Are Eating Disorders Cyclical?

Are Eating Disorders Cyclical?

Two green arrows in pointing tail-to-tail in a circle.

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are not all about food. In fact, there are usually several thoughts and events that lead to harmful eating behaviors. In this resource, we will walk you through the cycle commonly seen with people who struggle with food.

1.   Uncomfortable Thoughts and Feelings

People suffering from eating disorders often have difficulty managing uncomfortable emotions or experiences, which frequently starts the cycle of an eating disorder. This may include a stressful relationship, school or work situation, experiencing uncomfortable feelings about yourself, or difficulty managing an underlying mental health condition.

2.   Food Restriction

Those suffering from restricting eating disorders may limit how much they eat or what types of food they eat in response to uncomfortable emotions. However, food restriction is not limited to anorexia. People with bulimia and binge eating disorder will often restrict their food intake during the day. Restriction may look like:

  • Avoidance of certain foods or food groups
  • Suppression of your body’s hunger cues
  • Dieting

Sometimes the restriction is due to an emotional response, but sometimes this is also as simple as accidentally undereating. Regardless, your body does not have consistent nourishment throughout the day.

3.   Hunger Leading to Eating or Binge Eating

After a while of not eating, you get hungry. You may experience the common stomach-growling, empty feeling that is most commonly thought about as hunger. However, it’s common for someone suffering from a restricting eating disorder to lose this sensation temporarily.

Even without hunger “pangs” in your stomach, your body requires regular access to meals and snacks. You may still have other, less obvious, signs of hunger, such as:

  • Feeling the urge to eat
  • Thinking about your next meal or snack
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness or lightheadedness

At this point in the cycle, your body is hungry, regardless of whether or not you feel hunger sensations.

4.   Binge Eating (or Eating When You Don’t Want To)

Hunger will naturally increase the likelihood that you will eat. Those suffering from restrictive eating disorders may eat an amount that feels like too much, even when the actual quantity of food is less than the amount that their body needs to function optimally. For people with bulimia and binge eating disorder, extreme hunger increases the chances of having a binge.

5.   Perceived Failure and Recommitment to Unhelpful Eating Behaviors

After eating, the person suffering from the eating disorder may feel guilt, shame, or depression. There may be an urge to hide their eating from others. Then there may be a recommitment to the eating disorder behavior, such as restricting food intake again or starting a diet. Then, this leads to hunger, which can lead to eating, which leads back to guilt and shame.

Finding Help for Binge Eating Disorder

During eating disorder treatment, your team will help you identify the cyclical nature of your own eating disorder. Once you understand your own patterns, your treatment team will give you the skills and resources you need to break the cycle. If you need help for binge eating disorder or other restricting eating disorders, we would love to help. Give us a call today at 562-434-6007 or complete a contact form to start your journey to recovery.