I was never very good at dieting. Of course the goal was always to lose weight and then naturally fall into being a normal eater. As if weight loss itself was the key to a healthy relationship with food. At the time I was blind to the fact that the pursuit of weight loss itself was the very thing that was destroying my mental health around food.

During my binge eating disorder I was able to lose a notable amount of weight only once, but once was all it took for my mind to cling on to the memory of what was possible, if only I could make myself do that again. No excuse not to; I’ve done it before so I know I can do it again.

Except I couldn’t.

I’ve met many people who struggle with binge eating who see themselves as ‘good at dieting’. When they are in the flow they can control their food intake and lose weight until the inevitable bingeing starts.

These experiences of previous dieting ‘success’ make us very vulnerable to self blame. We think we should be able to do this, we have evidence that we CAN, so our brains have a hard time accepting the fact we don’t seem to be able to do it anymore.

If this is where you’re at, I’d like to share a few reasons why it used to be possible for us to diet and help you to consider what this means for your experience today.

Our primal brains were more forgiving – It seems clear that dieting becomes harder over time. The first diet is often the easiest because our primal brains have not experienced much restriction and so they are less reactive in the beginning. More cycles of dieting and restriction lead to a primal brain that is more sensitised to restriction (or threat of). Our brains learn and rewire themselves based on experiences.

Life was less stressful or more stressful – We know that stress can impact our appetite in both directions. Controlling food intake can create a state of stress in the brain and body; this can be quite manageable (assuming the restriction isn’t extreme) if everything else in life is running smoothly.

Sometimes people find that in happy seasons of life, food regulation (and potentially control) is easier. You may think back to a time like this and imagine that if you ‘fixed’ your eating life would feel like that again; perhaps forgetting that life feeling easier was the very thing that made managing food feel easier.

Likewise, even if it hasn’t happened to us, most of us will know someone who went through a stressful period of life and lost weight. A good friend of mine got divorced and lost a lot of weight quickly. Over time she gained it back and I have watched her continue to fight with herself and food to try to get back to that body size. She figures that she has been there before so it must be possible to get there again.

The reward of losing weight temporarily outweighed the reward of eating – weight loss can be a rewarding experience. We congratulate ourselves and others congratulate us too, which is a potently reinforcing combination. Each time you see your weight come down a bit, your brain is flooded with reward chemicals that keep you chasing more weight loss. As we know, the weight loss will stall at some point. Perhaps you reach your goal weight. Once those reward chemicals dry up and our bodies are calling for more food, the switch is flipped and the out-of-control eating begins.

If any (or all) of these sound like you, you may want to watch this week’s YouTube video here where I delve into these reasons (and a couple more) in more detail to help you to understand why going back to dieting is not as straightforward as it sounds. This is not a willpower issue. There are powerful forces at play here. When we stop wasting energy fighting these forces, we can redirect it to fostering sanity around food instead.

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