Is it any coincidence that food challenges like the 10k calorie challenge are often perpetuated by fitness youtubers? Obviously, these types of videos do well in terms of engagement – which is partly the reason they do it – but I’d venture to say they’re also using it as an excuse to binge.
With social media now more prevalent than ever, the number of people with eating disorders has risen; We’re more in the spotlight, we feel the need to stay leaner….especially because there’s a direct correlation with leanness and the amount of likes/engagement.
When you diet to reduce body fat, you’re essentially starving yourself, just in a controlled fashion. Binging is increasingly likely to occur in the later stages of a fat loss diet. Although there are psychological reasons for this, there are also physiological changes that occur which make binging more likely. And so, this topic will be split in to 2 parts: Part 1 will be why binging happens and part 2 will cover how to recover and prevent it.
My Personal Experience With Binge Eating
it wasn’t until my choice to purposely downsize by losing muscle via severe chronic caloric restriction, did I experience my first long episodes of binging. Up until this point, I was completely unaware that someone could become stuck in such a destructive, unhealthy
pattern. I never knew you could feel as though your stomach literally felt like an abyss – no matter how much you eat, you’d still not feel mentally full/satisfied.
After downsizing, I was eating around 2000 calories a day (bearing in mind, 2600 was low for
my previous more muscular frame). I had finished dieting down for a shoot with a photographer in London and had the weekend free. The day of traveling home, I knew no better, and went to
a bakery to get all the food I’d been craving.
At first, it started off with around 1500 calories of donuts, cookies, chocolate etc. – all the sickly, sweet stuff. But at the time, being unaware of how futile willpower is the face of highly palatable foods and no accountability, I was setting myself up for a binge.
Having the first initial bite of that donut set off an insanely powerful urge to just stuff my face. I went back in for another round, then another round, and then another round, knowing in my head that I shouldn’t be doing this. By the time I was sick to my stomach, I’d probably consumed around 5000 calories in about 20 minutes. If you’ve experienced serious binging, you’d know the feeling of willpower being futile; being hijacked by some primal part of your brain and the guilt that ensues shortly afterwards.
This continued for several months. Mainly because I tried to compensate the following days after a binge because I had photoshoots and a holidays coming up. It was only after ‘accepting’ the fat I had gained and stopped trying to diet, did the binges become less frequent.
Why it happens
It’s easy to beat yourself up and blame your lack off willpower. But willpower itself is not enough. Your body is designed to survive, the binge response was a survival mechanism. Irrespective of your goals, willpower and ‘fat loss tactics’, given the circumstances, everyone will eventually break.
Binge eating can have several causes, all with their own complexities. The causes for binging can stem from emotional reasons, but for most of you, it’ll be from restricting food for too long. Given that in achieving a leaner physique, calories will have to restricted in some form or another.
If you’ve ever gotten to considerable levels of leanness, then the likelihood of a binge is high. The difference between a binge and a splurge/overeating is the inability to stop – you feel as though you have no self-control and continue to eat past the point of physical fullness. Several factors both psychologically and physiologically can contribute to binge eating behaviors.
Everybody has setpoint that their body naturally tends to revert back to, regardless of how much or little you eat. Hormones such as leptin and ghrelin, the hypothalamus and gut bacteria all work synergistically to keep your body at a certain weight. When it detects that the body has deviated from this weight, changes occur to increase or decrease appetite in an attempt to reach homeostasis.
There’s still an ongoing debate as to whether you can permanently change your set point, but for now, this theory does atleast part-explain the reasoning for binging.
We’ll cover the possible methods one could use to potentially change their set point in a future article.
As mentioned, your hunger is regulated through hormones. Leptin is a hormone secreted by your fat cells. Leptin essentially acts as a thermostat for body fat; the bigger your fat cells, the more leptin there is – causing a decrease in appetite. When body fat cells are smaller, leptin is low, and the opposite occurs – appetite increases until the fat cells have returned to their ‘normal’ size.
Ghrelin is secreted by the actual stretching of the stomach. It signals to the brain that the stomach is full. Ghrelin relates to leptin, in that if leptin is low, then ghrelin is high. Due to the way this hormone is secreted, a diet high in voluminous foods can help increase the release ghrelin.
Restrictive eating pattern
Along with hormones, restricting food groups, or even eliminating them all together, is a sure-fire way to encourage binge eating later down the road. I’m a strong advocate of if you can’t see yourself sticking to your current diet for the rest of your life, then it’s obviously not sustainable and the same goes for the results that brings.
Again, the binging is more likely to occur the more you restrict. Now inevitably, if you’re wanting to get to extreme, unsustainable levels of body fat ( below 8-10%), then limiting certain types of foods to some degree is basically inevitable and its hence why I’m against extreme diet types – Extremes in nutrition never lead to sustainable results.
It’s human nature to want what you can’t have, and after months of restricting yourself from food. There’s a natural tendency to overconsume on the foods you limited or even cut out entirely. One of the big negative side-effects of getting lean is a strong focus on food; what you’re going to eat; how long till your next meal; planning a ‘cheat day’. You basically become a slave to food and your life can begin to revolve around it.
Again, binging is a sign you’ve been restrictive for too hard, too long. For most of us, think back to when you were a kid – food was likely a nuisance – You ate whatever liked and never thought about macros, micros or how healthy it was. It’s only when you learn about nutrition and then consciously choose to not eat something, can problems arise.
In part 2, we’ll cover how to reduce food focus and ultimately gain back at least some intuitive type of eating.
The Pendulum Analogy
Whilst you’re dieting, your body is priming itself for the next famine. Metabolic adaptations throughout your fat-loss phase will make fat gain likely, and will make it even harder than it was to come off then the first time.
You can think of it as winding up a pendulum: The longer you diet, losing more and more fat, the more you are winding up the pendulum in one direction. The moment you ‘stop’ dieting, and reintroduce calories, the pendulum swings the other way. And depending how far you pushed the pendulum i.e. how long/hard you dieted for, will determine how difficult it will be to combat the body’s natural response of an increase in appetite. This increase in appetite is almost primal, and because of the months of restricted caloric intake, it’s extremely difficult to stop once you start eating.
With the pendulum effect in mind, it’s understandable that statistics show many of us regain the weight with lost and often end up even fatter. A common response to this quick weight gain is to restrict again. However, now having an adapted metabolism along with just general diet fatigue, your ability to lose the weight again without spending proper time at maintenance/surplus will setup you up for binging later down the road.
Often, you’ll hear the argument that one binge won’t make you fat – but a big enough binge just once a week can be enough to undo your total weekly caloric deficit. Not only that but it’s common to restrict or ‘make up’ for the number of calories consumed via cardio or further caloric restriction.
The vicious cycle of ‘binge, restrict, repeat’ is a recipe for yoyo dieting. This is horrible on the body and will have a negative impact on hormones T3, leptin, ghrelin, testosterone and cortisol.
When hormones are out of whack, your body composition will suffer; body fat distribution can even change (body fat begins to collect on the lower abs and love handles due to sustained cortisol coupled with low testosterone).
Furthermore, because you’re neither in a sustained caloric surplus/maintenance or deficit, then you’re neither losing fat effectively nor building muscle effectively. And so often this will result in a physique that’s sub-par.
If you’re going to be in a caloric deficit, then make it worthwhile and get it over with. Trying to constantly recover from binges will only lead to further binging.
– The likelihood of binging is high when calories are either A) Too low for too long. B) Food type is limited/severely restricted and C) body fat is way below ‘setpoint’.
– What you’re experiencing is normal. Your body is merely trying to keep you alive.
– Binging is often not caused by one single factor. Although the main cause for many is restriction.
– Be mindful of how aggressive/restrictive you are with diet. Think long term. The diet after the diet.
Next week we’ll cover:
– How to get out of a binge cycle.
– How to minimize the risk of binging in the first place and prevent it happening again if you do.
– Food palatability and it’s role in diet adherence.
– Setting up your environment to better facilitate long term fat loss.
– Identifying trigger foods.
– Implementing diet breaks to combat the physiologically changes mentioned.
– Utilizing the diet after the diet’ protocol.
– The do’s and dont’s.
Feel free to share your eating disorder experience below hehe x