Has Your “Healing” Diet Become an Eating Disorder?

nutrition Jan 22, 2019

As someone who claims that “diets don’t work”, I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life on some type of restricted diet. For me it was different though. It was for healing purposes, not weight loss. So it wasn’t really a “diet”, it was removing foods that were possibly contributing to symptoms, right? I was “allowing my gut to heal”. 

WRONG. I had become a chronic dieter.

I’ve dealt with gut issues for years – IBS, SIBO, bloating, constipation, etc. Top that off with anxiety, skin issues, and hormone imbalances. I got to the point where I would do anything to feel better.

Before having my nutrition background, I tried things that I thought might help, like eating all low-fat and low-calorie foods. That didn’t work. I tried eating very little during the day and then binging at night with a large take-out dinner and a big bowl of ice cream. Surprise…that didn’t work either. 

Then I started reading about nutrition and even left my career in pharmaceutical sales to return to school and study nutrition. It was an incredible experience and opened my eyes to so much valuable information.

But I also experimented with several different ways of eating, all of which restricted certain types of food. None of them helped.

Over the years, I’ve gone gluten and dairy free. I’ve done the Autoimmune Protocol, Paleo, Low Fodmap, and Keto. I dabbled in vegan and raw foods too – worst idea ever!

And as a health coach, I’ve recommended some of these protocols to my clients because I believe in the healing capabilities of healthy food.

However, as I tried each protocol, I would feel a little better initially but then feel worse.

Why wasn’t it working for me?

Well for one, restricting the types of food I could and couldn’t eat was extremely stressful. It was a huge source of anxiety for me. It caused me to want to cook every meal at home, so I could control the ingredients.

It isolated me from friends and family. It made me massively afraid of food and what might happen if I ate the “wrong” foods!

And let me tell you, fear, anxiety, and stress will contribute way more to your debilitating symptoms than eating that gluten-free cookie you’ve been eyeing for the past hour. 

Yes friends, this is disordered eating territory right here. But the reason and motivation behind it is totally different. I simply wanted to feel better and heal my body.

I actually wanted to gain weight. So it was never a body image issue (although I really didn’t like how skinny I was).

I just wanted to feel great and get my life back. But that wasn’t happening. I was feeling worse and totally defeated. 

What I’ve realized through working with many IBS clients and myself is that we have similar personalities. We are type A, perfectionists who are rule-followers and have a fear of making mistakes and failure.

Can anyone relate?

For people like us, prescribing an elimination diet is really not the best idea because we are going to do it perfectly and obsessively and be totally afraid of messing up.

We will become obsessed with it, and it will take over our lives. That might be the most unhealthy thing for someone whose health is already compromised. 

I can’t tell you how many people have come to me after doing a food sensitivity test telling me they can only eat 5 foods. That is NOT okay. That will NOT heal your body.

I’m not saying that cleaning up your diet won’t help. I do believe that it can and it will. But it needs to be done in the right way. Not with a list of “good foods” and “bad foods” or “allowed foods” and “forbidden foods” or “legal” and “illegal” foods.

It needs to be done with a template, or a guide – room for freedom, choices, and flexibility. It needs to encourage experimentation and emphasize the importance of eating enough.

And for fellow practitioners out there, this will be hard because people like me want a list. Tell me what to eat and what not to eat, and I will follow it perfectly even if it means sacrificing my social life to do it. 

It took me years to come to this realization but I’m here now. I was finally honest with myself and admitted that I felt better when I ate whatever I wanted and wasn’t focused so much on food.

When I felt my best I was even eating gluten and dairy! What?!?

Now, I’ll admit, there’s still fear around certain foods. I’ve slowly started adding in small amounts of dairy. But gluten is this big evil monster in my mind. I’m not ready to give that a try yet, but maybe one day.

All I know is that I’d like to get back to where I was before I went down the rabbit hole of gut-healing diets.

Honestly, this confession is really scary for me to put out into the world as a holistic health coach who specializes in digestive wellness!

But I was happier then. I was less controlling, less stressed, less obsessive. Life’s too short to be controlled by your food.

Food should be neutral – neither good nor bad. It’s fuel and nourishment.

I truly believe that our body has the capacity to heal itself if we give it what it needs. Deprivation and stress is not what it needs. It needs nourishment and love in order to restore. 

I encourage you to love your body, nourish your body, and be thankful for all that it does for you.

I’d love to hear from you. Have you been on a healing journey that involved restrictive eating? Did it create food fears and how did you handle it?

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