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Breaking the Deprivation Cycle

You know you shouldn’t have that piece of cake, the Girl Scout cookies or the candy that is calling your name, but you just can’t help yourself. You just have to have some. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten more than you wanted and now you are feeling a bit full and guilty. Once again you just couldn’t seem to stay in control around food. Has this happened to you recently – like over the holidays?

Feeling out of control around food can happen to the best of us, and right now it is happening to a great many people who have tried so hard to stick to their New Year’s resolutions and are giving in to their forbidden foods. Succumbing to what isn’t on a diet is inevitable. The more you try to force yourself to resist something you want and believe you shouldn’t have, the more you rebel against that restriction. Have you ever noticed that when you are deprived of something, you want it all the more?

Rebelling is a valid emotional reaction to being deprived of your needs and wants. It isn’t just “what you resist, persists,” although that universal law certainly plays a role. It is the battle between your inner voices, where one part of you is determined to enforce the restrictions you believe are necessary, and another part of you rebels against that enforcement and doesn’t frankly care about your rules.

You can almost hear your inner child or rebel’s voice when you go for that cookie or candy saying, “I don’t care; I’m going to have it anyway. You can’t stop me”. That emotional part of you drowns out your parental enforcer voice that is strongly reminding you not to eat foods believed to be on the forbidden foods list. In fact, the louder and more controlling your enforcer gets, the more determined your “rebelling child” is to get what it wants. In the end, your rebelling child almost always gets the cake, cookies or candy, and usually in large quantities.

You may be thinking that the only way to control your behavior around food you shouldn’t have is to give your enforcer a bigger stick, but that only causes your rebelling child to act out even more and leads to bingeing. You’ve probably tried getting tougher on yourself to behave. Yet as hard as you may have tried, most likely your “good” behavior didn’t last and you succumbed and gave in. The more you beat yourself up for being “bad”, the more likely you continue that “bad” behavior.

The reason is emotional. If you harshly judge yourself and feel bad or guilty for eating what you shouldn’t, you will eat to push away the bad feelings, to prove yourself right that you are bad and to find a way of feeling good.

The way to be in control around food is to stop judging your behavior and foods. Instead of believing any food is bad, recognize that it is the quantity of a food that becomes problematic. If you love a certain type of cookie, give yourself permission to have it with a balanced meal and enjoy it. By giving yourself permission, you are taking care of your inner child’s needs and giving yourself satisfaction and pleasure. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, by giving yourself permission to have any food you want whenever you want it, you will find you don’t really want all that much of it. You’ve removed the power of the food and the enforcer’s role of trying to control you.

It is when you are depriving yourself that you are emotionally compelled to make up for being deprived. This is true whether you think you should be deprived of ever having the food again, will surely be deprived because of an upcoming diet, have just been deprived having stopped a diet, or were deprived in your past. Many people are overeating foods they were once unable to have, even as far back as fifty years ago. An older man in one of my audiences wanted to know what he could do about overeating desserts every night. It turns out he grew up in the depression when sugar was rationed and he seldom got desserts. He is still compelled to make up for having been deprived of the desserts he wanted as a kid.

This week, pay attention to the foods you are trying to restrict and notice how this affects your behavior. Then try giving yourself permission to have that food in moderation and see if you really want all that much of it.


Alice Greene
Healthy Lifestyle Success Coach

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