The Binge Restrict Cycle: How to Break Free

You’ve heard it over and over again in Tiktoks and intuitive eating articles, but what exactly is the binge restrict cycle?

The binge restrict cycle is a cycle that occurs when you overeat a meal, try to restrict your intake to “make up for it,” and then end up overeating (binging) again.

In intuitive eating, we refer to this concept often to help explain the feelings and behaviors that can arise when you are in a place of chronic dieting and/or restricting.

Keep reading to learn more from an intuitive eating dietitian about what the binge-restrict cycle is and how you can break free from the cycle today!

What Happens When You Restrict?

Can you remember the last time you “fell off the wagon” with your diet? Maybe it looked like overeating a food or meal you told yourself you shouldn’t have. Maybe it was the loss of control you felt at the candy bowl in your office or the giving into a craving that left you feeling guilty.

Whatever it may be, you often blame yourself for this “mistake” and may even feel that you lack self-control or discipline. Instead of putting blame on the unsustainable diet or regimen, you place that blame on yourself. 

But what if it had nothing to do with a lack of self-control and more to do with normal biology? This is where the binge restrict cycle comes into play. 

What is the Binge Restrict Cycle?

The binge restrict cycle and how to break free with an intuitive eating dietitian

Bingeing, eating past the point of fullness, and feeling a loss of control around food are all-natural, normal responses to restriction.

Whether there is physical restriction where calories are limited or mental restriction where cravings are denied, your body feels the deprivation and responds accordingly.

The natural response to restriction is to eat past the point of fullness when our body finally has access to food; however, people often see this as their own personal failure instead of a natural, normal body response. 

If you’ve struggled with bingeing and overeating, it can be beneficial to look at the areas in your life where restriction may be taking place. Below are some common forms of restriction:

  • Skipping meals and snacks (regardless of hunger level)
  • Cutting out certain foods or food groups
  • Denying a craving
  • Tracking calories/macros/diet program points etc., refusing food that does not fit into allotted numbers
  • Telling yourself you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have something 

How Can You Break the Cycle?

We can look at this cycle as a constant loop (because it certainly can be at times), but another way to think about this connection is with the idea of a pendulum. A pendulum’s movement is controlled by gravity, if it is pulled towards one side, we know that it will result in a swing of likely equal force in the opposite direction.

It is simple physics but can also help us make a connection between our relationship with restriction and bingeing. When you pull one side of the pendulum towards restriction and deprivation, you cannot hold it up forever.

The diet or restriction is likely unsustainable, and when you (figuratively) let go, your mind and body can swing in the opposite direction towards the side of overeating, eating past the point of fullness, or true bingeing. The more you pull towards one extreme, the more force you have to swing the opposite way. 

When you are able to recognize this “loss of control” or “lack of willpower” for what it really is, a normal biological response to deprivation, you are better able to make peace with your body.

Your body is not trying to betray you, it is simply trying to protect you and keep itself running the best way it knows how. You no longer have to be at war with your body, and with time, you can learn to respect it for doing what it can to keep you alive. 

Ditch the Binge Restrict Cycle and Do This Instead!

A big part of what we work on intuitive eating is breaking out of this cycle, and one of the main ways we do this is by identifying and rectifying areas where you are experiencing restriction or deprivation (both intentional and unintentional).

When you recognize the negative cycle, you can make more informed choices on how you choose to eat and respond to hunger and cravings. Think back to those common restrictive behaviors listed earlier, how many of these are present in your life today? 

Binge restrict cycle

Does this sound familiar…

You’re sick of dieting and food guilt, but you don’t know what else to do! Maybe you have so many rules around what you are “allowed” to eat but oftentimes find yourself feeling out of control around food. Or you want to be an intuitive eater but don’t know how to do that while balancing your health goals.

If you answered “Yes!” don’t worry, we’re here to help! Our Nourished Body Basics Course is your step-by-step guide to transforming your relationship with food and your body. You will unlock your inner intuitive eater and learn how to nourish your body for life! Make sure to grab your copy of the course today.

Your trusted source for all things non-diet, intuitive eating, eating disorder recovery, and body image. Check out these articles next:

Written by Emily Adkisson, RDN

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