• on March 14, 2016

Why restricting what we eat doesn’t work

By Jan Holden

This week we looked at how we have created our own personal prisons of restriction and deprivation around food and eating. With our food diaries, eating plans, low carb/high carb, low fat/high fat, healthy eating, clean eating, babyfood diet, Slimming World, Weight Watchers, Fat Club, Thin Club, you name it, we have done it. When our sentence is passed, we give up on our hunger and satiety signals, give up on our belly’s nudges and nuances and we walk through the high walls and locked doors, back into diet prison.

Just to shift that extra stone, you understand. Just so I can wear that special outfit. Just because I’m really NOT ACCEPTABLE AS I AM.

Someone else knows better than ME what I should eat. Go get me an app! That will tell me! Give me some rules and restrictions. Build me a prison.

This concept of building your own dietary prison comes from Gillian Riley and her book, “Eating Less”. I was fascinated by this because anyone who has ever struggled to maintain any sort of control over their wayward addictive, compulsive, bingeing and overeating will recognise the truth in this. Gillian suggests that we react to restriction in two ways.

We either accept our restriction and become “good”; sticking to the 500 calories of gloopy chemical shit storm that is the milkshake of the day (plus some glasses of water to wash down the laxatives that are necessary when eating so little) or we rebel and become “bad”, pouring it all down the sink and popping out to the Coop for some proper nourishment in the form of a French stick and giant wedge of Cheddar. The reality is that when we are in prison, we do both. We are either “good”, sticking to our plan or “bad”, going off piste and feeling frustrated and angry that we can’t stick to it.

Noooooo! Enough!

I don’t want to comply or rebel. I don’t want to be in prison. I want to be free!

How do we break free after a lifetime of restriction in one form or another?


We are free to CHOOSE.

Prison says you can’t, you mustn’t, you shouldn’t. But you still eat, or don’t eat.

Freedom says you can if you want. It’s up to you. And you still eat, or don’t eat.

It’s shifting from fear based restriction that says we can’t be trusted around food, to feeling safe with our choices. We are safe because our choices are made in conjunction with our wise belly and our thoughtful pre-frontal cortex even though our primitive brains may be stropping away noisily in the background. This is not a theoretical shift that you can experience by reading this blog or even by attending the groups. It is a daily, sometimes hourly or even minute by minute practice that takes time and attention. Something that cannot be rushed. We are rewiring our brains and reconnecting with our bellies. It is our own personal process.

When we hear ourselves saying “shouldn’t, mustn’t, can’t” or rushing and stuffing, cupboard cruising and secretively eating, we realise that we are back in our prison of restriction and choice isn’t on the menu.

The good news is, the door is open. We can be free. We have a process.

We are free to notice, to create space between our primitive shouty hindbrain and our more considered, choosy PFC and breathe down into our bellies. We are then curious, not harsh and judgmental; engaging with our sometimes frantic and irrational behaviours kindly. We spend time with our bodies rather than ignoring them or telling them that frankly, they need to be different in some way (preferably SMALLER) to be ok. And when we get stuck, which inevitably we will, we start again. Patiently, like you would with a beloved friend who needed your understanding and support.

Feeling free, we can choose the safe haven of non-stimulating foods that nourish and support us towards health and vitality, high energy and good sleep. We can feel stable, balanced and empowered. Food no longer rules us!

Or, as we are free to choose, we can dive into the seductive, stimulating crack and reinforce the old neural pathways that lead us back into guilt, craving, dissatisfaction and numbness. In this moment (which is all I have) I would rather not, thank you.

But, I am free to eat anything and everything that I want. I am not in prison. I can choose.

What will you choose in this moment?

Do you eat what you need?

We love to hear your stories and reactions to our writings. If any of this resonates, we want you to know that you are not alone. We are here for you.

#ieatwhatineed, #compulsiveovereating, #bingeeating, #addictiveeating, #freedomfromovereating