What goes up, must come down: overeating and undereating 

Also detailed in the Binge-Restrict Cycle or the Dieter’s Dilemma, the relationship between undereating and overeating offers helpful insight into our eating experience.  

Think about a holiday meal.  If you enjoy a large, delicious, special meal at noon, it’s likely that the evening meal that day will naturally end up being much lighter.  You probably just won’t be that hungry.  

This same concept applies to the longer term.  When we are deprived of food for a period of time, we will respond by seeking more food.  Our bodies are excellent at taking care of us!  This could result from situations such as following a restrictive diet, falling into unconscious dieting habits, experiencing food insecurity, or eating less related to a health condition.  

Restriction of specific foods also results in this rebound effect.  If we restrict ice cream, when we have the opportunity to eat ice cream, it’s likely that we will eat a larger amount.  The restriction can also be unintentional.  If you only have the opportunity to have a food that you really enjoy at certain times you will likely eat more of it when you have a chance.  For example, a favorite meal from a restaurant out of town or a family member’s delicious signature dish.  

So, what does this mean for our eating?  It’s impossible to never experience any over- or undereating.  A few of the infinite number of scenarios: 

  • We have a busy day at work and miss lunch. 
  • We run short of money at the end of the month. 
  • We’re ill and eat less for a few days.
  • We have a delicious meal for a special occasion.  
  • We eat more when our favorite foods are served.

Additionally, it’s not inherently “bad” to experience under- or overeating.  Our bodies aren’t so delicate that they can’t accommodate fluctuations in our diet and these are typical, expected experiences.  

Setting ourselves up for fewer and less dramatic swings, however, can improve our feelings about eating, decrease preoccupation with food, lead to fewer uncomfortable symptoms of extreme hunger and fullness, and increase general stability in our day.  Additionally, continuously overriding our body’s internal cues can lead to nutritional imbalances and complicated feelings about food.  

Notice your reaction the next time you come home feeling famished or enjoy a larger meal.  Do you feel the pendulum swinging? 

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