Understanding and Breaking the Binge-Restrict Cycle

Understanding and Breaking the Binge-Restrict Cycle

Understanding and Breaking the Binge-Restrict Cycle

Table of Contents

Written By:

Key Takeaways

  • A binge-restrict cycle refers to overeating, followed by restrictive practices such as calorie or food restriction. 
  • Removing food rules from your diet can reduce the chances of a binge-restrict cycle. 
  • A registered dietitian can help you make changes to heal your relationship with food and eating. 

Sitting down to eat your favorite foods should be an enjoyable experience, but always eating past the point of fullness and feeling uncomfortable may be a sign of binge eating behaviors. For some people, a reflex after binge eating could be to restrict future calories and avoid eating in the immediate future. This instinct may stem from diet-culture messaging, but this approach isn’t a long-term solution to managing your hunger cues and changing binge eating behaviors. 

Keep reading to learn more about the binge-restrict cycle and how a dietitian can help you break the cycle for good. 

Nourish offers online nutrition counseling that is covered by the most popular insurance carriers. You can book your first appointment with a dietitian and start making health changes! 

What is the Binge-Restrict Cycle?

A binge-restrict cycle can start with an episode of binge eating, which can be broadly defined as eating past the point of fullness. While binge eating, you may not feel hungry, which can make you feel out of control of your actions at that moment. Depending on your relationship with food, binge eating can lead to feelings of anxiety, shame, or guilt after eating. 

After binge eating, your next thought may be to prevent it from repeating because you don’t want to experience those feelings again. To do this, you may implement strict dietary restrictions, such as skipping your next meal in an attempt to compensate for the calories you have just eaten. Or, you may swear to avoid a specific food because you don’t feel like you can control your intake.

Everyone's internal dialogue will sound different in these moments, but if you frequently experience these binge-eating cycles, you should consider reaching out for support. Here are more examples of binge-restricting thoughts that you may have experienced in the past: 

  • I will “do better” next time and control my portion sizes. 
  • I won’t eat anything else for the rest of the day. 
  • I will never touch that food (cookies, chocolates, chips, etc.) again. 
  • Why did I do that

If you need help improving binge eating behaviors, you may want to connect with a registered dietitian. They are nutrition and health experts, and they can teach you strategies to improve your relationship with food. You can connect with a dietitian online through Nourish

The Psychological Cycle of Binge-Restricting

Short-term food restrictions can enhance your cravings for that food. Eventually, the cravings can disappear, but this psychological switch has no official timeline. It is actively being researched and future studies may reveal greater insight and understanding of food restrictions and cravings. 

There is evidence that suggests people who restrain their eating are more likely to crave foods and overindulge compared to people who don’t restrict their diet. The exact psychological mechanism for why this happens is not fully understood, but it is an interesting commonality across dieters or people who have restrictive eating patterns. 

These findings suggest that removing food restrictions may provide space for you to enjoy the food without feeling the urge to binge. 

Effects of Binge-Restricting

Being mentally preoccupied with thoughts of food, food rules, and cravings is very common amongst people who have binge eating behaviors. Having food constantly on the brain, and battling between the decision to eat or not eat can increase your risk of disordered eating or an eating disorder. Fortunately, there are ways you can prevent these behaviors from escalating into a diagnosable disorder. 

The most important thing to do if your eating habits make you feel anything less than content is to seek help. A registered dietitian is a supportive and compassionate nutrition expert, and they want to help you feel your best. You can book an online appointment and connect with a dietitian by clicking here

Tips for Breaking the Cycle

After a binge, you will get hungry again, and you should eat your next meal instead of trying to restrict your caloric intake. 

It is recommended to eat evenly spaced meals and snacks throughout the day to help regulate your hunger and fullness cues. Learning to tune into these body signals can help you recognize when it’s time to eat, and when you’ve had enough.

Break the Diet Mentality

The diet industry is filled with various weight-loss plans, programs, and food rules that are hard to follow long-term. It can also make nutrition very confusing because everyone has different opinions on what is healthy or not. 

You may feel more in control of your eating if you break up with fad diets because the rules of these programs can significantly influence what you choose to eat. Experiencing food freedom by leaving diet culture behind you can feel like a refreshing and sustainable approach to nutrition instead. 

Prioritize Sustainable Lifestyle Changes

You will feel the most confident making nutrition and lifestyle changes that you feel equipped to handle, right now. You can use the SMART goal-setting technique to help you create nutrition goals that are sustainable. To create a SMART goal you need to make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. If you’ve never used this method before, your registered dietitian can explain it to you in more detail. 

Improving your health and practicing new ways to approach nutrition should be exciting, but if it starts to feel overwhelming, you may need to take a small step back and reflect.

Sustainable changes will look different for everyone, and you can only move forward at the right pace. If you feel immovable and unsure how to achieve your health goal, it could be a good time to reach out for help and connect with a registered dietitian. 

You can book an online appointment with a registered dietitian through Nourish. Click here to get started. 

Develop Intuitive Eating Strategies

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to nutrition that focuses on eating behaviors instead of number-based outcomes, such as weight or the number of calories you ate. Following intuitive eating principles can help you heal your relationship with food and can teach you how to decrease binge eating behaviors

Focus on Adding Wholesome Foods

After you remove restrictive food rules from your life, you gain permission to eat all foods. This can be a refreshing change of mindset that allows you to prioritize adding foods to your diet instead of stripping them away, which is commonly seen in fad diets

Wholesome foods include nutrient-dense options that give your body energy and essential nutrients. It also includes foods that provide pleasure and comfort and could satisfy feelings of nostalgia. A core principle from intuitive eating is that you don’t have to follow a perfect diet to be healthy.   

Manage Emotional Triggers

Emotional triggers can result in binge eating, and taking time to identify possible emotional triggers can give you greater insight into your personal reasons for binge eating. You can do this by yourself or with your registered dietitian during a session if you need more support.

Some emotions that may lead to binge eating include stress, anger, and sadness, but it can also be boredom. Understanding the root cause of your emotional triggers can help you build a coping plan that helps you feel better without relying on food. 

Be Gentle With Yourself

Making behavior changes is an act of self-love because you are developing a new approach to nourishing your body and healing your relationship with food. Try to avoid judgmental or critical thoughts about how you eat or think about food right now. Be gentle to yourself by practicing self-compassion while you make behavior changes to end the binge-restrict cycle. 


A binge-restrict cycle can make you feel like you are stuck in a loop, but it is possible to make changes to help you move past these eating patterns. 

Practicing intuitive eating principles and increasing self-awareness of your hunger cues can help you connect with how much nourishment your body needs to feel good. A registered dietitian can teach you how to permanently ditch food rules, food restrictions, and feelings of guilt after eating. 

Managing Binge Eating with an RD 

Binge eating behaviors followed by restrictive eating patterns can feel cyclical. You can work with a registered dietitian to learn ways to improve these patterns and get out of the binge-restrict cycle for good. 

Nourish offers online nutrition counseling that is covered by the most popular insurance carriers. You can book your first appointment with a dietitian and start making health changes! 

Frequently Asked Questions


View all references

See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish

  • Covered by insurance
  • Virtual sessions
  • Personalized care
Schedule an appointment

Find a

dietitian covered by insurance

No items found.
Food Allergies
Sports & Performance Nutrition
Eating Disorder

Frequently asked questions

No items found.