One of the most popular “issues” making the rounds right now is the idea of restriction. And like all discussions about complex or abstract topics, there’s a lot to be desired.

I’ll give you the cliff notes for the conventional advice: if your diet is restrictive, it’s bad.

While I understand where people are going with this thought process, it’s become dangerous. Extreme, even. 

One issue is that people are failing to parse the details — as always, it seems. What does restriction mean? Is it all bad? Is it possible to not be restricted?

Here’s the issue…

Men and women come to me all the time saying, “I’m interested in Total Body Reboot, but I don’t want to feel restricted.”

I’m not sure that saying, “I don’t want to feel restricted” is a legitimate desire. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ll make my case and you can let me know in the comments.

Let’s say you’re 40 pounds overweight, eating food that’s breaking your body, and engaged in disordered eating habits. Something has to change, right? I could start by suggesting that you not drink three cans of Mountain Dew a day. Immediately, you could say I’m restricting you.

So, what now? Do I click my heels together three times?

If you’re $40,000 in debt and spending 25% more than you make and your financial advisor tells you to reduce spending by 35%, you’d say they’re restricting you (that is not an underhanded calorie reference, by the way).

What do you want to hear from your financial advisor?

Let me complicate the issue further by introducing the paradox of perspective. 

If Dick and Jane both follow the same little-d diet and Dick says it’s frustratingly restrictive while Jane says it’s massively liberating, what then? Who’s right?

Maybe they’re both right. Maybe that’s life.

I used to feel like Dick. When I was a future diabetic with high blood pressure and a Chick-Fil-A milkshake cup duct taped to my hand, I thought this new way of eating was pretty restrictive.

It was especially restrictive when I was laying in bed in a sugar withdrawal coma with little Oreo cookie people dancing in my head.

But at some point, I became Jane. It probably had very little to do with losing weight and a lot to do with changing my relationship with food, healing my eating triggers, repairing my busted metabolism and embracing a more active lifestyle.

When you have a deeper understanding of how food interacts with your body, when you see through the lies of mainstream nutrition, and when you embrace all the benefits of this new way of life, that’s when you feel it.

Feel what?

The perspective shift.

Perspective is a funny thing. There are beautiful people who feel ugly, smart people who feel dumb, and healthy people who feel fat.

People who make $50,000 a year feel restricted because they wish they made $100,000 a year. Other people are quite happy making $50,000 a year and don’t wish to make more. Some people live in the wild of Alaska and make close to nothing and are as happy as a frozen clam (wait, I’m not sure that works…).

Some people see hope where others see hopelessness. Some people see pain where others see joy. Some people see obstacles where other’s see opportunity.

We’ve all experienced perspective shifts in different areas of our life. You can hate the idea of personal finance and budgeting for years, only to fully embrace it and be completely engaged with your financial wellbeing going forward.

Perspective is based on nothing more than your psychological longitude and latitude on any given day.

This can only mean one thing: restriction is subjective bullshit.

Maybe restriction is self-pity on Monday, your personal Alcatraz on Tuesday,  your convenient excuse on Wednesday, your enabling friend on Thursday, and your dreaded enemy on Friday. And you take the weekend off from stressing about it, of course.

If you hunted and gathered all your food, would you be restricted? Considering that human genetics are geared mostly toward dealing with famine, I’d say the chances are good.

Is that a bad thing? I don’t think it’s good or bad, it’s just life. Being completely unrestricted is the very evolutionary mismatch that’s killing people.

A better question is, if you hunted and gathered all your food and had no idea that Wal-Mart existed, would you feel restricted? This is an argument that easily piggy backs on the ideas I presented in Food Restriction, Orthorexia, and The Overton Window.

If you get someone addicted to heroin and then take the heroin away, they feel restricted. But before you gave them heroin, they didn’t feel restricted without it. You simply shifted their perspective. First, with the heroin and then again with the the removal of it.

Maybe feeling restricted is part of the learning curve of a healthy lifestyle?

Truthfully, you’re not restricted are you? You’re giving your body everything it needs to thrive!

That’s the real difference here. “Restriction” in the food world, to me, would be adopting a Diet that neglects your health because it restricts things you actually need. That’s the only legit use of the term.

Nothing I teach restricts what the body needs. I don’t make rules, there’s no talk about calories, there’s no talk about macronutrient ratios, there’s no dogma, and there’s no branding. There’s no “Reboot Diet.”

Let’s add to the paradox: by not-restricting, you’re restricting. 

Would you agree that an alcoholic is restricting the depth of their relationships? Restricting the length of their life? Restricting their happiness? Would you agree that being obese, having diabetes, or binge eating creates similar restrictions?

So not bingeing is restrictive and so is bingeing. If you accept the black and white idea of “restriction is bad,” then you’re screwed either way.

Launching a mission to be unrestricted in your eating is a mission destined for failure. All that’s left to parse is healthy restriction versus pathological restriction. That’s all we should be concerned about, isn’t it?

Correct me if I’m wrong.


  • Brittany says:

    Awesome topic and incredible points. You hit the nail on the head!

  • Zach says:

    Money in the bank. As always.


  • April says:

    I really struggled, wanting to jump in on the conversation you had a few days ago on Facebook about religion but this article today makes the point I wanted to make but didn’t have the words.
    This point of view of restriction that some people see as bad in religion is exactly the point I wanted to make. I see the things, ways, ideas of the Bible and God as good for me and for the best. Guilt and shame come from doing things against what is best and good as defined by One Who knows because He made me and knows what I need better than I do sometimes.
    So your points about restrictions as good things in the context of getting a body and life you love made my point for me. It is a paradigm shift that takes place in the heart/soul that can’t really be embraced until it is. Just as putting down the Mountain Dew or spending less than you make is a shift that comes internally and external attempts feel like restriction (you’ve also talked about the same concept in the idea of “willpower”). If I shamed a person for drinking their soda or over-spending, would they feel guilty? The point is not shame and guilt, it’s about knowing what is true and good and getting on board with that.
    I love most everything you talk about and the topic of religion is something I hope you will keep an open mind and not resist wisdom. As with any group/organization/culture there will be points of agreement and points of departure but within most groups there will be some crazies and some grounded folks. I just hope you don’t throw away the entire concept because the crazies can be so visible. Have you heard the old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”?
    I will say that I was highly impressed with the content of the conversation on Facebook and was pleasantly surprised it didn’t devolve into a shouting match as so many of those types of conversations seem to do. It was a really healthy discussion.
    The point is: I think you are on a good path and I appreciate the forum to discuss a broader range of topics/issues that make people tick than just calories and cardio. You see people as complex individuals with all kinds of influences and triggers that need to be examined in the light of truth. That is always a good thing.
    Thanks and keep up the good work.

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