Challenging the Yo-Yo Dieting Cycle in Binge Eating Disorder

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When it comes to binge eating disorder, this mental illness is sadly mischaracterized and understood, making it more difficult for those who are struggling to seek out the help and support they need.

On the surface level, it may seem that a person who is dealing with binge eating has a lack of self-control when it comes to food and eating, though these are the stereotypes that are typically believed about this disorder.

Binge eating disorder is in fact, a severe psychiatric illness, impacting three times more people than anorexia and bulimia combined [1].

Dealing with Shame and Inadequacy

Some of the common behaviors associated with binge eating disorder include but are not limited to:

  • Eating large quantities of food in short time period, even when not physically hungry
  • Feeling guilty or shameful after eating
  • Eating rapidly and quickly
  • Feeling disgusted and shameful about eating behaviors

Many individuals who struggle with binge eating disorder will experience negative consequences as a result of their abnormal eating habits, including physical, emotional, mental, and psychological effects.

While eating disorders are not size dependent, some people with binge eating disorder will become overweight or obese due to chronic and maladaptive behaviors with food.

According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), a history of significant weight changes and/or the experience with weight stigma and weight discrimination can all be factors that contribute to the development of binge eating disorder [2].

For someone who has experienced this type of pain as a result of their size or body shape, the eating disorder behaviors can be further triggered, creating a vicious cycle.

The Danger of Yo-Yo Dieting

Living in a society that is saturated with weight-loss messages, many individuals with binge eating disorder may easily fall into the trap that believing that their pain will go away if they are able to achieve weight loss.

Women watching sunsetUnfortunately, our culture constantly delivers damaging ideas about weight and body image, often portraying that women and men who are thin and fit are more successful, have better relationship, less worries, etc. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Though when these messages reach a person with binge eating disorder, for example, the vulnerability they may be feeling and experiencing may lead them to believe that weight loss may be the answer to the problems they are facing. Dieting can become a way of trying to “fix” the problem, but as with any eating disorder, there are many more complexities involved.

It is not uncommon for a person with binge eating disorder to try the latest and greatest fad diet in order to try to correct their weight or feel as though they have better control over their eating habits. Whatever dieting happens to be trending might be what a person decides to try – from juicing to fasting to cutting carbohydrates or sugars and everything in between.

A person with binge eating disorder might be able to sustain a diet for a temporary amount of time, even experience significant weight loss that feels rewarding and achieving, but dieting does not produce any lasting effects.

Research has shown that diets do not work or produce any type of lasting effects, with only about 2% of individuals who do diet will actually lose weight and keep it off [3]. In fact, individuals who engage in yo-yo dieting, meaning chronically go off and on different diets, have been shown to have decreased metabolic rates and end up storing a greater percentage of fat on their bodies [4].

For a person with binge eating who is trying to lose weight with yo-yo dieting, they may find this contributes to even more frustration on their end.

Seeking Out Comprehensive Care

Woman with bagThe important thing to remember is that dieting does not fix anything, and losing weight will not result in healing from an eating disorder, like binge eating disorder. BED is a complex psychiatric illness and should be treated like such, with comprehensive care from a multi-disciplinary team, including medical, nutritional, and psychiatric care.

While losing weight may seem like a “problem fix”, especially for a person who has suffered discrimination due to their size or shape, it is crucial to remember that this was never the issue to begin with. Connecting to appropriate care and treatment means being able to take a deeper look at what factors have contributed to the disorder, like trauma, family history, and more.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: National Eating Disorder, “Overview and Statistics”,
[2]: Binge Eating DIsorder Association, “Binge Eating Disorder Causes and Risk Factors”,
[3]: Goodrick GK, Foreyt JP. Why treatments for obesity don’t last. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1991;91:1243-1247.
[4]: Gaesser G. Big Fat Lies: The truth about your weight and your health. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books, 2002.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 9, 2017
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