We’ve all heard the lunch room chatter about people's latest diets and weight-loss escapades. Maybe you’ve even led the discussion by saying something like,"I am going to be ‘good’ today and only eat salads and fresh fruit and avoid the sugar and junky stuff." Or maybe the conversation went more like, "I ate so bad this weekend! Now I have to go to the gym for two hours after work to burn it all off." Sound familiar?|
As a dietitian, I often get asked "What do you think about the [fill-in-the-blank] diet?" My response is almost always the same: Diets do not teach healthy lifestyle changes that can be maintained over many years.
Unlike small and sustainable changes you can live with, diets are usually restrictive in nature and short-lived. While some people do find success on a variety of fad diet plans, most of the initial weight loss is simply water weight that comes right back once the diet is over or once you’ve cheated or given up on the eating plan that you simply couldn't take anymore.
Unfortunately, many people will not only gain back every pound they worked so hard to lose on a short-lived diet, but they can actually gain even more than they lost. Many times, dieting can lead to out-of-control binge eating episodes in which the dieter gets so fed up with restricting herself that she overindulges in every "sinful" treat she had been avoiding. However, these binges can also be on "healthy" or diet-approved foods, too.
If you're reading this article, chances are that you've experienced binge eating and may be wondering things like:
Let's explore some of these thoughts a little further.
Instead of defining "normal" eating here, this article will focus on how to prevent binges and get back on track after them. To read more about whether your eating habits are "normal" check out this three-part series on the topic by SparkPeople's behavioral psychology expert, Coach Dean.
What is binge eating?
Bingeing is an uncontrolled ingestion of large quantities of food within a short time period, often accompanied by feeling out of control over the eating taking place.
We have all overeaten at one time or another, most notably around the holidays or on a special occasion. I think we have all gone back for seconds (or thirds) on Thanksgiving, or had an extra slice or two of cake at a birthday party. So when does the occasional overindulgence cross the line into the realm of real binge eating?
That isn't always easy to define. But if your days and weeks are becoming more filled with sessions of overeating and guilt; if thoughts of "bad" food and "good" food are constantly on your mind; and the lines between enjoying a small piece of cake on occasion and eating the whole pie are becoming more obscure, it might be time to step back take notice.
Keeping Binges at Bay
I’ve had many conversations with co-workers and friends about their post-weekend-binge guilt. Most often they say something like, "I was good all week! No sweets, no candy or cookies, and I even passed on mom’s mac & cheese at dinner the other night! But I just couldn’t help myself on Saturday when I opened the pint of ice cream to just take a bite and before I knew it, the whole carton was gone. Now I feel so guilty. I have to be extra good this week and go to the gym every day to work it off."
My response usually seems to surprise people: "Instead of eating the whole carton of ice cream on Saturday night, why not enjoy a small serving a few times throughout the week?" A half a cup of ice cream will likely set you back around 150 calories—maybe 200 for a really rich variety. But the whole carton will do much more damage than that! Not to mention the havoc all that sugar intake in one sitting will have on your blood sugar levels! Small amounts of sweets or high starchy foods over time are more likely to keep those cravings at bay and help prevent the cycle of binge eating and guilt.
For those of us who struggle with occasional binges that are more annoying and guilt-providing than obsessions or compulsions, there are a few tricks you can implement to keep yourself on track and avoid bingeing.
And remember, it's okay to enjoy a sweet treat or a hearty side item every now and then. Depriving yourself is usually worse in the long run and can lead to out-of-control eating episodes that add up to far more calories than the food you initially wanted to eat. Enjoy life’s simple pleasures in small amounts a few times per week.
Coming Back from a Binge
So let's say it's been a rough week and you binged on one or more foods. It doesn't matter whether it was your favorite flavor of ice cream, healthy foods from your "approved" list, or anything you could get your hands on. Now what? Here's a list of dos and don'ts to get you back on track:
Remember, the overall goal is to seek balance. A healthy lifestyle is not defined by one single meal or eating episode. Even the healthiest eaters in the world aren't perfect all the time. It's the combination of your choices over time that will create an overall healthy lifestyle.
Please note: Overeating on occasion, such as your birthday or Thanksgiving may very well be considered normal. However, if you are experiencing purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives or enemas, or excessive exercising to prevent weight gain OR if you’ve noticed that you are overeating very frequently, please seek professional help. On the same note, if every "sinful" bite of food or any overindulgence episode (big or small) leads you straight to the gym for several hours to work it off, you may be dealing with abnormal food and exercise issues, such as clinical binge eating disorder (a real eating disorder) or compulsive exercise, which can be a form of bulimia—another serious disorder. Learn more about recognizing eating disorders and getting help.
Elsevier USA. "Dorlands Online Medical Dictionary," accessed March 2011. www.dorlands.com.
Ludwig, David S., Ph.D., and Cara B. Ebbeling, Ph.D. "Weight Loss Maintenance: Mind Over Matter?," The New England Journal of Medicine 363 (2010).
Mayo Clinic. "Healthy Diet: End the Guesswork with These Nutrition Guidelines," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com.
Shai, Iris and Meir J. Stampfer. "Weight Loss Diets: Can You Keep It Off?," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 88 (2008), 1185-1186.