Kari Dahlgren

Coach | Author | Advocate

feel normal around food again

How to Deal with Dietary Restrictions When You’re Giving Up Dieting

how to navigate dietary restrictions when you give up dieting

What if you want to stop dieting and eat intuitively but feel like medically-necessary dietary restrictions — like an allergy to gluten, dairy, etc. — prevent you from “doing it right”?

Part of the Psycho-Spiritual Wellness Eating Guidelines is to eat exactly what appeals to you when you’re hungry. Permission and satisfaction are crucial elements of eating psychology.

Do you like the way that sounds, but also feel screwed because your mind sputter, “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, but how can I eat exactly what my body wants when I can’t have gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, or anything else good in this world?!”

Rest assured that people with food allergies and food sensitivities can still make peace with food even when they can’t always eat what they want. In this post, I’m going to explain the exact steps you can take to navigate dietary restrictions when you’re trying to give up dieting and feel normal around food.

When Medically-Necessary Dietary Restrictions Feel Like Dieting

When I originally wrote this post back in 2018, which was two years after I gave up dieting, I was struggling with the intersection between medically-necessary food restrictions and the essential element of having permission to eat whatever you want.

I distinctly remember the moment of my dilemma: My acid reflux flared up, and I had read that a low-carb diet is great for reversing acid reflux. I thought to myself, “Uh oh. Low-carb is definitely a diet. Does this count though, since it’s for my health, not for weight loss? Will this make me binge? Am I screwed no matter what?”

And here’s the golden nugget that helped me and I hope will help you if you also struggle with medically-necessary dietary restrictions:

When you manage your diet in order to manipulate the size of your body, that type of restriction always leads to a binge (via the restrict-binge cycle). But when you manage your diet for the sake of health instead of weight loss, things generally work out quite well.

There’s a great concept from Intuitive Eating that encapsulates this phenomenon. It’s called “gentle nutrition.”

What Is Gentle Nutrition?

Gentle nutrition is the last pillar of Intuitive Eating (which is similar yet distinctly different from Psycho-Spiritual Wellness). I enjoy referencing gentle nutrition because it’s takes the “diet-y-ness” out of medically-necessary food restrictions.

Here’s a quote from the author of Intuitive Eating that explains what gentle nutrition is — it’s one of my favorite quotes about intuitive eating:

quotation mark

Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you do not have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters – progress not perfection is what counts.

Evelyn Tribole

Oooh yeah. This feels good, doesn’t it? Gentle nutrition means I can listen to my body while staying loyal to my health.

For example, if I’m listening to my body, and my body wants pizza – but I can’t have pizza because I’m allergic to dairy and/or gluten – then I can choose to have something else that will satisfy my craving.

That could be vegan pizza, or it could be something completely different. But as long as I’m doing it to honor my body instead of to cut weight, it works pretty smoothly.

That’s the golden nugget: As long as your food choices are based on wellness instead of weight loss, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

Permission vs. Restriction

This all comes down to a delicate dance between permission and restriction.

Since dietary restriction leads to binge eating (or eating large amounts of food uncontrollably) due to the restrict-binge cycle, it’s critical to maintain permission to eat whatever foods you want. This doesn’t mean eating foods you’re allergic to, but it means satisfying that craving without trying to be “good” or “low calorie” or otherwise virtuous while you’re at it.

(Virtuous eating is a common roadblock on the path to giving up dieting, and I talk about it in-depth in my eating psychology course, Food Normal.)

This makes sense, doesn’t it? If I am genuinely allergic to gluten, it is possible to learn to listen to my body to inform what I eat while honoring my health and avoiding gluten. I can opt for a gluten-free crust on my pizza when I’m craving pizza and be well on my way to a better relationship with food.

Because, really, it’s not about avoidance as much as it’s about choosing something different for the sake of better health, not weight loss. You’re not choosing something ‘better’ because there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods (food neutrality). You’re just choosing something different.

Think of it like psychological restriction versus biological restriction. Psychological restriction involves food rules that we sort of make-up ourselves (often for the sake of weight loss, a sense of control, etc.). Biological restriction, on the other hand, involves food rules that are medically-necessary and employed for the betterment of our health.

For example, if you choose gluten-free crust to save calories or be a virtuous eater, then it will feel like psychological restriction and may trigger rebellious behavior (like eating large amounts of gluten-containing foods later). But if you choose gluten-free crust because you have Celiac disease and it’s medically necessary, it will feel like biological restriction and shouldn’t trigger rebellious behavior.

Summary: Eat Intuitively with Dietary Restrictions by Focusing on Wellness

“Gentle nutrition” is a great way to eat intuitively even when you have dietary restrictions. It’s all about finding balance between listening to your body and your mind while letting go of calorie content.

Make dietary decisions based on wellness instead of weight loss, and you’ll be on your way to feeling normal around food.

If you’re struggling with this right now, I would love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below and let’s explore this thing together!

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4 thoughts on "How to Deal with Dietary Restrictions When You’re Giving Up Dieting"

  1. Lisasays:

    I love what you have to say because I know it’s true, but when I specifically try to apply it to myself, I’m running into difficulty. My current goal is to change from binge eating to a lower carb, healthy vegetable-and-protein type menu to deal with several health issues, especially diabetes and the fact that I’m about 150 pounds overweight. How do I eat healthily without setting off binges (many times sugar or high-carb foods, but not always)? I just learned about the Stop, Drop, and Feel, but so far, all I feel is panic that I’m not bingeing! I believe that’s just my mind’s way of trying to protect me from some deeper feeling, but it may take a while to get through to it. In the meantime, how do I eat healthy without setting off the binges?

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      This is a great question Lisa! And this is what coaching is really good for. Without knowing anything about you, my best advice is to focus all your attention on the SDF without attempting to “give up dieting” yet. Build your emotional tolerance up first.

  2. Tiffanysays:

    I recently changed my diet to low carb in order to improve my blood pressure. Some days are harder than others, but I am committed to sticking with it because it has actually worked for me without getting on prescription drugs. I also allow one day a week when I do not restrict carbs and I think that helps.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Tiffany! I love this. I personally feel like eating a certain way in order to feel better often prevents the restrict-binge cycle. Your experience seems to back up my theory! Thanks for sharing.

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