I was invited into a thought-provoking conversation about restriction, restrictive diets and guilt this week, and wanted to share an excerpt of the conversation to get YOU thinking.

Is there a place for restrictive diets? 

Yes, there is a place for specific, eating plans in certain circumstances, for certain people, for limited times. 

Think about it:

  • When you’re about to have surgery, you are often restricted to ‘white foods’ for a few days.
  • When you have a health condition or immune system issue, you may follow a restrictive diet like a FODMAPS or GAPS diet for a period to get you back on track.

 

Short term, less-restrictive diets can also help you to:

  • regulate hormones that are holding up weight loss (like we do in Downsize Me),
  • get out of a health ‘danger zone’
  • provide a framework to get organised and develop healthy habits (e.g. I Quit Sugar).

But what about Jane Average?

Restrictive diets aren’t for everyone

In circumstances like these mentioned above, you might cut out dairy, or grains, or something else for a defined period of time.

The key words are ‘defined period of time‘.

You see, most people don’t cope with restrictive diets for more than a few weeks, and for some, even this is too long.  

Restrictive diets may not be suitable at all for:

  • people who struggle with self-talk, rules, restriction and self-worth,
  • people with eating disorders
  • people with certain health issues (cancer is one example). 

So if you struggle with self-talk, rules, self-worth or battle with restriction of any kind, then your more important work is on your mindset, so you can get on top of the limiting beliefs around food and your body. 

In that case, you may never be able to cope with going on even a short-term diet ….and that’s ok.

We are all wired differently (body AND mind), and a more gradual approach working on mindset and health behaviour change is a very viable and evidence-based alternative (our coaches specialise in this approach).
 

In any case, restrictive dieting is usually not a suitable long term solution for anyone. 

It simply gets you over a hump – then, you need to work out how to be consistent with healthy habits in the longer term.

And that’s mindset, planning and scheduling work. ​​
​​

Know Yourself

Working in alignment with yourself, your beliefs, your energy and your mindset is so important. 

We are all compelled to do what we think is right, and a ‘diet’ can interfere with our own inner wisdom.

In other words, you may want to resist a diet simply because someone else is making the rules!

I truly believe that the best way to avoid guilt, shame, self-flagellation, is:

  • recognising what you are able to do right now,
  • being ok with doing that,
  • accepting this situation for this period of time, and
  • getting support to write your own food rules.​

Some People are Naturals at Dieting – Some Not

Sure, some people have beliefs that are strong enough to adhere to a specific way of eating. 

They find it easy to be strict vegan, vegetarian, ketogenic, Pritikin etc, for most of their lives – because they have a strong belief and sense of conviction about that way of eating.

But for most of us, without these very strong and compelling drivers, it’s impossible to be so regimented. 

Think about it – even the word ‘regimented’ is a clue as to what it’s like to be on a restrictive diet all the time. 

It’s a bit military, a bit disciplinarian, and it can feed all-or-nothing behaviour and emotions.

So, what’s the alternative to restrictive diets?

It’s Easier To Eat Like An Athlete Trains

I think it’s probably easier to approach food as if you were an athlete. 

Athletes usually follow periodised training where the intensity of their training varies according to stages of career, time of year and the state of their physical body. 

Why don’t we do this with food? 

My philosophy is that a ‘periodised eating’ approach seems to fit nicely with the cycles of nature/seasons/mood, invites alternating periods of intensive focus and relaxation according to energy, and offers a framework to help maintain consistency through the whole year without guilt. 

This isn’t the whole solution, but perhaps it’s a way of working that alleviates the ‘head stuff ‘around food. 

And, that’s my 2c worth on all things diet. 

What are your thoughts on restrictive diets?

Do they work for you, and why/why not? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

Melanie White

Melanie White

Chief Inspiration Coach

I’m a quirky scientist and a Health and Wellness Coach who helps 35+ women to understand and eat right for their body type.