Why Restricting Doesn’t Work….. In The Long Run!

I have so many clients who come to me after multiple failed attempts at “dieting”.  They feel frustrated and hopeless that they can ever lose weight and most importantly, be able to keep it off.  I frequently hear, “I have lost the same 20 lbs 4 times!” and other similar statements.  Does this sound familiar to you?  The good news (kind of) is that you are not alone in this battle.  The bad news is that you are likely going to have to change your entire perception of what “dieting” looks like.

First off, let’s identify what constitutes “restricting”.  Restriction can occur in two different ways.  One is by restricting the type of food that you eat.  For example, “I am never going to eat junk food again!”  Or it may sound like, “I will not eat dessert again!”  In these examples you are not allowing yourself to eat specific types of foods.  The second way many of us attempt to restrict is by the amount.  This frequently sounds like, “I am going to only eat 1200 calories today.”  In this example you are restricting the amount of food that you are “allowed” to eat.  Do you use either (or both) types of restricting when you are trying to diet?  How does that work out for you?  Typically my clients describe to me a period of “dieting” which consists of restricting amounts or types of foods, or both.  They will engage in this behavior until they have reached their desired weight, or have at least lost several pounds.  Then something happens!

I like to refer to this “something” as a “special event” that occurs.  This “special event” may be any number of things; such as a wedding, a birthday party, Halloween (oh yea that is just right around the corner!), a vacation, or any other experience that we consider worth celebrating.  Think about your last celebration.  What occurred during that event?  Come on, if you live in the United States don’t kid yourself!  Of course the affair involved food and likely lots of it!  Why?  Because that is how we mostly celebrate special occasions.  So now, you are the person who has been “dieting” for months (or maybe only weeks!) and attends this event.  So what do you do?  Do you partake in the eating of the delicious food, or do you just stand around doing nothing and hope that no one notices that you are not enjoying the lovely food that the host has so graciously prepared?

Okay, if you said that you stand around and watch everyone else eating that food and do not even sneak a bite of the food, you can stop reading now or you can recognize your denial!  So the vast majority of us are going to enjoy some of the cook’s fabulous dishes.  These dishes will likely not fall into your “diet” plan so how do you rationalize that is okay to eat the food?  Ah, of course, with the statement, “I am only going to eat whatever I want today!”  Or maybe your thought is more like, “I will eat this cake today and then never again will I eat cake and junk food!”

These statements we tend to refer as “all or none” or “black and white”.  We call these cognitive distortions because they are not rational.  What happens when we make statements like these is that we end up believing that we can eat anything or we can’t have anything or some type of food.

So, now tell me what happens next?  The majority of us will now indulge in eating pretty much anything we see because we have now deemed today a “free” day!  In the eating disorder world, this may also be considered a binge.  So the party goes on and we thoroughly enjoy eating and spending time with the other guests.  Then we go home.  This horrible voice, I like to refer to it as the “critic” comes screaming at us inside our head!  What does it say?  Yep, you know the one!  “I can’t believe you just ruined the past several days of being on track!”  “You are never going to lose weight and keep it off if you keep letting yourself have all of these free days”.  And for most of us the critic has an endless number of negative, self-sabotaging statements that it will yell at us until we can finally go to sleep with the promise of, “tomorrow I will make up for it and I will eat less calories and no desserts!”

We awaken in the morning to the smell of coffee, doughnuts, and bacon.  We hear our partner singing in the kitchen as he/she is apparently preparing some breakfast feast for 10 house guests, who you do not see!  Ugh, now what do you do?  If you don’t eat it, your partner will likely feel hurt that he/she went to all of this work to make you breakfast and you won’t eat it!  If you do eat it, well that blows another day of being on my diet!  So most of us can guess what happens next!

Then the day comes when we need to go see our doctor.  As the nurse is taking us back to our room she asks us to stand on the scale.  You see that horrible, dreadful scale and say a little prayer that the number won’t be as bad as you think it may be.  What does it say?  Ugh is says that you have gained back most of the weight you had lost!

How did this happen?  I had been doing so good on my diet until….(fill in the “special event” here!)  Now I have to start all over again!  At this point I try to gently remind my clients of a phrase that sounds a bit like, “If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results….”.

So how do we lose weight and keep it off?  First off, as you may have guessed from the previous examples, restricting either the type or amount of food is not helpful!  I know you are going to hear the opposite in almost every weight loss plan out there!  But try to keep reminding yourself… did those programs work?

So my “weight loss” plan for my clients looks entirely different.  It consists of teaching clients how to eat mindful, eat what they want, and pay attention to their level of fullness and hunger.  Once you are able to really believe this and engage in it, you will be amazed!  However, I don’t want you to think that you will lose 2-5 lbs, or whatever the new diet plan says you will lose in a week, because more than likely this will not occur.  You may even gain a few pounds as you are learning how to eat using these principles and learning how to really listen to your body.

If you are feeling like you have had enough turns on your rollercoaster weight loss, I recommend you check into a book that has been very helpful for me and my clients.  The book is entitled, “Intuitive Eating, 2nd Edition: A Revolutionary Program That Works.” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  You may also go to my website at trustedtherapy.com for additional resources and helpful information.  Good Luck!

 Trusted Therapy, Inc
Tonya McFarland, PsyD
1030 Johnson Rd
Suite 280
Golden, CO  80401

Leave a Reply