Are Diets Restrictive?

real, whole food.

Well…yeah. But why is that bad? Why does that cause many people to feel “deprived”?

Most diets restrict or eliminate processed foods and added sugars, which are strongly linked to inflammation, obesity, and chronic disease. Many successful diets also take a phased approach, beginning with a more restrictive initial phase and then widening food choice as weight loss progresses and maintenance is reached. Examples include the Atkins diet (written by Dr. Atkins and pretty much devoid of processed low carb products), Whole 30, The South Beach Diet written by Dr. Agatston, and various programs by Dr. Mark Hyman.  Even Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman is essentially a vegan diet (with certain restrictions) for the first 6 weeks followed by a slight expansion including small amounts of animal foods if desired.

A lot of criticism of low carb diets in particular centers on the overall healthfulness of the food choices in those diets: they tend to be high in animal products. The science on this is not settled, but most health authorities seem to agree that the more plants you can eat and the less animal products the better for overall health as well as risk reduction for certain chronic diseases. If you are concerned about your risk for disease and how your diet factors into that, please consult with your physician. The plants vs animals issue, in my opinion, becomes more relevant as you consider what you are eating over the long term, especially once you are in weight maintenance.

The reality is, obesity is at the core of numerous chronic diseases. Cancer prevention recommendation #1 from The American Institute for Cancer Research is to be a healthy weight.

Some diets do work in the sense that when people follow them, they lose weight. Even the Dukan Diet which is heavily animal based, works for some people. It’s probably not the healthiest way to eat long term to prevent chronic disease, but being obese is certainly not health promoting either.

The issue becomes whether an individual can turn the maintenance phase of these programs into lifestyles. I think a lot of that has to do with mindset, and how one views “restriction”. Here’s an analogy:

Being active is healthy. In fact, cancer prevention recommendation #2 from The American Institute for Cancer Research is to be physically active. So, maybe you join a gym and start going three days a week. Not everyone goes to the gym, but you do. And that’s a healthy behavior. However, when you go to the gym now you are “restricted” from sitting on the couch for that period of time, or from doing whatever it was that you did instead of going to the gym.

Similarly, not everyone is following a “diet” or a “food plan” or a “way of eating” with certain restrictions, rules, and guidelines. But you are. And you’ve cleared it with your physician, and it’s an actual program, and getting you real results. So, that’s a healthy behavior too. But now you are restricted from eating certain foods which may not be the healthiest things to eat for you right now. Not forever, just right now. And, to remain healthy, you’ll probably have to limit them once you reach your weight loss goal.

We live in a world designed to make us overeat foods that are not healthful for us. It helps to have a set of guidelines and a plan for how to navigate and make healthful choices. If you aren’t obese or suffering from serious medical issues, then a plant-predominant Mediterranean diet is a healthful eating pattern.

But don’t fall into the “deprivation” and “restriction” mindset trap. Remember, there are many ways to be deprived and restricted in life that have nothing to do with food.

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