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Seeking Insight Into Continual Binge/Restrict Cycle

By November 16, 2012

Throughout high school I was always overweight. I was active in sports, but never watched what I ate and unfortunately was not blessed with a fast metabolism. I was always aware of my body, and ashamed of my weight, but never to the point where I’d do anything to change it. When I graduated and went off to college I began to watch what I ate. I started slowly cutting calories and eating healthier, and as a result lost weight. Eventually, I got down to a point where I was eating around 1,000 calories a day, if not less. Obviously this form of restricting worked for a time, but my body began to rebel and I started a cycle of restricting and bingeing. That lasted for quite some time, and I’ve just recently started to up my calories and eat more normally. However, I continue to binge regularly (at least once or twice a week, if not more). I have a feeling a lot of this has to do with emotions and mental things rather than me actually being hungry. What can I do to get out of this cycle and begin to eat more normally? I’m an Exercise Science major, and I’ve done tons of research on health and fitness, so I know what I should be doing to be healthy and lose the weight I want to. It just seems that all that knowledge is nothing compared to my impulse to eat. I’m just looking for a little insight as to what I could be doing to understand my binges a little better and eventually overcome them. – S.G.

Dear S.G.,

What a well written panelist question. My perception is that you were able to chronicle your initial body memories of your image, how they were transformed during college, and how you have attempted to manage those various stages. I REALLY appreciate your statement of: “It just seems that all that knowledge is nothing compared to my impulse to just eat.” This reminds me of the common statement that the longest distance is the one from our hearts to our heads (i.e. what we know vs. what we feel and experience).

I do not know if knowledge alone is enough to create change. My experience is that, in the midst of some level of discomfort, we attempt to find solutions. You restrict and then you binge. And the drive to binge is strong. That makes sense to me. You restrict your body and withhold and then when your spirit, your mind, fights back and says, “Consume! Live! Take in!,” you shame it for its strength to take care of you by restricting again. Perhaps the problem is not so much the food but how you have been choosing to deal with your feelings.

Intuitively it sounds as if your mind knows that the level of restriction you have practiced is not good for your body. So, you experience a stronger drive to seek and take in food. But when you do that you assume that act was bad and restrict more which means if your mind does what it is supposed to do—fight for you—you will shame and/or punish it again by restricting. Consider reading the book Intuitive Eating in order to gain the insight you are seeking about the binge/restrict cycle. Connecting with a good counselor would be a good step too.

Good luck and good health to you,