If you have a history of eating disorders or dieting, is it safe to adopt a restrictive therapeutic diet? This is a question I get asked a lot, as some people are afraid of falling into old patterns of unhealthy thoughts, beliefs or behaviors around food.

First, if you have a history of dieting because of struggling to lose weight OR compulsive behaviors, we can assume that you have metabolic dysfunction or nutrient deficiencies, or both. I have written and spoken before about the metabolic and nutrient underpinnings of many types of disordered eating behaviors that are usually attributed to psychological or emotional problems only. This is simply not the case, as common symptoms of nutrient deficiencies and metabolic dysregulation include over eating, binging, restricting, and rabbit starvation type eating behaviors. A therapeutic diet is absolutely warranted to address these symptoms, to make sure we are providing blood sugar regulation and a properly nutrient dense diet to correct suspected deficiencies.

I do not define recovery from an eating disorder as eating all foods without discrimination. I call it developing an intuitive sense of what kinds of whole, ancestral foods feel good in your body in what ratios, consistently consuming enough calories and nutrients to meet your physical needs, and without struggling with intense cravings for sugar, bread or junk food that feel out of control.

Unfortunately, both “diet culture” from a weight loss perspective and the “eat everything indiscriminately” are both based on an anti scientific, purity model of food, which are both problematic. Many popular “diets” have people restrict fat and calories for the sake of weight loss without paying attention to the proper fueling of the human body. This is a “purity” ideal where some foods are seen as “bad”. Simiarly, the “anti dieters” go to another extreme where any restriction of even toxic, truly “non food” items is seen as pathological. This also is based on ideology, not a science of nutrition, that takes into account how the human body actually works and thrives.

Restriction can be detrimental mentally or a powerful tool for healing, depending on how you are framing it. Many things about therapeutic diets are not restrictive at all- especially ancestral diets which can be unlimited in calories and unlimited in healthy fat intake. It is simply restricting foods that may be feeding the underlying illness. This is learning healthy discernment, to rebuild your relationship with food so you are learning what kind of foods lead you to your best health versus what foods contribute to cycles of mental and physical illness.

The key is to not focus on foods as “bad” or “good”. It is an entirely different mental attitude to decide that you are not eating a food because it is “bad” and therefore YOU are “bad” if you eat it- versus deciding out of love for yourself and your best potential health you choosing not to eat a food that is blocking your body from its full healing potential. It is not the WHAT, it is the WHY. Food is not a moral issue. It is a choice of self care, self love, and personal discernment.

This can take time and discipline to repattern in your self. You have to habitually notice when attitude around food is leaning towards a moralistic concept of shame, purity and perfection, versus a thoughtful and intuitive concept of what will best fuel your body towards best health. No choice made out of guilt or shame will benefit your recovery- only an expansive idea of self nourishment and self love, which can exist even on the most restrictive diets.

It’s all about attitude.

About the Author
Jen Donovan completely rebuilt her life and career as a result of her experience with severe chronic illness. After finding no answers from conventional medical approaches, she took matters into her own hands and with the help of key mentors, found a path to healing.
Leave a comment...