The human body is built for survival. When our species is at risk our body reacts to keep us safe. This adaptive ability is what has enabled humans to survive and thrive.
Food is an integral part of our survival and when access to food is limited due to food insecurity, famine, or dieting, our body responds to give us the best chance of surviving the period of limited nourishment.
Yes, that’s right, our body responds to dieting as though we are in a famine. When food is not readily available and hunger signals are repeatedly ignored, our body assumes we are living through a time of food scarcity. This causes physical, mental, and emotional changes including:
Our body responds in this way to protect us and to return to a nourished state. We can only fight the intense hunger, food cravings, and fatigue for so long. Eventually we will “break” the diet rules and enjoy everything that was off limits. This is often felt as an uncontrollable binge episode as we will our body with energy rich foods. Afterwards we feel guilt and shame and vow to start the diet again.
This is known as the deprivation-binge pendulum.
The pendulum effect is when you are stuck swinging between dieting and binge eating or feeling out of control around food.
When you are on the deprivation side of the pendulum you can only stay there so long before your body’s biological drive for food is so great that you swing over the opposite side. This is when we start overeating all those foods that were previously forbidden.
However, after eating all that food we recognise that we have broken our diet rules and are filled with remorse and shame. So, we swing back to the other side of the pendulum and begin restricting again with a new diet. We vow that our willpower will be stronger this time and we won’t make the same mistakes.
However, dieting does not come down to willpower and once again our body sends out those intense hunger signals that we cannot ignore and we are back on the overeating end of the pendulum.
The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth until we decide to stop.
It is possible to escape the never end swing of the pendulum. To break this cycle of restriction and bingeing we need to address our restrictive behaviours.
Instead of following external rules around food, what if you gave yourself unconditional permission to eat? And not just eat the “good” or “healthy” foods but ALL foods at ANY time of the day.
Giving yourself permission to eat brings a sense of safety and calm to our body. When our body and brain know that food is available and in plentiful amounts, we can escape the deprivation mindset. Our hunger and fullness hormones settle, our metabolism increases, we have energy, an improved mood, and bingeing becomes something we rarely do.
If you want support to escape the deprivation-binge pendulum Kim Lindsay is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian who uses a non-diet, weight-neutral approach to help you have a calm relationship with food. Find out more about online consultations with Kim.