The Restriction Mindset Leads to Overeating

The past few months, I’ve been pretty disenchanted with coffee. If you’re not a coffee drinker, that might seem like a completely unremarkable statement. But I used to be a coffee addict (and proud of it!) I’d slowly been tapering down on the amount of coffee I’d been drinking over the past few months because I was starting to notice caffeine jitters in ways I hadn’t previously, and I didn’t like it. The slow wean down just felt normal, natural, and like a healthy choice for me. (It wasn’t even completely a conscious choice. Really, it just happened.) But especially once quarantine hit, my mornings slowed down, I was getting more sleep, and my appetite for coffee just kind of dwindled. I’d still pour myself a big mug to have on the table while I read the bible in the morning, but I’d end up only drinking 3 or 4 sips. I realized I was pouring more down the drain than I was actually drinking!

A few weeks ago I started thinking about getting some blood work done just to see how my internal health was doing. Some of my family members have dealt with high cholesterol and metabolic issues, and I realized it had been a few too many years since I’d had a lipid panel or HA1c measured. I wasn’t having any symptoms, and I didn’t suspect that anything was wrong at all…I was just curious. I wanted to make sure that I was as healthy as I felt.

Fasting is required before these tests, and that meant forgoing my morning coffee…at least the few sips I was still drinking. Since pouring my mug in the morning is mostly just a consequence of hazy, half-asleep habit rather than actual cravings, I took a few extra precautions to make sure I stayed fasting when I woke up. I put a note on the coffee maker that said “Do not drink” and texted myself before bed so that I’d wake up to a reminder to skip the coffee.

I really shouldn’t be surprised by what happened, but it still strikes me every time. When I woke up on the morning of the blood draw, all I wanted was coffee. I was craving it with major intensity. I also was starving when I got out of bed, which isn’t my normal. I usually wait about an hour or two after waking up to eat breakfast because I’m don’t usually feeling hungry first thing in the morning. But the one day of my life when I couldn’t eat and couldn’t drink coffee was the one morning when all I wanted was to eat and drink.

Coincidence? I think not…

Restrictive thoughts lead to intensified cravings. When we tell ourselves we can’t have something, it creates an overwhelming desire to eat that thing. This is true even if it’s something we don’t actually like, something we don’t normally eat, or a food we don’t normally think about.

When I was struggling with disordered eating, my deprivation and food rules led to overwhelming cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. Every time I was around sweets and snacks, I felt completely out-of-control and would binge. But once I gave myself permission to eat those foods whenever I wanted them, I was surprised by how many of those sweets and snacks I didn’t actually enjoy eating. I don’t like cake, but I used to binge on it because I told myself I couldn’t have it. I also am totally unimpressed with potatoes, but I used to binge on french fries and mashed potatoes because I believed those foods were unhealthy and/or fattening. (They’re not.) Nowadays, I have no problem turning down cake or french fries because I know that I’m allowed to eat foods I truly do enjoy, whenever I want them. I also realized I don’t really like soda much at all, which makes me shake my head when I think back to how much diet coke I used to drink. Ugh.

So, all this is to say…if you’re struggling with binge eating, it’s no the food’s fault. You’re not addicted to sugar, you don’t lack will power, and you’re not broken or flawed. The problem is your food rules and the restriction. All food guilt comes from the feeling that you “shouldn’t” be eating something, when in reality you CAN and SHOULD give yourself permission to eat anything you crave. When you give yourself that permission and surrender your expectations about what, when, and how much you “should” eat, the urge to binge will go away.


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