by Kari Anderson, DBH, LPC and Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD
Jessica wants to eat healthfully. She tries to be very careful about what she eats but inevitably there comes a time when she just can’t. Then all @#$% breaks loose. She starts eating all the foods she believes she shouldn’t eat. The only way she knows how to stop is when the food is all gone. She feels guilty but picks herself up time and time again, and returns to her attempts to eat healthy.
In the parlance of those who work with eating problems, Jessica is caught up in a restrict-overeat/binge cycle. She’s “good” for a while until she’s “bad”.
It’s a cycle that goes on for years for many of us.
Where does it come from and how does it start?
The Restrict-Overeat/Binge Cycle
The restrict-overeat/binge cycle directly results from worries about weight. It starts with diet rules. In fact, it’s part of the yo-yo dieting cycle, which many people are still caught up in even though they believe they have given up dieting.
Certain foods are allowed; others are forbidden. And of course, the forbidden foods are ones that are usually foods we like. So we have to make a conscious effort not to choose those foods.
Because diet rules have come to define healthy eating for many people, even when they believe they aren’t dieting, they still feel these foods are off-limits.
Who’s Talking in There?
These rules have become ingrained in our psyche. We’ve heard them for so long, they’ve become the self-talk that goes on in our heads about what we “should” eat and what we “shouldn’t”. It sounds like an ongoing debate between our angel and our devil.
But who’s the real devil?
When you think about it, can you see it’s the “angelic good” voice that we rebel against that sends us to overeating or bingeing?
Here’s how to stop the debate.
3 Steps to Making Better Decisions about What You Really Want to Eat
1. Name it.
Give your “angel” (restrictive) voice a name or identity – maybe it’s the weight loss diet coach you had in the 8th grade. Or a bully at school. Or an ex-romantic interest who said mean things to you about your weight.
When you hear your “angel” voice, recognize it for who it is. It’s not you but someone else talking. This can help you calm down and think more rationally about what you really want.
2. Validate it.
Recognize that it is completely logical that you would have an “angel” voice in your head. How could you not, if that’s the advice you’ve been given for years from diets, the media, or well-intentioned but misguided friends and family?
3. Talk to yourself like you are your best friend.
Calm yourself with soothing words of encouragement and acceptance. “Of course I hear that voice in my head. It’s all I’ve heard from others for years. But I know it doesn’t help me. I am going to take the time to decide what I really want. And if it is the food, I’ll eat it mindfully and enjoy every bite.”
This is a proactive way to get rid of the negative self-talk that confuses us about what we really want.
Discovering What You Really Want
Getting rid of diet labels is a big part of figuring out what you really want. That removes feelings of deprivation and rebellion that can muddy our thinking. Then it becomes a matter of mindfully experimenting, eating different foods and observing whether you really like them, how you feel after eating them, and how much you need to feel satisfied.
It’s a journey of discovery that can take a while to figure out. The good news is that it’s one that can be filled with pleasure, instead of the pain of restriction.
Learn more about our evidence-based program for learning how to eat what you want in a way that feels well and supports a healthy weight.