Emotional and Mental Restriction

Now that Christmas is over, everywhere I look I’m seeing promotions for ways you can “start over” come January. “New Year, New You!” is all over the internet. And to be honest, I don’t like that saying AT ALL. You don’t need a ‘new you.’ You are perfectly wonderful, or should I say wow-ful, just the way you are. If you desire a change in your life, you don’t need a whole new self, a few new habits and a few small changes can add up to big results. No complete overhaul necessary. 

This is especially true for weight loss and dieting.

Dieting is a type of controlled starvation and, since our bodies are wired for survival, when we restrict types and amounts of food, our bodies switch into survival mode.This can mean uncontrollable cravings, overeating, and binges. Think about it – as soon as you tell yourself you can’t have something, what is it you think about? That’s right, the exact food you are trying not to eat. The more you try not to eat chocolate, candy, or whatever it might be, the more likely you are to overeat it once you get access to it, since you don’t know when you’ll be able to eat it again.

This has been extensively studied and can be explained in part using the science of food habituation. Habituation means that the more you are exposed to something, whether that be food, noise, or a certain smell, the less you notice or care about it. For example, people say that after living in New York City for years, they become completely habituated to loud sirens and don’t even register that sound anymore.

The same thing happens with food. 

The more you are exposed to a food, the less your brain thinks or cares about it and the desire to eat it diminishes. This has been studied with all types of food including pizza, potato chips, mac and cheese, even chocolate. These are the same types of foods (“trigger foods”) that people often say they can’t have in their house because they’ll go overboard and eat too much. Ironically, by keeping it out of your house, you’re training your body to want these foods even more. If you were to keep these foods around you all the time your brain would place less of a reward value on them and the less you’d want to eat. For example, you all know my love of ice cream. After my last competition prep, I decided to work ice cream into my macros every single day to see if I could get over my obsession. And guess what?! It worked! It took a while…honestly, it took until the beginning of December, then there suddenly was a day where I was just like, “I don’t feel the need to eat this every day,” and so I stopped. And I haven’t really touched it since. But you know what? It’s still in my freezer! It’s lost its power over me and now I’m including lots of yummy carbs and fats like potatoes, rolls with butter, and heck, even a couple of muffins in its place. And I feel amazing!

Now, you may be thinking, “Well, this holiday food has been around all month and I’m still eating it mindlessly.”

If this is the case, ask yourself – if you aren’t physically restricting food, are you emotionally or mentally restricting

Emotional and mental restriction includes having the thought in the back (or front) of your brain: “The holidays are a wash, I’ll just go on a diet/cleanse/detox in January”.

This mindset, even if it’s more of subconscious thought, tells your body that restriction and deprivation are around the corner. Even though you may technically be surrounded by food, this upcoming restriction triggers a mental deprivation and your body reacts like it’s in starvation mode. This then influences how you behave around food. Relying on a diet come January – either consciously or subconsciously – is why you end up feeling like you can’t pass up the buffet or the appetizers at that holiday party. Why you can’t pass by those cookies at work without grabbing a few. And why you end up feeling stuffed and out of control all month long.

This is why you need to vow NOT to go on a diet come January!

I encourage you to develop a way of eating that allows you to thrive and feel less stress around food. 

Ahead of January 1st, it can be helpful to explore some more about your history and feelings around diets and dieting. 

A few things to reflect on:

  1. Why have you gone on diets in the past? 
  2. How do you feel when you start a diet?
  3. How do you typically feel while on a diet?
  4. How do you feel when you finish a diet?
  5. List out all of the ways dieting has had a negative impact on your life. 
  6. Thinking about all of the negative consequences, visualize what your life would be like if you were no longer trapped by the diet mentality. Think about a typical day. Focus on how you feel, the foods you eat, the people you see and the activities you do. Write down what that would look like. 

If you’re ready to learn more about diet freedom and how to hit your fitness goals while NOT feeling deprived or restricted, my new challenge starts on January 7. Registration CLOSES January 3! So be sure to get signed up on time.

Click here for more info on the upcoming ‘Healthy You’ challenge. 

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