If you are like most people, you have probably lived through this cycle at least once, but even more likely, you have lived it over and over: You wake up one day, go to get ready for work, pull on your favorite pants and can’t get them buttoned. Well, you can, but let’s just say, it’s not pretty! Can you say muffin top?? You vow right then and there to start your “diet” again. No more fast food, no more chips, no more cheese, no more cookies, no more pizza, no more than 1,200 calories a day. In fact, you are so serious, you are even going to cut out chocolate *gasp*.
You wake up early the next morning and make an egg white omelet with spinach (hold the cheese) portion out your carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes for lunch, and you head out for a jog. This time, you are so committed to this new lifestyle that you even sign up take a high impact step aerobics class after work, just to burn off some more calories. If you can keep your food calories at 1,200, and then burn off 600 calories in that one hour aerobics class, well that knocks your net calorie intake to 600 for the day. Then, add in the burn from your morning jog and surely the pounds will just fly off you! Score!!
Well, your new “diet” goes well for a day or two, maybe even a week, but then the cravings begin… Soon they become all encompassing. Every waking moment is spent thinking about those precious 1,200 calories, and how you are going to allocate them to survive another day. You begin to dream about food 24/7. You feel like throwing in the towel, but no … you stand strong. For a while. Then soon, everything crumbles. As you are driving home from work you pull into the closest drive-thru and order enough food for a family of four. Two meals are gone by the time you get home, and the other two follow shortly thereafter.
The next day continues in much the same way. I mean, you already blew your diet, so what is the point in forcing yourself to eat egg whites, spinach and carrot sticks today? You skip the morning jog and hop in the car and head off to Dunkin Donuts. The box of 6 donuts doesn’t even live to make it to the office…
So, these binges may be different for every person. They may last for a day, a week, or even longer. They may involve fast food and donuts, or maybe peanut M&Ms and pizza. The outcomes may vary widely, but the causes are probably strikingly similar, and they almost always will involve restriction….
The good news is, there is something we can do to help control or even eliminate these binge cycles. The even better news is that these issues are addressed by some of the core beliefs of Eat More 2 Weigh Less.
The primary cause for binging involves restriction … restriction of both calories and specific foods.
When we start a new diet, we often start by dropping our calories to a rock-bottom level. I mean, the less we eat, the faster we will lose, no? This can be a true recipe for disaster. Dropping your calories too low, and taking an overly aggressive cut, will result in cravings that will soon become overpowering. You can use willpower for a while to overcome these feelings, but eventually your willpower will run out and these cravings will win. Those cravings are much like a slingshot. You can use willpower to avoid the temptation to eat for just so long (as the slingshot is pulled back further and further), but once it gets to maximum tension, it’s all over… The rock is propelled through the air, and then it’s just you and the fridge. And, trust me, it won’t be pretty!
Overly restricting your caloric intake and taking too steep of a deficit is one of the quickest ways to cause a binge. Your body (and brain) will fight against you tooth and nail. The good news is that Eat More 2 Weigh Less addresses this issue by promoting that we eat at only a small deficit from our TDEE. By keeping this deficit small, it is often possible to reduce or even eliminate some of these cravings that result in binges.
So what to do if you are experiencing these binge cycles as the result of eating too little? Find out what your TDEE is and simply gradually start increasing your intake until you are eating either at or slightly below your TDEE, based on your goals. Most people will find that once they are adequately fueling their bodies and eating closer to maintenance calories that they feel more in control. They feel satiated and no longer have that constant gnawing in their bellies that reminds them that they are starving (literally) 24/7.
Another common cause for binges involves restricting certain foods or even entire food groups. Now certainly if you have a medical reason to avoid certain foods, then by all means, do what you need to do for your health. But, if you are eliminating specific foods from your diet simply because you feel as though they are “off limits” or “bad,” then you may want to reconsider. When you completely eliminate certain foods from your diet because you think they are “bad,” then over time the desire to eat these foods will become overwhelming.
With EM2WL, no foods are considered to be “off limits.” In fact, we encourage everyone to enjoy eating a well-balanced diet, complete with treats! Now, is this an invitation to eat cookies and ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as long as it is within your calorie goals? Absolutely not. EM2WL recommends that everyone monitor their macros (using a tool like My Fitness Pal) and set them at 40% Carbs/30% Protein/ 30% Fats. Eating healthfully and concentrating on eating whole, unprocessed foods is certainly going to be best for one’s health, but that does not mean that there is no room for treats! Concentrate on hitting that 30% protein macro each and every day. Make that a priority. If you do that, the other two macros will often just naturally fall into place. Once that protein macro is met, if there is room for waffles, a donut, dinner out at your favorite restaurant, or chocolate, then enjoy! As long as it fits within your caloric and macro goals for the day, it’s all good! You will most likely find that once certain foods are no longer considered “off limits”, and you are able to enjoy them in moderation that those intense cravings will subside… Remember, the fastest way to feel like you absolutely have to have something is to be told that you cannot have it… (Think of a little toddler being told to not absolutely not touch something. We all know how that ends up! :- )
If you are one of those people that feels as though if you have one bite of a food that you have previously considered off limits that you will lose all control and have it turn into an all-out binge, remember this: once you are eating closer to your TDEE or maintenance calories, those feelings will not be so strong. If you try to enjoy one cookie or a piece of chocolate while eating at a steep caloric deficit, then yes, it will be very hard to resist the temptation to eat more, simply because your body is craving more calories. However, if you are properly fueling your body and eating at only a small deficit, then those urges will not be as strong, because you will not be ravenously hungry. Adding back in previously prohibited foods will be much easier once you are well on your way to eating more. Adding them back in while still restricting calories may be a like playing with fire…
If you are still feeling a bit out of control, and still not “safe” around those tempting foods, here are a few things to try that may be helpful:
○ Don’t keep those tempting foods in the house. Yes, it’s okay to have them (in moderation and if they fit within your caloric and macro goals), but it may be necessary to not have them in your kitchen cabinet. If you are going to splurge on a treat, try eating it at a restaurant (or an ice cream or frozen yogurt parlor). Order your serving, enjoy, and then leave … not taking the temptation with you.
○ If you do bring foods into your home and fear losing control with them late at night, only buy a small quantity, and enjoy it in its entirety, not leaving any leftovers for later temptation. If you want to indulge in some chocolate, pick out the best quality in a size that fits your goals and enjoy it guilt-free. By limiting the package size, once it’s gone, it’s gone…
○ Try finding “healthier” alternatives to your trigger foods. If it’s ice cream you crave, try experimenting with other dessert options. My personal favorite is one cup of Greek yogurt with ½ scoop protein powder stirred in (I love peanut butter cookie flavored Protizyme) topped with one cup frozen berries, slivered almonds (or try pecans or walnuts) and a spoonful of dark chocolate chips. It makes a huge bowl and the fiber in the berries will keep you full, as will the protein (from both the yogurt and the protein powder) and it even helps you reach that protein macro!
If it’s pizza that you are craving, maybe try making your own. You can buy whole wheat pizza dough in many stores (check the deli or freezer sections) and top it with flavorful cheeses (parmesan and feta are great choices) and grilled vegetables (think onions, asparagus, mushrooms, yellow or zucchini squash). Add some meat if you like and enjoy! By using high quality, flavorful cheeses, you can use less and get a huge flavor punch for less calories. The veggies are very filling and will help you reach that fiber macro. Plus, you get to eat pizza!
Craving a sandwich? Try replacing the mayo with hummus or smashed avocado with a touch of lemon and salt. Want some chips? Try sweet potato chips or make your own kale chips in the oven with some olive oil and sea salt. Standing at the check-out line at the grocery store and feel like grabbing a candy bar? Reach for a protein bar instead.
You can have tons of yummy foods in your diet, just try to make some small tweaks to make those choices a bit healthier. You may find that you can satisfy those cravings while at the same time you are able to reach your macro goals.
Binges are generally caused by restriction. If you can avoid restriction, you can often stop those binges.
○ Overly restricting your caloric intake and taking too steep of a deficit is one of the quickest ways to cause a binge. Eat closer to your TDEE or maintenance calories and you may find that those urges are greatly decreased. On the other hand, starve your body and those cravings will become so strong that eventually no amount of willpower will be able to overcome them.
○ Restricting or eliminating specific foods or food groups can tend to make them even more enticing. Once you are eating closer to your TDEE, allow yourself to indulge on a previously “off limits” treat (in moderation) and work them into your daily or weekly goals. Just knowing that you can have those treats somehow takes away some of their “power”….
If you think you have an eating disorder, then certainly seek professional counseling, but if you are just stuck in a rut of repeated “falling off the wagon” caused by severe caloric restriction, then perhaps some of these tips will work for you and help you gain some control over your life and your food.