The Diet Cycle

What is the Diet Cycle?

Diet cycle, also known as the restrict-binge cycle is a term used to refer to an experience seen frequently with those who embark on dieting. We might also think of it as part of what leads to yo-yo dieting.

Often people start a diet, or lifestyle change, with the best of intentions. We don’t feel well, we notice something we don’t like (how we look, or a health concern) and we decide to take action. If our action involves food, it is often a diet in some shape or form.

Diets as I discussed in my last post have the main goal of weight loss. They involve restriction – restriction of a food group, restriction of total food, restriction of _______ (Fill in the blank).

As biological beings, we are hard wired to survive, and our bodies do not understand that our restriction is purposeful. There are a lot of biological mechanisms in place to help us survive a famine, which is how our body interprets dieting.

The cycle in action

Let’s elaborate on the stages of the diet cycle a bit more:

  1. Restricting food: this is both straightforward and difficult to see. It looks like a diet program (WW) or a “way of eating” such as Paleo or Keto. It might just be counting calories or macros. Either way something is being limited and constrained by external rules.
  2. Deprivation: this is the feeling that something is being denied. That you aren’t able to eat something you enjoy. The way we talk about food, when we give up foods we enjoy and “stand strong” against cravings, we see this as empowering. Unfortunately in real life it tends to not play out that way. Also caveat: not everyone will experience this step, sometimes what actually happens is the perfect storm of life. Shit happens and many diets rely on lots of time and eating practices that are not realistic, so they fall apart when people can’t keep up. I want to talk about this in a future post.
  3. Overeating or eating in a way that goes against the diet rules: I want to emphasize that we tend to pathologize ALL forms of overeating even though it’s normal. In the diet cycle we are driven by mechanisms in our body to eat to refill the under fueled tank. It isn’t a weakness of character or a moral failing. It is biology. This step can also just be triggered by eating an off limit food, in a reasonable amount, it is not necessarily binging or overeating.
  4. Shame and disappointment: basically we feel like a failure. We haven’t stuck to our diet plan, and there must be something terribly wrong with us. We recommit. Sometimes this period of shame can last a long time. We hang out in steps 3 and 4, trying to recommit to step 1 for months or years, compounding that shame.
How does it look over time?

One thing I have noticed through my years of work is that the timeline will shift, often the first time a person diets, it can take a few years before the deprivation and loss of control stages happen. The more often a person enters the diet cycle, the shorter the time frame can become. To the point where some people only need to think about restriction and they begin to eat in a way that is upsetting for them.

If you feel stuck in this cycle

If when reading this you have a sense of familiarity of experiences in your own life, you are not alone. What I hope you take away is that it is not your fault the diet did not work. The diet cycle or restrict-binge cycle exists because we see it all the time.

If you’re struggling to get out of it, if you want something different, please reach out. Book a 15 minute discovery call with me (your Kamloops anti-diet dietitian) today so we can start working towards food freedom.

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