eventually need more energy in order to continue working properly. The feeling will pass.
Show yourself compassion
You are working hard to repair your relationship with food, something that has been molded over many years. We can’t expect that relationship to be completely healed overnight. After a binge or uncomfortable eating experience, it may be helpful to show yourself compassion through a self care task - maybe this is a hot shower, a walk with friends, or listening to your favorite artist on repeat. Remember why you are working towards mending this relationship and that you are worth continuing this work.
Appreciate all that your body can do
Your body works so hard to keep you alive, to help you during trying times, and to enable you to pursue the things you care about. It can be helpful to start by making a list of all the things your body does for you. For instance, it may let you chase your dog, allow you to walk on your favorite beach or hike, breathe in fresh air, laugh at jokes, hug your loved ones, speak about things that you find important, look at beautiful sunsets (of course some of these things are inaccessible to those with disabilities & your value is not contingent on your physical abilities). Try to start looking at yourself as a whole person- not just skin-deep
Wear clothes for your now body
Feeling uncomfortable in your body after a binge is normal. Show yourself some compassion by choosing clothes that feel good for your right now body. Sizes are meaningless and arbitrary, and often vary greatly, even within the same brand. If you are stuck on being a certain size, ask yourself why this feels so important to you. You are not a more worthy, more lovable person for being a certain size or not. Throw out, donate or sell old clothes you have been holding onto in case you obtain a body size that isn't your own.
Be critical of what you read, see and hear online
Remember that there's an entire industry that profits off of your body insecurities. Especially after a binge, you may be feeling vulnerable and more susceptible to diet culture’s ways. Be skeptical of what you see on social media, in the news and hear from others. Think "good for you, not for me." Be conscious of messages that target insecurities and make you feel like you need to alter yourself in some way, or like you aren't enough as you are...we aren't sponges! You ARE enough as you are. Be selective of who you follow on social media- if their images or messages make you feel "less than", do yourself a service and hit "un-follow".
Make sure to fuel yourself
This is the most important tip. Make sure you continue to fuel yourself after a binge. Although diet culture would preach trialing the latest fad after eating “too much”, all it does is keep you stuck within the Restrict Binge Cycle. Break free by reminding yourself that you deserve to eat, all foods, at any time of the day. Provide yourself satisfying meals that fuel not only your body but your mind and soul too!
We understand that experiencing a binge or uncomfortable fullness can feel very difficult and overwhelming. Remember that dieting after these experiences only keep you further stuck in the Restrict/Binge cycle and ultimately are not beneficial to your health.
Are you feeling stuck in your relationship with food and body? This can be a difficult thing to navigate alone and the good news is - you don't have to! Join one of our groups to navigate recovery or work more 1:1 with our dietitians and support coaches. No matter what you need, we're here to support you!