Why does dieting cause binge-eating?

So you’ve seen all of the before and after pictures… Kate dropped 3 stone, Tom lost 4 inches around his waist and Sam saw her abs for the first time – you are sold. You want that. You want that quick fix, that beautiful body, those amazing results. Of course, those before and after pictures don’t show you the struggle those people went through to stick to the diet, how much they hated waking up at 5am to fit in going to the gym, how miserable they were when they had to say no to dinners out with friends, the number of times they cried wanting to give up and just how much weight they put on as soon as they came off the meal plan.

Many studies have demonstrated that going on any sort of restrictive meal plan or diet can leave you obsessing about food. As soon as you are asked to cut out lots of things all in one go and are required to follow some strict food plan – your mind cannot stop obsessing over all of the things it is not allowed to have. Even if you can eat anything you want – but you have to count points or calories – your mind still starts obsessing over numbers and food more generally. You may be able to stick to the plan for a few weeks – 3 months, a year even – but then as soon as you finish the diet/ meal plan, it is very common to start losing control around food. The obsessive thoughts about food – soon cause you to over-eat and very often over-indulge in all of the foods you had banned. This is why diets and meal plans or anything that requires you to count/limit your food intake will often result in binge-eating. These diets are never intended to be long-term and as soon as you indulge a little – you just can’t stop yourself from eating more and more … often promising to “start being good again tomorrow”!

Binge-eating is very common in those that have had a history of dieting. Dieting actually often causes binge-eating. If you have imposed lots of rules around food, as soon as those rules are no longer there – you can feel out of control around food. Controlling your food choices with your mind (by counting calories/points or following a meal plan) often also means that you stop listening to your body (and its natural cues that you are hungry or full)… pretty soon you can completely forget what these natural cues should even feel like and become completely reliant on rules and points to tell you what and when you should eat. Yet we all know that rules were made to be broken – and we never just break our food rules by having just one biscuit – it will often be an entire packet of biscuits, washed down with some cake and crisps.

Many clients that I work with describe the worst part of binge eating as being the guilt that they experience once they have over-eaten – the horrible sinking feeling that they have just done something they know they shouldn’t, without being able to control themselves. Often they then resort to putting themselves on some sort of new diet or meal plan – to try and fix the damage…which then this just traps them in the vicious cycle of wanting to soon binge again.