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Restriction and “Forbidden” Foods: Why Binge Eating Isn’t Usually Just a Bingeing Problem

Do you find yourself getting caught up in diet after diet, feeling accomplished once you start to see results, only for it to be temporary because the moment you allow yourself to return to some semblance of normal eating you lose control and binge on everything that was “forbidden” or restricted during your diet? You are not alone! Bingeing and feeling guilty are all too common responses to periods of restriction that can leave a negative impact on your relationship with food and your body1. Understanding the role of restriction in binge eating is an important step in rebuilding trust in yourself when it comes to food and eating.

What is Bingeing?

Bingeing usually looks something like this: you’re eating significant amounts of food in a short span of time, and you probably feel like you can’t stop eating while it’s happening2. Binges also tend to bring up feelings of guilt, disgust, or depression, too, and you may find yourself eating faster than usual, eating even when you’re not hungry, eating until you’re way past the point of feeling full, and even eating in secret because you feel embarrassed2. The type of food being eaten doesn’t define whether a binge-eating episode is happening, though2. Since the foods eaten during a binge vary from person to person, the key marker of a binge-eating episode is the amount of food being eaten relative to what is “normal” for that circumstance. This doesn’t include celebrations or holidays such as birthday parties or Christmas since on those days most people tend to eat more than usual on these days.

The Role of Restriction

So, what does restriction have to do with bingeing? At first it might seem like the two are totally unrelated since one involves under eating and the other overeating, but this is far from the truth! Restricting and underfeeding your body through things like extreme dieting or counting macros and calories often result in episodes of overeating and bingeing down the line1. In fact, restriction and chronic dieting have been shown to increase bingeing, preoccupation with food, and feelings of deprivation, and they break your trust with food and your body1. When your body goes through prolonged periods of restriction, it in turn experiences strong cravings to eat more in response to the supposed self-imposed famine1. Unsurprisingly, this process is often fueling binges. When we take it even further and begin to restrict specific foods and deem them “forbidden”, that’s when feelings of guilt become involved. Restricting or depriving in this way gives certain foods a moral value, causing overwhelming feelings of guilt to come up when you “slip up” on your diet and eat a “forbidden” food. This guilt leads to a decrease in restriction because your diet is botched anyways, so you binge on the foods you’ve been restricting. And then you’ll feel guilty. And then you’ll restrict. And then you’ll binge again. And thus, the cycle continues.


Breaking the Cycle

So, where do we go now that we understand the role that restriction plays in bingeing? The best thing you can do for your mind and body to break the cycle is to stop restricting yourself. Eliminating restrictions will remove the urgency to overeat, especially when it comes to “forbidden” foods1. This is easier said than done, but when you stop restricting and honour your cravings, you’ll begin to see your cravings to decrease, your binges decrease, and your trust in your body increase. In fact, when you drop the diet mentality and remove all forms of restriction, you’re more than likely going to binge on previously forbidden foods at first1. Know that this is normal and that it will pass with time. As the novelty of this newfound food freedom wears off, so will the excitement that comes along with allowing yourself to eat your cravings, and eventually you’ll learn to enjoy your restricted or “forbidden” foods in moderation again.

Unlearning years and years of diet culture influence won’t happen overnight, so giving yourself grace and support are both key throughout the healing process. Reach out to one of the therapists on our team to schedule a consultation and begin your journey to recovery. Together we can work towards your goals, drop the diet mentality, and break the vicious binge-restrict dieting cycle.

References

1 Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach (4th edition). St. Martin’s Essentials.

2 American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.). American Psychiatric Association.

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