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Mad Positivity | Physical & Psychological Restriction

Image reposted from @nourishandeat

By Jessica Vander Zaag

Last week we talked about the effects of starvation: what happens when you try and restrict caloric intake. However there are plenty of diets that don’t demand counting calories, but instead suggest limiting certain groups or types of foods, or when and how you can eat them. This group includes diets like Whole30, Paleo, Ayurvedic, IF, etc. Usually these ideas sell themselves on the very fact that they aren’t restricting intake, and therefore you should feel full and happy while still losing weight, but we come to this fun fact: your brain doesn’t know the difference between physical and psychological restriction. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some science.


A really interesting field of emerging research in the last twenty years has been on the topic of “food insecurity.” Food security is essentially the access of a person to enough nutritionally adequate and safe food to live a healthy active life. Food insecurity, therefore, exists whenever the ability to acquire food is limited or uncertain. Now compare that to any of the diets above. You’ve told yourself you can’t have food, that a food group is “off limits” and thereby unavailable. When the data is collected, across socioeconomic groups, age, and genders, the research all finds that greater food insecurity leads to greater BMI and waist circumference, higher blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, and a higher incidence of disordered eating behaviours.


Saying to yourself, “this is the last cookie I’m having for a month/year/ever” is interpreted as, “hey there’s about to be a cookie shortage so we better stock up on every cookie in sight.” And suddenly that last cookie turns into the whole bag and you’re bemoaning your lack of self control and have convinced yourself that this is why you definitely can’t have cookies.


It’s not the cookies.

Or your lack of self-control

It’s your body, just looking out for itself the only way it knows how.


This is how the restrict-binge cycle works. Remember the refeed portion of the Minnesota Experiment? The subjects would eat almost three times the amount of calories they needed to maintain, because their bodies were recovering from the “famine”. And if you think that research is outdated, a meta-analysis (aka the single best scientific proof) done by Janet Polivy in ‘96 summarized that “starvation and self-imposed dieting appear to result in eating binges once food is available and in psychological manifestations such as preoccupation with food and eating [sic].”


When your brain knows it’s going to get enough food, it doesn’t drive you to look for more.

So what’s the solution? Give up the diet. Just let your body be.


xo jess