When I first become interested in healthy eating, I cut out a shitload of foods. Following a paleo diet meant no bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cheese, milk, yoghurt, butter, sugar, chickpeas, beans, vegetable oil and much more.
That let to MAJOR disordered eating tendencies, which took years to undo.
Let me just say – a life without cheese is no life at all.
I also went through periods of individually cutting out gluten, booze and sugar.
Maybe I got a tad healthier physically, but mentally, it was the opposite.
It took me years to learn it wasn’t gluten or cheese or wine that was the problem – restriction was.
If I was going to be truly healthy, I was going to have to cut out cutting things out.
Because restriction was just one of the things I realised was far more damaging than any individual food or ingredient could be.
Tough love time: If you recognise yourself in any of these situations below, it means you need to work on being gentle with yourself and showing yourself compassion.
Ever say, “I’m definitely going to start eating better on Monday, so I’d better eat all the chocolate in the pantry first”? Yeah… me too. By telling ourselves we can’t eat something later, our brains throw us into scarcity mode. This is a primal instinct driving us to eat ‘while we still can’, because we’ve told ourselves there won’t be more later.
A colleague brings in cupcakes for their birthday. You avoid them at first but take one because everyone else is. Half way through you realise it doesn’t even taste good – but you’ve started it, so you may as well finish it. Then you have a sugar headache, don’t feel hungry for lunch and think, “I didn’t even want that, what’s wrong with me?” Like restriction, we often eat when we’re scared of being deprived, especially when other people are eating.
3. Not trusting ourselves
Some people can eat two squares of chocolate and be done. Then there was me, who’d tell themselves they’d stop at two pieces, then not just eat two rows, but the whole block. At least, that’s what it used to be like: “I can’t keep it in the house or I’ll eat the whole thing in one go!” I thought this self-awareness was a good thing – I just needed to be disciplined enough not to buy the chocolate in the first place. But this all-or-nothing thinking is not ‘self-awareness’ – it’s the belief “I can’t be trusted around food”. And reinforcing that belief by not buying food because I was scared of bingeing on it wasn’t healthy.
4. Feeling guilty
Feeling guilty is common when we overeat or eat something we wish we hadn’t, Deep down, part of us is comforted – giving ourselves a hard time means we haven’t let ourselves ‘get away with it’. (It’s like if you acknowledge you ate four biscuits but feel bad about it, it’s okay.) But this is flawed, and doesn’t lead to doing anything differently. No-one changes out of guilt.
If you have thoughts and feelings like this, what then?
Firstly, try to recognise them when they pop up.
Secondly, think of some mantras you could remind yourself of instead. For example:
- There’s no “later” or “starting tomorrow”.
- The only choice that matters is my current one.
- Food is always available to me.
- I have permission to eat ___ anytime I want – I’m just choosing not to eat it now.
- I trust myself around food.
- I trust myself to eat until I’m satisfied and have the rest later.
These are what I still use all the time. Because I’m human – and a woman exposed to diet culture that tells me I need to be thinner, take up less space, be on a diet, eat less, weigh less, obsess over food, count calories… the list goes on.
But I don’t. None of us do. We all deserve freedom from this conditioning.
So when I feel pressure to restrict what I’m eating, to eat out of FOMO or notice all-or-nothing thinking, I remind myself that I have permission to eat what I want and that I can trust myself around food.
It’s a constant practice that takes work. But the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Action tip: Create your own bank of mantras that you repeat as needed when thoughts of restriction, FOMO, distrust or guilt pop up.
P.S. This was a heavy topic on giving up restriction, FOMO, not trusting yourself and feeling guilty. If one of these has particularly hit home for you, I’d love to know – reply in comments below or send me a DM on Instagram.