Isn’t deprivation a built-in part of losing weight?
Maybe. Yet people report feelings of deprivation as a primary reason for abandoning weight loss efforts. Often these feelings lead to overindulging in sweets, high-fat, and junk foods and in binge eating. To lose weight, to make changes for the better, does require eating less of such things. Is feeling deprived, then, inevitable? I think to make changes that last, that become part of us, the answer has to be “no”.
Part of what has to happen, I think, is a change in perception, in how you think about and conceive of these foods in your life. People who come to successfully manage their weight start to recognize the role of choice. Their inner dialogue will tend to some form of: “Yes, of course I can have that slab of mud pie…but do I really want all that goes with it—feeling stuffed, guilty, and then struggling forever after with the weight?” Taking care of themselves, then, is doing what leaves them feeling more peaceful and on track with longer-term goals, not what immediately pleases the senses.
This change in perception doesn’t happen overnight. Many only come to it after years of struggling with diet. It can help, though, to consider the following:
First, where does the idea come from, that not being able to eat unlimitedly is “deprivation”? I think it comes in large part from a culture and food industry that has made unhealthy, unnaturally palatable foods (like mud pie, for example) part of the norm, rather than what they truly should be—treats. We wouldn’t think of living without unlimited alcohol as “deprivation” necessarily….and some of these foods can fall into a similar druglike category if eaten in large quantities.
Second, it helps to recognize that just about everyone, not only those cursed with poor metabolism, have to manage tempting foods. Very few people can eat fattening foods in large amounts and not develop a weight problem. These foods surround us and tend to trigger an appetite for more. Figuring out how to keep foods like potato chips and cookies “treats” is a challenge. It’s true that limiting these foods comes easier to some than others, for a variety of reasons, but it’s not true that only the overweight have to go without. Relaxing that sense of being unfairly burdened can help—and these foods do in fact challenge most of us.
Next, ask yourself if deprivation exists in areas of your life beyond food. It may not be true that overeating is always emotional, as some self-help writers suggest. Indeed, many of our modern foods trigger cravings, with or without help from our emotional turbulence. However, it is not uncommon for food to provide comfort, relaxation, and a host of other things that we need when we’re emotionally deprived. Being deprived of love, dignity, power, non-food pleasures, time to relax, a voice that’s heard—all of these very human desires can be waylaid into a desire for food. Perceiving choice instead of deprivation is much, much easier when these other deprivations are relieved.
It can help, too, to keep firmly in mind the benefits of looking and feeling good. The short-term discomforts of eating a bit less or saying “no” to ice cream can be well worth it. Let yourself enjoy those benefits instead.