Does Deprivation Lead to Binge Eating?


I was standing at the kitchen counter and couldn’t stop eating.

I felt ravenous, determined, scared, and confused. I had gone through all of the “healthy” foods I had prepared for the week, but didn’t truly want them. I had tried to convince myself that eating substitutes would satisfy me, but I didn’t want more broccoli, smoothies or salads. I craved carbohydrates, which I could only identify as an intense non-specific craving,  but I didn’t trust myself to have food in the house that was forbidden for fear that I would eat it all in one sitting.

As I made my way through most of food I could find, I felt anxious.

I had been here before, in this same spot, paralyzed and feeling out of control. I looked up, finally taking a breath, and asked myself, “Why can’t I stop eating? What is wrong with me?”

I thought for many years that my binge eating was a result of my lack of control. “How could I let this happen?”, I would ask myself. Every time I binged, I would double down and restrict even harder, afterwards thinking that I was going to do it better. I was going to perfect the art of eating just the right amount. But the cycle would always repeat itself and I couldn't figure out how to escape it.

That cycle is called the restrict, binge, feel shame (rinse and repeat) cycle. it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that my body was trying to protect me, and that a normal, natural and primal response to restriction and deprivation, of both foods and food groups, is to binge, overeat, or eat beyond one’s fullness.

In response to restriction, humans experience a neurobiological reaction that begins a cascade of events that releases hormones, fires neurotransmitters, and induces a stress response to get you to acquire and eat food. Your body is a powerful machine that knows how to adapt in famine (diets/restriction). Restricting food sets the stage for bingeing and you cannot diet this bodily response away or double down harder on yourself. You are primed for survival.

I know it’s hard to imagine that restriction and dieting could be the causes.

Afterall, our culture blames the individual, instead of the culture of dieting, for the inability to portion control and restrict. It places blame on the “overeater”, but rewards the “under-eater”. It rewards deprivation and controlled eating, and demonizes food and bodies that don’t fit it’s narrow standard.

The research is very clear at this point: restricting food leads to increased food obsessions, feeling out of control around food and can lead to overeating/bingeing.

But I want differently for you!

I want you to feel a sense of freedom from restriction . I want you to break-free from feeling challenged by food and get off the binge-restrict-shame cycle. Another diet/lifestyle change or more exercise will not help you to create a new relationship with food and your body. In fact, it may make it worse.

Through becoming an intuitive eater and ditching the diet mentality for good, you too can get to a place where food obsessions disappear, food anxiety decreases and you feel at peace with food.