Part 2: Why I no longer restrict my diet

Written on October 26, 2008
What does restricting food mean to you?

Does it mean eating less of something you really like?

Avoiding it altogether?

Or does "restriction" mean eliminating whole categories of food from your diet (e.g. dairy products, meat, white flour, sugar, caffeine) without ever hoping to eat them again, whether for health or other reasons?

As I think about this, I am amazed by the sheer number of ways that we have to restrict what we put in our mouths. Indeed, the more choice exists out there, the more choices we have about what to eat and, consequently, about what not to eat.

Try it: instead of saying what you will eat today, say what you won't.

For example: Today I won't eat Twizzlers. Today I won't eat beef Wellington, or strawberry ice cream, or pork potstickers. Today I won't drink orange juice or champagne, I won't nibble on plantain chips or peanuts, and I certainly won't consume baked Alaska.

The list could go on and on because, to tell the truth, on any given day I eat far fewer foods than those which are actually available to me; every meal is a lesson in choosing what and how to eat; every meal an opportunity to say "no" more than "yes".

So what am I saying "yes" to today, and what does this have to do with restriction?
  • Breakfast this morning was a couple of sweet potatoes, baked yesterday afternoon and let to mellow, with a slice of Cowgirl Creamery cheese and a mug of milky coffee.
  • Lunch will probably be a bean sprout salad with dried figs and pumpkin seeds, followed by a bowl of yellow split pea soup, if I can manage to pull this all together by noon.
  • I am meeting a friend at the Hungarian Pastry Shop to study this afternoon, and I'm planning to eat a piece of their apple cake, and try to figure out what it consists of so that I can make it myself with all of the fresh apples that abound in the farmer's markets these days.
  • Dinner? A bowl of fresh cheese ravioli that I brought home from the Bronx's own Little Italy, Arther Avenue, accompanied by sauteed kale.
Of course, any and all of this may change. I am planning to go to the farmers' market later this morning, and depending on what treats they can offer me, I'll change any and all of this menu.
But my point is this: I can only eat so much in a single day, so there is necessarily some limitation to what I am eating today. The variety comes in the breadth of what I eat: my day's menu includes milk, red meat, cheese, white flour, and dessert -- as well as plenty of vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Over time, too, there will be variety, as tomorrow's menu will surely be different from today's. Breakfast will be yogurt, not sweet potatoes; lunch may be rice and beans, not soup; and so on and so forth. Every day I restrict in some ways, because I cannot eat everything that I would like at once (bye-bye, bulimia!), but every day is somewhat different from the day before, and I feel that it all rounds out in the end. Some days may have more desserts than others, some more vegetables, others more milk and popcorn.

To not restrict my diet is to also not beat up on myself when I eat more of a certain food on any day than I normally would like to. Not restricting means acknowledging that there will be those days when I eat more, and others when I will eat less. I have learned to trust that the "more" days will be balanced out by the "less" days, but of their own accord, without my having to do much to push them in one way or another. And though this sounds complicated and calculating, it works for me!

Have you experienced anything similar recently? How do you feel about the restrictions that you may have put in place for yourself? How do you respond to other people's restrictions (a topic for a future post)?

With love,
Ai Lu


Emily said...

Thank you for this post. After being anorexic and semi-anorexic for three years and restricting several food groups at once, I recently decided to throw out all my old eating rules and replace it with one new one: no restricting. In eating all the things I formerly wouldn't let myself eat, I have definitely gone overboard at times, but am seeking balance, and your blog is a huge inspiration. Keep it up!

Tiptoe said...

Good topic. I know my definition of restriction has changed over the years. For a long time, it was about eliminating certain food groups, and I seemed to have done that quite successfully unfortunately. However, as time has gone by, the restrictions have lessened to a degree, exploring old foods which I banished, though I certainly still have a way to go with this.

Ironically, this post reminds me of how I feed my dogs. I don't believe in the whole "all nutrition must be met in every meal" thinking that most dog food companies proclaim. Instead, I use a more natural approach in that it's "balance over time." They do not get all the same nutrients at every meal, and their meals vary by the day.

It's something important for me to remember so I do not get stuck in ritualized eating of the same foods day in/day out.

Lisa said...

Reading your post made me realize how monotonous my food intake often is. Part of this stems from being a broke-ass college student, but I admit a large part of it comes from fear. The foods I rely on are "safe;" I know the meals I generally eat won't make me gain weight. I still struggle with anxiety when my meals get unexpectedly switched up.

Ruth said...

Well said! And very much needed to be said. As a diabetic, I end up alot like what Lisa mentioned in her comment -- afraid to change my boring diet -- because I'm always being harped at about what I can't eat and shouldn't eat depending on the dietician of the day. I much prefer a balanced approach to my relationship with food that Gerard Musante talks about in his Structure House Weight Loss Program. I'm finding that as long as I can keep some kind of balance, then everything else falls into place too.

S. said...

I too am a recovering bulimic. I've been retraining myself to NOT restrict. It's getting easier, I was surprised how hard it was at first to choose to eat something that I want/crave rather than the safe food that I won't taste because my mind will be preoccupied with the craving/wanting of something else.

Bulimia scares me. It's this fear of falling back into it that helps me from reaching that tipping point-where a little overinduldging turns into a binge and the guilt that accompanies it blindsiding you into purging.

I constantly have to myself to move on and seek better days. Been there. Done that. Depressing and SCARY. Pass the test of today and tomorrow it will be that much easier.

Reading yours and other bloggers posts on ED's is therapeutic for me and I thank you for sharing. :)

Kyla said...

You're so right. As a recovering anorexic/bulimic, I switch from restricting one thing to another - calories, food groups, fat, number of meals, amount of food, liquids, etc. I think the focus is not so much on what I am restricting but on the fact that I am restricting it. The restricting is a way of saying no to myself, a way of distracting, a way of narrowing my world. Tomorrow I'll try to say yes! instead.

Ai Lu said...

Sorry for my delayed response -- I truly enjoyed reading all of your comments, especially from the readers who left comments for the first time. Welcome!
Ai Lu