20. Sneaky Food Restriction (You're probably doing one of these things.)
Welcome to episode 20 of the Mindful Weight Loss podcast. I am your host and your coach Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about sneaky food restriction.
Because food restriction is so ingrained for so many of us that we don't even realize we are doing it. Even if you are not presently on a diet, if you have been trying to lose weight for a while you are probably engaging in one or more of these behaviors. And I know it was so eye-opening for me to realize, even after I had done a lot of thought work and had really cut down on binging and was being a lot more free with the kinds of foods I let myself eat, I was still doing some of these things. And when I truly stopped these behaviors I felt a level of freedom around food that I don't think I ever have before.
And that freedom is so important because it allows us to develop trust in ourselves and in our bodies. When you really let go of all the restrictions you put on yourself, that's when you finally see that you didn't need those restrictions in the first place, and that in fact they were preventing you from losing weight.
And so first I do want to talk about the most obvious restrictions and that's any kind of under-eating. If you are in a calorie deficit or if you are say intermittent fasting you are obviously restricting the amount of food you are allowing yourself and you are most likely setting yourself up to overeat later on.
If your body is not adequately fed, it's going to fight back. It's going to hold onto the extra fuel it does have on board and it's going to give you really strong urges to eat to make up for that lack. And it's crazy because restriction is so ingrained in us that many of us completely overlook this. We underfeed ourselves during the day, binge in the evening and then instead of realizing that we are binging out of biological necessity, we conclude that we have an emotional eating or binge eating problem. And then we run in circles trying to fix that, when really if we would just feed ourselves adequately during the day, the problem might completely resolve itself.
I'm not kidding, for many people that's all they need to do. Once they feed themselves adequately during the day the urge to overeat or binge almost completely goes away.
So if you overeat in the evenings, like so many do, ask yourself are you restricting food earlier in the day?
And here's where we get into sneaky restriction because some of us give ourselves enough fuel during the day, but we restrict in other ways that we don't completely realize.
Completely eliminating certain food groups is another more obvious form of restriction, but more sneaky is restricting those foods to certain times of day. Like not eating carbs until dinnertime, or not allowing sugar or sweets until after dinner. And that latter one is super sneaky because don't most of us think of dessert as something that you should only have after dinner? That's just how we've been raised, it seems logical. At least it did for me.
But what happens here is similar to what happens with that biological urge after you've been hungry all day. You restrict during the day and when you finally open the door and decide to eat the carbs or have the dessert, you go overboard. Your body and brain are like, hey this isn't normally allowed, let's get as much as we can. And because you hold those foods in such high regard, your expectations of them are too high, you feel guilty and don't allow yourself to really experience them and then you feel let down. And then you crave even more food to get the dopamine hit that you were expecting. I explain that expectation thing in a lot more detail in episode 10, called why food restriction backfires, by the way.
And the thing with restricting until the evening is that that's the time when we are probably the most drained. We're tired, we've had a long day, we've been using our willpower all day long to restrict our food, but also to do other things we don't want to do, tasks at work, errands, dealing with our kids when they aren't being so pleasant. And can you see then how this becomes a perfect storm for overeating and binging?
You start overeating because you've been restricting and then you continue because you're tired and more emotional and then you layer in the guilt and you just don't want to be there and wish you could disappear into the food. And boy do you try.
So do yourself a favor and stop waiting until the evening to enjoy yourself. Because chances are your mood will actually be lower simply because you are tired and have been through a lot during your day. Dopamine is naturally lower because you're supposed to be going to bed soon. Of all the times to splurge it's probably the worst one and you probably won't enjoy the food as much as you might if you let yourself have it earlier in the day.
And you are not doing yourself any favors by restricting carbs to later in the day. There is a biological need for carbohydrates, it is your brain's preferred form of energy and if carbs are only ok in the evenings, your body is going to make up for the lack earlier in the day and overeat them. Just like with restriction of calories, you can't outsmart your body. It's powerful and it's going to get what it thinks it desperately needs since you've sent the message that carbohydrates are scarce. Seriously, let yourself have toast in the morning or a sandwich in the afternoon. Eat the rice or the pasta and even indulge in a little sugar during the day and you might be incredibly surprised to find that you no longer crave sugar desperately in the evenings.
Another way you might be unintentionally restricting yourself is by giving yourself set portions of food. And now with this one I know there is often a level of practicality with this. You make lunch and you eyeball what you think is a good portion of x, y and z. I get that. But if you are weighing and measuring everything with the idea of you can only have so many ounces of something, consider if that feels like restriction, because it might. And it's definitely restriction if you eat what you are allotted, still feel hungry but then ignore that information from your body. So consider if food prep feels like restriction.
We also tend to limit portions of things like snack foods. We say, I'm just going to eat one chip or three chips, or I'll just put some chips in this bowl and eat that. And again sometimes this is more practical, and sometimes portioning like this can help us be more mindful and I'm all for that. They key is is it restrictive? Are you saying, I can only have so much and no more. If you finish that bowl of chips or ice cream and you are really wanting more and aren't eating past fullness, do you allow yourself to have more or are you limited to that serving?
Essentially anytime you are making any limits on what you can and can't do, you are restricting yourself. You are forcing yourself to follow external and arbitrary rules that don't have anything to do with what your body might be telling you.
And since I mentioned the word serving, please understand that serving sizes printed on food labels are are arbitrary. On the FDA website it clearly states "The serving size is not a recommendation of how much to eat or drink." That's what the FDA says plain as day. The very organization that mandates the information is telling you not to use it as a recommendation of how much you should eat. So don't.
And finally, another rather sneaky way that we restrict what we eat is to base our choices on what we think we should eat rather than what we really want to eat. And yes, that includes times when we want macaroni and cheese and decide that we should have a salad instead. And now like the portion thing, you might not be restricting if you do this. And this is where you have to ask yourself if the choice you're making feels good. And yeah, notice how this is one of those scenarios where you're feelings are helpful to figure out what you are really doing.
Does the decision feel bad because you never get to have macaroni and cheese and you have to have a salad because that's what you have to do to lose weight? Then yeah, sounds like you're restricting. Or does the decision feel good because you can have macaroni and cheese tomorrow, or you just had it yesterday and you know that eating the salad will make you feel good physically, it's a really good salad by the way with lots of things you like, and you're going to enjoy the experience and it's all good. Then yeah, you're doing just fine.
So take a look back at your day and ask yourself if you are restricting your food, either the amount, the type, the serving, and/or are you saving it all for the end of the day. And please do this especially if you overeat or binge in the evening. Look back at your day and see if you can find the correlation, because so often its staring us right in the face and it's just that these old habits die hard.
And it's because we have fundamental beliefs driving the restriction - that we don't need food or maybe deserve food if we are fat. And I admit that it is somewhat logical to think that if you have excess fuel on your body in the form of fat, why do you need more fuel, why can't your body burn that? But your body isn't a car that you just fill up once every few weeks and run until it's empty. It's always on and it's incredibly complex and it uses different foods in different ways, and it sends you signals to let you know when it needs food. So again, trust is key. Trust that the signals are there for a reason.
Even if you're overweight you deserve to eat when you are hungry. You deserve to eat carbs. And you deserve to eat throughout the day. And though we've been led to believe the opposite, doing these things will help you lose weight in the long run because they will help you stop overeating in response to restriction.