Imagine holding your breath for 60-seconds.
Deprived of oxygen for a minute, your body starts to gasp for air, as soon as you breathe again.
Instead of slow, normal breaths, your body gulps in oxygen to re-calibrate.
When your body comes back into balance, you can return to your normal breath.
You need air to live. It's vital life energy for every cell in your body.
Why Deprivation Diets Fail Every Time
Now, imagine depriving your body of food for days, weeks, or months.
That deprivation may be calorie restriction, following one of thousands of diets out there, or cutting out food groups or "bad" foods, gradually decreasing your food intake over time.
Maybe you can use your "willpower," and do this for a while.
Over time, your body starts to notice the effects of this starvation state - your metabolism drops, your energy has tanked, you're 'hangry' all the time, irritable, and obsessed with food. Oh, and the food cravings never stop!
Before you know it, you're binging on your favorite sweet treats. Not one cookie, but all of them.
You're gulping down food - fast, mindlessly, and as much as you can.
You're mad about yourself for "giving" in and feel guilty about every calorie you're eating.
The truth is, just as your body needs oxygen, your body also needs enough energy from food.
If it's deprived from calories, amazing life-giving energy calories, it's going to seek out food to re-fuel and bring itself back to balance.
It's not a lack of willpower. It's not 'cheating' on your diet. It's not a failure.
It's your body seeking balance.
When your body is deprived of food, it launches its protective mechanisms.
Your brain starts thinking about - obsessing out - food, as a way to get you to seek out food.
You start craving sweets, bread, or ice cream because your brain knows that calorie-dense food with quick-energy (sugar) is a great way to replenish depleted energy stores and raise your blood sugar to normal rapidly. Your body doesn't care about salads when it's running on empty - while veggies have a variety of vitamins and minerals, they don't offer much in the form of caloric energy.
When you do start eating, you eat a lot of food, quickly. Your body doesn't care about slow, mindful eating after deprivation because it's trying to get as much as it can before the next diet-imposed famine. It's trying to feed your brain and every cell in your body. Your body really doesn't care if you feel stuffed, or get a stomach ache, at this point because it's finally getting in energy. This is the time you need to be mindful of the fact that your body is going to need a lot of food.
The truth is, diets should come with a disclaimer with all the potential side effects (all above + more), especially this one:
Dieting increases the risk for eating disorders.
All those before and after pictures, or 'life-changing transformation' stories you hear, are only side of the picture. You have no idea what that person's mental or emotional state was in the after picture, even if they lost weight. You have no idea what happened 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years after that after picture - most people will re-gain the weight (and more!).
For every before and after picture, there are hundreds more that are starving their bodies to a place that isn't sustainable or healthy for them. These are women who feel like 'failures' because they can't lose weight or follow a diet that is going against nature and their bodies desire to stay alive, balanced, and true health.
This is why diet culture is never-ending madness. It's pushing women into body shapes that are unsustainable, inducing shame and guilt when they can't get or stay there, and making drawing them into another diet.
What To Do about It
Yes! The good news is you can choose to step off the diet cycle.
Firstly, know that you are not a failure if you've been dieting for years. You were only listening to our cultural messages to lose weight, diet, and fit into the societal-determined model of beauty. If you look at most women in your life, they have done it too. I certainly did for years!
You didn't know that all of this could happen when you started your first diet...or last diet. Maybe you intuitively felt the effects of dieting, but by that point, all the shame and guilt you felt kept you on the diet path.
This is why I want to share this information with everyone! (I would love for you to share this post too!)
This isn't common knowledge yet. We still think dieting in any form - whether that's a fad diet, or even a restrictive calorie diet recommended by your doctor or dietitian - is the best way to lose weight or "get healthy."
You can choose to step off the pendulum swing between deprivation and binging.
By feeding your body regular meals, you'll give the body the support and consistent energy it needs.
It will vary for each person, but eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily is pretty normal and will keep your body nourished throughout the day. I'm offering this not as a rule but a suggestion because you may need structure at first to normalize their eating patterns, especially if you're used to skipping meals or eating sporadically.
(If you have an eating disorder - or disordered eating patterns - it can be great to work with a dietitian on your treatment team for structure and normalized eating before moving towards intuitive eating.)
By giving your body regular meals and snacks again, it will offer your body a sense of security and safety again. Instead of being in a famine state, your body will trust that things are normalizing again. Just as you know that you will breath normally again after holding your breath, you can trust that your body can eat normally again as well.
You can choose to give yourself permission to eat the foods you like, in the amounts you want.
You can work towards making meal times enjoyable again by create positive experiences with food. You can experiment with mindful eating, not as a way to control your eating but as a way to pleasurably enjoy the tastes, smells, and experience of eating.
You can choose to include nutritious foods into your eating, not because you 'have to' or 'should' but rather if you like those foods.
You can start to notice how food makes you feel - physically, mentally, emotionally. Maybe that means you choose lentil soup for lunch because you know it fills you up and satisfies you, then you have pizza for dinner with friends because it's a delicious way to connect with people you love.
You can choose to add in variety and new foods when you're ready. If you have 'fear' foods, recognize that you're avoiding them and explore why. Give yourself permission mentally to eat it, and when you're ready, give it a try in a pleasant eating environment.
You can choose to eat your meal, and move on. Even if you feel stuffed, guilty, or didn't really enjoy the food.
After all, it's just food. You'll always have more meals to enjoy food, or practice listening to your body.
You have a life to live in between meals. You can focus on having fun in your life and cultivating a life you truly love - without food obsession all the time - by using the life-giving energy of food at mealtimes, then choosing to move on.
You may have spent months, years, or decades in this diet cycle, but you can always choose to step off it.
Yes, it does take time and work. It may be uncomfortable challenging your current beliefs or patterns, but when you do, you can cultivate a new relationship with food and your body based on your personal values.
You don't have to live by the values that our culture imposes on us around food or body image - one where diets are pushed on people, there is a lack of body diversity and an immense amount of body-shaming, and health is distorted into an obsession.
There is a different path where food is enjoyed, all bodies are welcomed, and health is all-encompassing to include physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
If you want to start to explore this path, I made you an awesome new 7-day Make Peace with Food free email course. I'd love to have you join me!