When you restrict your eating in any way, your body adapts by entering starvation mode. Starvation mode is an evolutionary and biologically driven physiological mechanism designed to keep you alive. In cave person years, when food was not plentiful, the body would adapt by slowing down metabolism and digestion, reducing heart rate, and conserving energy until a food source could be found. Starvation mode also involves a euphoric feeling, high energy (often people on restrictive diets talk about feeling “amazing” for a period when they reduce food intake). This euphoric feeling is also a biological adaptation designed to help you have enough energy to hunt for food. The increased focus you might experience is the brain’s way of helping you find food. These “feel-good” kickbacks are temporary however.
The problem for dieters is that the body is in a perpetual state of confusion and starvation. It looks like this:
– The person starts their day determined to be “good” which either means skipping breakfast or not eating enough.
– As the day goes on, hunger may or may not be felt (hunger cues falter the longer the dieting cycle continues) and the person may feel “in control” when they override the urge to eat. Some people might eat a “light” lunch and continue on with their day. For most people caught in the diet cycle, hunger creates anxiety and efforts are made to avoid or shut it down.
– By dinner, the individual is under-nourished and usually dehydrated. The body, in an effort to survive and protect itself is hyper-vigilant to food cues. Hunger intensifies (if one can feel it) and the person become emotionally less stable (think “hangry). Craving for easily digestible and available foods (sugar, carbs) increase.
– At this point, the person does one of two things: (a) eats dinner and feels guilty or (b) tries to skip dinner and pushes further into the night with little food/fluid. For many, this pattern of under-eating during the day, results in binge eating later in the day. It is important to know that this is a NORMAL biological response to starvation.
– Binge eating is defined as eating an objectively large amount of food in a short period of time accompanied by a sense of being out of control. Binge eating is also your body’s attempt at self-preservation. If this was cave-person years, a period of restriction would prompt excessive intake when available food was found.
– The binge creates intense negative emotion (shame, fear, sadness, anger) and body loathing and the person seeks a way to get rid of the food/the feeling.
– Upon waking the next day, the person vows to “try harder” or “be better” and starts the cycle again the next day. The longer this cycle goes on, the more damage to every organ system in the body, including the brain.
You cannot recover from an eating disorder without normalizing your eating.
And we can help you do that AND help you deal with all the emotions that will come with it.
Recovery is possible and it means giving up the dieting.
For more on our comprehensive eating disorder program, please see the website www.psychology-emotionregulation.ca or contact us at Info@Psych-EReg.ca