Stop the diet binge cycle

Despite what all those weight loss ads tell you, being able to fit into a size zero bikini should not be your greatest life accomplishment.

Lisa Ferentz

Despite what all those weight loss ads tell you, being able to fit into a size zero bikini should not be your greatest life accomplishment.  Nor will it help you achieve true happiness, inner peace, self-confidence or self-worth.  Yet our culture puts such an emphasis on appearance and thinness it’s difficult to not be swayed by society’s version of beauty and how the multi-billion dollar dieting industry tells you to look.  Young girls poring over images of their favorite celebrities get the message loud and clear; if you want to be successful, rich, or in a relationship with a good looking guy, start dieting.

There are many gateways into eating disordered thinking and behaving, and dieting is one of the most common and dangerous.  With the help of countless weight loss programs, millions of people set themselves up to half starve all day, avoiding foods  that are “bad”.  You might be someone who tries to severely restrict your intake of calories throughout the day.  You can easily skip breakfast, distract through lunch with a busy work schedule, and even white knuckle putting off dinner.  But by the evening hours your body is hungry and angry!  It needs sustenance to accomplish everything you want it to do.  When you push your body to produce without giving it the fuel it needs to make that happen, it’s like demanding your car go 100 miles on an empty tank of gas.

Since that can’t happen, you are now set up to binge.  In a tired and hungry state, your judgment is impaired and impulsivity increases.  In an attempt to rebalance the lack of food, you’re vulnerable to going overboard, compensating for the profound dip in blood sugar and depleted energy.  Bingeing is not the same thing as merely overeating.  Three extra cookies is overeating- the whole bag followed by other snacks is a binge.  When you binge you probably do it in a detached state.  Many people claim they don’t even taste what they’re eating, or experience standing outside of themselves watching the binge without the ability to stop.  Bingeing leads to a state of physical pain and fatigue, as well as intense feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, self-hatred, and a profound loss of control.  These thoughts and experiences set you up to “make-up” for the binge by starving again.  This is the beginning of the restrict-binge-restrict cycle that creates medical complications, emotional and psychological pain, and can lead to serious impairment.

It ‘s not easy to consciously choose to ignore the images and messages that tell you what you should and should not eat or how much you should weigh.  But there are important steps you can take to help break the starve-binge cycle, re-claim your body, and begin to focus, instead, on more meaningful ways to achieve a true sense of self-worth.

  1. Honor and respect the uniqueness of your body and how it was meant to look.
  2. Make the conscious choice to listen to your body so you eat when you’re hungry, and become more aware of when you’re full.
  3. Give yourself permission to enjoy what you eat!  Take your time to taste and appreciate it.  Your brain can only register fullness if it is “present” for the experience of eating.
  4. Stop dieting!  Focus instead on portion size and eating balanced meals and snacks.
  5. Don’t skip meals. They set you up for bingeing at the end of the day.
  6. Think about food as a positive source of energy and sustenance, rather than a source of comfort, reward, or a weapon.
  7. Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” That adds an unnecessary emotional component to eating and sets you up to diet.
  8. Decide how much power you’re going to give to the number on the scale, and the extent to which you will allow it to define your worth.
  9. Cultivate a practice of gratitude for all of the amazing things your body does for you every day!

10. Choose to spend less energy thinking and worrying about food, calories, and the shape of your stomach.  Instead, re-channel that energy into hobbies, loving relationships, personal and professional growth, paying it forward, and making a meaningful difference in the world.

Lisa Ferentz is a nationally recognized Psychotherapist, Clinical Consultant, and Educator, specializing in the treatment of adolescent and adult trauma, abuse, and neglect. She is the founder and president of The Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education, Inc. She was given “The Social Worker of the Year Award” by the Maryland Society for Clinical Social Work in 2009 and is the author of Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Trauma Survivors: A Clinician’s Guide, now in its second edition, as well as Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing. For more information, visit


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