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Dangers of Food Restriction

If you came from a home or a childhood in which food was regularly restricted or off limits, studies now tell us that this may be a major cause of your food problems today.
In “Restricting food makes it all the more desirable” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/29/14, page 32E), Tara Parker-Pope looks at why some kids eat more than others. These children are called “reactive eaters” and, in studies, eat way more than “non-reactive eaters.” Pope notes that “Genetics and biology play a role in foods we like and the amounts we eat. At the same time, studies show that children who grow up in homes with restrictive food rules where a parent is constantly dieting or desirable foods are forbidden or placed out of reach (my childhood home), often develop stronger reactions to food and want more of it when the opportunity presents itself (I did!).”

Summarizing Penn State experiments on kids and “forbidden” foods, Pope says that the reactive eaters “showed more interest in the off-limit snacks, and took more and ate more than” other children in the study. Says, Brandi Rollins, lead author of one study, “The message is that restriction is counterproductive…restriction just increases a child’s focus and intake of the food that the parent is trying to restrict.” Leann Birch, an author of this and other studies, “has shown that parents who impose highly restrictive food rules, such as putting desirable foods out of reach, tend to have children who are the most reactive to food in the laboratory.”

Do you see a correlation between your parents or other family members making food verboten to you and your eating problems today? If food was restricted when you were a child (for any reason), how do you think that eating it today when you’re full or not hungry benefits you? It doesn’t, of course. Can you see how you’re trying to remedy a problem that occurred in the past and is over in the present? You can’t do that. It’s an impossibility. That’s like not locking yourself out of your car—yesterday.

Pay attention to feelings that come up when you desire a food that you know you’re not really hungry for but just crave because you couldn’t have it (or as much as you wanted of it) when you were a child. Stay with that resentment or whatever you’re feeling and examine it. Notice how it cannot possibly be part of the present moment because you are now an adult who can choose to eat that food. You are no longer a helpless child who can’t have but yearns for it. Observe that you don’t actually want the food but what it represents, or more correctly, what it represented all those years ago: freedom. You have that now. Don’t squander your freedom, but enjoy and use it wisely.

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