binge and compensate cycle

Why “Time to Burn off those Calories” is the worst Fitness Advice ever.

What do you think about when you hear the word binge?

You might think of someone sitting down to eat three whole pizzas, followed by a milkshake and a sundae. Or you might think of someone going to the shop and buying $40 worth of lollies to eat in one sitting?

What about the word compensate, is that something you have thouight about and if so most likely you would only think of someone throwing up?

So what if I said eating half a packet of Tim tams and then jumping on the treadmill to burn off the calories falls under the spectrum of disordered eating?

But that happens all the time, I hear it in my fitness class, from my trainer and from other gym friends? Just because we hear it all the time does not mean it’s normal.

The truth is it is all much subtler than that.

The spectrum

Binge eating like many things can be considered within a spectrum, there is a subjective binge and a diagnosed binge. In this article, I am going to talk about a subjective binge which is ‘the feeling of overeating more than a normal meal’.

So what that looks like in reality:

  • This could be having two servings rather than one
  • Having a compulsive urge to overeat even though the total caloric intake is rather low
  • Eating off the meal plan and feeling shame and guilt around this
  • Eating something high in calories that makes you feel bloated or full

If you notice the distressing part is the feelings and emotions that come alongside the eating rather than the food or behaviours themselves.

Language and emotions

There is one common factor around someone who is describing a binge and it is a feeling of guilt, shame and being out of control around food.

The negative language often used is overeating, overdoing it, being bad, breaking my diet, falling off the bandwagon, being naughty.  These statements bring about negative thoughts and feelings around food and one’s behaviours.
Statements about these behaviours reflect the extreme’s between good and bad, black and white.
On the other end there is being good, being good means dieting and reversing what I did when I was bad.

I am going to burn those calories off, making up for it today, back on the bandwagon, no thanks I am being good.

These statements are also highly linked with someone’s identity.

I am being bad > I am a bad person.

The language we use reflects not only our actions but also how we feel about actions and how we feel about our self,

What behaviours might we see?

  • You don’t go out to dinner and enjoy some nice wines only to feel guilty the next more so get to the gym on the elliptical for an hour
  • You don’t have a big night of ben and Jerrys and Bridget jonese’s diary only to wake up the next day and decide you are only going to eat an apple
  • You don’t have a fabulous date night with your main squeeze and then decide for the rest of the week you will only eat 1000 calories

So are you saying that if I overeat one night and then the next day decide to go for a big walk to clear my head and get my digestive tract functioning I am stuck in the binge compensate loop?

Not necessarily, It is all about understanding where and why these behaviours are happening.

Black and white thinking

Thinking in black and white and rigidity is one of the number one patterns that keep someone stuck in a cycle of disordered eating.

Because you are letting your feeling about yourself, and your worth dictate how you are going to eat. You are living in the extremes, all or nothing approach. If you have a goal you achieve, set your self realistic plans in advance and make choices that match your goals.

But compensating after the fact because you are filled with guilt and shame is only going to set you up for failure down the track.

Let’s break down the cycle.

bikini body cycle

Step 1: You overate on your calories- you feel guilty and shamed – you tell yourself you are a bad person because you failed in your will power-

Step 2: You vow to make it up the next day- you exercise twice as much as normal or skip lunch to compensate

Step 3 – your bodies hormones which you can’t control go a bit nuts and you desire to eat ALL the food.

Step 4: you overeat, you ignore your internal hunger cues and your brain tells you to keep eating and eating

Step 5: You feel shame, guilt and embarrassment – except this time you feel twice as bad

This is where the cycle of overeating and burning it off starts. And this is where so many people get stuck, in yo-you dieting, being on or off the bandwagon. Life should not be a constant cycle of overeating and compensating.

What to do if you are noticing these patterns?

  1. Stop compensating, it’s doing you no favours.A compensate behaviour could be anything from over-exercising the next day, restricting food intake straight, skipping meals during the week or jumping on the treadmill to burn it off.
  2. If you overeat one day just continue the next day as per usual. Eat three meals, lots of fruit and veggies and fuel your body
  3. Focus on getting to homeostasis, getting level, getting to balance. Your weight should not fluctuate wildly, it should remain fairly stable within a few kgs. When this is happening your body functions happily and healthily.
  4. Work on your mindset. Notice when you are freaking out when you are eating off-plan or eating more than you planned for. Breathe. Remind yourself that life exists in shades of grey, not black and white and move on with your day.

And lastly, we need to untie your self-worth with what you eat. This one is something that many of us will struggle with and we may need professional help from a counsellor or a qualified coach.