The Diet Cycle is easy to get pulled into. It starts with a family member’s comment, a waist trainer ad popping up on your feed, your jeans cutting in. You diet to lose a little, are feeling pretty good about your weight loss success, then your “willpower” cracks, and you binge. Eventually you regain the weight plus a few pounds. “Time for another diet.” you mutter. Lather, rinse, repeat. This post will show you what the diet-binge cycle is, and teach you how to break the it for good.
Before we start talking about the diet cycle and how to get out of it- how to truly make peace with food and your body- it’s important for me to stress something. If you read this and think, “Goodness. I am the poster child for the diet cycle.” Don’t be frustrated with yourself. Diet & wellness is a $1.5 TRILLION industry. That is a lot of advertising dollars your psyche is fighting against.
WHAT IS THE DIET BINGE CYCLE?
It’s Not What You Think It Is
The diet cycle is probably not what you think it is. If you are like most of my clients, you may think it is something along the lines of, “I need to lose weight/get fit/get cinched, so I start to diet, maybe exercise. I lose some weight, but also start losing my willpower. So, I cheat a bit, then I figure I already broke my diet, so then I go off it completely and binge on everything. Inevitably I gain any weight I lost back (and then some). Then, I feel guilty and try to be good again, so I find another diet. Honestly, what is wrong with me?”
What It Really Is
The reality is your body is working flawlessly. This is what the diet binge cycle actually looks like. Aunties, influencers, or doctors imply your health, your confidence, your life, your [insert just about anything] would be better if you “lost a little,” which triggers a dissatisfaction with yourself. You internalise the idea your body isn’t good enough and try to conform it by restricting. So, you “cut back”- on portions, or carbs, or the window of time in which you eat.
Because your body is truly wonderful (regardless of its shape), it notes you aren’t eating enough, and starts producing ghrelin – the “hunger hormone”- to drive you to eat so it can get proper nourishment. Over time, restricting and holding back gets harder and harder as your body works to get fed. The drive to eat starts to feel absolutely primal, so you finally relent. Usually the food you’ve considered “off-limits”(often fat- or carb-rich foods) are the first ones you go for.
Another unseen feature is the more you diet, or the more severe the restriction, the more your metabolism starts to change to protect your body. It slows down so it needs less calories to run your body. This way if another “famine” comes (your body doesn’t know the difference between a famine and a diet) it can still function. You may feel this is a flaw of your body, but you are working perfectly.
|You think||The reality is|
|I am being good||I am restricting|
|I am cutting back||I really am undernourishing|
|I have no willpower||My body is working perfectly|
|I gave in||I made up for the under-nourishment|
|I gained it all back and then some||My body’s returned to its set point & my metabolism slowed down|
THE DIET CYCLE IS DANGEROUS
First of all, the emotional toll of the diet cycle is REAL. In the chart above, do you see the difference in what you may think is going on and what is actually going on? The statements on the left are of morality and shame, intensifying the emotional toll of the diet cycle. Just as your weight cycles, so do your emotions. The high of fresh hope, the lows of guilt, shame, and disgust. It’s brutal, and with each return to the start, the hopefulness is shorter and thinner and the shame felt is longer and thicker. The blow to self-esteem can be crippling (what about that confidence we were promised at the start?!).
Secondly, yo-yo dieting is actually pretty terrible for your body. The ups and downs of weight are associated with an increase in risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
Finally, the more often we diet, the more disconnected we become with our bodies. We rely on externals such as calories or macros, pushing aside the cues our body is trying to give us. I have some clients that don’t even know what hunger feels like anymore.
HOW TO BREAK THE DIET CYCLE
The diet cycle is perpetuated by restriction and working against your body. Logic would tell us the solution is to not diet, but eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is eating in a way that listens to and responds to your body’s needs. It’s an approach to eating that is seriously backed, not just by logic, but by solid research as well. There are hundreds of studies showing Intuitive Eating improves blood sugars, lipid levels, food-body congruence, interoceptive awareness, and weight stability. So, how do you start?
- Educate yourself on what intuitive eating is. Whether you like podcasts, books, or blogs, this is a great place to start. If you feel like you need more help find an Intuitive Eating dietitian.
- Start listening to your body. Hunger and fullness cues are just one place to start. Notice how you feel as you exercise. When anxious, sad, or even happy, notice where you feel that emotion in your body.
- Note unexpected feelings that may come up. Sometimes getting in touch with our bodies can be very painful if we’ve experienced trauma against our bodies. Have someone on hand you can talk through this type of trauma with.
- Shift your thinking. “Should” holds little value in intuitive eating. Think more in terms of what you’d like to or feel like eating. Do this without judgement. You may be surprised.
- Be patient. Depending on how trapped you’ve been by the diet cycle, it can take a while to trust your body again. Our society teaches us our bodies are to be tamed, punished, and shredded. This hardly puts us on the same team as our body. It will happen with time and practice.