The psychology of deprivation

The psychology of deprivation


When you think of being on a diet, you probably immediately think of all your favourite foods that you will no longer be “allowed” to eat, you will remember the feelings of being hungry, and think of all the times your friends or family happily indulged in yummy food while you angrily gnawed at a carrot stick. Why is it that the word “diet” immediately makes us feel like we are being deprived, and therefore makes us want to run in the opposite direction?

A diet is short term, and it’s difficult.

A month, three months, six months, a diet is a painful experience that you have to get through… and at the end of it, when you have reached your goal weight, it’s highly likely that you will regain the weight you lost plus more, because you have felt so deprived for so long, and you indulge so much more once the diet is finished to make up for it.

Studies shave been done looking at peoples perceived happiness with a choice they have made when they a) were stuck with that choice and couldn’t change it or b) were able to go back and change their minds if they wanted. What they found is that once people were locked into something that couldn’t be changed, their minds accepted this, and decided to make the most of it and their perception of how happy they were with their choice was high. On the other hand, if they knew they could change their minds, their perceived happiness about that choice was much, much lower.

The issue is that you know it’s only short term, you know you could break your diet at any time because there are infinite food choices out there you could pick from, and so you are much more dissatisfied with your diet.

How to get around this? First you need to get your reasons for losing weight to be strong enough that you don’t see it as something that would be nice but not essential, or something that can be put off for later on. The most determined and motivated people are often those who have found out they have something wrong- they are diagnosed with diabetes and really don’t want to have to start insulin injections, or they have a heart attack and never want to feel that fear again etc. You can show your mind that it’s no longer a choice to eat the wrong things, by doing some research into all the health problems that come as a result of being overweight/obese, and have the realization that you need to change things now before it’s too late. You also need to consider all the positives that would come from your weight loss- better energy levels, less joint pain, better self confidence, independence. Write down everything, and you can come back to this whenever you feel yourself wavering. Make the commitment to a lifetime of healthy eating, a lifestyle change not a diet.

Food is your comfort, stress relief, happy place.

Emotional eating is a big one. It’s a 100% effective sure fire way to pull yourself out of a feeling of discomfort into one of pleasure for a lot of people. It’s often the only real form of stress relief people understand. So if eating is your coping mechanism for unpleasant things in life… and all of a sudden that’s taken away? Of course your brain is going to fight you on it, and you are going to have intense cravings and feelings of deprivation.

Rather than starting a diet, why not keep a diary for a week and notice all the times you are eating out of genuine hunger (growling stomach etc.) and all the times you are eating for other reasons, and figure out what your triggers were, and then work towards finding alternatives to deal with these feelings. Whether you make yourself a cup of hot chamomile tea, go for a walk, talk to a friend, journal, meditate, breathing exercises, whatever it is you choose as a substitute, if you work on changing so that food is no longer your stress relief because it’s been replaced with something else, you will automatically reduce your intake of food without it being a diet.

You’re being deprived.

Say you have a chocolate addiction. You adore it. Have you ever had a period of time when you were overloaded with chocolate at home, maybe after Christmas or Easter, and it just sat in the fridge untouched? You knew it was there, you could have it, as much as you wanted, whenever you wanted, but you just didn’t feel like it? Now remember a time when you were trying to diet and weren’t allowed any, and you would have given anything for just one little bite! This is the psychology of deprivation. As soon as we can have something it loses its appeal, as soon as we think we are missing out on something we can’t stop thinking about it.

How to tackle this? As part of your healthy lifestyle plan, why not factor in a “treat” food every day, in a small portion. If you are eating 99% healthy whole foods, and exercising daily, there’s no reason a small little extra can’t become a daily thing. A couple of squares of that chocolate, every day, for the rest of your life. Feeling a little less deprived now? Funny thing is, you may not even want it anymore, and that’s ok too. The important thing is that our minds don’t perceive that we are missing out, and this little trick works wonders.

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