Buy One, Get One Free
This week I had yet another client tell me that a certain diet (rhymes with Hate Talkers) is the only one that has "worked" for her. My client is telling me that this diet has "worked" but she is seeking my help with overconsumption and general dis-ease around food — two almost certain outcomes of said diet. Never mind the yo-yoing of her weight that she dislikes.
I want to make something very explicit: food restriction (by any name, real or perceived) almost always leads to overconsumption (by any name, real or perceived). Buy one, get one free—like it or not.
Let's take a minute and better define restriction and overconsumption:
Generally, in this context, restriction refers to reducing or eliminating food items or food groups from one's diet. This can look as benign as "I'm trying to eat less sugar" all the way up through traditional diets and on to full blown orthorexia and anorexia. The appeal of restriction is how it makes us feel—at first. We feel in control, powerful, safe, virtuous, and even high. However because our brain interprets restriction (including often just the thought of restriction) as "famine is imminent" even the strongest will is often over run in pursuit of being fed. This is just our built in survival instinct. Has this ever happened to you: You think "Today I shouldn't/won't eat X" and before you know it just the thought has sent you into eating twice as much of that food? This is why whether restriction is real or perceived it's equally potent.
We have a stereotype in our head of binge eating: on the floor in front of the refrigerator surrounded by empty packages of food, spoon deep in a carton of ice cream. Yet overconsumption most often appears in subtler ways that have more to do with what's going on in our minds than what is going in our mouth.
When I was anorexic I had an allotted amount of crackers I would eat each day. If I went over that number, I felt like I had binged, even if I was still calorically deficient. I used to say to my therapist that a binge for me was less about the food and more about the fact that while eating I was consumed by thoughts of the next thing I would eat. Again, I might still have been in a normal or deficient caloric range, but the experience in my mind had the fingerprint of overconsumption.
You probably know what overconsumption feels like to you and while it's personal and often private the impact is fairly universal. So what is the mental experience of overconsumption?
At first, coming from restriction-ville, it's release, calm, and a sense of safety as the brain registers that food is here and abundant. Typically this is followed by feeling out of control, ashamed, guilty, and "bad".
Can you relate? Without seeing the cause and effect of this cycle most people hop right back on the restriction bandwagon. I implore you:
Do not blame yourself for feeling out of control around food when you've been sold a cycle that all but guaranteed exhaustive circular trips from restriction to overconsumption and back again.
Do not hop back on the restriction band wagon when you are or have been overconsuming. To so do would certainly cause you to repeat the same patterns over again. Diets by design (as a result of how they interact with the human psyche) include a trip through the land of over eating.
Do not think that you can buy one (restriction/dieting) without getting the other for free (overconsumption).
Do not suggest to anyone, ever, that a diet is the answer to their struggles.
I'm posting this image again so it's crystal clear just how one feeds into the other:
GETTING OFF THE NOT-SO-MERRY GO ROUND
If you're tired of going round and round...
If you're tired of feeling like it's your fault when a diet doesn't "work"...
If you're tired of how short lived the "perks" of dieting are...
Take the off ramp: intuitive eating.
It's the only thing I know of that puts an end to the insanity and the off ramp exists at any point, no need to wait for another cycle. Intuitive eating works with the human brain such that you never feel like famine is coming or that you, your body, or food can't be trusted. Intuitive eating is sustainable and doesn't require that you sign back up with a company selling you a guaranteed to fail product. To start, read the book. If you need help bringing intuitive eating to life, as most of us do, work with a coach, counselor, intuitive eating-focused nutritionist, or take a course. May we all find our way to freedom. May we all find our way back to our body.