Day 2: The effects of dieting, and language around food

A little heads up before we get into this lesson – technology failed me. I’m afraid all there is to see here is a green screen! Enjoy the sound of my voice instead for this one.

The pendulum

Dieting prompts a physiological response in the body. Do you feel like you binge often maybe? This is because of what I like to call the the binge-restrict pendulum. Imagine that you have an internal pendulum which is all about hunger and fullness regulation, or the relationship between bingeing and restricting.

Take a look at the image of the pendulum. You will see that you would ideally like to see your pendulum sitting comfortably at the bottom. As you become a little peckish the pendulum swings over the the left a little bit. So you eat, and it swings over to the right a little bit, because now you’re comfortably full.

But imagine now that you let yourself get really hungry. The pendulum swings really far over to the left. Then what has to happen? It has to swing through an equal amount to the other side. Before you know it you’re eating…. a lot… with little control or thought.

The same goes for restriction and binge eating. If you don’t restrict, your pendulum swings gently at the bottom. But if you restrict food groups, calories, food that you love, or eat to rules like only eating at a certain time, that pendulum then pulls further and further up to the left. What happens then? Well your pendulum comes crashing back through to the other side, making you eat a lot to try and take in some energy, nutrients etc. You find yourself bingeing.

Studies show that even the thought of restriction drives binges. Have you ever started a diet and the night before you’ve eaten everything in sight? That’s because your brain is telling your body that starvation is coming, and to load up so that there are stores. It’s a very clever protective mechanism.

The basis of all lack of control is the pendulum, and so when you eat without rules and restrictions you allow the pendulum to swing gently, as it should do.

Weight set point

Do you always feel like you lose weight, stop losing weight, then gain it back and more? This is because of your weight set point. This is the body’s natural weight. The weight it is designed to sit around. It changes through life, because our bodies change through life, but every time you diet you are fighting against that natural weight that you are designed to be and so the body fights back.

We stop dieting and regain the weight, plus a bit more as a protection against future starvation. Your weight set point is where your body is happy, and where it always tries to return to. When you eat intuitively your body can trust you and returns to where you are meant to be.

There are other biological responses that run deep too – insulin, blood sugar control, blood pressure etc. Too much to dive into here, but there are many systems in the body that are affected heavily by weight cycling. Instead of these systems being all up and down with all the chopping and changing, wouldn’t it be better to have a stable, consistent, balanced way of eating so that your body is able to self regulate?


So, we’re seeing how the world around us influences how we feel about ourselves, but what about the way we think and speak about food? I wonder, do you realise how many times a day you talk yourself out of eating something, out of wearing something, tell yourself that you don’t look good, tell yourself that you need to exercise more because of what you’ve eaten? We call these voices the Food Police.

The language we use is important. It affects us, it affects how we feel about ourselves, and how we feel about food. It affects others too, how they feel about themselves and their relationship with food. And then they think it’s ok to talk like that, and so the message continues.

Today let’s focus on thoughts around food specifically.

What are you saying to yourself about the food you are eating?
Do any of these resonate with you?

  • Foods are good or bad
  • You eat too much, or you have ‘overeaten’
  • You use ‘Shoulds’ – you should go to the gym, you should eat less of something, you should eat more of something
  • You think that comfort eating or emotional eating is bad
  • You talk about calories

These thoughts are not just restricted to your own voices – as we said yesterday, friends and family are also often just as guilty of being very free in their speech around what you eat, what you look like etc.

But remember, other people’s opinions are not facts! They may think cheese is the work of the devil and you may love it. They may think a dress they’re wearing is gorgeous but you can’t stand the print. They’re opinions, and that’s why we shouldn’t offer them without being asked. This applies to food, bodies, and life. It is not our place to comment on other people’s bodies or how they are around food.

When we know better we can cultivate a better environment

As part of you being proactive and feeling more comfortable around food you need to start working on eradicating those messages from your head and from your environment.

Firstly, your own thoughts. Let’s reframe them.

  • Good and bad foods – all food has nutrients that your body can use. Pizza for example has carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the base and the cheese. It also has a range of vitamins and minerals in the toppings that you choose. The cheese, the peppers, onion, ham, pineapple, chicken….. It all has stuff your body can use.
  • ‘Overeating’ is a word we don’t use in intuitive eating. It implies that there is a limit or rules about how much food you can eat. What if we changed that to “I have eaten past the point of comfort”, or “I have eaten more than my body is comfortable with”.
  • Take out the ‘shoulds’ that are judgey. Change the language to something more like “I’d like to go to the gym today, I feel like I need some movement”, or “I think I’ll have some more vegetables, I feel like I haven’t had enough of those recently”. Maybe also something like “Maybe I’ll give chocolate a break for a little while. I’ve had enough to satisfy me, and I can always have more later if I feel like it”. Do you see how different those lines feel to say?
  • Comfort or emotional eating is not bad. Sometimes we just need the familiar feeling and comfort of having nice food when times are stressful. If you acknowledge it, and are mindful about it, that will help you to accept it.

Then, the thoughts of others. You can’t stop people but you can challenge their thinking, give them food for thought. It doesn’t need to be argumentative or confrontational, it can just be a conversation, and bit by bit you cultivate better environments for you and for others. This is how we make a change in the world. Be the change you want to see in the world.

This is active work that you’ll have to do to start with. At first it might feel like you’re thinking these things all the time, or maybe you don’t easily spot yourself doing it, but as you become more practised at it it’ll become a habit and you’ll naturally remove these thoughts, change the thoughts, or simply automatically think the better thoughts. And you’ll start to hear those around you much more clearly!!

Today’s tasks

  1. Thinking about the binge restrict pendulum, think of a recent time when you feel that you lost control of your eating. What were the circumstances there? Had you restricted, gone ages without a meal, let yourself get too hungry for example? Do you think you can see the pendulum at work there?
  2. Pick 3 foods that you typically think of as bad, or as junk food, and tell me what ingredients are in there and what nutrients your body can use from them.
  3. What thoughts do you find yourself having around other people, their bodies, their food?


Here is today’s affirmation. Take it and use it for yourself.

My mind is a powerful healing tool

Feel free to journal your thoughts and your task answers for yourself in private, or feel free to put your thoughts in the comments section here.