Binge-Restrict Cycle and Celiac Disease

The binge-restrict cycle is a well-research phenomenon that occurs when you restrict food. Essentially what happens is when you limit food it triggers the binge-restrict cycle. This cycle first begins with the restriction, then leads to the obsession, fear, overthinking of food, which leads to the overeating/binging of food, and finally guilt, shame, failure, and regret which fuel more restriction.

The binge-restrict cycle is common with celiac disease patients. That’s because the restriction of gluten is quite literally the only treatment for celiac. And given the higher prevalence of eating disorders in celiacs, it’s understandable why so many celiacs are stuck in the binge-restrict cycle.

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Binge-Restrict Cycle with Celiac Disease - Tayler Silfverduk, RD

The Science Behind the Binge-Restrict Cycle

The binge-restrict cycle is your body doing its job: preventing you from starvation at all costs. When your body senses any kind of restriction with food, whether it be physically eating less or mentally deeming foods as bad, your body gets ready for a famine.

Because your body is smart enough to protect you from starvation but not smart enough to realize the restrictions it’s sensing is intentional. So the binge-restrict cycle begins…

Like I mentioned above, first, it starts with a restriction. This can be a physical restriction like eating fewer calories or a mental restriction like avoiding high sugar foods. The act of restricting puts the binge-restrict cycle in motion.

Now depending on the type of restriction and your body, it may take different amounts of time for the “binge” or “overeating” to occur. This “binge” or “overeating” with celiac disease often occurs with the build-up of fear, obsessive thoughts, and hormones like ghrelin and neuropeptide y that influence you to eat.

These hormones paired with obsessive thoughts and fears can cause you to feel out of control, and be eating more than you usually would of something. And instead of letting it go, we beat ourselves up about it.

We feel guilty, shameful, regretful, and maybe, even more, fear and so we restrict again… further propelling us into this vicious cycle of feeling out of control with food. Leaving us wondering why we can’t keep gluten-free Oreos or ice cream in the house.

Binge-Restrict Cycle with Celiac Disease - Tayler Silfverduk, RD

The Binge-Restrict Cycle and Celiac Disease

What’s even worse about the binge-restrict cycle is that it directly plays into celiac disease and our relationship with food. Because not only are we impacted by nutritional restrictions, we are also impacted by the restriction of the social, traditional, and comforting aspects of food too. Often with many of our favorites no longer being an option.

The binge-restrict cycle explains why we feel the need to eat the whole kitchen when we get home from a party that had tons of gluten-filled foods. Because we were restricted during the entire party, our minds get full of thoughts around not being able to eat the delicious foods our friends were smiling over. So we go home and we feel out of control with our own gluten-free treats.

Another example might be with gluten-free Oreos. The moment we finally get to have gluten-free Oreos after years of never being able to eat them… we wonder how and why did we eat the entire box in one sitting? It can also in part explain why we’re constantly hungry with celiac.

While I say all of the above anecdotally from my work with celiac patients, the prevalence of the binge-restrict cycle in people with celiac has also been proven in the research. In fact, a 2017 study found that the binge-restrict cycle played into the development of eating disorders in celiac patients.

This is why it’s so important that celiacs be screened for disordered eating and that they receive proper follow-up care and support.

Binge-Restrict Hypervigilance Pendulum with Celiac - Tayler Silfverduk

Celiac Hypervigilance as a Pendulum

The binge-restrict cycle with celiac disease can also show up with hypervigilance. It might be easier to understand it as a pendulum rather than a cycle. With hypervigilance, there is an excessive fear-based restriction around life events and food in the name of “celiac-safety”.

This overrestriction can lead to the binge-restrict cycle or the hypervigilance pendulum. Where on one end you’re too careful, on the other end you’re not careful enough, and in the middle you’re cautious.

Now being too careful with celiac disease (hypervigilance), can show up as always being hypervigilant or as being stuck in this pendulum. Swinging back and forth from being too careful to not careful enough.

The back and forth between carelessness and hypervigilance often occurs because hypervigilance is not sustainable. It burns through your physical, emotional, and mental reserves until you LITERALLY just can’t think about celiac-safety anymore. (AKA celiac burnout) ⠀

And so you go to the other end of the spectrum where you just let things go (when you probably shouldn’t). And then you feel guilt, shame, or maybe you quite literally feel ill from gluten and you get a new wave of motivation to jump back onto the “wagon” of hypervigilance… Continuing this back and forth cycle. ⠀

My goal is to help people with celiac stay in the middle, what I like to call the place of vigilance. Where you’re careful enough to stay celiac-safe without being held back by celiac.

What to do About it

So the binge-restrict cycle with celiac disease is a thing, and it sucks. It sucks to feel so restricted, feel so out of control with food, and then feel so bad and guilty about it (AKA celiac guilt and shame).

And we can do something about it. You start with identifying what’s causing you to be in the binge-restrict cycle or pendulum. Are you restricting because you don’t have a strong foundational knowledge in celiac-safe? If so, maybe something like my Celiac Crash Course which covers the basics of celiac-safety would be helpful.

Do you have a strong foundational knowledge but still find yourself restricting? We address this by identifying the foods/activities you’re restricting and unpacking the beliefs around them. Then you work through the cycle and figure out what’s triggering the build-up of emotions leading to you the binge. Then we unpack the guilt and shame associated with the binge and SLOWLY we break the cycle.

Now the cycle is not broken at the flick of a switch, it requires time, patience, and most importantly self-compassion. And with the help of a celiac provider, and intuitive eating with celiac disease, you can end the cycle faster.

This is exactly why I designed the IN TUNE with Celiac Group Program. It’s a 12-week program designed to help you break free from the binge restrict cycle and ultimately, find peace with food, your body, and your gluten-free needs. So you don’t feel like a slave to your food fears, celiac disease, or the binge-restrict cycle.

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