This may seem counter-intuitive, or maybe a bit controversial, but in my experience it's true.
Let me explain, and keep in mind everything written below is solely based on my personal experience.
I've tried a whole host of different approaches to food for a variety of reasons. I was vegetarian as a teenager, developed a restrictive eating disorder in university, and discovered keto as a way to continue in my disordered habits, all of which led to some major gut and hormone imbalances. After finally realizing that I had some deeper issues to address (no period for 4 years and debilitating IBS), I embarked on a quest to heal my gut and get my health back on track.
I tried everything.
Food sensitivity testing, the SIBO-specific diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Autoimmune Protocol, Lectin Avoidance ... For 18 months, I tried and failed to find some way of eating that would allow me to function somewhat normally. None of them really made a difference and I felt like I was losing my mind, not to mention my quality of life. I couldn't sleep because heartburn and nausea would wake me up in the middle of the night. Anything I ate or drank made it look like I'd swallowed a basketball. I was afraid of going out in public for long periods of time because of the potential for an "accident." The worst part was that I felt out of control of my own body, and for anyone with a history of an eating disorder, you might understand how scary that is. I was being so careful, trying every strategy, and nothing was helping.
It almost felt like being back in my eating disorder, but without the starvation high.
I knew restricting was what had dug this hole in the first place and that I couldn't go back to it, but it was also so. Damn. Hard. Because I was gaining weight while also not digesting anything I ate. Familiar obsessive thoughts about food started buzzing in my head, cravings and justifications, circular arguments about what was "good" vs "bad."
We can't talk about restricting without talking about bingeing.
That word still terrifies me. It sounds shameful and embarrassing; it feels like secrets and guilt. There was a time when I was convinced it would never be possible for me to binge because I was too afraid of food. But as I learned the hard way, your body is smarter than you. Binge eating is your body's way of compensating for a period of scarcity (hello eating disorders and nutrient malabsorption). Even when I wasn't hungry, even when something didn't taste good anymore, even when I consciously thought "Stop," I couldn't. It's a horrible cycle of guilt, restrict, binge, guilt again, and it's both physiological and psychological. When you've been undernourished for a long time, your body will negate any rational thoughts to keep you alive. The same is true for being emotionally undernourished. When we're feeling things we don't want to feel or don't know how to feel, food is a convenient way to deaden those emotions. Both sides were very true for me.
As a last ditch effort, I decided to try carnivore.
This is in no way an endorsement of the carnivore diet, and I do not recommend it as a panacea for any kind of health condition. It was a very strange line to walk, because even though it was the most restricted in terms of food choices I'd ever been, it was also the most liberated from food I'd ever felt. It's very difficult to binge on beef. I didn't have to think about food and cooking all day because my choices were: meat or...meat. Okay, maybe fish.
It was scary to relinquish control and change how I thought about what or how much I was "allowed" to eat.
That went a long way to shifting how I looked at food overall, and I think quality vs quantity is an important distinction when talking about restrictive diets. With carnivore, I threw all ideas about measuring portions or counting calories out the window, and instead focused on nutrient density. I turned away from being afraid of how food could hurt me, and instead thought about how it could heal. Don't get me wrong, it was far from a perfect experience. My digestion actually got worse briefly, which I hadn't thought possible, but then ... it got better. A lot of things got better. No heartburn, no bloating, steady energy, and my palate completely changed. I stopped needing stevia or sweeteners of any kind, and started seasoning everything much more simply. My mood felt much more stable and, almost without noticing, my obsessive thoughts about food quieted down. Being free from that fixation was possibly the biggest change I experienced.
It was like having chronic pain for so long, you almost forgot it was there, until suddenly it wasn't.
This is what I mean when I say food freedom doesn't mean eating whatever you want. To me, food freedom is having the knowledge and confidence to make a choice about what feels like the best fuel for your body. At its core, isn't freedom all about choice? Personally, I do not feel the need to be carnivore long term because my body did the necessary healing to be able to tolerate a variety of foods. Beyond a functioning digestive system, what I took away from that experience was the ability to listen to the messages my body was sending and actually respond instead of trying to run away or ignore them. So now, even when I can eat more "normally," I choose foods that I know will nourish my body and keep my mind grounded. That's a very different thought process than being driven by fear or dogma. Given those two options, I know which one I want to keep choosing.