We’re welcoming nutritionist Bethany Swanquist of Wildflower Wellness to the blog today! I met Bethany last year for coffee to connect and it was such a pleasure getting to know her in real life. We chatted about our history with food and how we got to where we are today. Bethany is a Masters level clinical nutritionist with a specialization in oncology. She is here to share how the “binge and restrict cycle” effects our health. So whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or know someone else who has, I hope you’ll stick around and read this important article!
Have you ever felt like you’ve eaten too much?
Do you ever feel like you’ve had to restrict what you eat to make up for overeating?
I think we have all been there at some point. I know I have.
My ride on the rollercoaster
I was always a chubbier kid growing up and often used food for comfort, and then I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 13 years old. I used food as a way to have control over something in my life. I’d eat super small portions and only eat low-fat or fat-free “food.” I would feel guilty if I thought I ate too much or had too much fat in my diet that day. I’d exercise for at least an hour per day. I was at the doctor’s office once a week getting labs drawn. My liver function was not optimal, my cholesterol was too low, I was becoming anemic. I was always cold, my menstrual cycle stopped, and I looked frail. After meeting with a dietitian and therapist over the course of a year, I overcame my anorexia, but as you can see, it had a definite impact on my health.
Health effects of the binge-restrict cycle
Every time we go through a restrict or diet cycle, whether it be short-term, or longer-term like mine, your body decreases its production of lipolytic enzymes by as much as 50% and doubles the production of lipogenic enzymes1. Lipolytic enzymes are beneficial because they release or excrete fat from our bodies, whereas lipogenic enzymes cause fat storage. That’s probably the opposite of what most of us want, right?
Your body eventually goes into what’s called starvation mode during a restrict cycle thanks to these enzymes. It’s a survival mechanism that our bodies use because it doesn’t know when the next meal is coming, so it wants to conserve as much energy as possible, which equals fat.
Besides this fat storage issue, we also don’t get enough nutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need to function properly if we’re restricting what we’re eating. Each of our bodies need a certain amount fat, carbohydrates, calories, and protein to be optimally well.
So what about binging? Binge eating can have just as much of a detrimental impact on health as restriction. When binging, you intake an excessive amount of calories. Anytime we eat more calories than we need at that particular time, our body stores it as fat to use for later. We’re like squirrels hiding acorns for the winter, but for most of us, the “winter” never comes.
Excessive calorie intake can also lead to elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels over time as well. Our pancreases become overworked trying to produce enough insulin for all the food we’ve just eaten and it may throw in the towel (hello Diabetes Type II). Insulin is the delivery truck for glucose into our cells for energy and without it our cells could starve. Or because our cells have gotten all the fuel they need (think chipmunk cheeks) excess glucose may be converted to fat (aka triglycerides), increasing cholesterol levels.
Getting off the rollercoaster
How can we get off of this rollercoaster? (BTW, I hate rollercoasters). One great way is through mindful eating. Think about the why before you start eating. Are you eating because you’re hungry? Bored? Stressed? Try to eat in a relaxed state, maybe take a few deep breaths before sitting down for a meal. If we eat when we’re stressed or in a hurry, our bodies don’t fully digest our food.
Have gratitude for your food. Ask yourself, how is this food nourishing me? How does it taste? How does it make me feel? Where did it come from? How is it benefiting me?
Try to eat more slowly and stop eating when you feel full. It actually takes about 20 minutes for our bodies to register that we’re full. Chew your food really well because digestion starts in the mouth. Not only do we physically break down food with our teeth, we also have enzymes in our mouth that start to digest carbohydrates. Remove distractions from your meal area (yes that means your phone too). Maybe even have a conversation with the person sitting across from you. Make it an experience, a relaxing routine, not just something else on your to-do list. Actually sit down and honor the time to nourish your body and soul.
Life is all about balance. Food is meant to be enjoyed. It is meant to be nourishing and to fuel your body. It is not meant to be your enemy, best friend, or crutch.
These are only some of the ways that the binge-restrict cycle can affect your health. It is important to speak with your doctor or nutritionist to help you develop healthy eating habits and change your relationship with food.
1Zechner, R., R. Zimmermann, T.O. Eichmann, S.D. Kohlwein, G. Haemmerle, et al. (2012). Fat Signals-Lipases and Lipolysis in Lipid Metabolism and Signaling, Cell Metabolism, vol. 15, pp. 279-291.http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/pdf/S1550-4131(12)00018-6.pdf
Can you relate to the binge-restrict rollercoaster, or something similar?
If yes, how did you get off the rollercoaster?
Questions for Bethany? Ask them in the comments or get in touch!