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3 questions you need to ask yourself about your diet

There are many reasons why many health professionals don’t want you to follow a restrictive diet.

“Restrictive diets are a diet that reduces calorie intake below a person’s energy needs and/or limits the macronutrients or food groups a person consumes,” said Jennifer Rollin, founder of the Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland.

Such diets are not sustainable, Rollin said. They may not meet your calorie or nutrient needs, or they may encourage binge eating and lead to unhealthy relationships with food and your body, she said.

But how do you know when a diet is restrictive or if you’re making decisions purely with health or longevity in mind?

There are good rules of thumb. If you find that your choices are based on the hope of losing weight or if your diet excludes entire food groups, you’re probably eating a restrictive diet, said Natalie Mokari, a dietitian based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In those cases that aren’t so clear-cut, here are three questions to ask yourself about your diet, Rollin and Mokari said.

How often do you think about food?

One way to evaluate your diet is to look at how much you think about food.

With a health-conscious lifestyle, you may be able to eat what your body needs and move forward. But when on a restrictive diet, people tend to obsess about what they’ve eaten, what they’re going to eat and the shame they’ll feel after eating, Mokari said.

Restrictions can make social gatherings less fun and meals less satisfying, and figuring out how to eat right can become a full-time job.

“It starts to be kind of overwhelming for someone in their day-to-day life and it limits their enjoyment,” she said. “It can cause a lot of compulsive behaviors. … You shouldn’t think about food like that.”

How rigid are you?

Another good indicator is your flexibility in the eating style you follow, Rollin said.

“There’s a difference between a preference for food or a way of eating that makes someone feel good and a set of rigid rules that must be followed,” she said, adding that these guidelines are often accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame .

“There are certain health conditions that require eliminating a food entirely, but otherwise you can allow yourself to approach the food in question in a more balanced way,” Rollin asked.

For example, if you’re trying to limit your cheese consumption, are you saying you’ll never eat cheese again, or can you put fruits, vegetables, and nuts on the charcuterie board alongside the cheese so you eat less of it?

“Instead of looking at what you can leave out,” Rollin said, “look at what you can add.”

Can you just have a little?

With her clients, Mokari likes to use the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the time they focus on eating all the foods required for a particular diet or health issue, and 20 percent of the time there is more indulgence , she said .

It’s not just about leaving room for fun. This approach also helps move away from a restrictive mindset.

“If you apply all of these rules to certain foods, you’re going to feel like you’re having a feast or famine with that food,” she said.

Feeling like you can’t control yourself around certain foods could be a sign that your diet is too restrictive, Rollin said. And that can be physically limiting, if you don’t allow yourself to eat the food, or mentally limiting, if you feel shame while eating and afterward, she said.

The urge to eat foods that aren’t always available is evolutionary, Rollin said. The human body is prepared for times of famine to consume as much as possible when we encounter our next food source, she said.

Away from the restriction

If you’re making your food choices with health in mind but want to lift restrictions, Rollin and Mokari recommend working with health experts to find out exactly what that means.

Some people, both online and offline, claim they have the secret diet to treat health problems. Therefore, it’s important to work with your doctor, a nutritionist and/or an eating disorder therapist to figure out what’s healthy for you and what goes into diet culture, Rollin said.

It may also be helpful to consult weight-neutral doctors or use a “Health at Every Size” approach, Mokari added. This type of medicine looks at health as a whole and does not focus on height or body mass index as the primary measure of a person’s well-being, according to the Association for Size Diversity and Health.

And if you’re in a phase of restrictive dieting where it’s difficult to restrain yourself once you’ve started eating a particular food that you consider unhealthy, the answer might be to give yourself permission said Rollin.

“What did everyone do at the beginning of the pandemic when there was little toilet paper? “You ran out and ordered toilet paper, right?” she said.

The goal is to remove the mystique of demonized foods so you can make decisions based on what your body needs, rather than what your brain fears it can’t come back.

However, there are health conditions such as allergies that require food to be avoided entirely. In these cases, be sure to follow your doctor’s advice, Rollin said.

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