Stopped dieting but still feeling out of control around food?

You’ve stopped dieting and you’re working hard to fuel your body.  After months or years of cutting calories, avoiding food groups, and dealing with horrendous hunger pangs, you’ve helpfully decided, ‘No more’ and you’re on a different road.


You’d expected that the bouts of emotional or binge eating would simply disappear. Because everyone is always banging on about restrictive eating leading to overeating. But, it’s not working out quite as you hoped.

Although the frequency of out of control eating episodes has fallen, they are still happening and blighting your life. You still find yourself at the cupboard door, opening and closing it, searching for ‘something’. Before you know you it, you’ve devoured four chocolate biscuits without tasting them.

This kind of eating is very understandable, as a hangover effect of years of deprivation. Out of control eating normally does continue – at least for a bit.

It’s also worth considering if you might be mentally restricting, though.

What is mental restriction?

You’re eating enough in terms of calories (don’t count them though!) or food quantity, but maybe you’re not quite getting the satiation and ‘yum-yum’ factor to fully satisfy yourself, both physically and emotionally.

There are three ways this happens:

1. Limiting the 'yum'

Although having taken quantum leaps to include a broader variety of foods, you are still limiting the foods that you genuinely love. You might be missing out on the proper cheesy pizza because you’re using a low-fat option or a cauliflower base instead of yummy dough, so it’s not hitting the scrumptious mark.

Or you might be having a black americano when you’re craving the delicious hot chocolate with cream.

If you recognise yourself here, take baby steps to expand your repertoire of foods, so that you sincerely permit all the foods in. This will blast away any sense of deprivation.

2.  Unnecessary guilt

When you eat something that you previously would have avoided with a barge pole, you pile on the guilt after eating. You feel agitated and uncomfortable in yourself, and the anxiety and self-loathing descend, with a barrage of negative judgements ringing between your ears.

If you relate to this, increase your awareness of these pesky and unhelpful thoughts and remind yourself that eating all the foods is an inoculation against binge eating. Feeling guilty is not an emotion that is appropriate for eating a few of your favourite biscuits. Guilt is reserved for much more serious crimes than this.

3. Body focus

Monitoring your body shape is remaining central to your self-evaluation daily. There is much scrutinising of your stomach for bloated signs or glancing in the mirror and rebuking your poor body. This constant focus on your aesthetic means that every minuscule, perceived change (whether real or not) occupies far too much of your psyche.

If you recognise yourself here, work to pay less attention to your body. Over-analysis does not reap happy rewards and results in low mood, high anxiety, and overall angst. Remember that your body is not going to change radically in short time frames and the examination of it, does nothing to boost self-worth. 

Just imagine if you were measuring your hair to the same degree every day to monitor growth or change – would it help the situation?

Ponder whether mental restriction is a sneaky trigger for you and whether it could be keeping you stuck. It can often go unrecognised and then leave you baffled and confused, about what’s going on with your eating.

Be kind to yourself too as, if you are taking steps to give up dieting, you are already well along the road to developing a happier relationship with food. This is just another twist in the path to navigate. You will get there.

If you are struggling with your relationship with food and your body, you might want to think about getting further support through counselling.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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