Posts tagged Restriction
Three Questions to Ask to Stop Feeling Guilt and Shame Over “Bad” Foods

Whether you’re new to intuitive eating, deeper into learning about the non-diet approach, or at a different stage of your eating disorder recovery, it’s very possible you still feel guilt or shame about — or judge — the foods you’re eating. This can feel especially irritating if you’ve embraced body positivity and intellectually know restriction — or holding on to the diet mentality — isn’t serving you. 

Guilt and shame around “forbidden” foods is one of the most common conflicts I address in my nutrition practice. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the food. 

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An apple and potato chips would be morally neutral if it weren’t for diet culture’s interventions. Moving away from restrictive tendencies and toward a more liberated approach to food requires vigilant questioning and criticism of the diet industry and its trappings. Who decides what’s “healthy”? How have I come to my beliefs about food? Why do I feel like eating multiple servings of a “forbidden” food is too much? What’s wrong with enjoying a chocolate bar? 

Dissolving judgment, guilt, and shame around food takes ample time, and isn’t easy or straightforward, here’s 3 questions to start asking yourself to make peace with food. 

1. How do I believe my feelings are benefitting me? 

When we speak about judgment, guilt, and shame about food, chances are good we’re talking about judgment, guilt, and shame about body. If you’re unsure if this is true, ask yourself this: If I totally loved my body and how it gets received in the world, would I care about the double cheese pizza I’m eating right now

I want you to get really curious: are you holding on to your thoughts and beliefs about food because you feel they’re benefitting you in some way? Maybe you feel a distinct charge around “carbs” because you believe they will lead to weight gain (false), or around sugar because you’re inherently “addicted” (no such thing.) 

If you are still trying to manipulate your body size or shape in some form or another — even in subtle ways — they can lead to feelings of guilt and shame around food. While food exposure therapy can be helpful at normalizing “forbidden” foods, deeper body image work and fat acceptance are necessary for completely neutralizing the charge. Fully recovering from diet culture and disordered eating requires complete acceptance of your natural body. 


2. What’s consistent about the foods I carry negative feelings for? 

We can get so caught up in the diet mentality bubble that we often miss its trappings. It’s important to question — and keep questioning — your beliefs and reactions about food. What’s similar about the foods you’re reacting to? Are you always eating these “forbidden foods” at the same time? In the same way?

It’s helpful to look at your food and eating patterns. Are there certain food groups that provoke a deeper reaction from you than others? Do you feel safe around fat, but not around sugar? What sorts of messages are you exposed to on a regular basis? Which foods are demonized at your office? In the room? Within your friend groups? 

Food exposure therapy doesn’t just happen at the table. It happens out in the world.

3. What do I think about when I’m eating these foods?

Do donuts remind you of anyone or anything? What about French fries? In the same way that certain foods carry positive connotations — enjoying fresh-picked raspberries with your grandmother, for example, or savouring an ice cream cone with your best friend on a hot summer’s day — we also carry more negative food experiences with us (I’m looking at you, negativity bias). Are those negative moments making it tough to neutralize certain foods? 

It’s important to look at the framework around the foods you feel guilt or shame toward. In my professional experience, the medium can be as important as the message. 

Now, I want to know: which of the three questions above do you find the most helpful? Does one resonate more than the others?

5 Ways You're still Dieting (even though you’re not "On A Diet")

Since upwards of 90% of eating disorders (Binge Eating Disorder included) begin with a diet, chances are good you’ve dieted in the past or are on one right now — even if you don’t realize it.

Even if you’re “not on a diet” — Weight Watchers, Paleo, Keto, sugar-free, Atkins, and their ilk — dieting isn’t just something you “do.” It’s also (and I would argue predominantly) the way you think. 

Binge eating is a reactive response to deprivation, which can take all kinds of forms. Because of our fat phobic, weight-centric culture, disordered attempts to “get healthy”, such as giving up entire macronutrient groups or vilifying specific ingredients, are often completely normalized.

I’ve had many clients claim they’re “not really restricting” only to see through our work together how restrictive they really were. I don’t share this with the intent to shame anyone — how could you know? — but merely to reflect the layered and nuanced impact diet culture and the thin ideal has had on our relationship to food, our bodies, and our selves.

All of this to say: it’s very possible you’re dieting without being “on a diet.” To find out, read below for 5 ways you may still be dieting without realizing it (and what to do instead.)


Some examples of “diet thoughts”:

Choosing eggs with avocado and bacon for breakfast is not a diet…unless you believe reducing your carbohydrates will help you to shed fat. 

Opting for the vegetarian entree is not a diet…unless you believe it will help you to weigh less. 

Using almond milk instead of cream in your coffee is not a diet…unless you’re actively trying to “eat clean.” (read: not dirty.)

Yes. That means the habits and behaviours you’re employ to keep yourself “under control” or “in line” may effectively lead you in the opposite direction. They are keeping you in the restrict-binge cycle.

Some of these subtle forms of dieting— of physiological or psychological deprivation — include the following:

#1. CHOOSING THE “HEALTHIER” OPTION.

Let’s separate “health” from “diet”, shall we? Some foods are more nutritious than others — this is true.

But a) you don’t have to eat exclusively “healthy” foods to be healthy, and b) ordering the so-called “healthiest” option on auto-pilot isn’t necessarily the healthiest option for you at the time.

Some ways you might be employing this mindset:

You always order the lowest calorie option.

You skip the bread basket and avoid starch with dinner. 

You order the “healthiest” meal vs. the one you actually want.

You order a side salad instead of the fries. 

You avoid gluten, dairy, meat, soy, etc. without a religious, ethical, or medical purpose (i.e. Celiac’s Disease, lactose intolerance, peanut allergy, kosher.) 

You adhere to a plant-based diet because you believe it will help you to lose or maintain your weight.

You skip breakfast or dinner (intermittent fasting) to lean down (even if you’re hungry). 

You stop eating after 7pm, even if you’re hungry, to suppress your weight. 

#2. AVOIDING DESSERTS, OR ONLY CONSUMING “NATURAL SWEETENERS” OR SUGAR SUBSTITUTES.

You actively avoid desserts or you adhere to a sugar-free diet. I wrote a whole post about why avoiding or eliminating sugar isn’t necessary (or recommended).

While your body could live without white sugar, intermittent access has been shown to ramp up the “charge” we associate with sweets, and may lead us to binge eat or overeat them when we do come into contact with them.

These feelings may make us feel as though we’re “addicted” to sugar, when in fact studies show these “addicted” feelings have more to do with our relationship to sugar than sugar itself (how many people do you know claim they’re addicted to yogurt or bananas, both sugar-containing foods?)

Some people aren’t much for sweets, and that’s totally cool — but the difference is they’re not actively avoiding them.

#3. ENGAGING IN COMPENSATORY BEHAVIOURS.

“Compensatory behaviour” is exactly what it sounds like: behaviours, like exercising more or eating less, to “compensate” for consuming extra calories or food (perceived or actual.)

Now, some behaviours are considered clinical and are symptoms of an active eating disorder (i.e. purging, laxative abuse, over-exercise).

Some are sub-clinical but equally problematic from a psychological standpoint, such as: skipping meals all day to “save up” for a big dinner, “earning” your pizza and wine night by working out earlier in the day, or joining a hot yoga class the morning after a party to “make up” for the night before.

“Normal eaters” — those who are not restricting physiological or psychologically — do not “earn” or “make up” for energy consumed. 

#5. USING DIET LANGUAGE. 

Using phrases like “being bad” when eating chocolate cake or enjoying a crispy French fry — or alternately, “being good” when eating a salad — are symptoms of a diet mentality.

Discussing the calories, carbohydrate count, or fat grams in a food while “enjoying” it is also a sign you’re dieting. Food really is just food! It may seem incredulous, but food is morally neutral (not “good” or “bad.”)

We’re socially conditioned not to trust our bodies, so of course it feels as though you must exercise control or keep yourself “in check”. But your body actually does a wonderful job of maintaining homeostasis — and this extends to monitoring your energy needs.

In the comment section below, please let me know: What’s your biggest takeaway from this post? 

How to Stop Restricting in Intuitive Eating

Whether you’re new to intuitive eating or have been at it for a while, I think you’re going to benefit from today’s discussion about (unconscious or unrealized) restriction. I’ve received many questions and comments lately that all revolve around restriction and today I'm digging deep into it to shed some light on where you're limiting yourself. 

For example:

…You want to eat a plate of vegetables, but doing so makes you feel “virtuous” — and triggers you to eat something you deem “bad”, “unhealthy,” or “indulgent.” 

…You don’t want to deprive yourself of sweets, but you don’t feel satisfied by the amount of sugar you’re eating until you feel you’ve overdone it. 

…You’re trying to create new health habits and behaviours, but your mind is always rebelling or resisting these changes. 

Intuitive eating, body positive, health at every size, non diet approach, nutrition. How to stop restricting in intuitive eating.

There’s all kinds of ways to restrict that impact our ability to eat in ways that feel good to us. 

Let’s take the first one. If you believe you’re being “good” by eating a plate of vegetables, you’re still working through your diet culture hangover. If eating a plate of vegetables triggers you to eat sweets, it’s possible that meal was not satisfying to you. 

But my biggest question here is: when you’re eating all the vegetables and rebelling, who are you eating the vegetables for? Why are you eating the vegetables? And be really honest here. If the answer is “with the hopes of weight loss,” it’s not actually the vegetables that are triggering the desire for sweets. It’s the perception of restriction and scarcity symbolized by the plate of vegetables. It's that you associate the plate of vegetables with dieting and weight loss. 

Put another way:

What you think is happening:

I eat vegetables —> I want and eat all the sweets 

What is actually happening:

I’m going to eat vegetables —> a plate of vegetables makes me think I’m dieting —> I want and eat all the sweets. 

The problem has nothing to do with the sweets or the vegetables, but your relationship with sweets and vegetables. Here’s a few ways you can tackle this issue:

  1. Get crystal clear on why you eat vegetables. What words come to mind?

  2. What’s your goal? Why do you want to eat nutritious foods? How will your life change?

  3. Why do you associate vegetables with dieting and weight loss?

  4. Do you enjoy vegetables? How could you enjoy them more?

  5. Are you truly giving yourself permission to eat sweets?

Try asking yourself the above questions and unpacking this a bit further so you can really get at the bottom of what’s triggering you. 

Now let’s say you eat sugar, but you never feel satisfied by what you’re eating until you’ve overdone it and feel sick to your stomach. Let’s explore this. 

Maybe part of you knows if you eat too much sugar (for your body), you’ll get a stomach ache. 

Maybe part of you knows if you eat too much sugar (for your body), you’ll experience low energy.

And maybe these narratives are also competing with the following narratives:

I’ve always overdone sugar and I always will. I don’t know how to control myself around sugar. 

I’m addicted to sugar, but I guess I’ll *try* this intuitive eating thing…

Which further compound the issue. 

Here’s the thing: by placing expectations and limits on these foods before you’ve even started eating them you are engaging in a restrictive mindset. 

Here’s how I would solve this split, restrictive situation. 

  1. Sit down to eat without any distractions.

  2. Instead of going in with a set limit, try to exploring. E.g.: “I’m just going to see how many it takes to satisfies me.” Go in without any preconceived notions or judgment.

  3. Try eating your favourite foods slowly. This can take time and practice, especially if this food still carries a significant charge. This will also give you time to register when you’ve had enough sugar to satisfy. Take note of your pace.

Now, what about when you’re trying to create new health habits and behaviours, but your mind is always rebelling? 

Unpack this. Do your new goals feel like too much to you? Oppressive? Restrictive? I want you to think really hard about what you actually want and why you want it. What will it give you? Get crystal clear on the meaning behind your goals so that they really are internally- vs. externally-driven.