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The Eater and Food Restriction: Good or Bad?

Let’s take a deeper dive into the complicated world of food restriction, a topic that may initially seem straightforward. I respectfully challenge that assumption and introduce a perspective that might be somewhat unconventional, particularly within the eating disorder recovery community. In short, not all food restriction is inherently negative. Read on as we untangle the complex web of the four quadrants of food restriction.


This landscape goes beyond the surface, intricately linked to the unique identity of the eater. We’re venturing into a space where eating patterns, behaviors, and choices can either be a catalyst for health or a potential source of turmoil for others.


So, who exactly are you as an eater?


It may sound odd to say, but let’s first acknowledge that we are all EATERS. Just as we embrace the diversity of each person’s journey, our individual eating styles are also unique. They’re shaped by a myriad of factors:


  • Culture: The shared customs, beliefs, values, and practices that characterize a particular group of people.
  • Family: A group of individuals connected by blood, marriage, or adoption, typically living together and providing mutual support.
  • History: The record of past events and occurrences, shaping the present and influencing the future.
  • Dreams: Mental experiences often involving vivid and imaginative scenarios, wishes, or aspirations for the future.
  • Traits: Inherited or acquired, distinguishing qualities or characteristics that define an individual’s personality or behavior.
  • Goals: Objectives or desired outcomes one aims to achieve through effort and commitment.
  • Values: Core beliefs and principles that guide behavior, decision-making, and relationships, reflecting what is considered important or desirable.
  • Physical: Relating to the body, its structure, function, and overall well-being.
  • Lifestyle: The way in which a person or group lives, including daily activities, habits, preferences, and choices.


Now, let’s navigate through the four quadrants.


1st Quadrant of Food Restriction – Religious and Moral Beliefs


Some examples:

  • Kosher: Adhering to Jewish dietary laws.
  • Halal: Complying with Islamic dietary guidelines.
  • Fasting: Deliberately abstaining from food for a specific period, often for religious observances.
  • Vegetarian: Choosing a diet that excludes meat.
  • Vegan: Avoiding all animal products.


2nd Quadrant of Food Restriction – Food Allergies and Sensitivities


Some examples:

  • FODMAPS: Restricting certain types of carbohydrates to manage gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Gluten intolerance or sensitivity: Avoiding gluten-containing foods due to adverse reactions.
  • Lactose/dairy intolerance or sensitivity: Eliminating dairy products due to difficulty digesting lactose.
  • Nut allergy: Steering clear of nuts to prevent allergic reactions.


3rd Quadrant of Food Restriction – Medical and Therapeutic


Some examples:

  • Diabetes: Managing blood sugar levels through dietary control.
  • Cancer: Adjusting diet to support cancer treatment and recovery.
  • Epilepsy: Utilizing a specific diet to manage seizures.
  • Autism: Implementing dietary strategies to address symptoms associated with autism.
  • High Blood Pressure: Modifying diet to control blood pressure.
  • High Cholesterol: Adopting dietary changes to manage cholesterol levels.
  • IBS and other GI diagnoses: Tailoring diet to alleviate symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gastrointestinal conditions.


While many “diets” find their place in this third quadrant, often correlating weight with symptoms and disease, it’s crucial to challenge the notion that weight alone is the ultimate indicator of health. The medical community tends to lean towards weight-centric solutions, frequently prescribing diets as the go-to answer.


Indeed, recognizing that achieving weight loss could contribute positively to the well-being of some individuals is vital, just as weight gain might be a favorable outcome for others. Ultimately, the impact varies based on the unique circumstances and needs of each individual.


Although these three quadrants may offer benefits to many, overlooking the eater as a holistic human being could potentially trigger disordered eating or even an eating disorder.


Consider this real-life scenario from my experience with a client: A 16-year-old expressed concerns about digestive discomfort, prompting a gluten sensitivity assessment. In an effort to assist, her mother removed all gluten from the household, unknowingly triggering a cycle of restriction and bingeing for her daughter. Gluten, in consequence, became a desirable forbidden food to eat in secrecy.


Here’s another story: A client embraced a “clean foods” diet within her church community, combining faith, food, and fitness. Straying from the prescribed plan led her to feel a sense of inadequacy in terms of faith and discipline, “letting God down,” and ultimately resulting in a downward spiral into Anorexia with accompanying Orthorexia beliefs.


What is Diet Culture?


We must address this before we go any further. Because it is talked about so much in my world, I sometimes forget people may have never even heard the term “diet culture.” Per Medical New Today, this is the official definition, “Diet culture is a set of myths and expectations around food and weight, which typically equate thinness to health and categorize foods into “good” or “bad” types. Diet culture creates a moral hierarchy of body sizes and shapes, which typically idealizes thinness and creates fear and negativity about fat.”


4th Quadrant of Food Restriction – Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders


Disordered Eating:

  • Orthorexia: This term describes a fixation on consuming what one perceives as exclusively “healthy” or “pure” foods. Individuals with orthorexia may exhibit an extreme preoccupation with the nutritional content of their diet, often to the detriment of their overall well-being.
  • Chronic Dieting: Engaging in long-term, repetitive dieting behaviors with the goal of controlling or altering one’s body weight. This persistent focus on restrictive eating can contribute to physical and emotional health challenges.
  • Obsessive Counting and Measuring: This behavior involves the continuous monitoring and measuring of food intake, calories, or nutritional components. It can manifest as an obsessive need for precision, controlling every aspect of one’s diet, potentially leading to heightened anxiety and distress.
  • Consistent Overeating: Recurring consumption of excessive amounts of food beyond physiological need. This pattern can contribute to physical discomfort, weight-related concerns, and emotional distress.
  • Unhealthy Emotional Eating: A coping mechanism where individuals turn to food for solace during emotional distress. This pattern can become detrimental when it interferes with overall well-being, contributing to an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Any Patterns of Behaviors with Food that Cause Emotional Distress, Hurt Overall Well-being, and Physical Health: This overarching definition encapsulates a spectrum of behaviors related to food that induce emotional distress and negatively impact both mental and physical health. It emphasizes the subjective and multifaceted nature of disordered eating patterns.


Eating Disorders:

  • Anorexia: Severe restriction of food intake, leading to significant weight loss and extreme thinness. Individuals with anorexia often have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of their body size.
  • Bulimia: Recurrent episodes of overeating or binging, often followed by compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting, excessive exercise, or fasting. Individuals with bulimia may have a preoccupation with body shape and weight.
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Consuming large amounts of food in a discrete period, accompanied by feelings of lack of control. Unlike bulimia, BED does not involve compensatory behaviors, leading to concerns about weight and overall well-being.
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED): A range of eating behaviors that do not fit neatly into specific diagnostic categories but still cause significant distress. This term is used when individuals exhibit disordered eating patterns that deviate from the classic definitions of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.


Every form of disordered eating and eating disorder involves an element of restriction. While we may readily identify it in Anorexia, others often fly under the radar. Clients will assert, “I’m not one of the restrictive types,” inadvertently overlooking their internal belief systems influenced by diet culture and distorted opinions.


Eating disorders can be triggered by Religious and Moral Beliefs, Food Allergies and Sensitivities, and Medical and Therapeutic factors. In addition, sometimes seeking help might also lead someone into these quadrants, a risky move as the mental filter of an eating disorder can latch onto philosophies, perpetuating harmful behaviors.


Bottom line:


Understanding food restriction demands a nuanced perspective, acknowledging the intricate mix of factors shaping eating habits. The four quadrants reveal a dance between personal identity, cultural influences, and health considerations. Not all food restriction is the villain; individualized nutrition can be a helpful guide. But, always remember, the key lies in viewing the eater as a complete entity—background, values, and goals included. Neglecting this holistic view might unwittingly trigger disordered eating patterns and eating disorders. A healthy relationship with food necessitates a balanced understanding of the intricate factors guiding dietary choices.


Resource Credit: Medical New Today


With Love & Light,

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