Wellness Wednesday: The Dieting Pendulum


Trapped in a cycle of restricting and binging? Read on to learn about the dieting pendulum and what you can do to stop the cycle. 

The Dieting Pendulum

It's helpful to think about eating using the metaphor of a pendulum.

On one side of the pendulum is restriction. Deprivation. Dieting. Control. Hunger.  

On the other side of the pendulum is overconsumption. Binging. Overeating. Feeling out of control. 

Imagine physically pulling the pendulum back towards the side of restriction, then letting go. The pendulum will swing wildly back towards overconsumption.

If you've ever been on a diet, this is probably something you're well familiar with. In fact, we have a word for this - yo-yo dieting.

The oscillating action of a pendulum is predictable because it's controlled by gravity, a constant force of nature.

Similarly, our eating is controlled by another constant force of nature - genetics.

Humans are hardwired for feast and famine. It's basically the reason we're around today. Early humans were subject to long periods without food. If a human wasn't crazy motivated to seek out food (I like to imagine prehistoric earth as being full of lots of hairy, hangry people), then they got the survival of the fittest treatment.

Most of you reading this will never have to worry about where your next meal is coming from (many people still do). Still, most people regularly engage in this sort of self imposed starvation called dieting. (P.S. Even if you're not following a strict weight loss diet, you're still creating deprivation if you're avoiding specific foods/food groups, overexercising, or making food rules.)

Only a small subset of people are able to pull their pendulum back towards restriction and keep it there. It's actually a genetic fluke - a gene that's highly associated with anorexia nervosa. So let's stop glorifying those "good dieters" and saying how jealous we are of their willpower, because if their life was just a little bit different, it could have been the environmental trigger that set off a life threatening eating disorder.

When I start working with a client whose dieting pendulum is swinging wildly, they usually blame themselves. It's their lack of willpower/discipline/laziness/whatever insecurity they struggle with. But it's not their fault. It's not your fault. It's the restriction. Blame the diet. Blame the deprivation. The overeating/binging/emotional eating is a predictable result.

Instead of trying to control or stop your unwanted eating behavior, try removing the restriction. Then (and here's the hard part), keep your hands off. Just like a real pendulum, with time, it will slow down and settle at oscillating with a steady pulse. 

One of the most satisfying and interesting parts of being an intuitive eater is being able to mindfully observe how that same pendulum, the one that used to keep me swinging from Lean Cuisines and instant oatmeal and hunger, to McDonalds and instant mac and cheese and shame, now helps keep my eating balanced. After a particularly indulgent weekend with lots of socializing, I find myself gravitating towards lighter, fresher fare. Other times, after periods of unintentional deprivation (i.e. not eating as much because I'm sick or busy or stressed), I notice I'm hungrier, and craving richer or sweeter foods. With time, I've learned to trust that it all balances out. I wish that same sense of security for you too.


Are you done with diets and sick of feeling crazy around food? Ready to make peace with food and learn how to eat in a way that nourishes your body and soul? If so, I work with clients one-on-one, helping them rediscover the joy of eating, and I would love to help you too! Click here for more information. 


Registration is open for the April group of Joyful Eating, Nourished Life, the six week non-diet wellness program I launched with two other dietitians, Anne Mauney and Alex Caspero. If you're new to the non-diet life and looking for support, we'd love to have you join us! Go to our website for more information. 

In what ways do you pull your pendulum to the side of restriction? How does it trigger overconsumption? 

More inspiration for a diet-free life: 

Are False Beliefs Holding You Back?

Are False Beliefs Holding You Back?

Emotional Eating is Okay. Really.

Emotional Eating is Okay. Really.

Satisfy Food Cravings, Don’t Kick Them.

Satisfy Food Cravings, Don’t Kick Them.