Expert Insight: Dieting and the Fear of Famine

“Our ancestors did not have a constant supply of food. When a large animal – a whale, a bison, a woolly mammoth or an elephant – was killed, everyone feasted, gorged… it might be weeks or months before another big kill, so large amounts had to be eaten quickly and then stored in the body for the times of scarcity that were sure to come.  

This is an ancient or atavistic memory that calls us to eat all we can now, even if we are not hungry, just in case there won’t be any food tomorrow… there is something deep in our primitive brain that still fears starvation, scarcity, famine.”

Jan Chozen Bays, “Mindful Eating”

Remember the panic-buying we witnessed when the Covid-19 crisis first hit?

Here in the UK, there wasn’t a food shortage but just the possibility of one made people panic – ironically bringing about the very shortages they feared.

There were similar experiences worldwide: supermarkets struggling to keep up with demand as people began to hoard food and supplies.

The danger of scarcity led to stockpiling.

This is what happens when we diet.

When we exert outside control on our eating, rather than respect internal cues, our bodies perceive the restriction as scarcity or famine.

When we break the diet, as we inevitably will, we’re compelled by a primal instinct to eat more than we need, in order to prepare for further food shortages.

When we say “I’ll start the diet again tomorrow”, we confirm the impending deprivation and trigger the order to binge.

Our bodies store the excess food we eat as fat to help us prepare for future famines. We hate them for gaining weight but it’s not their fault. They’re simply doing what they’re supposed to do.

Our bodies aren’t to blame, it’s dieting that’s the issue.

When we begin to normalise our eating, we focus on giving ourselves full or unconditional permission to eat exactly what we want. In doing so, we prove to our minds and our bodies there’s no famine, no scarcity. Therefore, there’s no need to “stock up” by bingeing.

It’s probably one of the hardest parts of the process of recovery because it swims against the tidal wave of diet culture, but it’s possibly the most rewarding.

Every time we give ourselves permission to eat what we really want, we chip away at our old diet mindset and move a step closer to making peace with food.

Ultimately, we can learn to relax and enjoy food, and that fear of famine “deep in our primitive brain” can stand down, safe in the knowledge we’ll never diet again.


For more on giving yourself full permission to eat, click here. And don’t forget to access my Scoop.It page for even more information.



Chozen Bays, J. (2009), Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Boston: Shambhala.



Food for Thought: Learning Just To Be

“Finding the lesson behind every adversity will be the one important thing that helps get you through it.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Somebody tweeted the other day that if we don’t use our time on lockdown to learn a new skill, start a “side hustle” and gain more knowledge, we lack self-discipline.

I have a problem with this kind of thinking.

My bingeing days may be well behind me but, like many people who binge eat, I have a tendency towards busyness and achievement.

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Learning Just To Be”

What Can Lockdown Teach Us About Binge Eating?

I want to start by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to all the medical professionals (both frontline and behind the scenes) currently working, at great personal risk, to care for the sick. I’d also like to thank all those carrying out essential services – collecting our rubbish, stacking the shelves, delivering our orders – for their hard work and dedication at such a difficult time.

Thank you. All of you.

The rest of us are playing our part by staying at home in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease. And it seems that some of us are struggling with the lockdown, while others are enjoying it.

Continue reading “What Can Lockdown Teach Us About Binge Eating?”

Gentle Reminder: It’s Not Your Fault

It’s so easy to beat yourself up when you binge. Especially if you begin to suffer health complications as a result of increased weight.

“It’s my fault”, you say. “I’ve brought this on myself”.

Except you haven’t.

Continue reading “Gentle Reminder: It’s Not Your Fault”

Expert Insight: Seeing the Funny Side of Our Mistakes

“One way to encourage clients to accept themselves is to remind them that it is human to err and make mistakes. This will enable them to see themselves as human and learn to replace self-judgement with humility and laughter, rather than being crippled by shame. When clients are able to laugh rather than become embarrassed by awkward situations, they are able to redefine their experience and maintain social bonds. In this way, good-natured humour and laughter has a positive effect in disrupting the cycle of shame (Scheff 1990). Moreover, shared laughter is quintessentially human and a powerful tool for connecting to others.”

– Christiane Sanderson, “Counselling Skills for Working with Shame”

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Seeing the Funny Side of Our Mistakes”

Can You Forgive Yourself?

I saw a quote the other day that stopped me in my tracks:

“When you keep criticizing your kids, they don’t stop loving you, they stop loving themselves”.

Its stark simplicity hit me hard.

It’s absolutely true. If children are criticised relentlessly, they don’t start hating their parents, they start hating themselves.

Continue reading “Can You Forgive Yourself?”

Food for Thought: The Rush to Forgiveness

“Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on.” – Alice Miller

“I forgive them”. This is what victims of crime sometimes say when they’re interviewed on the news days, or even hours, after some terrible violation has been committed against them. Perhaps they were brutally attacked. Perhaps someone they love was murdered.

“I forgive the people who did this to me”, they say.

I always feel a sense of concern when I hear this.

Their forgiveness seems so immediate.  It makes me wonder what happened to their feelings.

Continue reading “Food for Thought: The Rush to Forgiveness”