Even throughout and into recovery, the tendency to restrict my food intake rears its head, often without me even realizing it. Food restriction became so ingrained in every eating and social decision I made for so long that it is sometimes hard for me to identify when its voice starts reemerging in my head. The temptation to restrict ramps up for me in the summer with some of the external pressures to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and participate in summer activities, events, and vacations.

Is Slight Food Restriction That Big of a Deal?

First of all, let’s spend just a second reminding ourselves why even *slight* food restriction can be problematic. Not too long ago, as I was perusing my cupboard for an after-dinner snack, I caught myself thinking: I better opt for the plain Cheerios that have less calories per serving instead of the Double Chocolate Krave that I actually wanted. There was no good reason for this thought other than my brain was defaulting to the patterns that had ruled my food decisions for so long. Admittedly, there is a sense of gratification that I used to get from restricting that still has the power to pull me in.

So, what happens when I forgo the Krave and eat the Cheerios? Well, for starters, I’m now eating something I don’t even want. And now, I have reinforced the thought that the Krave I wanted is inaccessible, something that I should “stay away from” and that has to be earned. And then what else? Now I’m thinking about this cereal a whole lot more than I need to be or would have had I just eaten what I desired in the first place.

Restriction was a large part of my own eating disorder, as it often is with those who struggle with Anorexia Nervosa or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). For me, the result of my food restriction was a complete obsession with food. I would cook it, bake it, spend hours looking at and saving recipes, talk about it, go to grocery stores just to look at it, while also very much fearing what would happen to my body if I ate it.

Assessing Your Relationship with Food

On the other side of this level of restriction, I notice that I still need to take personal inventory of my relationship with food to assess for any restrictive tendencies that sneak their way back into my day-to-day thought and eating patterns. It can be challenging to identify food restriction tendencies, especially when you are in recovery, have done a lot of healing work, and you are doing much better than you were before. But it can be hard to completely shake the urge to restrict when you may have found perceived safety, identity, and a sense of order or control within it before.

8 signs that Food Restriction May be Sneaking (Back) Into Your Daily Routine

If you are in recovery, or even if you are not struggling with an eating disorder, it is worth taking a look at some signs that restriction may be rearing its head into your thoughts and eating behaviors. 

1. You’re drinking coffee to avoid eating in the morning

You may be telling yourself, “I’m not a breakfast person . . .” “I’m just not hungry . . .” 

2. Waiting until a certain time to eat even though you are hungry

3. Having formal or informal calorie limits for meals

4. Eating something familiar before you go out to a social event so that you “don’t eat too much” and to avoid unfamiliar foods

5. Replacing your favorite foods with diet alternatives

Hello, halo top ice cream, cottage cheese cookie dough (which is a hard no for me….), watermelon “cake,” zucchini “noodles,” cauliflower “rice,” and the list goes on. Now, if you are choosing these alternatives because you actually prefer them, great! But it’s worth checking in with yourself and asking: Do I really prefer this, or am I trying to convince myself that I like this as much as the “original” as a way to restrict?

6. Only eating the serving size amount of something even though you want more

7. Only eating certain foods when you feel you have earned it through restricting or exercising 

8. Going to bed earlier than you normally would to avoid feeling hungry

Here’s the thing I have learned after years of disordered eating and therapy: restriction never leads to long-term satisfaction or change. Restriction is the predecessor for intense food cravings, obsession, and binging. So, as we hit what feels like a midpoint in the summer, take a quick self-assessment. Ask yourself if you’re finding yourself falling into any of the above patterns, and take this as your reminder that you deserve to enjoy the food you would like to enjoy this summer and always.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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