The Fitness Lifestyle and Binge Eating

by Olesya Novik

As many of you already know, I’ve made it a priority of mine to understand the different types of eating disorders, how they originate, why so many of us find ourselves having to deal with them, and what can be done to end the struggle once and for all.

In my many hours of research on emotional eating, I’ve come across hundreds upon hundreds of articles and various research studies. The one thing they all seem to have in common when it comes to “cure” suggestions, is for the sufferer to eat only when hungry, and to do everything possible to keep the focus off food at all other times.

This made me realize something: If eating only when hungry, and not thinking about food at other times, are prerequisites to getting rid of the emotional eating or overeating disorders, then people who are serious trainees have a real problem!

Are Binge Eating Disorders More Prevalent in Fit Individuals?

Just think about it — people who eat by the clock, regardless of hunger levels; those who constantly think about food as they plan it days ahead of time, and weigh and measure every bit of food they put in their mouths — how are they to prevent this obsessive relationship with food, when their very lifestyle centers around being obsessive with it?

Then there’s the whole cycle of losing fat and gaining muscle, done in a yo-yo type fashion by most serious trainees and physique competitors. The average figure competitor, for instance, will go through a muscle-gaining “off-season” cycle, followed by a “cutting” period where she’ll follow a very low calorie, highly restrictive diet for 12 or 16 weeks.

Once that cutting cycle ends, she’ll allow herself the freedom to consume higher calories — along with some of her favorite foods once in a while, as she embarks on another “off-season.”

So, where’s the problem, you ask?

Simple: The simple fact that you’ve deprived yourself for a good 3-4 months, and (more often than not) followed a starvation diet, consisting of under 1,200 calories daily (as you did hours upon hours of cardio daily), has absolutely crashed your metabolism!

And there’s more…

Once you allow yourself to have more food; the second you tell yourself that it’s “okay” to indulge once in a while, as you’ve reached your goal — the minute you relax — your subconscious mind will begin to send intense “feed this starving body” signals that you, most likely, will find incredibly hard to resist!

This is why, no matter how well you realize the fact that you don’t actually *need* that entire box of cereal; nor will it disappear the minute you put down the spoon, and you can always have more later — you’ll have an overwhelming desire to finish it all off, as your body is trying to “fill up” on food while it’s “still available.”

After all, who knows when you’ll embark on another starvation period. Your body’s main goal is to survive. As you stand by the fridge late at night, eating peanut butter straight out of the jar with one spoonful after the next, all your body is focused on doing, is preserving itself.


That’s what it’s all about. And that, to me, explains the prevalence of binge and emotional eating in the fitness community.

In all honesty, I’m having a hard time with this idea. I like to think that we’re all very health-conscious individuals… and yet, if we’re the main cause of our own suffering, how aware and conscious are we, really?

Think I’m Wrong?

If you think I’m off base, I would absolutely LOVE to hear why. I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong. If you think I’m missing some major factor here, I really, really need to hear your thoughts.

And if you agree, or understand what I’m trying to say, I’d love to hear from you too… it’ll help me solidify my theory.

I sincerely hope to get lots of comments here, as this topic is important to us all, so post up below!

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15 thoughts on “The Fitness Lifestyle and Binge Eating

  1. KARIE says:

    i totally agree. i already struggle with binge eating and have for the past 5+ years. this is why i will not compete b/c i feel it will just make me worse. i think that people who choose to compete need to prepare for the mental aspect of post comp to prevent this binge cycle.

  2. KKKRRR says:

    I guess this why everyon should let their taste buds choose their meal at least once a week.

    For me– the only times I have ever binged have been when I skip meals all together. Two summers ago, I would get up at 5AM, have breakfast (omlette usually), then I would go for an hour bike ride, and proceed to do intense yard work. (Think landscaping, weeding, cleaning farm equiptment, and such). I would work allll day, maybe having a protein shake for lunch and some carrots for a snack. Wanna guess what happend when I came in a 10PM!? My body told me to eat, and not to quit!

    As soon as I started balancing out my meals, the feeling has yet to come back. Its not emotional for me, just pure, 100% hunger.

    I am SO glad I have found my happy place, and I believe I can stay there as long as I keep a steady “feeding schedule” 🙂

  3. xoxonikkixoxo says:

    I completely agree with that theory. I’m not a regular binge eater, but it has happened to me once in a blue moon. How do we change this though??

  4. Jenn says:

    I totally agree… I have been that girl with the peanut butter in front of the fridge. As for the “conscious” part I think we understand what we’re doing and why we are doing it but the survival instinct programmed into our bodies outweighs the conscious/rational thoughts we have about not “needing” all the food we are consuming…

  5. Aly says:

    It’s funny, the bf and I were just discussing this. My off season has been a long one. And he was putting my mind at ease telling me it was ok, that my mind needs this and because of my long off season…and relaxed way of eating ( more relaxed recently) is good for me once in a while and he made the point to say ‘ look at how long it has been since you have wanted to binge’. He feels that dieting for a show or restrictive diets such as the Anabolic Diet or our personal favorite the Get Shredded Diet teach binge eating because they give you free days…free days that don’t come around too often. So you eat like you are never going to get it again.
    I totally agree with this article. And not that every competitior is doomed to a life of restriction or the ever dreaded binge it just takes some learning from your mistakes to realize what your triggers are and how to control them.

  6. Anne Mace says:

    O – you are right in so many ways but the ironic part is athletes in which leanness is a factor (such as figure, body building, etc) are at a much higher percentage for eating disorders than the rest of the female population. Cognitive Dietary Restraint (CDR) in which the individual is in a constant state of dieting actually leads to stress fractures in runners more frequently than thought. The personality of the individual has a lot to do with it as well but there are certainly more individuals I know watching their weight through “fitness” than I would have thought. My overweight friends and I view food totally different… We have good and bad foods and they just have food… labeling things as cheat meals and treats gives the connotation the food is bad for us. I think the change needs to be in how we look at all food… There is food to fuel our body for performance and food to light up our taste buds… When we consider them good and bad we actually lead ourselves down a very slippery slope.

  7. bootybootybooty says:

    Spot on.
    I always say, if I get too hungry, I can almost guarantee I will get too full.
    If a competitor is hungry for 12-16 (or sometimes more!) weeks during a cut…their body is going to rebel.

  8. Kari says:

    Olesya were you thinking of me when writing this???? I am in my first “off-season” and I can hoenstly say it’s the hardest time for me right now than ever before with food…I just can’t get “full” – literally I am ALWAYS hungry…I know that some of this hunger is psychological and I keep saying to myself “kari, you were able to go 8 weeks without a singe cheat – you think you could make it 8hours” but still I feel like I’ve lost all will power….i seem to start and re-start my clean eating plan because I just can’t seem to get back on track….I never thought of myself of having a binge eating disorder but i’m pretty convinced now that that is what I’m dealing with here…..kind of scary to actually say it out loud..well type it out loud 🙂 I’m glad I’ve got you on my side to help me through it!!!

  9. Nicole says:

    I can see it from both sides, as I had a problem with binging long before I ever competed. For years I did a starve/binge diet, which thankfully is long behind me but I do still stuggle with binging. I have no problems during prep but once things are lax, I cannot control myself…but I think its more of a mental issue than just my body being hungry. I think when I’m prepping, I zone in on my show and that is where I channel my energy…when I’m not and the reality of life stares me in the face, its easy to eat my emotions away instead of dealing with them.
    I also think that the ‘good/bad’ food labels are dangerous….there is nothing wrong with enjoying junk food, comfort food and sweets ocassionially but I think the all or nothing approach is an unhealthy way to live.

  10. CaitStrong says:

    Good article O! Gives us lots to think about. I think that the fitness lifestyle was something that I started to persue because I didn’t want to be fat anymore, and I was fat because I binged. So, it was a problem before I started paying attention to what I eat. Naturally, that problem did not go away, and perhaps it was more provoked when I restricted. But I would rather be informed about my eating choices, even if I am still learning to let go of guilt associated with having certain types or quantities of food. I’m not fat anymore, I like myself more and have better physical performance due to the awareness that I have acquired. Yes, I do have bad days and I try to learn from them. I know that if I deprive my body too much, I will inevitably binge, but if I fuel it often enough, before I get too hungry, it is much easier to stay in control.

  11. Rebecca says:

    Hi Ladies,

    Although I am not happy to hear that I am not alone in this matter, it does make me feel better to know that I am not alone 🙂

    After my 1st show I had no idea what to expect and my off season was beyond horrible.

    After my 2nd show (2 months ago) I have kept things much more in check, because i knew what to expect. However I would like to be less focused on food, without dropping the quality. I feel that certain things help, like planning my weekly menu so that I can bring in meals that are varied and some are less clean than others. It means that if I plan for them, I have a shopping list when I get my food and then I tend to stick to it. That way throughout the week I just look at what that day’s menu is and reach in the fridge to put into my storage containers.

    I tend to get derailed from my plan for 1 of 3 reasons:

    1) I go too long without food: so when I eat my scheduled meal my stomach doesn’t feel full, or it gets bloated…or worse I have had to reach for something temporary (usually not very clean) and then ended up getting a horribly upset tummy.

    2) I eat an unscheduled treat: that then makes me feel crappy cos I didn’t stick to the plan.

    3) If I don’t sleep enough: being tired makes me crave carbs and sometimes I can’t hold back, which leads me back into number 2…unscheduled treats.

    So, I have been better at avoiding the above steps, however they still happen. I just keep reminding myself that this is only 2nd time around for me and I am much much better than last time! I do try and keep meals varied as I find that boredom can make me reach for extra flavours elsewhere. But above all, I just keep thinking: I am doing this because I WANT to, not because I have to! And so sometimes when I do feel like it’s too much I just have a treat. I am still working on that being a guilt-less one 🙂

    Keep the posts coming…lots of love to you all who are trying to understand this crazy sport!! 😀

  12. Fit Mom of 4 says:

    O, this is so true. Not to say binging is foreign to regular people like me, cuz it is not, but like KKKRRR said… if I regulate my eating and tell myself I am fueling my body with good stuff and not crap (which let’s face it: candy and junk is CRAP) I function better, feel better, perform better and mentally feel better therefore enabling me to stay on course. The “junk” is a slippery slope. The more you eat the more you crave. So we need to know ourselves and know when to stay away.

    I though am the type of person that needs structure and control. No I have been able to do that while at the same time NOT obsessing. I know… sounds backwards but I am doing it. I keep a food journal that I plan every week so I can shop for it etc. and at every meal, I check actual against planned and I stayed 100% on track for 8 weeks and counting… that is HUGE for me!!

    Thanks for writing this. I think a lot of ladies on here are suffering due to competition prep etc… and the “off season”.

  13. Gymbunny says:

    BINGO! You are bang on the mark about this. I did my last leaning cycle but had no idea how to increase calories in the off season. I’ve ballooned up like blimp. Which is not helping the ED.

    I think a lot of ladies need a better idea, maybe a diet plan of how to gradually increase cals in the offseason to not end up in a vicious cycle.

  14. Gwen says:

    This is so true! I am usually pretty consistent with my eating and don’t fall into the “binge” trap but I do notice that if I try to go more than 3 days without some sort of “starchy carb” source then I want EVERYTHING I can get my hands on.

    I am usually a protein + fat person and carbs are veggies only but every once in awhile I will get a CRAVING for them. I tend to eat mostly Paleo so starchy carbs are not part of my routine but I throw them in every now and again just to keep myself in check.

    I like to think of my nutrition plan by the 90/10 rule…90% clean meals and 10% “cheat/rewards”. This helps me get through the week and then I can PLAN for my “cheat/reward” meals and look forward to them instead of binging and then feeling miserable and guilty.

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