Why the Binge – Shame – Restrict cycle is derailing your Keto weight loss

If you’ve been on the Keto diet for a while, or fallen off numerous times, you’ll know the binge and shame cycle well. 

I’m sure you’ve been there: it’s Friday night after a long week, or a stressful or upsetting event has hit you hard. 

Your body and brain are screaming for relief from unpleasant emotions, so you reach for carbs. 

This is what you’ve trained your body and brain to do – to comfort yourself with food when nothing else seems to work. 

Even more so when you can’t muster the energy to try anything else, so sitting on the couch with a huge bowl of pasta or chips is the only thing that seems tolerable right now. 

Eating Keto doesn’t encourage binge eating on it’s own. However, unless we address the reasons that lead to a binge – shame – restrict cycle, it can be exacerbated by eating a Keto diet because we’ve found a ‘healthy’ way to restrict our diets. 

This article is adapted from content from the Keto For Life program. If this issue resonates with you, Keto For Life may be the right step for you to overcome the mental blockers to living a healthier life. 

Hands up if you started Keto for weight loss? I sure did. 

Keto is great for weightloss, there’s no doubt about it. 

But chances are you’ve tried lots of crash diets before and had short term success, only to fall off and gain some, or all or more of it back. 

The key to sticking to Keto long term is dealing with the mental battle, and breaking the binge – shame – restrict cycle is essential. 

Let’s uncover what the binge – shame – restrict cycle is, some examples and what to do about it. 

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What is the Binge – Shame – Restrict Cycle? 

We all have cravings on Keto  and sometimes they get the better of us. 

We are only human after all, but what happens next is what really derails our Keto weight loss goals.

If we’ve relied on food for pleasure for decades, undoing this brain wiring can be hard! 

Here’s what the Binge-Shame-Restrict cycle often looks like: 

  • Eat something not aligned with your health goals, or way more of something than planned
  • Berate yourself, be disappointed or angry at yourself
  • Feel awful that you are a failure, ashamed you can’t stick with it
  • Often eat more, or be really strict and harsh on yourself trying to undo the damage or punish yourself
  • Repeat the process often, reinforcing these mental pathways

If you’ve been on this shame cycle before, it’s time to jump off. It’s time to break the cycle, step by step.

You can see two things happen after a binge – we either given up and throw the towel in, or we restrict really heavily. 

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ll know I believe in a balanced approach to Keto where no foods are off limits or ‘bad’ because that’s what leads to food obsession. 

The difference between shame and guilt 

If you’ve recently had a binge or even a bit off plan, you may be feeling a combination of shame and guilt. 

The ARE different, and understanding this difference can be helpful in sticking to Keto long term and building the tool kit to avoid cravings on Keto. 

Guilt is feeling you did something wrong. Shame is feeling that your whole self is wrong. 

You see they are quite different – guilt is about the action itself, shame is very personal and turns into thinking that YOU are the thing that’s wrong. 

And there’s no obvious way to fix shame.

Guilt can be quickly fixed… 

If you think “I feel guilty because I ate more chips than I’d planned,” you can train your next thought to be “but that’s ok because my next choice will be a healthy one”

If it spirals into shame, your initial thought of “I feel guilty because I ate more chips…” turns into “I am terrible at this and am a failure.. I’ll never be healthy”. 

No clear step, no way out, defeatist and incredibly harsh.

Imagine if you said that to a friend or a child who ate some chips? Yet we talk to ourselves this way, and it is hugely demotivating and demoralising. 

We hold ourselves to such higher standards than we would ever hold someone else to. 

If you’re interested in learning more about dealing with shame and how to stop it, here’s some great resources I have personally found helpful.

  1. Brene Brown is the master in this field. Her books The Gifts of Imperfection , I Thought It Was Just Me and her various Ted Talks are game changers.
  1. I’ve recently been reading Happy Not Perfect which has been great for working through perfectionism and anxious mind cycles and applies well to these shame cycles
  1. Headspace (the meditation app) have some great mini courses on dealing with shame and negative self talk, and their article here has some good resources too.

How can we stop the binge cycle on Keto?

If you know the shame and binge cycle is one that keeps you stuck, or on a weight loss roller coaster, I’ve got 5 tips you can implement today to start breaking this habit. 

At the end of the day, it’s a habit like any other – just like brushing your teeth. You weren’t born knowing how to brush your teeth, you had to be taught and practice, now it’s second nature. 

Similarly, you can train your brain to break these cycles as well. It just takes a little practice. 

Tip 1: Cultivate Self Compassion 

As mentioned above, we would never speak to someone we love like we do ourselves. If we verbalized the thoughts racing around our heads after a carb heavy binge, our loved ones would be shocked. 

Practicing self compassion can take some time, but it gets easier the more we practice and the older we get! 

There’s a great article here about the psychology of shame, and here are tips to practice self compassion today: 

  1. First, you must notice your own suffering. Admit the pain you feel from your binge eating, compulsive overeating, emotional eating, or food addiction.
  2. Open your heart to accept and notice the suffering your eating behaviors have caused.
  3. The Buddhists say, “Pain is part of the human condition.” This means none of us are perfect and all of us deserve compassion and understanding.
  4. Think of ways you can treat yourself with more compassion. Many people who have trouble feeling self-compassion can imagine being compassionate towards a small child or a pet. So think of how you can give yourself the same care you would give to a small child or pet.

Tip 2: Post Binge Reflection 

I am big on reflection and examining what we were feeling at the time. This is key to my 5 Steps to Getting Back On The Wagon tool and applies just as well here. 

Here’s some prompting questions you can ask yourself to examine what you were feeling:

Take some time to dig a little deeper into these feelings

  • Why do you feel this way?
  • Why was your willpower depleted? (I have an article on Why Willpower Isn’t Enough to Stick With Keto)
  • What triggered the feelings? (It’s not about berating yourself, saying “you idiot, you weren’t even hungry”
  • Who do you feel you have let down?
  • What could you do differently right now to feel better?
  • What do you fear will happen as a result of this?
  • What would you say to a dear friend if they shared these feelings with you?
  • Think of a time when you have felt very positive about yourself and your choices. What feelings did you have then?
  • If it helps, write down these feelings and spend some time examining them, especially the triggers
  • How are you feeling now you have sat with the emotions, named them and let them wash through you?

Tip 3: Eat Afterwards

You may be tempted to avoid food for a while or severely restrict yourself to ‘undo’ your carb binge. 

All this does is reinforce the punishment and that you deserve it, plus make cravings stronger. 

The very next meal you have should just be a regular old keto meal. Not adjusted or reduced, just a regular meal that you would have at any other time. 

By getting straight back to a normal Keto diet, you are telling your brain that no punishment is coming because you weren’t ‘bad’ or naughty. 

You were just human, with some emotions that weren’t soothed well so you resorted to food. 

Eating a normal Keto meal after a carb binge also encourages you to get back into Ketosis quicker, thereby reducing cravings for more carbs afterwards. 

Tip 4: No Foods Are Off Limits

You’ve probably seen me talk about food obsession on Keto before, it hit me hard before I started understanding how to deal with it properly. 

When we tell ourselves we can NEVER have a certain food again, our contrarian minds obsess over it. 

By making an entire macro – carbs – off limits completely and forever, we are permanently teetering on the edge of food obsession. 

Including measured and balanced ‘cheat meals’ can be crucial to staying on keto long term.

We allow ourselves small portions of carbs and enjoy and savour them – rather than bingeing on them without control. 

We get to enjoy carbs for all that they add to meals without feeling bloated, shameful and awful afterwards. 

Integrating occasional cheat meals into your diet in a balanced way can see us through difficult situations like Christmas, social situations and emotional periods in life. 

Moving Way from Shame and Guilt long term 

Once we start practicing the above tools, they don’t just become easy – they become natural and second nature. 

After doing this for a few months, I found sticking to Keto so much easier and have now been able to live a balanced life without restriction. 

No more going to the gym to sweat out my carbs from the night before – I simply be kind to myself, think about what lead to it and what I’d do differently next time, and make my next meal a Keto one. 

I’d love to hear how you manage this shame cycle when you do eat off plan, how do you get back on the Keto wagon? 

This article is adapted from content from the Keto For Life program. If this issue resonates with you, Keto For Life may be the right step for you to overcome the mental blockers to living a healthier life. 

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