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Help! I have to restrict foods for medical reasons and I’m overeating!

By Camerin Ross

Even when you feel you need to restrict foods for medical reasons, restriction may lead to feelings of deprivation and overeating. Let’s tackle this difficult challenge.

restrict-foods-for-medical-reasonsQuestion: I am suffering from some chronic health conditions that require me to restrict myself from certain foods that exacerbate my symptoms. How can I take care of myself and eat foods I love, when I have these symptoms going on? It’s hard not to feel restricted, and although I “know” these foods will react with my body, I still eat and even overeat them sometimes.

Answer: I have a lot of empathy for anyone in this situation. Whether it is self-imposed food restriction or medical advice to limit or eliminate certain foods, restricting foods can trigger the opposite response—overeating! So how can you shift your perspective?

1. Reality

Recognize that although medical advice seems like it should feel different from food restriction in a self-imposed diet, they can both trigger the Restrictive Eating Cycle and the same—or more—deprivation and overeating in response.

Humans are very loss averse, meaning, we don’t like to lose options! We may tolerate self-imposed food restriction when we first start a diet, or when we set a new goal to “eat healthy”—especially when we initially feel like we’re “being good.” But when someone or something takes our food options away—watch out! It makes sense that we may have a rebellious response to medical advice that limits our food.

Trying to control our eating, or feeling like our eating is being controlled by medical advice, feels miserable. We can use the Am I Hungry? tools to remind ourselves we have a choice in our eating decisions. We can practice trading in the tightness of being in control for the freedom of being in charge.

2. Rebellion

The Am I Hungry? program teaches us to hear our restrictive voice, and supports us in developing a compassionate self-care voice that guides us through the Mindful Eating Cycle instead. Similarly, when rebelliousness against deprivation sets in and the pendulum swings toward an Overeating Cycle, Am I Hungry? tools help us move back into the Mindful Eating Cycle and balance eating for enjoyment and eating for nourishment.

You can tame rebelliousness with empowering questions like, “How do I want to feel when I’m done eating?” and, “How do I want to take care of my body?”

To the extent that discomfort or effects on your health allow, is it possible to be somewhat flexible with the foods you are being asked to limit or eliminate? If so, you can make a conscious choice to eat them sometimes, in amounts that feel okay in your body, instead of rebelliously—and often unconsciously—eating them and making yourself sick.

3. Mourning Loss

Looking at the bigger picture, life has dealt these cards to you, and while they’re not what you wanted, this is the hand you have to play with it. Working on acceptance can be tremendously helpful. Noticing and acknowledging the real loss you are experiencing and making space to mourn what you have to give up may help. You’re likely feeling many emotions. Naming them and giving them space validates the true nature of the loss, helps you find acceptance for your situation, and see where you have choices

4. Your Needs

One of the staples in my self-care is asking, What Do I Want?, What Do I Need?, and What Do I Have? How can you work through the thoughts and feelings you’re having about limiting certain foods for medical reasons? Do you have support? Do you need more information or education? Are you able to access compassion, patience, and self-care?

I wish you well on your journey! Have faith that you are learning and growing in your struggle, because that’s where wisdom is found.

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About the author

Camerin Ross, PhD Camerin has been a passionate consumer and advocate of mindful/intuitive eating strategies for over 15 years and found a home with Michelle May’s Am I Hungry? ® Mindful Eating program as a licensed Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating workshop facilitator in 2009. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology (2014) and developed her coaching skills with MentorCoach® in 2010. Camerin has worked with individuals and groups since 2007. She works in the San Francisco Bay Area and when appropriate, offers long-distance phone and webinar options. Passionate about sharing the practice of mindful eating, Camerin supports people finding freedom, peace and enjoyment with food and their bodies. She honors size diversity and works from a weight-neutral, Health At Every Size® perspective. You can read more at: CamerinRoss.com and reach her at (415) 937-0403 or info@CamerinRoss.com.

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