Do Fad Diets Promote Binge Eating Behavior?
Written by Mike Sweeney
At any one point in time there are 29 million people – or 55% of the population – in the UK restricting food choices in an attempt to lose weight.
Imagine that. Over half the population walking around hungry.
It’s easy to think this is a good thing when you consider the fact that obesity is at an all time high. So, what’s the problem with dieting?
Take a minute and imagine this scenario (you may even be able to relate):
New years eve has just passed and you make a pact with yourself to finally shed those unwanted pounds. After all, your clothes don’t fit as comfortably as they used to and you feel embarrassed when you go clothes shopping and realize you’re a few sizes bigger than you used to be.
Plus you’ve noticed your partner just doesn’t look at you the same way anymore. Maybe it’s because you’ve been together a really long time? Maybe it’s stress? Maybe they find you unattractive with the extra weight you’re carrying? You drive yourself crazy with all sorts of self-critical thoughts.
The latest super-guru has a new diet book that’s got good reviews and media coverage – perfect! Problem solved.
All you need to do now is follow the plan. Easy.
The first 3 days – or if you’re particularly determined, 3 weeks – go well. You’ve surprised yourself. No cravings, loads of energy. “I CAN do this” you tell yourself.
At some point when you least expect it, either days or weeks after starting your new super diet, it hits you like a ton of bricks, and you feel a massive urge for some chocolate. Mmmm chocolate..
Determined, you shrug it off.
By the time Saturday night comes you’re absolutely itching for something, absolutely anything sweet and tasty. You find your belly growling with hunger, your thoughts are filled with ideas of chocolate, ice-cream and lets not mention the cupcakes! You spend the day fighting temptation until finally, despite your best intentions you scream “blow it!” and treat yourself to your favorite meal, followed by large amounts of cookies, cake and chocolate washed down with wine.
The next day you feel horrendous. Bloated. Lethargic. Guilty.
Maybe it was the stress? Maybe it was tiredness? Maybe you’re just weak?
Your inner voice rattles around for a reason, any reason until you rationalize the whole ordeal by telling yourself “Back on the diet on Monday, no worries, I CAN do this”.
And so the (vicious) dieting circle goes.
Can you relate?
Considering the statistics say over half the population is on a diet at any one time, it’s a safe bet to say you’ve experienced something similar to the story above, or at least know someone who has.
So, Diets Don’t Work Then?
If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a million times: diet’s don’t work. At least that’s what health professionals keep squawking. And if you’ve experience what I’ve described above, that may very well seem to be the case.
In actuality, diets DO work. At least short term. There is decades of research documenting the fact that a restrictive diet can help you lose weight, reduce your waist size, reduce cholesterol, improve diabetes and a whole host of other positives too – if you can stick with it.
The main problem is that because they tend to be restrictive in order to reduce calories (i.e. either restricting carbohydrates, restricting fats or some other crazy concoction) people tend not to stick with it. In the short term, and especially if you restrict calories too much, this usually leads to cravings that lead to excessive binging episodes. In the long term it can lead to yo-yo dieting which has its own set of complications.
Researchers have known this for years. Put any amount of people on any crazy diet and if determined enough to be able to stick to it they lose weight, health improves and life seems rosy. After about 9-12 months they end up ‘falling off’ the diet and regaining the weight 95% of the time.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Sure you can cut out all carbohydrates and lose weight, but can you really see yourself not eating bread, milk, fruit or chocolate ever again? You could cut out fats from your diet but drinking skim milk, eating fat-less curries and having Sunday dinner without beef, real gravy and buttered veggies is a miserable existence.
Diets fail simply because they are hard to stick to and they lead to binge eating behaviours – which leads to weight gain.
What’s The Answer Then?
As simplistic as it sounds, you need to learn good eating habits.
This long article leading up to that simple fact.
If you can’t eat food without restricting your choices and without feeling the need to eat to the point of feeling sick, or simply eating way past the point of feeling full, you probably need some professional input.
The exact ‘how to’ of developing good eating behaviours is far beyond the scope of this article and in fact is different for everyone – since everyone’s reasons for developing a poor relationship with food is unique.
A trained professional can help you pin point your reasons and help you over come them. Whether you eat/overeat because of stress, eat because you’re lonely or some other reason it’s never too late to seek help to sort things out.
The result can usually be a happier, stress free life style (not having to worry about avoiding particular food groups), weight loss and improved overall health.
The recommendation is usually to ask your GP to refer you onto a specialist. This can however sometimes take months. If you’d rather not wait so long or simply want the absolute best support you can get, then please get in touch with the team at Insight Eating. We look forward to speaking with you.
[have an easy way for them to get in touch here. Web form, or a fone number, or something]
Haines, et al. (2006) Prevention of obesity and eating disorders: a consideration of shared risk factors.