Written by Jenn Hand, Holistic Nutritionist, Board Certified Health Coach, NBC-HWC

If you search, “how to stop the binge and restrict cycle”, google gives you over 4.4 million entries in just under 4 seconds. That means there is A LOT of information to sort through to understand what would actually help. I’ve compiled the most useful information, that has helped both me and my clients, in one place for you to help you move forward and know where to focus 🙂


The 3 Main Causes of the Binge and Restrict Cycle



1. Dieting (Not Eating Enough)


When we diet, we are restricting calories and typically depriving ourselves of calories, fuel and/or the foods we deem “bad”.

Our bodies need a certain level of fuel. Even if we are sitting on the couch all day, our body is burning calories to circulate blood, beat our heart, and run all the systems of our bodies.

So if we are caught up in the sneaky diet mindset or trying to adhere to a specific plan (or calorie count), it ends up backfiring.

Not eating enough typically ends up causing us to overeat. This can happen at night after a day of low-calorie eating or after a few days of “good” eating.

Over time, it can lead to spikes of hunger and a ravenous appetite (since our bodies need fuel and we don’t give it enough!), and may end up in a binge.

The body eventually rebels and wants MORE fuel.

When we’re not eating enough, it can feel almost impossible to use willpower or discipline, since we are essentially trying to override our body’s natural signal for fuel.

Dieting in any form is usually one of the main causes of a binge.


2. Psychological Reasons


Stress, boredom, anxiety, depression, and hard emotions can all be a trigger to binge.

Eating can be a way for us to numb out, distract ourselves and deal with the challenges that life throws at us.

Typically, those of us who’ve struggled with food grew up learning that food was a way to deal with life.

We don’t learn how to move through difficult feelings, express our wants/needs, and deal with the hardship that life can throw our way.

So as adults, this pattern has become ingrained in us.

And as we grow, life gets harder.

We have more obligations, responsibilities, financial worries. We need to navigate the challenges of relationships, parenting, a career and the ups and downs of life.

Food becomes our way out and can create a pattern of bingeing.


3. A Desire for Pleasure


Sometimes when we are in the hum drum of life, we lack pleasure. Life becomes one endless to-do list after another, with obligations, responsibilities and chores to finish.

Food becomes a way to add pleasure and enjoyment to our lives.

This doesn’t always end up in a binge, but many people turn to food to add excitement and it can spiral into overeating.

Desserts, carbs and sweets add “delight” to the routine elements of raising kids, working a 9-5, taking care of a house/apartment, paying bills and managing all of life’s tasks.

Often times a deep desire for more pleasure, fun, adventure and enjoyment in life can be manifested in a binge.

If you’d rather listen to the podcast, you can find it here:

Here’s How I Overcame It


One of the hardest parts of this path is the “how LONG will it take?!” question.

I asked this 1800+ times over the course of my healing.

The diet world trains us to expect instant results so we come in to this path with a sense of impatience.

We want “results” fast and we want them now.

The problem is, if we’ve spent years, decades or a lifetime in the diet/overeat cycle, it takes time to heal and normalize the body.

You can find the full ins and outs (with dates and how long each stage took) here.


Here’s what was key in my own healing of the binge and restrict cycle: 


1. I Got Help


Early on, I convinced myself that I “shouldn’t” need help in dealing with food issues.

After all, children were starving in Africa, people dealt with serious tragedies, and the world had bigger problems.

How could I wrestle with something as simple (or “dumb”) as food?

Honestly, I felt ashamed. I was embarrassed that I had no “real” problems…I had a good family, great friends, and life was good.

Except I deeply struggled with food and my weight.

And I couldn’t get a handle on it on my own. Admitting this was huge.

Getting help changed my life. It allowed me to shift perspective, gain clarity and make faster progress.

There are free and low cost options like support groups, 12 step groups, sliding scale therapists, counselors that insurance covers.

There are paid options like coaching, books, retreats, programs, and in person or digital group therapies.

Truly there is no right or wrong! I did Overeaters Anonymous for many years (which was free).

I didn’t resonate with all of their principles (they promoted abstaining from sugar and flour, but I wanted to have a relationship to them, not a termination of them), but I got a sponsor and worked the steps for a bit to help me in the emotional part of it.

For a few years I did therapy which catapulted my healing into a new level.

Both were instrumental in helping me overcome the binge and restrict cycle.

Admitting that I needed help was a huge burden lifted from my soul. Support (in whatever form that resonates with you) is the fastest way forward!


2. I Began with the Physical Part of Rebalancing my Body


The very first step of my healing was pairing a protein and a carb every 3-4 hours.

I focused on this for the first few months as it was crucial to getting out of the diet cycle.

The most helpful part of this was that it gave my brain something to focus on. I knew I wanted to learn to listen to my body eventually, but it was so far from where I was (I was either following a diet or overeating).

I worked to eat in this way and challenge my brain when it freaked out that I would gain weight.

Like most people who get trapped in the diet world, we think that we should be dieting in order to find the control we seek.

So my brain was not too happy that I was eating “so much”. (or so it told me).

While I was working to stabilize my blood sugar and get out of the extremes of the pendulum, I also worked to retrain my thoughts so I didn’t freak out 🙂

But the protein + carb pairing every 3-4 hours was my main focus at first; this helped to normalize my body’s rhythms so I COULD focus on some of the mental and emotional pieces.

3. I Worked Hard to Not “Start Over”


One of the challenging parts after a binge is the immediate desire to “start over” the next day.

We feel terrible, hate ourselves for what we “did”, and are comforted by the fact that we can start over to get back on track.

A diet or eating plan feels like it’s an easy answer to our problem (we feel disgusting and a diet gives us the illusion of control).

I knew that “starting over” would keep me trapped in the cycle, so I worked diligently to learn from my binges and nourish myself after so that I could resist the temptation to keep starting something new.

I wasn’t always successful, but every time I binged, I’d get out my journal, and examine what was going on that led me to the food.

My journal helped me explore what I needed to feel balanced again (I reframed “starting over” to “feeling more balanced”).

I experimented with support, hydration, moving my body, meal planning, mindset & emotional work, and other things to bring me back into balance.

Working to reframe the need to start over helped me slowly but surely, come back to the middle of the pendulum.


4. I Constantly Reminded Myself of Small Wins


With dieting, we expect big results. We deprive and punish ourselves with the promise of the great reward at the end: weight loss.

On this path, though, we need to take a different view of success. (If we aren’t measuring pounds lost, how do we view success?)

Looking at our small victories helps us see progress as it’s happening.

Often times, we overlook the small wins because the big thing we want isn’t happening fast enough.

But truly, this path IS the result of 1,000 little wins that add up to the “big” thing that we want.

It’s easy to gloss over expressing an emotion instead of eating, going one day without bingeing, or going out to a restaurant and being able to eat without anxiety.

We don’t think these are “big enough” things to be proud of.

But all of those wins are the start of progress over time.

I worked hard to remember the small wins (especially when I wanted to give up or thought it wasn’t happening fast enough).

This kept me grounded during the ups and downs of this path.


5. I Didn’t Give Up


Although there were many many nights that I DID want to give up, there was always a small glimmer of hope that if I just kept going, I WOULD find freedom and become a normal eater.

The more I grew on this path, the more I knew I couldn’t go back to the world of dieting.

Over time, it didn’t ring true for me anymore (and my body rebelled–I literally couldn’t last a day or two on a diet).

Deep down, I knew there was another way to eat (and live), so I stayed the course.

This sounds simple, but not easy.

I got tempted to diet (and did) many times over the years.

Even though I knew diets didn’t work, I still secretly tried them “one last time” to lose the weight and THEN deal with my eating issues.

Through tears and frustration, despair and thinking “I had it” (but didn’t), I kept going.

I am so glad I did, as my eating wouldn’t be where it was today if I had given up.


Applying It to Your Life: How You Can Stop the Binge and Restrict Cycle

binge and restrict cycle

One of my favorite mantras is “take what resonates and leave the rest”. With everything that I write about or discuss on the podcast, if it doesn’t resonate, leave it.

If it does, take it in and make it your own.

My main intention is to help you learn how to hear YOUR own guidance from within to find out what works for you 🙂

Some things may resonate, others may not. There is no right or wrong, it is all about what works for YOU!

Here are some things to try:


1. Eat every 3-4 hours


Instead of trying to “listen to your body” use the clock to help you reset your body.

Schedule in times to eat a meal or a snack every 3-4 hours in your day.

This can help give your mind a focus and some guidance.

Whether you do better with bigger meals or smaller meals/snacks, set up your days so you are eating frequently (use the 3-4 hour mark as a start).

Experiment with what type of structure works for you: do you need to set a timer? Do you want to do any meal planning? Would you rather be more spontaneous?

Play around with what you prefer. I was very scheduled and ate every 3 hours to the minute.

Over time, I relaxed and started to hear hunger/fullness.

But in the beginning, it was 3 hours on the dot. Other people feel more relaxed and can be a bit looser.

Start with what you feel comfortable with 🙂


2. Examine How Much You’re Allowing vs Following Rules


When we’re working to get out of the binge and restrict cycle, it can be confusing whether to give in to a craving or not. 

The million dollar questions:

WHAT do you eat if you’re not on a diet or not bingeing? 

Are you supposed to follow a rule or give yourself permission? 

Is it better to focus on eating what you “want” to eat and what you “should” eat? 


To begin, I usually like to say do half and half.

Every time you eat, pick half of what you think you “should” eat and half of what you want to eat.

For example, for lunch your mind says “salad with grilled chicken”.

But what you really want is a piece of pepperoni pizza.

So pick half and half! Have half a salad with chicken and one piece of pizza (or whatever combo works for you).

This allows some permission mixed in with some “safety” with what you think you should be eating.

Over time, you can refine this as you get to know your body better!


3. Work to Let Go of Labeling Food as “Good” and “Bad”


When we’re immersed in the diet world, we learn that every food is either good or bad.

The good? Vegetables, lean proteins

The bad? Sugar and carbs

There are some gray areas, but not many.

So when we are working to eat in a more balanced way, we struggle with those labels.

How to allow pizza when we think it’s bad?

This is where it can be helpful to soften our labels.

Can you think of food not as good or bad, but as more or less energizing?

Or more or less nutritious? More or less nourishing/satisfying?

Pick words that carry less baggage (and judgement) than good or bad.

(Helpful posts related to this topic are here and here).


4. Practice Compassion


Usually after a binge, we think we can hate ourselves into change.

We blame and criticize ourselves, drowning in the guilt we feel for overeating.

But what if you practiced compassion instead?

When you can lean first into a mindset of curiosity, it helps lead into compassion.

We can get curious about what we’re doing and why.

Instead of our criticism leading into another diet, then an inevitable binge, we can use curiosity to move into awareness of habits and patterns (which is the first step towards change!)

If you eat something you didn’t have planned, go to food over a stressor or something emotional, or eat more than you intended, see if you can get curious first to help practice compassion!

(Because it’s always THIS that leads to change, never punishment. ♥️♥️♥️


5. Ask “Why Did I Binge”? 


Instead of beating yourself up (#4), ask “what happened” that led you into a binge?

If we can use our binges as lessons, they hold powerful messages.

Learning what sent us to the food can be so helpful in working on the “real” issue (vs just trying to start a diet to get back on track!)

Here are some helpful questions:

  • Did I go too long without eating? 
  • Did I eat enough protein? 
  • How much allowing vs not allowing am I doing? 
  • Were my meals satisfying? 
  • Was it an emotional need? 
  • How was I feeling all day before I binged? 
  • What situation, person or feeling did I want to run from? 


About the Author: 


Jenn Hand has been helping women like you become normal eaters since 2015. She’s worked with thousands of women, helping them to balance their bodies, end bingeing, stop obsessing over food, and start feeling amazing again!  As an accredited health coach with a background in nutrition, she knows how to support you into making real positive change that lasts. If you’re ready to finally see a lasting change and experience true freedom, click here to schedule a free 20-minute introductory call to see how she can help you become a normal eater!