Why There Is Really No Difference Between Overeating and Extreme Dieting

Whenever I speak to my clients who are struggling with overeating, I know what they’re looking for from me isn’t what they need. They’re looking for a magic set of rules – something like a checklist or an activity log or a food diary or even just an eat-this-not-that approach – that is going to tell them WHAT to eat and WHEN to eat it.

I know this (not just because they ask), but because that is what I used to want when I was in their shoes, too.

If you know my story, you probably know that overeating was only part of my “issue.” I also obsessed over every morsel of food or drink that crossed my lips. I was desperate to control every bit of consumption with one goal in mind: obtain the perfect body.

And the perfect body, or so society told me constantly and without exception, was a skinny one.

You can never be too rich or too skinny, baby.

This type of thinking puts a very heavy burden on food and its importance as a vehicle to happiness – if happiness is defined as being skinny, which, for me, at one time, it was. If food, of lack thereof, is what is required to turn oneself into a magical unicorn of societal acceptance and perfection, it makes sense that we would obsess over it, one way or another.

Consider:

If you struggle with overeating, you may feel:

  • Broken – like you have a defective hunger/fullness cue
  • Incompetent – like you simply do not have the tools you need to overcome
  • Unacceptable – like you are viewed as less than because you don’t measure up (or down) to society’s ideal (i.e., being skinny)
  • Out of control – like you simply CANNOT STOP
  • Bad – like you are ashamed and guilty of how are you relating to food

Interestingly enough, if you struggle with extreme dieting, you may feel:

  • Broken – like you must control your own hunger/fullness cue to achieve success
  • Incompetent – like you must obsess over every little thing that you put into your body or you will not become the person you want to be
  • Unacceptable – like you must become skinny at all costs
  • Out of control – like you simply cannot RELAX for one second, or one bite, or one meal
  • Bad – like you are ashamed and guilty of wanting to eat or eating the “wrong” things when you do eat

All of this is just… MISERABLE.

So, WHY DO WE DO IT?

Your relationship with food is the WHY. Your relationship with food explains why you reach for food when you aren’t really hungry. Why you might mindlessly pile seconds on your plate. Why you automatically end up staring into the refrigerator every time you get bored or why eating healthy seems impossible when you’re stressed or busy.

Or… it explains why you feel like you can’t eat certain foods. Why you restrict your calorie intake to the point where hunger is a constant companion. Why you avoid social gatherings and parties because you know there will be food there that you just “can’t” eat.

Your relationship with food includes things like perfectionism, fear of failure (or success), being too hard on yourself, or beliefs about how deprived you may feel if you make any lasting changes. Does it feel like food is comfort? Or love? Or the best, easy reward that you know of? 

Does it feel like something you should be ashamed of? Or an enemy?

THIS is your relationship with food in action.

You can be an expert on HOW to eat, but if you don’t have a relationship with food that supports the changes you want to make, overeating or excessive dieting will always return.

Here’s the truth: FOOD IS NOT GOOD OR BAD. It is just… food.  And the way we use food does not exist in a vacuum.

Food must be considered as it relates to a human being. It must be viewed by the whole person and their own capacities, desires, requirements, and (yes) rules.

The equation for a healthy relationship with food is not THIS FOOD @ THIS TIME – BAD FOOD + GOOD FOOD = WELLBEING OF THE HUMAN.

Instead of focusing on the FOOD (what food, when to eat the food, what food not to eat, etc), we must instead focus on the human being in the equation:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Are you stressed, tired, angry, resentful, bored, overwhelmed, etc?
  • How was food modeled for you?
  • What kind of emotional baggage are you carrying around?
  • … and more

All of who we are has to be considered if we want to understand how and why we’re using food.  

This is where “doing the work” becomes such a foundational part of changing the way we look at food.

And this is why overeating and excessive restriction are, in fact, two sides of the same coin: an unhealthy relationship with food that manifests itself in different ways.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic set of rules that can create a healthy relationship with food. It truly does require you to do the work – the deep, difficult work of examining how you feel in your own skin and the WHY’s of how you you’re using food in your life. Why you overeat. Why you restrict yourself. Why you starve yourself only to overeat later. Why you obsess and feel shame over what you eat.

If this is resonating with you… maybe you’ve tried so many different sets of rules that have simply never worked… or maybe you’ve tried to willpower your way out… or maybe you’ve “given up”… believe me when I say: there is hope. You can be free from overeating or obsessive, restrictive, excessive dieting. There can be a future for you where you eat with ease and delight. 

I know because I’ve done it.

And I know you can, too.

Want to know more about my approach and how you can begin your journey to revolutionize your relationship with food? Explore my signature program here.

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