Most individuals are familiar with physical restriction and what this looks like. Not allowing yourself to eat certain foods or food groups for any reason (barring a true medical necessity) seems simple enough to conceptualize. However, mental restriction can be just as likely as physical restriction to keep us stuck in a precarious cycle with our relationship to food, but can also be more challenging to wrap our heads around.
So what is mental restriction? Mental restriction is the thoughts related to food being "good", "bad", "off limits", "healthy", "unhealthy"... and the list goes on and on. You may be starting to nod your head and think hmm yeah this sounds familiar, so maybe I do struggle with mental restriction, and then wonder where it comes from? Mental restrictive thoughts about food are derived from the rules and belief system we've created around food and this culminates from many different places: those we spend time around, diet culture, media messaging, and more.
So how does mental restriction have the ability to keep us stuck in a pattern of restrained and unrestrained eating? Well, these thoughts can send the same kind of messages to our brain as physical restriction that informs our mind and body to anticipate restriction. Of course this can be tough to understand because you may be eating the very foods you have worked to eradicate physical restriction around, however if you are still experiencing mental restriction this may explain why you could still be struggling with binging and/or unrestrained eating.
At this point if you are thinking "yup, this totally happens to me", you are then probably curious about how to navigate and hopefully combat mental restriction? The first step is to begin to recognize when you're experiencing a mental restrictive thought. This takes time and patience so give yourself grace and kindness. As you start to bring more awareness to these thoughts you can then try to fact check and re-frame these thoughts. Here is an example:
Initial thought: I ate so bad today. I need to be better tomorrow.
Re-framed thought: Food is not "good" or "bad". I am not a "bad" person for eating certain foods. I do not need to "do better" tomorrow; what I need to do is continue working to listen to and trust my body, and give it the nourishment that it needs.
If that sounds difficult to do that's because it is! But again, it is a practice so it will take repetition and time to build your skillset around recognizing and re-framing these thoughts. But it is so important to try to remove any anticipatory restriction that can keep someone just as stuck in the pendulum swing of binging and restricting.