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The Deprived Dieter

Most diets are based on the concept of deprivation, in one form or the other. And as we know, they are rarely successful. We deny ourselves everything from chocolate to pizza to pasta in the hopes we’ll beat our own internal system. Yet it is estimated that 95% of people who lose weight gain it back.

So why don’t deprivation diets work? Often we think it’s a case of weak “willpower” and when we gain the weight back, it’s compounded by as sense of failure. Why isn’t our “will” stronger?

Well, our bodies and minds hate deprivation. Not only does deprivation bring out a little voice in our head that shouts, “You can’t tell me what to do!”, it’s physically unnatural as well.

As Brian Wansink explains in his book Mindless Eating:

We have millions of years of evolution and instinct telling us to eat as often as we can and to eat as much as we can. Most of us simply do not have the mental fortitude to stare at a plate of warm cookies on the table and say, “I’m not going to eat a cookie. I’m not going to eat a cookie,” and then NOT eat the cookie. It’s only so long before our “No, no maybe” turns into a “Yes.”

Sounds a little bleak, doesn’t it? If deprived dieting doesn’t work, then what does? Well, like most things in life, there’s no exact formula. But the good news is you don’t have to feel deprived in order to lose weight. As a matter of fact, if you’re feeling deprived, you are less like to lose weight.

There is a certain margin Wansink calls the “Mindless Margin” where we feel unaware that we are slightly undereating.

…there is a calorie range – a mindless margin – where we feel fine and are unaware of small differences. That is, the difference between 1900 calories and 2000 calories is one we cannot detect, nor can we detect the difference between 2000 and 2100 calories. But over the course of a year, this mindless margin would either cause us to lose ten pounds or to gain ten pounds.

We’re a society built on quick results. Looking at the long-term doesn’t satisfy that “I want to look great now!” voice. But as the results begin to show over the long run and your natural energy increases, that voice will quiet.

The great part is, the changes can be minimal. The goal is to trim off as little as 100 – 200 calories a day, which is a doable, non-deprivable task. In other words, you don’t have to cut out your comfort food – you simply reduce your intake.

You can also reduce access to certain foods. For example, if you have to prepare a meal, you’re often less likely to eat it mindlessly. So arrange your kitchen and food products in a way that fosters a creation of a meal, keeping the “rip open and eat” food to a minimum.

Sure – this is a “long haul” plan with no quick, easy fixes. But as we’ve learned those quick and easy fixes…. are neither!