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Breaking free from the diet cycle

For many of us, diets make us think that they will help us to regain control of our eating. The reality is, diets can make us feel more out of control than ever and lead to binge eating and/or eating past the point of comfortable fullness.

This is not due to a lack of willpower or weakness. It is due to our body’s biological and physiological responses that are ramped up as soon as we restrict food.

A very brief explanation of one such biological response during a period of deprivation, is the very powerful hormonal response. In a nutshell, our hunger hormone (ghrelin) increases, and our satiety hormone (leptin) decreases (1). Another hormone Neuropeptide Y (NPY) can also get involved. NPY is a brain chemical that drives us to consume carbohydrates and in a deprived state, NPY is kicked into gear causing the body to reach for carbohydrates (2).

Our bodies are literally telling us to eat because it senses deprivation. That’s a very hard / impossible message to ignore.

What’s one way we can break from the diet-binge cycle?

Honour your hunger – this is principle 2 in Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s evidence-based Intuitive Eating framework (2).

Honouring our biological hunger is being able to identify when we need to eat so that we can nourish ourselves regularly to ensure that our body does not need to fear famine. This can be very hard to do if we have been “quietening” hunger pangs as a result of dieting.

A great tip from Tribole and Resch (2) is to check your hunger level at every meal. Imagine a scale of 0 – 10 where 5 is neutral and 0 is ravenous/running on empty. Check in with yourself at different times of the day and see if you notice any patterns. Ideally you want to eat when you feel about 3 – if you are 5 or above you are not biologically hungry. If you’re finding it hard to identify your hunger, a very general guideline is to go no longer than 5 waking hours without eating (2). If you get too ravenous, it can lead to becoming over hungry and eating past the point of comfortable. Just a note that this is a very subjective scale and there is no right or wrong way to use it. Get curious about your hunger, free from judgement.

Honouring your hunger is a great way to start tuning in and being kind to your body so that you can break free from the diet cycle.

1) Greenway, F. L. (2015). Physiological adaptations to weight loss and factors favouring weight regain. International Journal of Obesity, 39(8), 1188–1196.

2) Evelyn Tribole, M., & Elyse Resch, M. (2012). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin

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