The Restriction Pendulum

   The real reason you feel out of control with food.

The restriction pendulum

The real reason you feel out of control with food.


Trapped in a cycle of restricting and overeating?

Dieters often swing between two sets of habits, like a clock pendulum swinging from one side to the other.

The pursuit of weight loss means women are riding the pendulum of restriction to over-consumption and back again, for years, if not decades.

These two phases of the cycle manifest both physically and mentally.

On one side of the pendulum is control. Restriction. Deprivation. Dieting. Hunger.  

On the other side of the pendulum is chaos. Over-consumption. Bingeing. Emotional Overeating. Feeling out of control. 

Often experiencing some level of guilt, shame and self-loathing.

Back and forth. Restrict. Over-consume. One minute your eating is ‘good’, the next it’s ‘bad’.

The oscillating action of a pendulum is predictable.

The Restriction Pendulum is your body’s natural reaction to deprivation.


To your body ANY type of restriction or restrained eating feels like a famine. Chronic dieting, skipping meals, meal replacements, poor quality diet and lack of macronutrients, can leave us ravenous. But our bodies are clever!

This ignites a cascade of biological processes in the body to slow down metabolism, hold onto body fat and increase appetite hormones so that you don’t starve death. It sounds dramatic, however, this is how the body functions.

Just like we need air to breathe, we need food to survive. Your body’s natural and normal response to restriction is to eat. This intense hunger releases the wolf inside us and we end up “wolfing down” our food, aka binge eating.

Only a small group of people are able to pull their pendulum back towards restriction and keep it there. These people may have an eating disorder called Anorexia Nervosa. The analogy that is often used is that biology loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.

For example, in my own case, I likely had certain biological factors that made me susceptible to developing an eating disorder, such as personality traits/characteristics. Ballet dancing places a large emphasis on physical appearance and weight and competitiveness which may have served as my environmental trigger, as did other normal stressors that were difficult for me to cope with, like moving away from home to study at university.

Somehow 1,200 calories has become the normal figure that most women think they should eat to be “healthy” and lose weight.

To put things in perspective the World Health Organisation (WHO) puts starvation calorie intake at 1,800 or below for women.

The great irony is that the more someone restricts calories, the more difficult they make it in the long haul to maintain their weight. So they have to eat less and less just to keep their weight where it’s at.

This has nothing to do with willpower or self-discipline. Your body is trying to protect you. Eating is one of our most basic instincts to survive. If we swing one way, we’ll swing the other.

Restriction and deprivation is the REAL reason you struggle with food.

And the REAL reason you struggle with restriction and deprivation is because you’re dieting to control your weight. Maybe not a traditional diet, but if there’s even a whiff of restriction and deprivation, some sort of backlash eating is to be expected.

With time, the pendulum will slow down and balance out. We do this by rejecting further restriction even after a binge.

We do this with curiosity over judgement. With awareness and compassion.

Ask yourself, do you tend to restrict certain types of food? Do you restrict eating at certain times of day? Do you limit quantity?

When you stop restricting you stop constantly thinking about food and feeling out of control around food.

Many women worry that if they stop restricting what they eat, they’ll eat all day and won’t stop.

This is understandable given they don’t trust themselves around food, but simply not true.

Take for example people who work in chocolate factories. They might eat a lot of chocolate to begin with, but get sick of it very quickly. Habituation research explains why food becomes less enticing with exposure.

Sure, there’s an initial “honeymoon phase” where you may want to eat your previously forbidden foods quite a lot. But when you know food will be there and allowed day after day, it doesn’t become so important to have large quantities of it and it eventually loses it’s power over you.

This is why it’s important to understand that deprivation leads to unwanted backlash eating. No deprivation = No binge!

Dieting actually heightens the novelty and desirability for forbidden foods. When people go off a diet, they often eat those forbidden foods in excess, in part because of the lack of habituation.

When you combine low habituation with the fear of never eating your favourite foods ever again (or that’s what you tell yourself), it becomes a powerful recipe for overeating. It’s called the “last supper mentality”. Better eat it all now, because I start my diet again tomorrow.

Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you like, is an important mindset and skill needed to make peace with food.

If you’re feeling out of control around food and long for an easy and enjoyable relationship with eating, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Are you ready to stop binge eating? Let’s talk.