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Deprivation vs. Derailment: Tips on having your cake (and eating it too!)
by Jennifer Tewell, MA, LCPC, CADC

One of the biggest hurdles to individuals starting a weight-loss program is the idea that certain foods will forever be off-limits- no more sweets, no more pizza, no more alcohol…..no more enjoyment. The issue with this mindset is, much like those extreme diets that cut out whole food groups, it sets us up for long-term failure by putting us in a negative mindset of feeling out of control of our food choices. For example, “I have to eat this salad because I can’t eat that cheeseburger” or “I should avoid anything with fat in it because my diet tells me I have to.” This attitude can also cause us to associate healthy food choices with feeling deprived and lead to binging on the very foods that you’re trying to avoid in the first place.  So how do you “have your cake and eat it too”? How do you maintain progress towards your weight-loss goals and still enjoy foods that aren’t as healthy in moderation?

1. First, determine if you’re actually hungry….

Sounds simple, right? The fact of the matter is our reasons for eating have evolved to include any number of things that have NOTHING to do with actually being hungry. To counteract this, we need to tune in to our bodies’ attempts to inform us of our nutritional needs. For example, is your stomach rumbling? Are you thirsty instead of hungry? Did you just eat 30 minutes ago or has it been several hours? Is your body telling you you’re hungry or are your emotions driving the craving? Make sure what you’re experiencing is truly hunger before taking that first bite.

2. . . . but make sure you’re not TOO hungry!

Alternatively, it’s important to ensure that you’re not too hungry before eating. Waiting too long in between meals or not eating meals that are nutritionally and calorically substantial can trick our bodies into thinking we don’t have enough to eat. This results in the body going into starvation mode and can negatively impact the quantity and content of meals we choose- a handful of carrot sticks doesn’t stand a chance against 10 slices of pizza in this state. High-fat, high-sugar foods are going to be the items you reach for, and in larger quantities than you may typically choose. If you know you’re going to indulge, eat a small, nutritionally-sound snack and drink water first to control the portion size and type of item you’re indulging in.

3. Plan your indulgence and place boundaries on it.

When making attempts to lose weight or improve your diet, it may seem counterintuitive to include a splurge meal or snack in your plan but this can actually lead to more weight-loss in the long run. By building in a splurge, it can prevent you from feeling deprived later on and help you make better choices in future meals. Choose the day and meal for your splurge- maybe you have a special occasion coming up or know you’ll be preparing a less-than-healthy meal at home over the weekend. Ensure that the other choices you make throughout the day are in line with your nutrition goals and that you continue to eat meals- no skipping or starving! Limit the splurge to a set time and stick to one portion. Finally, put a definitive “period” on your splurge- don’t let today’s splurge carry over to tomorrow. A one-time indulgence will not cause significant weight gain but a one week or one month splurge will.

4. Take control of the splurge.

Putting limitations on your diet can make you feel out of control (remember those “have-to’s” and “should’s” from before?). Regain control by reframing the have’s and should’s as choices- “I’m choosing to eat a piece of fruit instead of chocolate” or “I’m choosing to eat a salad instead of a cheeseburger.” If feel you have to avoid any and all foods deemed unhealthy, your food selections become out of your control, as is the eventual binge that follows. However, if you choose to make an unhealthy choice in the present, you also have the ability to choose a healthier one in the future.

5. Be open and accountable.

You’ve made a conscious choice to indulge- now it’s time to own it. Be truthful on your food logs if you’re tracking meals and make room for the splurge in your diet. While it’s ok to have a high calorie meal or snack every now and again, you will have to make responsible adjustments to your routine to accommodate it. That means if you have a cheeseburger for lunch, you’re eating a well-balanced meal for breakfast and dinner; or if you’re ordering an appetizer you’re taking a pass on dessert. Hiding a splurge only leads to feelings of shame and guilt. Own it, accept it, and learn from it.

6. Balance with exercise.

While exercise won’t completely make up for a poor diet, it will help balance your calorie input and output in an isolated incident of indulging. Make sure to move on days when you’re enjoying a high-calorie splurge, ideally prior to eating so that obstacles don’t arise later on. Not only will this balance out your overall calorie intake, it will keep your health and wellness goals at the forefront of your mind and deter you from making additional unhealthy choices.

7. Avoid rumination.

The worst-case scenario happens and you make several unintended poor choices- what do you do? First, BREATHE, all is not lost! It’s never too late to get back on the road to health and rehashing your mistakes will not help you get there. Hit the reset button and get back to the basics- healthy nutrition and regular, moderate intensity exercise. Enlist the support of like-minded friends and family and make short-term, attainable goals. Reengage in a structured program and ask for assistance. You CAN do it! Let us help.

Helping you on and off the couch,

~Jen Tewell, MA, LCPC, CADC

Jennifer Tewell is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Certified Alcohol and other Drugs Counselor (CADC), and ACE-certified Personal Trainer at First Health Associates in Arlington Heights, IL.  Her passion lies in helping clients emotionally, behaviorally and physically achieve their health and wellness goals and implement long-lasting, sustainable change.

**If you find yourself binging repeatedly or experiencing a prolonged sense of loss of control over your eating habits, behavioral health counseling can help. Contact us for an evaluation today.