Want to stop binge eating? Why recovery and weight loss don't mix

When I start to work with someone on problems with binge eating, there’s one question that comes up a lot. The question is, “will I lose weight?”. Here’s what I tell them...


You can’t focus on stopping binge eating and keep trying to lose weight at the same time. In this article, I am letting you know the 10 reasons why focusing on weight loss isn’t a good idea in binge eating recovery.

Are you ready? Great, let’s dive in.

1. Recovery and weight loss are mutually exclusive

They’re just incompatible. If you’re focusing on weight loss then your effort isn’t 100% focused on recovery. Actively trying to lose weight during the recovery process might hinder it.

Eating disorders and disordered eating put your body in a state of deprivation. You might be thinking, “I’m binging - definitely no deprivation here!”. But, think about the ways you try to stop binging. You might try to make up for binges by eating less the next day or try to push off eating lunch when you start thinking about food. Does this sound familiar?

2. A healthy relationship with food is independent of your weight

A good relationship with food can mean:

  • Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat food you enjoy. When you’re binging, this might feel out of reach right now. This is why one-to-one support with a qualified professional will be helpful to make peace with these foods.
  • You listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.
  • No foods are off-limits.
  • You don’t worry about the number on the scale - in fact, you may have ditched it altogether.
  • You don’t feel defined by the foods you eat.
  • You choose foods that make you feel your best.
  • You nourish your body with foods that feel good, including fun foods.

This means that you eat based on how it makes you feel physically and emotionally, as well as how it affects your energy levels in brain and body. How much you weigh may not even come into the equation anymore. Or maybe it does (and that’s okay) but is a small piece of a much larger picture now.

3. You may find your weight goes down naturally as a result of recovery

You may have heard of set point theory - the weight range that you are genetically predisposed to have, regardless of height and gender. Now it is just a theory, and we know that so many things affect your weight, including diet history, stress, hormones and menstrual cycle, health conditions, activity levels etc.

This is why you may have heard that when you lose weight your metabolism slows, and as you gain weight, it speeds up a little bit. This is your body trying to compensate for weight changes. As you lose weight, your body reduces hormones that signal fullness and increases hormones that signal hunger - meaning you’ll naturally gain it back. This is why recovery that helps you tune into hunger, and fullness may return you back to your set point or make your weight go down with fewer fluctuations.

Food habituation can also occur. If I said you can eat cake for every meal every day if you wanted it would make you think, do I really want it? When we diet, we experience what’s called the ‘last supper effect’ - we eat loads of one food before we cut it out completely. Habituation is the opposite, as when you have unlimited access to a type of food, you tend to just eat it in moderation. 

When you’re in tune with your body, as you start to be during recovery, you can better tune into whether you are full or hungry. This means that you are less likely to overeat, while also not restricting when you are physically hungry.

4. Once you heal your relationship with food, if you choose to try to lose weight, it will be easier and safer

As we described above, a good relationship with food means eating from a place of satiating your hunger cues. Approaching weight loss from the perspective of changing in/out a few foods or paying more attention to your hunger cues is a better approach than restricting yourself or punishing your body.

Mentally, recovery will help you with the ‘all or nothing’ response and prevent you from falling into a bit of a spiral if you find you’re not happy with your body and how it looks. 

It may take time for you to find what weight works best for you in terms of allowing you to live your best life, free from restriction.

5. We’re moving away from a place of restriction - which is entwined with losing weight 

Although there is a focus on binging, I often find that between periods of overeating there is a large amount of restriction. Either due to guilt from binging or a focus on minimising calories. If you’re moving away from binging, you are also moving away from restrictions. To focus on weight loss is to introduce restriction back into your approach to food.

6. Your body has been restricted and/or in a state of stress for a while and may be taking a chance to reset

Binge eating holds your body in a state of fight or flight, of constant stress. Recovery starts to introduce your body into a state of rest and digest - this might mean it starts to gain weight as systems return to normal. 

Weight loss places stress on the body, and monitoring your diet and body weight has been found to increase your cortisol levels. This can have a range of health effects both related and unrelated to weight. Giving your body a chance to breathe, and maybe gain weight as a by-product, will allow it to get back to its optimal function and positioning.

7. You want to move away from thinking about our body weight 

Negative body image or struggling with your body is often a trigger for binging. Body neutrality focuses on the body as a ‘vehicle for living’ - something that allows you to meet with friends, run, walk, sit and stand, and live your life.

8. Do you know what a ‘healthy weight’ is for you?

It’s easy to look on social media and see someone around your height and think they look healthy, and that you should look like that. But everyone's healthy weight looks different. It may take time for you to find what weight works best for you in terms of allowing you to live your best life, free from restriction.

9. Recovery takes time, weight changes are long term

Recovery can take months, years or can even be a lifelong journey. Imagine trying to focus on your weight for that long. Exhausting, right? And imagine all the other things you might miss. Addressing your weight might even be a part of your recovery, whether it’s physical or psychological. And it may be something you readdress over time

10. So many factors affect your weight 

Your weight isn't simply a sum of what you eat minus how much you move, even though the Internet likes to pretend it is. It’s affected by so many things, not least your genetics which you can’t change.

How much have you been sleeping? Poor sleep quality can cause weight gain - whether through increasing appetite, decreasing your metabolism, making you feel more lethargic etc.

If you’re a person who menstruates, you might regain your period as a part of your recovery. This means your body has enough nutrients to start your cycle again. The hormones associated with your period can cause weight gain during this time - coupled with cravings, and altered eating and moving habits.

If you’re on any medication - some affect appetite and/or your weight. Any illness, whether it’s fleeting or a chronic condition that affects every aspect of your life.

We hope this list proves helpful and helps you feel less alone. It’s normal to have days where you worry about your body image, whether in recovery or not, but the aim is for these days to reduce in number.

Some thoughts that might help you approach recovery: 

  • My body might change and I’m okay with that.
  • I am not giving up on my body, I am allowing it to heal.

Imagine your fully recovered self and what that means, and what else you can experience in life without periods of binging and/or compensating.

Everyone's experience is different, and the above may not apply to you. That’s where bespoke care can come in. If you want one-to-one help, please get in touch.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Edinburgh EH1 & London SW1W
Written by Shannon Western, Eating disorder & disordered eating, nutrition therapy
Edinburgh EH1 & London SW1W

Shannon is a nutritionist who specialises in helping people recover from eating disorders and disordered eating. She supports people with a person-centred approach that combines nutrition science, counselling tools, and Non-Diet Approaches like Intuitive Eating. She is available for 1-1 online support.

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