What Is Compulsive Eating?

What Is Compulsive Eating?

What Is Compulsive Eating?

Are you wondering, what is compulsive eating? Perhaps you are worried about yourself or a loved one. 

“I feel so out of control with food. It usually happens at night – once I start eating I just feel like I can’t stop and keep eating and eating until I feel stuffed. I’ve tried to stop so many times but I just can’t. I feel powerless to stop myself”

If the above resonates, you are not alone. Compulsive eating is more common than you might think, and the good news is there are proven strategies and treatment options to help overcome it.

If you are wondering why do I compulsively eat? And how can I stop compulsively eating? This article will aim to provide the answers and give tips to help you feel more in control around food again.

Compulsive Eating Vs Overeating

Another term that is often used interchangeably with compulsive eating is binge eating and overeating. It is important to distinguish between normal overeating and compulsive or binge eating.

It is normal to overeat and is part of being human – we can overeat naturally in social settings (hello Christmas lunch) or alone (i.e. Netflix and takeaway). Overeating may be by choice or accident and is when we eat to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. We may overeat because the food tastes really good, when bored or distracted because it comforts us after a tough day or just because it’s there! This is all part of a normal relationship with food, although diet culture may make us feel otherwise.

A binge or compulsive eating episode is different from overeating. It is an intense, involuntary drive to eat that occurs repeatedly over time. It is accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt and loss of control. Binge eating can cause a lot of distress and can greatly affect a person’s mental and physical well-being, as well as the ability to engage in daily life.

Compulsive Eating Symptoms & Signs

How someone experiences compulsive eating can be very individual but some general signs include:

  • Eating past satiety or until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating despite feeling full or not feeling hungry at all
  • Eating much more quickly than usual, or eating slowly and consistently throughout the day and/or night
  • Eating alone due to shame or embarrassment about the quantity of food consumed
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after overeating
  • Eating impulsively
  • Hiding food and eating food out of the garbage
  • Eating what most people would think is an unusually large amount of food in one sitting

Does the above sound familiar? If so, keep reading for more info on how to get on top of compulsive eating.

Is Compulsive Eating a Disorder?

There are two diagnosable eating disorders which commonly experience compulsive eating. These are Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Bulimia Nervosa. However, people who don’t meet the criteria for diagnosis with these eating disorders can still experience compulsive eating.

Binge Eating Disorder

There is a difference between a ‘subjective binge’ (what YOU define as a binge or compulsive eating episode), and an ‘objective binge’ (what a psychologist uses to define an Eating Disorder).

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is defined as regularly eating a large quantity of food in a discrete time period with a sense of feeling out of control. The binge eating episodes are usually accompanied by three or more following: 

  • Eating past the point of uncomfortable fullness
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment 
  • Eating faster than usual 
  • Feeling upset and guilty afterwards
  • Eating a large amount of food when not physically hungry

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by the same signs as BED with the key difference being immediate engagement in compensatory behaviours to “make up” for the binge such as vomiting or exercise.

A person with BED or bulimia nervosa can be of any body shape, size or weight.

If you suspect you may have BED or Bulimia, I encourage you to discuss this with your GP. Check out this leaflet from BEAT UK for tips on how to prepare for your appointment. Whilst the rest of this article will likely be relevant in some ways, it is mainly intended for individuals who do not have a diagnosable eating disorder.

What If I don’t meet the criteria for BED or Bulimia Nervosa?

If you don’t meet the diagnostic criteria, it doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering and you still deserve help. A ‘subjective’ binge eating episode may still be accompanied by embarrassment, guilt, eating fast, or eating a large amount of food…. but not enough food to be considered an ‘objective binge’ for a psychologist to diagnose an eating disorder. At Nude Nutrition we work daily with people who struggle with compulsive eating, and most don’t meet the criteria for an eating disorder. 

Why do I compulsively eat? 

The reasons why we come to struggle with compulsive or binge eating can be layered and highly nuanced. However, they ultimately boil down to ….restrictive eating.

Sounds crazy right? We are too often told to “just find more willpower” but stick with me as I explain how this is actually keeping you stuck in the cycle of compulsive eating.

Research shows that when we place rules around what and how much we eat, we begin to feel more obsessed with it. These rules can be self-inflicted rules that we’ve picked up over the years (e.g. from media, family members), or stem from an external source (e.g. a diet/pursuit of weight loss).

Restriction can be physical or psychological, or both:

  1. Physical restriction: food is “forbidden/not allowed” under certain circumstances and you are prevented from eating it (by yourself or others). E.g. no lunch before 1 pm, no carbs after x time, points, calorie or meal limit. 
  2. Psychological restriction: when certain foods are labelled as “naughty” or “bad” and we carry guilt and anxiety for wanting to eat them, or actually eating them.  

If you’re in the latter, chances are that diet culture has taught you to label foods as “good” and “bad”. This is where we feel “good” for eating a salad, and “bad” for eating a cookie.

Placing a moral value on foods can interfere with our relationship with food in a negative way. 

More often than not, food restriction leads to feeling deprived which leads to binge eating. Before you know it, you’re in the continuous restrict/binge cycle that looks like… 

Binge Restrict Cycle

So how do we break free from the cycle?

How can I stop compulsive eating?

Finding freedom from compulsive eating is not about training yourself to eat less, or finding more distraction from eating. It’s about getting your needs met, honouring your hunger, and giving yourself more permission to eat foods that truly satisfy you. This is a process and is not something that can be done perfectly or all at once. It is a process you go through to help you realise that you can trust your body and realise that food doesn’t have to control you. Once you stop restricting, the drive to compulsively eat will fade and you can start to enjoy all the fun, meaningful things in life again.

For more nitty-gritty on how to stop compulsive eating check out previous articles we have written:

I Literally Can’t Stop Eating

How to Stop Food Obsession

How to Stop Binge Eating at Night

I’d also encourage you to check out our free 7-day guide:

Why do I eat if I’m not hungry?

Why do I eat if I’m not hungry?

Are you wondering “Why do I eat if I’m not hungry?” 

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting on the couch after dinner and the next thing you know you’re in the fridge searching for something to round it off. Or you’re working hard on a deadline but can’t resist the urge to keep heading to the pantry for snacks. But all the time you’re thinking “I’m not even hungry”!

Should I only eat when I’m hungry? 

The short answer is “no”. As humans, it’s very normal for us to sometimes eat when we’re not hungry.

You are not a robot! You have emotions to deal with, celebrations to attend, and friends to meet up with over brunch.

That being said…

Do you find yourself frequently eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full? Maybe this leaves you feeling guilty or worried about what will happen to your weight. If so, this is something worth addressing. We will get into how further down the article.

In my work as a Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor, I am all for listening to your body’s signals and “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full”. But too often this can get twisted into a hard and fast rule (which it was never meant to be). This can really mess with our heads and become another form of restrictive eating that keeps us stuck in an unhealthy relationship with food.

Pssst…are you sure it’s not physical hunger?

I see it so often with my clients… they tell me they are emotional eaters or addicted to sugar. But actually, when we dive into it, years of living in diet culture has warped their idea of what a healthy amount of food is. 

We are sold an idea that we should be able to subsist on 1200-1500kcal/day and then wonder why are feeling out of control around food! 

Is it possible that you are just not eating enough food throughout the day through restriction (trying to lose or maintain weight), or just busyness? If so, by the time the evening comes, there can be a primal drive to want to eat which can induce nighttime binges. That judgy voice can then creep in, labelling it as an ‘emotional’ or ‘comfort’ eating episode, which is also judged as ‘bad’. When actually you were just genuinely hungry because your body has been needing fuel all day. This can trigger compensatory behaviour, such as restriction or over-exercise to ‘make up’ for it. Restriction usually only exacerbates the cycle of overeating at some point later to happen again.

Sound familiar? If so, Intuitive Eating is a framework I use with clients that can help them figure out how to eat enough throughout the day to prevent this from happening. More on this below.

If you’re pretty sure you’re eating adequately and still left wondering “Why do I eat if I’m not hungry?”….here are some other factors that could be playing a role.

5 reasons you may eat when you’re not physically hungry

1. You want the taste

Taste hunger occurs when you are craving a specific food. This can accompany physical hunger or occur when you are not physically hungry. Basically, taste hunger is when a food just sounds good! It’s really normal to have the desire for a little something to round off your meal and provide the “satisfaction factor”. Like sweets, biscuits, ice cream, fruit, yoghurt, hot chocolate etc. This is not bad, and it’s not emotional eating.  If you’re feeling the desire to eat something sweet after your meal, maybe that’s just what you need to hit the satisfaction factor.

If you’ve identified that you’re 100% not physically hungry, it’s not taste hunger, you have worked on making peace with food and no amount of food will fill you up, then it’s likely that you’re experiencing emotional hunger.

It’s really normal to have the desire for a little something to round off your meal and provide the “satisfaction factor”.

2. You’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions

Do you find yourself eating when bored, procrastinating, lonely or anxious? 

Again, it can be normal to turn to food sometimes for comfort. However, if food is your main coping mechanism for dealing with tough things, and it’s causing you distress, this is something worth addressing.

Emotional eating is really common and something we see often with clients. For strategies and information on how to address emotional eating see my other article: How to Navigate Emotional Eating

Are you someone who actively tries to avoid “bad food”, but then when you’re bored, stressed, or lonely, find yourself uncontrollably diving into all of the foods you’re trying to avoid? Sometimes emotions get in the way and interfere with your restriction. It’s a backlash effect of the restriction. Interestingly, research shows that former or current dieters have higher emotional eating than people without a history of dieting. Basically, dieting (any pursuit of weight loss) can exacerbate emotional eating.

3. You’re full, but you’re not satisfied

There is a difference between feeling physically full versus being satisfied with food. For example, if you eat enough garden salad you will eventually feel full from the sheer volume of food in your belly, but you probably won’t feel satisfied. This can leave you hankering for more food and wondering “Why do I eat if I’m not hungry?”.

As well as physically filling you up, your meals and snacks need to mentally and physically satisfy you so that you do not feel restricted (remember: restriction leads to deprivation and more thinking about food). This means choosing foods that we crave or that “hum” to us. If you’re craving a crispy pizza but opt for soup, you’re unlikely to feel satisfied. 

To ensure physical satisfaction, I often talk about the importance of choosing options with “staying power” with my clients. These are usually those which include a source of each fat, protein, carbohydrate, and fibre.

4. Your restrictive eating is having a backlash effect

Are you trying to not eat certain foods to be healthier or lose weight? Perhaps you’re trying to cut back on carbs, fatty foods, sweets and chocolates. If this sounds like you, it could be paradoxically making you eat MORE of these foods when you’re not even hungry.

Annoying huh?! But that’s just the way our human brains are wired. Research on thought suppression tells us about this. Thought suppression is intentionally trying not to think about something (i.e. a plate of chips or a creamy bar of chocolate). A large body of research indicates that thought suppression is ineffective. Moreover, it can lead us to think more about the very thing we are trying not to do. Imagine being told, “Don’t think of a pink bear.” This is an example of thought suppression. Give it a try—close your eyes for a minute and try not to think of a pink bear. What happens?

The solution? It’s to allow yourself permission to eat ALL foods. When we allow ourselves this permission we are likely to eat these so-called “naughty” foods in more moderate amounts and feel more in control around them.

This can sound scary or you may be doubting if it will work for you. My free guide below will walk you through the process.

5. It’s a habit

Reaching for a snack when you walk through the door? Automatically grabbing something sweet after dinner? Mindlessly munching in front of the TV?

A lot of our eating behaviours are automatic. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. But if you’re finding these habits are leaving you feeling sluggish or uncomfortably full, intuitive eating strategies can help.

Try bringing more awareness to the habitual eating occasion that’s bothering you by:

  1. Check-in with your hunger level prior to eating (this doesn’t mean you can’t eat if you’re not hungry, it just means you get to make the conscious choice)
  2. If you’re not hungry – can you label what you are feeling? Ie. are you bored, lonely, or procrastinating on a task that needs doing?
  3. Sit down to eat in a pleasant environment, without screens
  4. Remain present with the sensory experience of eating the food (ie. what does it taste, smell and feel like when you’re eating?) 

All these strategies help us stay mindful of the eating experience and interrupt unhelpful behaviours that aren’t serving us.

How do I train myself to eat intuitively?

Intuitive eating is a tool that can help you learn the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. It can help you understand why you eat when you’re not hungry.

Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach to help improve your relationship with food and have better self-control around food. This framework can help you learn to honour your health by listening and responding to the messages of your body. This helps you to meet your physical and mental needs based on your terms and move away from external diet tools such as the time of day, points systems, calorie tracking, rigid rules or meal plans  – which can all make us more likely to eat when food isn’t really what’s going to satisfy us. You can learn more about Intuitive Eating here.

Another great place to start is my free guide which runs through some of the key principles of Intuitive eating.

Want more individualised support? I run a private practice with a team of Dietitians and a Psychotherapist, to help you navigate your way to a more balanced and nourishing relationship with food. You can find out more about that here. and get in touch for a free 20-minute discovery call.

Why Can’t I Stick To a Diet?

Why Can’t I Stick To a Diet?

Are you wondering “why can’t I stick to a diet?”. If so, you’re not the only one. I have worked with countless clients who feel a sense of despair, helplessness and exhaustion when it comes to dieting. 

So, why exactly are diets so hard to stick to? The narrative around dieting is that when we can’t stick at it, it’s our personal failure…we lack willpower and discipline. It can certainly feel that way when face-diving into a tub of ice cream after vowing not to eat a single scoop for the next month. 

“I must have tried almost every single diet out there and haven’t been able to successfully stick at one or keep the weight off in the long run”

You may be surprised to learn how research shows that usually, it’s a failure of the dieting system itself, rather than the individual on the diet that leads us to be unable to stick at it. And around 75% of those who lose weight on diets put it back on again.

Let’s take a closer look and see if you may resonate with any of these reasons why you’re left asking, “why can’t I stick to a diet?”

7 Reasons why you can’t stick to a diet

1. Diets can make us feel out of control and cause “backlash eating”

Usually, when we embark on a diet, the underlying belief is that the diet’s rules about what, how much and when to eat will help us have control over our eating, and thus help us lose weight. 

Sound familiar?

The reality is usually the opposite. Often there is a honeymoon period on a new diet where we are able to stick to it perfectly for a few days or even weeks. But after a while feelings of deprivation inevitably set in, leading to intense cravings that are hard to resist. We can group this deprivation into 2 categories:

A) Physical/physiological deprivation – this is where your body is registering the fact that it is not receiving enough calories to survive long-term. It sees this as a threat to your survival. It then ramps up your hunger hormone, ghrelin in an attempt to get you to eat more adequately. You’re also likely to experience increased brain space/thoughts being taken up by food in your brain’s attempt to get you to eat.

B) Psychological deprivation – this comes from when we are told by diet rules that we can’t or shouldn’t eat certain types/amounts/groups of foods. As humans, when we are told we can’t do something, we naturally think about it more and feel tempted to do it. For example when someone says “don’t look down”.

The deprivation that comes from dieting is a powerful force. And for good reason. Our biology is set up to ensure our survival and most modern diets do not allow adequate nutrition to ensure long-term survival. Therefore our bodies have our back and we are neurologically, psychologically and hormonally wired to NOT diet. Of course, this can be extremely frustrating if you have a goal of weight loss. However, there is another way to feel in control of food, nourish yourself and maintain a healthy weight. It’s a framework we teach our clients called Intuitive Eating, but more on that is at the end of the article.

binge restrict cycle

2. Diets can make us want to rebel

As adult humans, we have a natural desire to have autonomy over our actions. When we have food rules placed on us, even if we place them on ourselves by embarking on a diet, our brains naturally want to rebel against this. Therefore, many people on diets may break the diet rules as a subconscious form of rebellion. 

3. You can’t stick to a diet because they’re anti-social

Diets are usually anti-social. Take this example…you’re following a low-carb diet and you receive an invite to a dinner party with some friends. You find out that the menu for the evening involves pasta and pudding. You have 3 choices. 

A) you go to the party and try to avoid carb meal components (which let’s face it, is kind of awkward). 

B) you don’t go at all

C) you go to the party and decide to have a “cheat night” off of the diet. But you know from past experience that breaking the diet rules can lead to a spiral so don’t really want to risk this. 

Options A and B can really interfere with our sense of social well-being. Humans are social creatures. Evidence shows that a sense of social well-being and interconnectedness are just as important for our health as diet and nutrition. So if a diet keeps us from our social life…it just isn’t going to be a) good for us holistically or b) sustainable in the long term.

Your way of eating ideally needs to fit in with your life to be sustainable. Not the other way around.

4. Diet often focus is too heavily on weight loss, instead of health and wellbeing

Weight is not as much under our individual control as we are led to believe. We may be able to effectively manipulate weight in the short term but in the long-term genetics have a large role to play. In fact, studies suggest that up to 70% of human body weight is determined by genetics. More on that in this article all about set-point weight. 

The diet industry relies on the false narrative that if we only eat and exercise right, we can make our body look any which way.

The fact is, if we all ate and exercised the same, we would all still have different-sized bodies. 

Weight is not a behaviour, therefore we can’t directly control it. What we CAN directly control are our health behaviours…how much sleep we get, how we move our bodies, our nutrition, our social relationships, and our stress management. THESE are the things we want to focus on.

Body sizes are different

A heavy focus on weight loss can lead to neglecting healthy behaviours if they don’t result in weight loss. Implementing these behaviours may or may not lead to weight loss. But regardless if they do or not, they can improve your health. You see, it’s actually possible to be metabolically healthy across the size spectrum, despite what you may have been told. And if the desire for weight loss is there, that’s ok too.

5. Diets encourage “all or nothing” thinking

There is little flexibility in dieting. We are either “on” or “off” the diet. This is problematic because it encourages an unhelpful thinking style known as “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking.

For example, you’re on a diet that forbids more than 2 squares of chocolate per day. But one day you can’t resist the urge to eat more than that (because chocolate is yum and you’re human). The diet rules encourage us to think “screw it, I’ve broken the rules now so I may as well have more and start again on Monday”. We may then proceed to bypass our fullness levels, mindlessly eating all the foods the diet forbids whilst we’re not “on” it anymore. Whereas if we weren’t dieting we might be able to approach this in a more balanced way, recognising that a bar of chocolate cannot make or break our health or body shape.

6. Diets don’t consider emotional eating

Diets rely on external rules and pay little attention to our internal worlds. Many people I work with use food to cope and comfort themselves and diets just don’t account for this. 

Picture a stressful day at work and a lecture from your boss. Your thoughts immediately turn to getting home, raiding the fridge and getting a takeaway for dinner to make yourself feel better. Even if you’re meant to be “on a diet”, if food is your only way to self-soothe you’re eventually going to need to break the diet rules so you don’t implode from intolerable discomfort.

If so, this is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s very normal to sometimes turn to food for comfort. But if food is your main or only way of dealing with uncomfortable feelings, this can be harmful to your overall well-being, especially if accompanied by guilt and shame. 

To combat this we need to work through underlying causes of emotional distress and learn strategies and skills to sit with and deal with tough emotions that aren’t just food. 

You can read more on emotional eating in this article.

The framework I use with clients has a whole principle focused on managing emotions and emotional well-being.

7. Diets discourage us from thinking for ourselves

As we follow diet rules about what and how much to eat, we are prevented from thinking for ourselves. You will likely benefit from getting back in touch with your inner wisdom so that you can figure out which foods and portion sizes feel best in YOUR body. 

Diet rules are often too simplistic and don’t teach you to get in tune with your hunger and fullness signals. If a diet plan tells you to eat a certain amount of food at lunch and you still feel hungry afterwards, your body is telling you that you need more food. But, trying to follow the plan you’re likely to try and override what your body is telling you. Another example would be if a diet suggests that you eat 3 meals and don’t snack, yet you feel hungry between meals. 

Your body has a lot of information to give you about the way of eating that suits you best. But most of us need to re-remember how to listen to our bodies, especially if we’ve been dieting for some time. My clients and I work with a specific set of tailored tools to enable them to re-learn the wisdom of their body, enjoy eating and feel more in control around food.

There IS an alternative to dieting

Perhaps you’re fed up with dieting but don’t know what the alternative is. You’ll be pleased to know there IS an alternative…It’s called Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach to help improve your relationship with food, have better self-control around food, and break free from the diet mentality. Intuitive eating can help you learn to honour your health by listening and responding to the messages of your body. This helps you to meet your physical and mental needs based on your terms and move away from external diet tools such as the time of day, points systems, calorie tracking, rigid rules or meal plans.

Learn more about Intuitive Eating and how to get started with it through these links:

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating Tips for Those Starting Out

Intuitive Eating 4th Edition (book)

 And download my free 7-steps to food peace and freedom audio guide to get started. 

Do you want to work with a qualified dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor who nurtures a good relationship with food? You can read more about what that looks like here.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

So, you’re doing all the right things but still left wondering, “why am I not losing weight?”

Perhaps methods that have previously led to weight loss are not working this time around?
This can be very frustrating but please know you are not alone. We have many clients who come to us in this very situation. With the right questions, tests, counselling and advice we can usually get to the bottom of what is leading to your struggles with body weight.
This article will delve into the Top 5 reasons you might not be losing weight. We also discuss a revolutionary & unique way to approach your struggles with body weight. Keep reading for the details.
But before we dive into the Top 5 list, let’s get one thing straight. Despite what you may have read and learned elsewhere, this Registered Dietitian is here to tell you…

Weight loss is NOT as simple as Calories In < Calories Out

The media often drive the unproven assumption that body size is controllable through self-discipline and is a personal responsibility. This portrayal is not in line with current scientific evidence, which shows that body weight regulation is not entirely under an individual’s control.
That’s right. Cutting back your calories and working out more does not automatically mean you will lose weight. In the same way that eating more doesn’t necessarily mean your body fat stores will increase. This is because determinants of body weight are multi-factorial and include (but are not limited to):
  • genetics
  • metabolism
  • stress & sleep
  • illness & disease
  • food intake
  • physical activity
  • social & environmental factors
  • age/life-stage

So whilst some of these factors are within our control, many such as genetics, environment, age and illness are not.
Weight loss is therefore, certainly not as simple as calories in, calories out. And even if calorie restriction has worked for you in the past, it doesn’t mean it will continue to work. In fact, it’s likely that it won’t continue to work. We explain why this is below.

Top 5 reasons you’re not losing weight

As discussed above, weight is influenced by a myriad of factors. The factors discussed below are those which we see most commonly in our clinic. Please always discuss your individual concerns with your healthcare provider.

1. Restriction is leading your metabolism to slow down

Dieting, fasting and food restriction can trigger your body to conserve energy for another time. Ie) If you do not meet your calorie/energy needs for an extended period, your metabolism will slow down.
This is a survival mechanism that is hard-wired into our physiology. Your body can’t tell if you’re eating less because you want to drop a dress size or because you’re stuck on a desert island. This is a big reason why restrictive eating/diets do not work for weight loss.
In fact, there is a body of research suggesting that most people who lose weight through dieting will regain weight within 2-5 years. Some research even suggests that the cyclical process of losing and regaining weight with weight loss attempts leads people to sit at a higher body weight in the long term (likely, partly due to metabolic changes).
So…what’s the alternative to restrictive dieting? It is to find your body’s natural set-point weight (its happy place). More on this is below.
2. You’re already at or below your set-point weight
Have you heard of Set Point Weight Theory before? It is a scientific theory that explains why losing weight can be a struggle for many.
Many parts of our physical and psychological makeup are determined either in part or completely, by our genes. For example, height is mostly determined by genetics. People generally accept that we can’t change our height, it’s just the way we were born.
In the long term, the same principle applies to weight. Genetics plays a large part in determining our body weight. Between 40-70% of human body weight is determined by genetics. Research suggests that each human body has a weight range that it is genetically predisposed to maintain. This weight range is called your “set point” and is usually a 3-5kg weight range where your body naturally wants to stay.
If our body weight falls below this range, your body sees this as a threat to your survival. And so regulatory mechanisms kick in to help us get back there. For example, if you eat a little more than you need, then typically your body temperature will rise and your metabolism speeds up to burn off the extra energy. If you eat too little, then your metabolic rate slows down to spare the available calories. Also, if the body is not getting enough energy, you will feel more hungry, and/or be more preoccupied with food.
You do not have to meet society’s thin ideal to be healthy. And if your body is larger than this ideal, it does not mean you have to restrict and deny your body food. In fact, this is likely doing damage to your physical and mental health, whilst paradoxically leading you to become heavier in the long term. There is a lot of research that shows that people can be metabolically healthy and fall into the “overweight” and “obese” BMI categories. 


3. You are struggling with binge eating

If you are feeling out of control around food or experiencing binge episodes please know, you are so not alone. This is such a common experience and usually, it makes a lot of sense in the context of struggles with body weight.
Not eating enough (as with dieting/restriction), naturally leads to binge eating. Again, it’s a survival thing. More on that here
Biologically speaking, the body has a set amount of energy that it needs you to take in from food. This will vary day to day. If you don’t get this, then it is going to ramp up your hunger hormones, which drive you to eat. Often this eating is experienced with great emotional intensity and you may eat more than usual to make up for the lack you have been experiencing.
Emotional factors can also lead to binge eating. You can read more about emotional eating here


4. You’re focusing too hard on the numbers

Are you obsessing too much over a few pounds on the scale?
Did you know that weight can fluctuate as much as 5Ib/2-3kg each day just with fluid shifts, poos, wees, hormones and food intake.
Focusing too much on the number on the scale can lead to unhealthy behaviours and obsessiveness. This is why I recommend ditching the scales or at least reducing the frequency with which you weigh yourself. Instead you can measure your progress through your energy levels, how you feel and by noticing how your clothes fit.

5. There is something going on medically

There are many medical conditions that can affect body weight. Common ones include thyroid diseases, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Diabetes, Insomnia and Depression. I would recommend discussing any sudden and unexplained weight gain with your GP to rule these out. 
Women eating a meal in restaurant

How to not focus soley on weight loss

How has the persuit of weight loss affected your life thus far? Has it bought you the happiness and health that diet culture promises?

For many of our clients, the persuit of weight loss has lead them to become unhappy, disillusioned and less healthy in the long-term.
Perhaps it is time to turn away from dieting and any other method of restriction in the pursuit of weight loss.
After all, the research proves that restriction leads to further weight gain over time for the majority and can cause a great deal of physical and mental damage along the way.
So what’s the alternative?  Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach that takes the focus off body weight and instead focuses on nourishment, fulfilling hunger and allowing body weight to settle at it’s set-point. Intuitive eating doesn’t discourage weight loss but rather it takes the heavy focus OFF of weight loss and ON to health. This framework includes the principle of Body Respect, which involves learning to care for your here-and-now body.
You can learn more about Intuitive Eating through our article library here and on our about page, here

A big part of Intuitive Eating is relearning how to listen, and appropriately respond to hunger and satiety cues. This is really helpful when trying to stop counting calories. The freebie below has tips and tools that can help you get started with this.

Do you want to work with a qualified professional who nurtures a good relationship with food? You can read more about what that looks like here.
Can intuitive eating help with IBS?

Can intuitive eating help with IBS?

Firstly, what is IBS?

Before we answer the question “can intuitive eating help with IBS”, first, let’s get clear on what it is.

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Of all the medical diagnoses, this is one that does exactly what it says on the tin.  The bowel is irritated- whether it is gas, pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, or a miserable mix of all of them.  

Your experience of IBS can be on a spectrum.  For some it may be mild bloating and multiple excursions to the toilet after a night out.  For others, however, it can be toileting accidents and crippling pain.  A survey by the American College of Gastroenterology found a majority of IBS patients would give up 10-15 years of their life for an immediate cure for their condition.

The symptoms of IBS confusingly overlap with many other diagnoses.  Most notably for women- endometriosis or ovarian cancer are important to rule out.  Other possible diagnoses are thyroid disease, coeliac disease, and microscopic colitis.  It can feel like such a long road to an IBS diagnosis, but it truly is important to go through all the medical tests offered to rule out more serious diseases.

When to seek medical advice

IBS needs to be diagnosed by your Doctor or physician. 

However, if you have an IBS diagnosis, and you have any of the following symptoms, or a change in your symptoms, it’s important to see a physician right away:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Rectal bleeding/bloody stools
  • Night time bowel movements
  • Recurring vomiting

These symptoms indicate something much more serious could be going on. 

What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating when having IBS?

Intuitive eating is a framework of feeding yourself from the standpoint of self care.  While intuitive eating messages of “food freedom” and “eat what you love” can feel alienating when you are grappling with IBS, there is absolutely much value for you with Intuitive Eating. In my experience as a Gastro Specialist Dietitian who works with people on their relationship with food, intuitive eating can help with IBS. 

The first thing an intuitive eating-informed approach can teach you is that you are on the same team as your body. If you have had IBS for years, having negative body thoughts is the default, isn’t it?  “Why am I like this?”  “Why does my body hate me?” The truth is, our body is an extension of us.  Intuitive eating invites you to support your body as a form of self-respect. Our bodies don’t have to work perfectly for us to respect them.  

Another helpful principle from intuitive eating is making peace with food.  I know you might feel like food is out to get you, but I promise you, it isn’t.  The ice cream is just ice cream.  The black bean tacos are just black bean tacos.  Intuitive eating-informed work would have us approach foods with curiosity (rather than judgment).  What IF that food does not trigger you as harshly as you assume it would?  Are you avoiding foods because a food list on the internet said you should? Or is it because it makes you discernibly triggered?

Another tenet of Intuitive Eating that people with IBS can find a lot of benefit from is one that, at first glance, seems 100% inaccessible:  reject the diet mentality. 

IBS affects how you feel, but it can also affect how you look, too. 

It’s helpful to be honest with ourselves- am I avoiding foods because I don’t want to look bigger? Or is it truly because I am feeling so ill?  It may truly be the latter, but I have had scores of clients whose motivating factor to work on their IBS is their poor body image. 

Diet culture has shamed them into thinking their body isn’t good enough unless they have that elusive “snatched waist.”  

Your body is a good body.  Intuitive eating work helps you see that.

So can intuitive eating help with IBS?

Yes, absolutely. These are only three, but there are many other valuable things Intuitive Eating can give you– even if you have a chronic condition like IBS.  I invite you to join in the conversation.  Intuitive eating is for you, too.

If you would like to discuss how healing your relationship with food can work alongside gut related conditions, like IBS, then you can get in touch with us on the button below. Sarah is our gastro specialist Dietitian who can support you with these issues, whilst maintaining or building a healthy relationship with food and you body. 

How can a therapist help with eating and body image issues?

How can a therapist help with eating and body image issues?

If you’re wondering “how can a therapist help with eating and body image issues”, you’ve come to the right place.  Lucy, our resident integrative psychotherapist has answered your most common questions on this topic.

What is a therapist?

A “therapist” is usually used as a general term for someone who helps individuals who are experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties to explore their issues and make changes in order to feel better. It is also often used as a short-hand for a psychotherapist or counsellor (essentially the same thing but with a slightly different training). A psychotherapist (or counsellor) specifically recognises the lasting impact of the past and is focused on looking at what has happened to you, rather than what is “wrong” with you and how that might be impacting the present.

Some types of therapists include:

  • A person-centred therapist has humanistic training and holds the view that everyone is an “expert” in their own lives and has the capacity for growth and change. The counsellor provides a safe space for this exploration by offering empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.
  • A psychodynamic therapist focuses on how the unconscious and past experiences shape current behaviour. They might help you to talk about childhood relationships with your parents and other significant people and consider the impact of these. A psychodynamic therapist might be more directive and/or interpretive than a person-centred one.
  • A cognitive-behavioural therapist usually focuses more on the present and uses specific practical techniques to identify intrusive negative thoughts and beliefs and seeks to challenge and change these into ones that are more helpful and less harmful.
  • An integrative therapist is one who uses techniques and theories from different modalities to tailor an individual approach for the client.
Some therapists use creative methods (music, movement, art), some bring in ideas from philosophy or neuroscience and some use mindfulness and/or meditation. Whatever their background or training, the aim of any psychotherapist or counsellor is to build a trusting and non-judgemental relationship that helps to develop understanding, acceptance and self-compassion and improve your psychological wellbeing.

What kind of therapist can help with food and body image difficulties?

Any therapist can potentially help with food and body image difficulties but it might be helpful to look for one who specialises in disordered eating, eating disorders and/or intuitive eating. Often these issues will have started in childhood and so a person-centred, psychodynamic or integrative therapist is often the most appropriate and will help you to consider:
  • What were/are your parents’/carers’/siblings’ relationships with food/body like?
  • What messages were you given about food (implicitly and explicitly) growing up? – What messages were you given about your body (implicitly and explicitly) growing up?
  • What societal/ cultural messages were/are there about food/bodies/movement?
  • Which significant events from childhood might have impacted how you felt about food/ your body?
  • How and why might food be a coping mechanism for psychological or emotional issues?
They would then help you to consider the impact of these on your current distress, in order to understand disordered thoughts and behaviours, process and challenge the shame you might feel about these and move to a place of healing through acceptance and self-compassion. This often leads to a more neutral or even positive relationship with your body and a peaceful relationship with food, allowing you to live a fuller and happier life. A cognitive-behavioural therapist focuses more on current beliefs that you have about food/body and explores what evidence there is to support these and offers alternative perspectives. This is useful too and an integrative therapist will often lean on these techniques combined with an exploration of the past. This is often the most effective approach.

Can a psychotherapist diagnose an eating disorder?

A therapist cannot diagnose a mental health issue: this is done by a psychiatrist (either after a referral from your GP or privately). You can talk to a therapist about any diagnosis and this is often helpful so that they can consider whether they feel their approach is appropriate, how best to work with you and to help you understand them better. You do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to work with a therapist.

Will a psychotherapist talk about medication?

You can talk to a therapist about medication (and a therapist might ask if you are taking any) but it is not for a therapist to tell you whether you should be on medication for your mental health. Again, this is something to discuss with your GP and/or a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a doctor who specialises in mental health. A therapist cannot prescribe as they are not a doctor and should not direct you in any way about medication.

Will a psychotherapist help with dietary advice?

A therapist will focus on your relationship with food rather than on what you eat. A dietitian or nutritional therapist has expert knowledge about nutrition and should be sought for advice on this. You can talk to a therapist about food but a therapist should not give you a meal plan or advise you on what to eat. It can be helpful to see both a dietitian and a psychotherapist/counsellor when healing from eating and body issues.

How long does it take to work with a therapist?

This depends on you and on the type of therapist. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is usually short-term (often six to ten weeks). Other types of therapy are usually longer-term. Issues with food and body are usually enduring, originating in childhood, and therefore an extended period of weekly sessions is often required to work through them.

So what next?

If you would like to know whether therapy could be right for you, you can get in touch via our form, and book a free discovery call with our psychotherapist Lucy ([email protected]). Here you can discuss your challenges and see whether this type of support is right for you. Support can be provided alongside support from your Dietitian, or independently.