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. 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.
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.
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.