Do you have lists of foods you consider “bad” and “forbidden”?
Are you afraid to have certain foods in your house because you can’t resist them?
Do you fear that if you allow yourself to eat these foods, you won’t be able to stop?
Well, it is precisely because you forbid yourself from eating those foods that you can’t control yourself around them. The restrictions of dieting actually cause overeating.
You see, not allowing yourself to eat certain foods usually1 causes disordered eating. When you consider certain foods “illegal,” this triggers a backlash. It makes you want those foods even more. It can make you crazy for those foods. You know about the Garden of Eden and “forbidden fruit,” right?
Suppose you love cupcakes, but you don’t allow yourself to eat them because they are “bad.” When presented with cupcakes at a party or the office, you think, maybe without realizing it, that you’re going to eat some and while you’re blowing your diet, you’d best get your fill of cupcakes because who knows when you’ll get to eat them next?
You eat them like there is no tomorrow. You eat too much. Yuck.
Then you think, “See, I knew I couldn’t trust myself around cupcakes!” You proved yourself right!
Changing Your Mindset From Scarcity To Abundance
One of the most difficult issues some of my clients face is allowing themselves to eat whatever their bodies desire when they are actually physically hungry.
They’re scared. They’ve deprived themselves for so long that they think if they allow themselves to eat whatever they want, all they would eat would be junk food.
They’ve created a mindset of deprivation and scarcity in their lives.
But it hasn’t helped them. Dieting hasn’t helped. They are still overweight.
And it is dieting and deprivation that creates their mindset of scarcity.
The scarcity mindset leads people to overeat.
To be able to trust yourself with any food, you have to change your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance.
Here’s what I mean.
Wherever you live, there are probably opportunities to eat cupcakes all the time. If you really want a cupcake, they aren’t hard to find. Therefore, you don’t ever need to eat a cupcake or two or three just because it’s there.
You can wait until you really want one, and then go out and get the most delicious cupcake you can find. After all, that first bite of food when you're hungry always tastes the best, doesn't it? Why settle for less?
Or let’s say you have some cookies left over that you bought because you were entertaining. You consider cookies to be “bad,” so you don’t let yourself eat them, but you really want some. In fact, because you don’t let yourself have one, all you can think about is those leftover cookies.
As you eat the cookies, you decide it would be better to just get rid of them by eating the rest right now. So you overeat cookies. You confirmed your belief that you can’t be trusted around “bad” foods again, and used your body as a trash can, too!
Here’s how Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann explain the problem with scarcity in their book Overcoming Overeating. “Scarcity makes people anxious; surplus creates a sense of well-being and relaxation, the state of mind necessary to feed yourself in an attuned way.”
There is research concluding that when people are allowed to eat whatever their body wants, it helps them stop overeating. You see, people get tired of eating the same kind of food. Studies have shown that the more a person is exposed to a particular food, the less appealing it becomes. The novelty is gone. There is no scarcity so there’s no need to eat as much of it as you can now.
When I was overweight and dieting, I thought cheesecake was one of my three favorite foods. When offered cheesecake, I took a big piece and ate the whole thing. Then I felt like crap because I had not only eaten too much, but it was a food that I could not digest effectively because I’m lactose intolerant.
Now that I allow myself to eat cheesecake when I’m hungry and if I really want it, I learned that although I still enjoy cheesecake, there are other desserts I like more. Now when I eat cheesecake, I’m satisfied with a very small piece. I eat way less cheesecake than I did in the days when it was something that was technically “forbidden.”
Learning To Trust Your Body's Signals
One of the things you need to do to stop overeating and permanently lose weight is to give yourself permission to eat whatever your body wants. This means you have to be able to distinguish between mouth hunger and stomach hunger. Read more about that here.
Then when you are hungry, ask your body what it wants. Close your eyes and put your hands on your belly. Take a few deep breaths and listen to what your body says.
If it says French fries, have some! Just be sure to eat them without distractions. Because when you love something, you want to pay attention to it and enjoy it, don't you?
Stop eating when your body is lightly full. That might mean throwing the rest away or saving it for later. I promise you that no hungry children in Somalia will be worse off because you didn’t clean your plate.
Although at first your body might crave the foods you’ve been depriving it (but maybe not), as long as you listen to your body, it will start telling you to give it some fruits and vegetables and protein. Your body knows what it needs. You just need to listen.
If you want to learn how to eat in tune with your body's needs, the way naturally thin people do, I'd love to teach you how. To learn more, click here.
I like the Garden of Eden anology! And I have a family member who will sit down to some foods and call them “evil!” Then she eats them but how’s that for self-defeating self-talk? The good foods and bad foods thing is very hard for a lot of people to deal with, but I, like you, belive it has to be dealt with in order to have a healthy relationship with food in general.
One of my pet peeves is when people call certain foods sinful. Ummm, it’s just food. They need to take responsibility for their behavior in relation to food and develop, as you say, a healthier relationship with it. Thanks for commenting.
Excellent post, Shari! I think I may have inspired it. Ha. I do realize it’s many people’s story and it has been mine. But, I’m changing it. Not changing it in the future sense. But in the present and past sense. This work is working! Thank you!