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{Note from Jessica: Today’s post is shared by my good friend, Lauren, author of Lauren Fowler. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and yoga teacher who promotes a non-diet approach to nutrition and health. She wants everyone to connect to their bodies intuitive wisdom rather than following diets. She encourages the tools of intuitive eating and health at every size. Stop by LaurenFlower.co to read more about nutrition, intuitive eating, heart-based health, and yoga.}

Finally, people are catching onto the fact that diets don’t work. The only proven effect of diets is weight gain.

Luckily, there is more of a focus on health these days. Many people want to eat well to benefit their health. Most people can be well by eating an overall balanced diet, and they don’t have to restrict their diets.

For others, there may be legitimate food intolerances, allergies, or sensitivities that impact how their body feels and works.

So, what do you do then?

Should you do a restrictive diet for food sensitivities?

Restrictions of any kind – whether for weight loss (as in a diet) or to manage health – may turn into a rebound overconsumption. This may mean a rebound binge, usually accompanied by guilt and shame. For some people, they feel bad about eating one slice of bread while others it may be a lot more food. It often turns into feeling bad about the foods that are restricted, even if they are generally healthy foods.

Here’s how I approach it as a dietitian.

1. Check in with yourself honestly.

Your health is a culmination of your physical, mental, emotional health. It’s never going to be perfect, and seeking “perfect” physical health can often lead to detrimental effects on your mental and emotional health. For example, if you go on a restrictive diet to try to obtain perfect energy or the best body possible, you may end up feeling body shame or food guilt and end up isolating yourself because you don’t want to eat out. Yet, this impacts your emotional and mental health.

If you have struggled with any degree of disordered eating – or an eating disorder – focus on healing your relationship with food first. I always recommend working with a non-diet dietitian AND a therapist to get to the root causes. Both will help you get in tune with your emotional state, uncover and create healthy mindsets, and create self-care patterns that support your life.

Often, this ends up benefitting your physical health as well. Stress has a huge impact on your health, and anxiety or stress may show up as somatic symptoms in your body. Stress has a big impact on your digestive system as well.

Sometimes, what you thought as a reaction to a specific food could have been true anxiety. When you manage your stress, you’ll be able to determine if your body is feeling anxiety or a physical reaction to a food.

2. Focus on your quality of life.

Again, perfect health is never the goal. Instead, focus on quality of life. Good health – physical, mental, and emotional health – allows you to do the things you want to do and love in your life.

Will the restrictive diet ultimately benefit your quality of life – or harm it?

You can modify a plan to support your needs, and it may end up being more effective. For example, I’ve worked with clients with food sensitivities, and we’ve modified to plan to seem less restrictive. While many providers encourage strict compliance, I’ve found flexibility and modification ends up leading to better results because the plan is more sustainable in the long-term. It also ends up leading to focus on whole health, like stress management and self-care rather than solely nutrition.

3. Know that you have a choice.

It’s ultimately up to you. If you know that a food leads to body symptoms, but you want to enjoy your birthday cake, you can make the decision to eat it and deal with the outcome. Or, you can choose to eat something else and avoid the body symptom. This applies to an intolerance or sensitivity – if it is a true allergy or celiac disease, avoid the food.

Nutrition is only ONE part of a managing a health condition. While nutrition can be a huge part of managing a disease state, you can also choose to explore alternative ways like medications or supplements, movement, or other therapies. If you feel like an eating plan (even if it will lead to a better health outcome) will be too restrictive, it may not be in your best interest at this time.

4. It’s all about intention.

Recognize your intention behind your choice, and empower yourself.

There is a difference between avoiding gluten or dairy for hopes of “feeling better” or losing weight and knowing that you have a severe enough reaction when you eat it that it is better for YOU to avoid it. Everyone’s body is different and will react differently.

Restrictive diets to manage health conditions are usually temporary (again, except allergies or celiac disease). Often, by avoiding certain foods for a specific amount of time and working on other parts of your health, you may be able to re-introduce these foods in time.

Remind yourself that the food is not “good” or “bad,” but it is not serving your body at this moment. All foods can fit in a healthy diet, but everyone will have different food preferences and reactions to certain foods. The food isn’t good or bad, though.

Don’t demonize the food or create unrealistic stories about it. For example, gluten and dairy may be reactive for some, but for most people, they can be a healthy part of their diet. Yet, when we avoid one of these foods, we may end up creating an unrealistic and unhelpful story about it like “gluten is the devil,” or “dairy causes inflammation in everyone,” or “I’m never eating these foods every again.” This all or nothing thinking may lead to that rebound binging or guilt/shame effect again.

It’s just food. Focus on what’s going to improve your quality of life, and leave demonizing food alone. After all, food is energy, pleasure, enjoyment, and nutrition.

5. Work with a qualified professional.

Work with a functional medicine physician or naturopath or dietitian who is trained in food sensitivities. If there is disordered eating/eating disorders or anxiety, work with a therapist as well. While there are many educated health coaches or nutritionists out there, they do not have the clinical education or training to do medical nutritional therapy (individualized nutritional guidance).

A qualified health professional will be able to give clinical recommendations that are best for you instead of you trying to figure it all out using google. Often, googling too much can increase your anxiety or stress!

Instead, trust health professionals. Yes, the quality does vary, so give them a call on the phone and do an interview to get an idea if they can help you or if you would be a good fit for working with them.

If you are interested in additional support in figuring out what foods work for you and what do not, please feel free to contact me privately and we can set up a time to chat and dive deeper. Contact me here.

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