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Deprivation: The Saboteur of Weight Loss

You will never win the deprivation war that you wage against yourself.  Yet, so many folks who struggle with weight have engaged in these futile tactics during previous weight loss attempts. Some describe the internal battle as an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel whispers “Don’t touch that cookie!” and the devil counters, “How dare you tell me what to do! I’ll show you and eat the whole box!”

Deprivation almost always backfires, and the weight management field is beginning to recognize this fact. Here are some tips for defending against deprivation without sabotaging your weight management efforts.

  • Focus on Favorites. Whenever you are attempting to better manage your weight, you will likely choose to be selective about which foods you choose to include in your eating regimen. A meal plan containing low-calorie but bland and unappetizing foods may be doable for a few days, but eventually frustration and boredom will lead you to abandon the plan altogether. Instead, design a menu that you will look forward to eating, even if it looks repetitious. Love sweet potatoes? Have one every day! Abhor tilapia? Leave it off your grocery list.
  • Savor Special Treats. Does the thought of turning down Grandma Joan’s pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving make you angry and resentful? Then plan to have it! Before you arrive, decide upon a reasonable portion size and then enjoy without guilt. Acknowledge that the additional calories may bring you over your nutrition goals for the day, and accept that your choice may slow your weight loss progress slightly. However, if indulging in this treat in a structured fashion will prevent you from going home and bingeing on everything in freezer later, then you have saved yourself many more calories than you consumed on the piece of pie.
  • Honor your Hierarchy. Most people have what I call a “trigger hierarchy”: a way to order tempting foods from “impossible to resist” to “acceptable to turn down.” As mentioned before, it is recommended to eat foods that are appealing and appetizing, but you may choose to exclude the foods at the top of that hierarchy if they are just too difficult to manage right now. These would be foods that you have difficulty limiting in quantity or foods that trigger other cravings. Personally, I decided long ago that keeping peanut butter in my home is a set-up for disaster because I have trouble eating it in reasonable amounts. Do I feel deprived of peanut butter? No way. I am just choosing not to fight that battle; since it is my choice, I remain feeling empowered and in control of my food decisions.

Your weight management efforts should never feel like punishment. Quite the opposite: making decisions about your food that will bring you closer to your life goals can be a rewarding and fulfilling pursuit. If focusing on foods that you enjoy allowing yourself some wiggle room on occasion, and making conscious decisions about staying away from foods that cause you more grief than pleasure, you won’t feel deprived. Make your own rules in this game, and you increase your chances of winning.

Did you find this post helpful? If so, you might like these as well: Train Your Brain with Mindfulness7 Habits of Emotionally Intelligent Eaters

About Katie Rickel, Ph.D. – Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Rickel is a licensed psychologist who came to Structure House in 2008 as a post-doctoral fellow, during which time she designed and implemented several specialty treatment services, including co-development of the Bridge Program for binge and emotional overeating. She has a particular interest in motivational issues, chronic pain, problematic relationships, and anxiety disorders. Dr. Rickel graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Florida. She completed an APA-accredited clinical internship in Health Psychology at Duke University Medical Center, with advanced training in behavioral and bariatric obesity treatment as well as the psychological management of chronic pain and illness. Her research has been presented at various professional conferences and published in scientific journals. Dr. Rickel has also appeared on the Dr. Oz show and has been quoted in several popular media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Health magazine, Yahoo! Health, Women’s Health magazine, and

View all posts by Katie Rickel, Ph.D. – Clinical Psychologist