The Every Body Is Beautiful Project

3 Truths About What Happens to Our Bodies & Brains When We Restrict Food

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What happens to our bodies when we restrict our food intake? Modern media and culture tells us it’s simple: We lose weight and then achieve all of our wildest dreams. [insert eye roll here!] Of course, we know this isn’t true for the vast majority of folks.

But what’s really going on in our bodies and brains, behaviors and thought patterns, when we engage in (intentional or unintentional) diet behavior? And, just as important: How can we nurture ourselves with more loving food choices?

Truth #1: Pursuing “Health” Can Trigger Scarcity Mode. When we don’t get enough food, be it through eating disordered behavior or unintentional restriction, our brain goes into scarcity mode. This mental state can trigger binge-feelings, impact the physical body composition, and reduce serotonin and dopamine production (our happy hormones). We can also experience lowered energy levels and obsessive thoughts about food that manifest as a “health concern.”

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What we can do: Let go of food rules, even the sneaky “but it’s not a diet — I’m just caring for my health” ones. Stepping away from food rules can be difficult because they may have helped us feel “safe” around food. But instead of actually keeping us safe, food rules and food fear hinders us from living vibrant lives in well bodies. Reaching out for support as you navigate this new way of interacting with food can be incredibly helpful.

Truth #2: Demonizing Foods and/or Food Groups Can Make Us Think About Them MORE. When we don’t get a variety of foods, our brains don’t register as feeling satisfied after a meal. If you’ve ever eaten a gigantic bowl of greens and found yourself thinking about food the second you finish your salad, this is likely why. Additionally, walking away from a meal feeling unsatisfied often leads to overeating later. Also worth noting: Boredom or lack of interest in food can result in accidental under-eating, which can trigger this cycle.

What we can do: Instead of focusing on what you should be taking off your plate, focus on how you can add variety to it. This will help with overall satiety and banish that feeling of solely eating out of obligation for “health” pursuits. Using your intuition to eat a variety lets your body know it can trust that it has access to a balance of different types of foods — and will also help keep your palate pleased!

Truth #3: Restricting Makes Us Feel Physically & Mentally Off-Balance. When we don’t give ourselves permission to eat what we want without guilt (or compensatory “I have to make up for this” behaviors), we stimulate a ripple effect similar to that of physical malnutrition. In other words: The body reacts to THOUGHTS of scarcity similarly to how it does with ACTUAL deprivation. This can manifest in our bodies as slowed metabolism, increased hunger drive, increased thoughts of food, slower digestion (bloating + discomfort), and lower energy.

What we can do: Make ‘permission’ your mantra. And then get curious about your cravings, what actually sounds good to you, what it feels like to be nourished, and how your relationship with food is impacted with permission at play. Allow yourself to eat treats and a variety of foods as often as you’d like, without the label of a “cheat” or “splurge.” In fact, eating in this intuitive, joyful way is the farthest thing from cheating yourself — it is a loving act of trust between you and your body.

Curious to learn more about your food choices and the mind-body connection? Check us out at the CoreLife Yoga, Barre, and Pilates Feast in Syracuse, New York! Our educator Holly Lowery will be leading a Lunch & Learn that focuses on how our food choices effect our wholistic wellness. Learn more here

holly lowery!!!

Holly Lowery

Eating Disorder Recovery Coach and Anti-Diet Advocate