Eliminating Foods, Part 1

This is the first of a 3-part series on eliminating foods from our diets (for health reasons). In this post, I will simply share a Q&A from an interview I did with Rande McDaniel at the Vegetable Centric Kitchen.  This gives my basic opinions on the topic, and in the next 2 posts, I’ll elaborate some more.
6. Before your book I read in many eating-disorder style books that we should never restrict anything, or omit any food from our diets or we’re guaranteed to binge on it. On some level I believed this so yes, it lead to bingeing. What are your thoughts on someone who wants to take on a healthy diet/lifestyle that may omit certain foods (processed foods, etc)?
I certainly don’t believe that omitting something from your diet guarantees that you will binge on it. There seems to be a divide in the eating disorder community with the majority of eating disorder experts saying that we should not omit any foods, but other treatment groups – like Food Addicts Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous – saying that eliminating problematic foods is necessary for recovery. Quite simply, I don’t believe that the types of food you eat or don’t eat cause binge eating – the urges to binge cause binge eating.
Might eliminating a certain food – or on the flip side, eating a certain food – lead to an urge to binge? Absolutely. But, we always remain in control of what we do when we experience an urge to binge. So, whether you chose to eliminate certain foods for health reasons or not, it doesn’t have to affect recovery. I personally believe that, when recovering from binge eating, it’s most helpful to allow all types of foods in moderation so that you can de-condition associations between eating certain foods and binge eating. The good news is: when you feel you can control yourself around any food, you are free to make any dietary changes you see fit.
I am trying to keep a narrow focus on using my own experience to help people stop binge eating, not necessarily to have a perfect diet or maintain a perfect weight, because I am not an expert in those areas. However, I will mention a few things I personally believe are important to remember if someone wants to implement healthy dietary changes. First, I think it’s very important to make sure to eat enough. It’s easy to become overzealous about a healthy diet, and in so doing, deprive the body of necessary calories, which can lead to strong survival-driven cravings and even urges to binge. Second, I think it’s helpful to remember that the body and brain will likely protest even a healthy change in diet. We become accustomed to eating certain types of food, and even though avoiding them might be beneficial, the body/brain may still react with strong cravings for the foods we are used to. However, if we can stick with it, healthier eating habits will become the norm, and cravings for the unhealthy habits will subside.
The third thing I think is important to remember is that maintaining an extremely healthy diet is difficult, so I think it’s important to cut yourself some slack if you can’t always eat perfectly. I think having the mindset that you can never “break” your healthy diet can cause some people unwanted stress, and it can also lead to a tendency to overindulge when they do eat something that’s not healthy. Sure, you might chose to have some processed food now and then even while trying to lead a healthy lifestyle; but it doesn’t have to lead to overeating or binge eating.
See Part II and Part III of this series for more.

3 thoughts on “Eliminating Foods, Part 1

  1. Hi Kathryn,

    Thanks for this excellent post (and for your book, which is both inspiring, and profoundly actionable).

    With respect to avoiding binges, I think you’re dead right in emphasising the primacy of the control that the pre-frontal cortex exerts on our mechanical actions (including putting food in our mouths, chewing it, and swallowing it). As such, it is a category error to say either that including “food X” in the diet or eliminating “food x” from the diet will “cause” binge eating behaviour.

    Quite simply, eating behaviour is caused by volitional brain states, which operate independently of urges to eat (which explains why a person who has not eaten for days can nevertheless avoid a highly palatable food placed in front of them, IF they have been offered sufficient inducement to do so, like winning a million dollars for instance).

    However, it is important to note that even volitional brain states have antecedent causes…they don’t just ‘spring up’ out of the ether, as it were. Rather, they are the inevitable products of conditions such as (1) our genetic heritage as a species, (2) our individual genetic heritage as contributed by our specific parents, (3) any epigenetic and/or mutative alterations in that genetic record during our personal lifecycles, (4) the non-alterable environment in which we operate and finally, (5) the operant conditioning we have established in our past by behaving on our alterable environment.

    It is this final set of causes (e.g. the behaviours we express, which condition future behaviour) that we have the most influence over, and hence which attract the most attention with respect to behaviour modification.

    In terms of food selection, we can condition the cessation of binge eating by either rewarding the abstinence from ‘trigger’ foods or equally, by rewarding the appropriate consumption of these foods.

    Whilst both approaches generate the same outcome with respect to the cessation of binge eating, the inclusive option is easier to achieve, as it
    exploits the intrinsic reward offered by the consumption of the desired food, coupled with the postprandial reward associated with eating an appropriate portion (e.g. excitement that one can control the food portion, the pleasant sensations associated with moderate, as compared to excessive, stomach distension etc.).

    By contrast, the rewards offered by abstension need to be deliberately cognised, as they do not follow from the ‘behaviour’ of abstinence (which is an ommission, not an action). For example, we may need to follow each cue>abstinence success with a practised mantra such as, “I just changed my brain for the better by passing on that donut”.

    Keep up the great work Kathryn…you are helping a great many people!

    Cheers,
    Harry

    1. Harry,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights. What you said makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure it will be helpful to many people. I truly appreciate your thoughtful explanation.

      All the best!

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