When does Eating Behaviour and Dietary Preferences Become Restrictive?

In this two part blog series, we will be discussing different dietary preferences which can be considered restrictive, including the plant-based diet and the potential relationship between diet/nutrition preferences and eating disorders. Check out part 2 here.

Why do people opt for certain dietary preferences and restrictive diets?

By their nature, having a dietary or nutrition preference is choosing to have a restrictive diet. This is not inherently a bad thing – it can be beneficial to your health, the environment, or animal welfare, depending on the diet of choice. 

Although, some diets may not be that beneficial for any party involved, such as the carnivore diet (omission of any food that does not come from an animal, normally promoted by Gym Bros, although it’s not common to come across). For the most part, limitations on one’s diet are normally set with the intention of benefitting one’s health, the environment, and/or animal welfare.

“Health”-related restriction

Some may opt to restrict their diet for health-related reasons, as laid out below.

  1. FODMAP 

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. Some people experience digestive distress after eating them – commonly those with IBS (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

A FODMAP diet involves three main steps: Low FODMAP, Reintroduction, and Personalisation.

The low FODMAP phase requires the elimination of any high FODMAP foods (this includes a lot of fruit and vegetables, grains, and dairy). You then have to slowly reintroduce each carbohydrate type (e.g., starting with oligosaccharides, then gradually adding the other carbohydrate types back into the diet), over a period of weeks/months, and note which items caused any symptoms, and which did not. 

This is the start of the personalisation phase, where you work with your dietician to identify your trigger foods, and can then work to avoid those, and hopefully minimise your symptoms.

  1. Low-carb/fat

Some diets aim to significantly reduce, or completely eliminate, a food group to aid with fat loss. Typically this is done by replacing the removed component with something perceived to be more satiating, e.g. rice for veggies, as they are higher volume. 

  1. General Health

Additionally, for health-related reasoning, meta-analyses have found that vegetarian diets exhibit a significant reduction in the risk of incidence of ischaemic heart disease (reduced by 25%) and non-specific cancers (reduction of 8%), and vegan diets a reduction of 15% for cancers.

Plant-based diets are also associated with a plethora of other health benefits, including but not limited to reduced risks of type 2 diabetes mellitus and ischaemic heart disease, a reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and glucose levels, and an overall reduction in body mass index (BMI),

Environmental/ethical-related restriction

Plant-based diets are also more commonly associated with environmental or ethical reasons, as outlined below.

  1. Environmental

While it is obvious that avoiding animal products is beneficial for animal welfare, it is also greatly beneficial for the environment. 

A report run by the United Nations Environment Programme stated that “animal products, both meat and dairy, in general, require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.”

The World Health Organisation has additionally stated that “Reducing livestock herds would also reduce emissions of methane, which is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.” – that includes both dairy and beef cattle.

While a single individual reducing their intake of animal products will not have a substantial impact on the climate, if everyone were to reduce their intake a little bit, it would certainly help. 

There are various ways of doing this – being vegetarian or vegan being the forerunners, however, flexitarian and “seagan” (vegan but eats fish, and no other animal products, including dairy and eggs) diets are being adopted more frequently to help fight the climate and care for animals. 

  1. Ethical

This is the belief that animals should have rights, just as humans do, and that just because humans have the means of accessing meats and animal products, and preparing them in a way that is fit for human consumption, it does not mean that it is ethically viable to do so.

Whilst the standard practice for most “ethical” vegans is to not consume any animal products at all (as whole products, such as a glass of milk, or as ingredients, for example, in a cake), and usually not use animal products in everyday life – such as leather goods, there are more extreme vegan diets, such as “raw” veganism and “fruitarians”

“Raw” vegan diets completely omit the cooking of food, and so everything that is consumed is done so in its raw state; no boiling, roasting or frying is involved. The most extreme vegan diet is the “fruitarian” approach, whereby individuals only eat plants that have spontaneously fallen from a tree/been unearthed. These variations of veganism account for the most minute ethical considerations, and thus are not considered standard practice. There is minimal investigation into the welfare of those living by such rigour, but it is likely that without supplementation of vitamins and minerals (such as B12 and iron), they are somewhat deficient, which can result in poor health.

In part two, we’re going to delve a little deeper into the potential relationship between diet/ nutrition preferences and eating disorders, in particular when it comes to a plant-based diet. Check that out here.

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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