• May 16, 2024

Binge Restrict Cycle – What Is It And How To Stop

It’s a universal experience – being ‘good’ all day, restricting yourself from your favourite foods, and not eating enough.  Then […]

It’s a universal experience – being ‘good’ all day, restricting yourself from your favourite foods, and not eating enough. 

Then you get home – incredibly hungry, and tell yourself something along the lines of ‘I’ve been good all day, I can have a little treat’.

Quickly, this can spiral into eating past the point of comfortable fullness, with an overwhelming sense of losing control. Inevitably, you end up binge-eating, telling yourself it’s the last time it will ever happen.

And the cycle repeats. 

You continue to restrict, skipping meals and snacks, not fuelling yourself with the foods to keep your hunger satiated. 

Your body provides its survival mechanism – when famished, we need to eat. And you end up binge-eating again. 

This binge-restrict cycle is common, and you aren’t alone. 

This experience can be isolating, leading to feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment. 

Bingeing is often a distressing experience. 

Stopping this cycle is completely possible. In this blog we will discuss ways to overcome the behaviours, and help you build a healthier relationship with food. 

 

 

Breakdown Of The Cycle 

 

Stage 1: Restriction

You spend a period of time skipping and avoiding meals. You may eat smaller meals, and too little to fuel your body with enough food. 


Stage 2: Deprivation

Not eating enough will deprive you of physical, emotional and mental energy. This can look like tiredness, obsessive thoughts around food, and a lack of interest in anything other than food, and when your next meal will be. You may feel weak and anxious, withdrawing yourself from socialising.

 

Stage 3: Intense Cravings and Urges to Eat

Our survival mechanism when in a state of starvation is to seek food. As humans, we are biologically wired to be this way.

Following a period of restriction and deprivation, you may find yourself intensely preoccupied with food. This can cause cravings for particular foods and just food overall, and an insatiable level of hunger which can cause distress.  

 

Stage 4: Binge/Over Eat

A mix of the hunger from restricting, deprivation and draining of mental, emotional and physical energy, and intense cravings and urges to eat – causes a binge-eating episode. 

It can feel impulsive and compulsive, with a complete loss of control over the situation. You may not even be tasting or enjoying the foods – it is just an instinctive, overwhelming urge to eat. You aren’t physically hungry anymore, you are eating from your survival instincts. 

You may tell yourself ‘I’ve been good all day, I can be bad now’. Believing that you ‘deserve’ it after a day of limiting your food. 

After this, you feel intense guilt, shame and embarrassment. Feelings of self-loathing and regret, often telling yourself you ‘wasted’ a day of being ‘good’.

 

Stage 6: Restrict Again

You are fuelled by intense shame and regret. Continually telling yourself it will never happen again.

Following this binge-eating episode, you skip meals and begin to restrict again. 

In an effort to compensate for the episode, you tell yourself it’s the last time it will ever happen. You tell yourself you will ‘get back on track’, and plan to restrict your food yet again.

Inevitably, this is a cycle, sustaining itself, and sets you up for a binge-eating episode, again.

 

how to break the binge restrict cycle diagram

 

How Do I Recover From the Binge-Eating Cycle?

The reasons the behaviours are occurring are not clear-cut, or universal for everyone. 

But there are common strategies that can be implemented, to help break the cycle and overcome the disordered relationship with food. 

If you feel tired of this cycle, we have a few tips for you.

 

Stop Restricting

It is impossible to recover from the binge-restrict cycle by continuing a core behaviour. It’s important to stop restricting what you are eating. 

Heal through allowing yourself full and unconditional permission to eat what you want, when you want. 

No more yo-yo-ing from one fad diet to the next, convinced it will help you break the cycle, and that you will stop bingeing as a result. It won’t – no freedom can be found through continuing to restrict yourself. 

 

Make Sure You Eat The Next Meal

Following a binge-eating episode, it may feel compulsive to skip the next meal. 

You may tell yourself you don’t need it, you have eaten enough – but this will not help you break free from this behaviour.

The reality is, the more you restrict and miss meals – the more likely you are to have another episode. 

 

Eat Regularly 

It doesn’t matter how much you have eaten. Continue to eat meals and snacks in a structured, routine way, so your body can learn to establish this pattern.

Set yourself up for 3 meals and snacks, routinely throughout the day. Set reminders on your phone, prepare meals for work, for school – don’t give yourself an opportunity to restrict. 

woman eating iced fruit load with a knife and fork

 

Break The Good Or Bad Food Mentality

This one is simple in theory, but can take time to rewire this mentality around food..

Labelling foods as good or bad puts foods on a pedestal, and creates a sense of morality around food choices. 

As complex as this is, it’s also quite simple – food has no morals. Food cannot be categorised into good or bad. Food cannot be shoved in the yes/no box. 

All foods fit, and all foods are required to live a complete, balanced and nourishing life.  Your body doesn’t digest food based on what your brain tells it is good or bad.

Just because you ate a food diet culture has led you to believe is ‘bad’, does not mean you need to follow this with maladaptive, disordered behaviours.

Labelling foods in this way will continue the cycle and feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing. And of course, the binge-restrict behaviours will continue to cycle around this. 

Binge Restrict Cycle – What Is It And How To Stop

Know Your Triggers

The urges to binge-eat and restrict are driven from physiological and psychological processes (1). 

Understanding this, and learning to manage these triggers is crucial in recovery from this cycle.

 

Common triggers include: 

  • Feelings of self-loathing
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Work/external stressors 
  • Poor body image 

 

Working with a treating team can be beneficial in learning better strategies to manage these triggers. 

 

Develop Skills In Mindful Eating 

Binge-eating is usually accompanied by a disconnect from physical awareness. 

This can mean an inability to identify hunger and fullness cues, leading to eating beyond comfortable fullness. 

 

Developing skills in mindful eating may look like:

  • Eating without distractions (social media scrolling, TV/movie watching)
  • Slowing your pace of eating
  • Taking time to ground yourself 
  • Learning to identify hunger pangs and fullness cues

 

These skills are essential in helping you build a healthier relationship with food.

 

Develop Self-Compassion

Treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer others in this situation.

If a loved one told you they were struggling with this, you would likely offer care, support and love in helping them recover. Why are you any different, or less deserving of this?

 

Practising self care can help you find your path to recovery. This may look like:

  • Finding a therapist/psychologist who can work through your triggers with you 
  • Filling your days with activities and hobbies that bring you joy, without a focus on food 
  • Personal hygiene – showering, skincare
  • Journalling, writing and verbalising the way you feel 

 

Overall, treating yourself with kindness, softness and love. 

You can and will overcome this cycle, however difficult it may be. Self compassion is key to this, and learning to appreciate and find peace with yourself can guide you.

Acknowledge you may slip up. You may find yourself engaging in behaviours, and feel deep shame and regret over this.

Remember, this is part of being human. We are fundamentally flawed, and it’s important that you are trying. 

A slip up is not a failure. 

It isn’t an excuse to go back to how you were before, and it doesn’t mean you need to abandon the path you are taking towards recovery.

It means identifying what the trigger was for the lapse, and to implement strategies and coping mechanisms to overcome these triggers in a sustainable and healthy way.

 

break up with diets ebook

 

What Does The Binge Restrict Cycle Do To Your Body?

Beyond the intense emotional impacts, disordered eating behaviours have severe impacts on your physical health.

 

Restriction

Restriction places your body in a state of famine and starvation. The perception of food as scarce can lead to:

  • Increased hunger hormones
  • Decreased fullness hormones, 
  • Slowing metabolism 
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Decreased body temperature 
  • Slowed digestion (4)

 

These implications can lead to:

  • Digestive discomfort – constipation, due to loss of muscle tissue along digestive tract
  • Emotional instability, decreased regulation
  • Fatigue
  • Fertility issues
  • Decreased immune function
  • Heart problems (5).

 

Bingeing 

Despite BED being the most common eating disorder, the physical implications are rarely mentioned or considered. 

Binge-eating episodes don’t only affect you emotionally and mentally. They can also place your body in a state of stress. This can look like:

  • Stomach pain and distention 
  • Nausea 
  • Bloating
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to regulate hunger and fullness cues
  • Fluctuating blood sugar levels (6)

 

These implications can lead to:

  • Increased risk of diabetes 
  • Heart complications
  • Digestive and gastrointestinal conditions: acid reflux, delayed gastric emptying

 

Does Binge Eating Mess Up Your Metabolism?

The nature of binge eating can be described as disinhibited – fast, and uncontrolled eating. This can cause detriments to your metabolism.

Binge eating causes your pancreas to go into overdrive. This can cause larger release of insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance. This can impact your metabolic function in the long-term (7). 

Insulin resistance is when the cells in your fat, muscle and liver are unable to respond well to the pancreas releasing insulin, and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood (8). 

The absence of carbohydrates in your body drains energy, promotes fatigue, has implications on mood and emotions, and causes craving of carbohydrates (9). 

This can be harmful to your metabolism, with your cells unable to absorb nutrients as they should (10). 

With appropriate treatment, overcoming the cyclical-bingeing behaviours will improve the management of any complications.

 

How Do I Break The Binge-Restrict Cycle and Lose Weight?

The goal of breaking the binge-restrict cycle is not to lose weight. 

If you gain weight while eating enough food, without restricting – this is weight you needed to gain.

Trust your body and know that it is just trying to keep you safe, to save you from the behaviours causing so much physical and mental distress.

 

person binge eating on fried chicken, hamburger and cake

 

Commonly Asked Questions 

 

How Do I Identify If I Have Binged? 

Binge-eating is a term used loosely. 

You may have a distorted perception of what binge-eating looks like. There is a difference between subjective and objective bingeing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: (DSM-5) defines what an objective binge eating episode looks like: 

 

Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterised by both of the following:

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
  1. The sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating) (2).

 

Subjective bingeing is when you eat relatively small, or moderate amounts of food. 

This is more food than you are mentally and physically comfortable with, but still a comparatively small amount to objective binge-eating. 

This is accompanied by the sense of losing control. 

 

To identify if you have binged, it’s helpful to ask yourself:

  • Did I feel in control of what I was doing?
  • Was I truly present in the act of eating, or was it mechanical and compulsive? 
  • Did I stop when I was full? 

 

Binge-eating looks different for everyone. Part of recovery is learning what this looks like for you. 

 

Why Do I Binge Eat ‘Junk’ Food?

This again ties into the categorisation of foods as good and bad.

If you spend an extended period of time depriving yourself of foods you love, foods that meet your cravings and emotional needs – it is instinctive for your body to crave these. 

Inevitably, you are likely binge-eat on them when you have the opportunity. 

Again, giving yourself complete, full and unconditional permission to eat the foods you love will reduce the urges to compulsively overeat these when the opportunity is there. 

Adopting an intuitive eating approach will help to neutralise the thoughts you have surrounding good or bad foods. 

Teach yourself these foods are available, they aren’t off limits – they will be there, when you want them.

You won’t always crave ‘junk’ food. But coming from a place of restriction, your body is instinctively craving calorie-dense foods, to meet your energy needs as soon as possible. 

 

Is The Binge Restrict Cycle An Eating Disorder?

Identifying the difference between this cycle, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder is difficult. It’s helpful to work with a professional who can help you in identifying this. 

Not everybody who binges and restricts has an established eating disorder.

A distinguishing factor is the frequency of the binge-eating episodes and the behaviours that follow. 

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterised by episodes of binge eating, not followed by compensatory behaviours.

Bulimia nervosa is characterised by episodes of binge eating, that are followed by compensatory behaviours. This may be vomiting, over exercise, laxative abuse, or restricting.

Both are accompanied by the sense of losing control while binge-eating.

 

In BED, the DSM 5 outlines that the binge eating occurs, on average,

  1. at least 2 days a week for 6 months (DSM-IV frequency and duration criteria)
  2. at least 1 day a week for 3 months (DSM-5 frequency and duration criteria) (3)  

 

You may find yourself somewhere between these two diagnoses, not quite meeting the criteria for a diagnosis of either.

The frequency may not meet diagnostic criteria, or your binge-eating episodes may be subjective. This doesn’t invalidate your struggle, or negate the severity of your behaviours.

The binge-restrict cycle is still debilitating and painful, and equally as distressing as any disordered eating behaviour. 

You are worthy and deserving of help, no matter the frequency or intensity of your behaviours. 

 

Will I Ever Overcome This?

Releasing the grip that diet culture has over you is completely possible. It’s hard, living in a world that praises weight loss, celebrates dieting and attaches morality to foods.

But with treatment and support, you are capable of breaking the binge-restrict cycle. You are capable of building a healthier relationship with food.

It is so essential to stop restricting, and to eat enough – regularly. 

You will not break the cycle if you continue to fuel it. 

 

Unsure where, or how to start? Seeking a support network, a multidisciplinary treatment team, can help guide you. This may include:

  • General practitioner (GP)
  • Psychologist
  • Accredited practising dietitian

This team can work collaboratively, guiding you on the path to a future of intuitive eating, and freedom from food rules.

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

 

How Can A Dietitian Help Me?

A dietitian can work with you to create a plan that meets your emotional, physical and mental needs. 

They can create a meal plan, a framework to follow, to bring you closer to your goals. 

They may help you implement principles of intuitive eating, and help you to mend your relationship with your body and food.

The dietitians at Imbodi Health are credentialed eating disorder clinicians, meaning they have further education and understanding of the complexities of disordered eating behaviours.

Reach out for a discovery call, and download the free Break Up With Diets Ebook. This resource can help you break down those food rules around good and bad foods, and guide you in establishing intuitive eating principles.

 

Written by: Student dietitian Tara Finn

Reviewed by: Imbodi Health dietitian Jade Wrigley

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