Binge eating: how to break the cycle

I’m a massive advocate of flexible dieting and seeing food as fuel and not looking at foods as ‘good' vs ‘bad’. A flexible diet plan has been a key factor in how I transformed my body and I use this same tool to transform my clients.

Following a flexible diet plan allows you to eat all foods you want without restriction but within moderation. I find that as soon as you take away the good versus bad food title and allow yourself to enjoy all foods, the negativity associated with that disappears. You can have a healthy relationship with food, without punishing yourself for eating chocolate, but first you need to break the cycle.

What is binge eating?

Binge eating is generally an effect of a restrictive eating pattern. It’s a negative emotional attachment to food triggered by strict eating patterns. Overeating can happen from time to time, I know I've over done it at Christmas before or birthdays or just eating out for dinner when everything has tasted so delicious and I wanted to eat everything!

But what you need to do is think about how you feel in these situations. Is it just a case of over doing it on an occasion or are you at home alone devouring the pantry?

How do you feel?

A little sick from all the food? Or do you feel completely guilty about what just happened?

Overeating is something that is easily overlooked and sometimes socially accepted, particularly in the fitness industry.

Why I don't believe in "cheat meals"

Cheat meals or cheat days are often celebrated, yet what people don't realise is that they are in a vicious restriction and binge eating cycle. I also think that cheat meals encourage a poor relationship with food as they promote an unhealthy relationship with food. By viewing food as bad or a cheat it gives you permission to feel guilty for eating it! Which shouldn't be the case.

I understand why some people choose to have a cheat meal once a week, especially if dieting, as it tricks your system and almost kick starts your metabolism again, but for a lot of people its a very bad habit and one that goes too far if not handled properly. You can have the same effect on the body with carb cycling or introducing high carb days without the 'cheat' or vicious binge cycle.

The emotional side of binge eating

Overeating on occasion does not mean that you have a binge eating disorder. However, many people who binge eat have a negative emotional association or attachment with their binge, which can create a vicious cycle of binging and restriction.

Overeating is associated with a lot of guilt and self loathing. Many binge eaters often feel regret or shame and will often go to extremes to counter balance this. Either by purging, restricting calories the next day or trying to over exercise or burn the extra calories consumed. This is a vicious cycle and never really gets to the underlying issue.

With binge eating or any negative relationship with food it takes time, there is no quick fix or overnight solution. You need to take it one day at a time and celebrate the little wins along the way. When I coach my clients, I get them to track their macros, even on a day when they binge. This allows them to recognise it and own the decision. Make steps to change it and prevent it from happening again and move on. By tracking their intake I believe, even during a binge, there is psychological impact on how far you go, it brings more awareness to the situation and ultimately makes you stop or at the very least register its happening. This also allows you to own the decision and not bury your head in the sand and pretend its not happening.

I have had clients that have dealt with binge eating habits using this method and it has worked. Teaching people that food is fuel and should be enjoyed, enables you to have a much better relationship with food and not have negative emotional attachments to it.

We are all human and at one stage have over eaten, how you decide to deal with it and feel about it will dictate your relationship with food.

What to do if you feel like you're in a binge cycle

If you feel like you might be in a binge cycle or have an unhealthy relationship with food I would suggest writing down how you feel:

- How do you feel just before, during and after the binge?

- What triggers it? Stress, anxiety, or depression?

- Are you craving certain foods?

- Are you alone when you binge?

- What time of day is it?

And then try some of the below tips to see if it helps:

- Track your food using an app (download Myfitness Pal for free)

- Allow the foods you binge on in your diet, within moderation and also getting enough protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals.

- Increase your water consumption (2.5-4litres a day)

- How much sleep are you getting (you need around 7.5-9 hrs a night)

- If you feel a binge coming on, stop, take a minute to breathe slow breaths into the diaphragm

- Seek professional help if needed.

Please don’t punish yourself, but seek out some help. I must stress that not all cases are the same and some people have severe eating disorders that will require professional help. I would love to hear back fro any readers that have suffered with this in the past or are going through it now, post your comments below.

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