For anyone who has ever struggled with binge eating, it will come as no surprise that bingeing and body image are intimately linked. When we engage in eating behaviors that we know in our hearts aren’t supporting our best health, or when we mentally associate our own repeated actions with a body type that we see as undesirable, we’re likely to be carrying around some serious body image baggage. The good news about this connection, though, is that by making a positive change on one side of the equation, we can impact the other side as well. Here’s why:
Dieting can cause bingeing.
For some of us, when we’re not happy with our own bodies, our first response is often to go on a low-calorie diet in an attempt to lose weight. But what we may not realize about cutting calories is that it can actually lead to bingeing.
This is the case for a number of reasons. Many low-calorie foods are packed with artificial ingredients that are used to mimic the texture and flavor of, for example, natural fat, without adding any nutritional content. As a result, low-calorie foods are much less satisfying—both nutritionally and emotionally—than whole foods. The same is true when we decide to go on low-fat diets. Just as cutting calories often leaves us feeling hungry and unsatisfied with our meals, cutting fat often has the same effect.
Combine this with the fact that we may skip meals when cutting calories, and you’ll see why many people on low-calorie diets find themselves going hungry during the day. When dinner rolls around, they’re often very hungry, and may wind up overeating or bingeing. Furthermore, for many people, the mere fact of the unnatural restrictions that most diets place on our eating behaviors is enough to prompt an inner rebelliousness, which can manifest in binge eating. In this case, bingeing becomes an unconscious effort to assert our right to make choices about our lives.
We use food as a pain-reliever.
When we dislike our own bodies, it is easy to find ourselves going about our days in shame. This can lead to a constant, internal conversation in which we’re being very critical of ourselves. We begin to doubt our worth as human beings.
This kind of pain can feel unbearable, and it is no wonder that many of us seek out relief. We need a coping mechanism, and we often turn to the first thing we find that works. For many of us, it is binge eating. We turn to food in order to “numb out” and turn our attention away from our deeper pain.
It’s a vicious cycle.
For most of us, the first reaction to our own binge eating is not to forgive ourselves, or to remind ourselves that we’re doing the best we can. While that is the reaction that we would do well to strive for, most of us instead feel guilty when we binge eat. We criticize ourselves for our supposed “lack of willpower,” we convince ourselves that our binge eating has made us “fat,” and we believe that we are unlovable.
This kind of thinking quite easily leads to body hate, which can in turn lead to dieting and, therefore, further bingeing.
When we begin to understand that poor body image and binge eating feed one another, we can use that information to empower ourselves. Having a greater awareness around our habits enables us to make healthier choices and turn around our unwanted eating habits.
Here are a few ways you can curb binge eating:
Avoid low-calorie diets.
Low-calorie foods are often not very filling or satisfying, and can leave you feeling hungry throughout the day, which may lead to bingeing at night. In addition, restricting your calorie intake can cause your body to “think” it’s essentially experiencing a famine. The physiological response will be for your body to slow down your metabolism, which can actually make it more difficult to lose weight.
Avoid low-fat dieting.
As with low-calorie diets, cutting down on fat can leave you feeling hungry. Instead, choose healthy fats from whole food sources—and remember, eating fat won’t actually make you fat!
Avoid meal skipping.
This will not help you lose weight. As discussed, chronic hunger often leads to bingeing. And because it limits your calorie intake, skipping meals can slow down your metabolism, just like a low-calorie diet.
Eat real foods.
What low-calorie diets, low-fat diets, and meal skipping have in common is that they are approaches to weight loss that originate from the mentality that our bodies are not “good enough” the way they are, and must be whipped into shape through extreme measures.
On the other hand, eating whole, nourishing, nutrient dense food is an approach to health that acknowledges that we deserve to be healthy, not just skinny. We are worthy human beings just as we are, and we deserve healthy bodies. Adopting a healthy, sustainable lifestyle can lead to long-term weight loss because we’re helping our bodies to achieve a balanced equilibrium through self-love, not hate.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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