In my office, clients bring their struggles with their bodies and food. The battles that rage between wanting to be healthy and wanting to be attractive, or more accurately, to conform in some way to the forms we are told are attractive. These are seen as mutually exclusive and clients wonder what they can do to hack the system – to somehow hold onto the dangerous eating habits and limit the damage to their bodies. It’s a dilemma that typically consumes the majority of their energy on most days, leaving little room for other joys in life.
As we sift through the risks and benefits fo change, one thing that we have to find a way to set to the side is the pervasive pressure to tweak, improve and manipulate the body. Our aim must be to regulate food intake. Feeding the body with care at regular intervals is the only way to reduce the risks of an eating disorder and improve the mood issues that come hand-in-hand with them.
Binge eating and Bulimia: Hidden in plain sight
While clients at desperately low weights appear unwell, those that face binge eating and bulimia have a more hidden struggle. The experience of these individuals can be constant invalidation. They are left wondering if maybe another diet is the answer and whether lack of willpower is a character flaw to conquer.
The struggle of those that binge is that the problematic attitudes about food are widespread and camouflaged by American/Western society in many ways. Periods of excess are expected, encouraged – advertised to us as normal and fun on TV screens and billboards. It is normalized to the point that many Americans rarely cook at home and follow a cycle of feast and famine on a near daily basis. Coffee is breakfast. Too busy for lunch. Giant dinner followed by late night ice cream, cookies and chips. If it’s not an eating disorder, it certainly is disordered eating.
Enter one the latest diets on my hit list – Intermittent Fasting. Sold to us as a way to improve health – regulate blood sugar, aid weight loss and increase longevity – it’s actually just the hook that many people with eating issues will bite at. While there may be some individuals out there who have never struggled with binges who may somehow find it helpful, for anyone who has a body image problem and a current or previous eating disorder it is a disaster.
Does intermittent fasting lead to eating disorders?
Other than working against the steady, regular nutrition intake that is needed to recover from an eating disorder, it is important to recognize that many experts view intermittent fasting as a doorway to binge eating disorder. (Psychology Today on Intermittent Fasting leading to higher rate of binging).
Eating disorders affect us on physical, social, cognitive and behavioral level – each of these a thread in the rope that traps us. Intermittent fasting seems to negatively impact all of these threads, strengthening them and their power to keep the eating disorder going.
Physically hungry after fasting, the mind will be focused on food, and more driven towards ‘binge friendly’ foods – ones that are high in calories or fat, are often seen as ‘forbidden’, ‘bad’ foods and can be consumed quickly. The idea that we have been deprived serves as sort of permission slip to have the things we might otherwise not allow ourselves. Considering that a binge can contain between 5000-15,000 calories (more info on binging and bulimia) the effect will actually be weight gain for most people, causing the sufferer to become increasingly discouraged, stressed and hopeless. Bloating and discomfort would be expected as the hunger drives overeating. Bloating negatively impacts body image, making people criticize their body more. Bloating will often make fasting feel more attractive – or worse lead onto a purge in the form of vomiting, laxative abuse or over-exercising. Further complicating recovery is that after period of restriction or stress binges can occur in a sort of dissociated haze with little awareness of what was consumed or why. This prevents the individual from making headway into understanding their triggers. The emotional and physical sensations we would be trying to tune into for healing are masked and hidden.
Ready to take action?
If you are struggling with poor body image, binge eating, bulimia or other eating disorder – it’s time to reclaim your life. I work with clients experiencing eating disorders, including bulimia and binge eating, at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch to gain freedom and improve their quality of life and body image. If you are ready to recover to from an eating disorder you can contact me directly here or request an appointment on the Counseling Center’s website.