The restrict/binge cycle and patience in recovery

Something I’ve gotten a lot of messages about recently on instagram is the vicious restrict/binge cycle.

A lot of people message me asking about certain behaviors, why they are so hungry, how to stop restricting/binging, and to discuss the different stages of recovery they’re in.

Every time I get one of these messages, I think of this image. I’m not sure who created this image, so if you know, send me a message so I can give them all the amazing credit they deserve!

img_1508.pngI really like this image because it gives a great representation of what happens in this cycle. When we’re feeling bad about our bodies and we decide to restrict or use other restrictive behaviors, our bodies actually go into survival mode. Binging can be a way for our bodies to get the nutrients that we desperately need after we’ve been restricting.

When we restrict, we deny our body of the nutrients we need to live happy and healthy lives–and our bodies cannot tell the difference between self induced starvation, or actual starvation due to a lack of food resources. 

Therefore, when we have been restricting, our bodies do whatever they can to get us the nutrients we need. Sometimes, this means we binge.

People will message me on instagram regularly and ask about how to stop this cycle, and this is where I want to bring your attention to the middle of the image above. The food peace section, to me, is where we are listening to our bodies, feeding them intuitively and unconditionally, and avoiding the psychological restrictions we often place on foods (this means not moralizing foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy).

This can be hard for people, especially because our society is so intertwined with diet culture that many people perpetuate these unhealthy beliefs without even knowing it. Being someone in recovery from an ED/DE and understanding the detrimental effects of diet culture sometimes feels like swimming upstream, but it gets easier as you get stronger.

One of the most common questions I get from followers and readers is “how do I practice intuitive eating?” This is a loaded question, especially because I’m not a dietitian. My knowledge about recovery comes from my own experience and from the experience of clients I’ve worked with.

Intuitive eating requires a lot of patience and compassion as we begin to take steps towards food peace. If you click the link above, you can find more information about what intuitive eating is, the ten principles of IE, and different valuable resources from the people who are the real experts.

For those who aren’t as familiar with intuitive eating, IE is the practice of honoring our hunger and fullness cues, honoring our cravings, and rejecting the diet mentality. In other words, IE means seeing food as food, and understanding that our bodies are designed to keep us nourished and get the nutrients they need without close monitoring.

When people begin eating intuitively, some of them experience extreme hunger, bingeing, or just extreme food freedom. When you suddenly allow yourself to eat delicious foods that you have been restricting for so long, our bodies (and also our minds) will crave these “forbidden foods.” That’s just psychology! When we can’t have something, we want it more.

This is normally when people feel like they are losing control, think they are bingeing (even if they aren’t), and sometimes, they message me asking what to do.

My typical response is something along the lines of: “I’m sorry you’re feeling a little out of control right now, that feeling can be really tough. Your body is trying to find it’s way with intuitive eating, and that can take some time.”

I try to explain the process of extreme hunger and sometimes, I use the pendulum image above. When people first begin intuitive eating, they sometimes become overwhelmed by the freedom they feel and the cravings they experience, and the pendulum often swings towards the “binge” side of the spectrum. People often indulge in the foods that they have avoided for so long!

Most people, as I said above, start to feel out of control, and their ED voice kicks in and they feel the urge to restrict (illustrated in the image below). Hopefully, however, by looking at the images I’ve included, you can tell that restricting will only keep people in this never ending cycle. 0_d47lxtf0quvx3p_j.png

This is where patience comes in. It can be extremely tough to ignore the ED voice, but again, the more we do it, the easier it becomes. It is normal and natural for our bodies to crave a lot of foods when we first begin recovery, and it’s normal to experience extreme hunger after dealing with restrictive behaviors.

Although this can feel very uncomfortable for people, this is a part of recovery. We cannot skip this stage and go straight to food peace. If we could, it wouldn’t be called “recovery.”

I think this is the thing that people hate hearing from me most–they wish that they could just skip the hard parts of recovery and go straight to being recovered (don’t we all!), but patience is extremely important.

It makes sense that after using behaviors for so long (a lot of people have been using behaviors for years), it takes time for our bodies to adjust to intuitive eating and to find a natural place where it feels comfortable.

I think the pendulum image is a great one when picturing recovery–when people are active in their EDs or disordered eating, the pendulum is swinging at full force, but as they begin to eat intuitively and embrace recovery, the pendulum slows and eventually can still in the middle.

Even though this process can be hard and uncomfortable, the end result is far better than continuing to live in the restrict/binge cycle.

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