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By Dr. Alexa Altman
Research demonstrates that if you place normal eaters on starvation diets they become bingers when they are allowed to eat what they want (Johnson & Connors, 1987).
The body seeks balance, such that if you over do it in one direction the body will respond with equal force in the opposite direction. When it comes to changing behavior, small, incremental and manageable changes are more likely to result in long-term weight loss.
What does the Diet/Binge Cycle look like? How does one move out of this negative cycle? One way to understand this cycle is by addressing the specific style of thinking associated with the dieting phase and binge phase of this negative feedback loop.
A binge is defined as eating an amount of food that is clearly larger than what most persons would eat in a similar situation with the same amount of time, and a sense that one cannot stop eating or control content or quantity of food intake. The Binge phase is characterized by thoughts and feelings such as "I am out of control" "I have no will power", "I am disgusting", "I feel shame and self-loathing."
The transition from the binge phase into the diet phase is associated with thoughts and feelings such as, "I am in control." I can do this." I feel powerful." What do you notice when you compare these two phases? Deprivation or dieting can become an antidote to feelings helplessness, shame or self-loathing.
People usually move back and forth in this cycle of dieting and binging feeling more and more hopeless and out of control. Understanding that you are in this loop is the beginning of the way out. By eliminating the overly restrictive eating you decrease the probability of a binge and vice versa.
Experiment this week: I invite you to experiment with observing your internal dialogue this week. Notice what you tell yourself when you over eat? Notice what you tell yourself when you begin the diet behavior again? Notice if this cycle is working for you? Can you try to find new ways of coping with feelings when you binge or overeat? Can you imagine what you would tell your best friend or family member when these feelings arise? Experiment with being kind or compassionate with yourself.