How Eating as Much as You Want Can Help You Lose Weight

By Marsha Hudnall on 06/24/2009
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877671_32157775When I encourage people to eat as much as they want in their quest for healthy weight loss, the response is incredulous, to say the least.  “You’ve got to be kidding. If I took the brakes off, I’d eat anything and everything and lots of it.”

The light begins to dawn when I ask, “Is that what you really want?”

Just Say Yes

You’re facing down a hot-fudge sundae.  In the past, you’ve always said ‘no’…until you couldn’t.  When you finally said ‘yes,’ you went for it big time.

What do you think?  If we truly let ourselves have it — without telling ourselves “I shouldn’t” — would we want as much of it as we think we do?

Our experience: Maybe at first. Until we understand that feeling queasy, stuffed or otherwise uncomfortable isn’t what we really want.

Setting Well-Being Up for the Win

David Kessler is currently getting a lot of attention for theories he discusses in his best-selling book The End of Overeating.  His focus is on how hard it is to stop eating certain foods due to the physiological effects of ingredients they contain (namely sugar, fat and salt).

What’s not being heard a lot is his explanation of how “anxiety” — those feelings that arise when we think we shouldn’t eat something we want — also has physiological effects that contribute similarly to difficulties in “eating just one.”  Indeed, it’s not clear that even he appreciates the impact of anxiety over what we eat (that comment based on this interview on Salon.com).

His explanation, however, supports what we’ve seen repeatedly at Green Mountain — the negative self-talk of “I shouldn’t” plays a major role in making it hard for many of us to stop overeating.  (Yes, those two words qualify as negative self talk.)

Beyond, or in the case of my first point below perhaps because of, the biological effects Kessler identifies, we find:

  • When we think certain foods are off-limits, they tend to become even more appealing regardless of how they make us feel.
  • Many people also include “healthy” foods in amounts over typical diet portions on their “I shouldn’t” list, leading to undereating that sets us up for overeating.

We realize the concept of eating as much as we want is scary for many, and sometimes we need to move slowly towards that goal.  For others, this issue may have little to do with their eating and weight struggles (although I say it has more to do with such struggles than many folks think it does).

If it’s an issue for you, these tips may help you begin to get past the thinking and behaviors that come from feeling restricted and then guilty about what and how much we eat.

  • Banish guilt.  That means no judgment about whether foods are “good” or “bad,” whether we decide to eat them or how much we do. Guilt produces its own form of restricted eating — even when we’re eating.  Which gets in the way of feeling  satisfied and frequently leads to emotional eating. Bottom line, we end up eating more than we really want or need.  As we’ve long said at Green Mountain, “One brownie never made anyone fat.”  If we enjoy that brownie to its fullest, we’re more likely to be satisfied with one.
  • Redefine “want.” Give as much weight to how you feel after eating something as to how good you think it tastes.
  • Eat well-balanced meals and rely on internal cues to tell you when you’ve had enough. The Plate Model for Healthy Eating guides us in getting necessary nutrients to help our internal regulatory system operate effectively.
  • Be adventurous. Boredom with  food can drive overeating.  Excite your taste buds with variety, like the wonderful fruits of summer, walnuts in morning cereal, avocados liberally included in salads or just sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice for a snack.
  • Live well. Stay active, get enough sleep, spend time with family and friends, enjoy life.

Do feelings of restriction or guilt ever cause you to eat more than you really want?

photo by BPLOL

7 Responses (Add Yours)

  • This is a fantastic blog post. What trips me up is the fact that I lost 55 pounds (then regained ~20) and so I can’t wrap my mind around it the way I might have back before I lost the 55 pounds. Does that make sense? It’s funny because yesterday when I was free writing I wrote: “I think I just need to let go of everything. All of it. Let go and let God. And I am not a religious person. I can’t to go back to the old ways of being and eating because I am not that person. It’s not who I am.”

  • Sagan says:

    LOVED his book.

    When I really think about it… I don’t want fried foods. I don’t want sugary or salty foods. Heck, I don’t even want chocolate. Not really. I just THINK that I want it.

    But even knowing that, it can be difficult to shut off that part of the brain and stop ourselves from overeating.

    Sagan’s last blog post..Product Review and Giveaway: Zhena’s Gypsy Tea

  • Laine says:

    I agree that depriving can lead to overindulging. I see a lot of people who are doing the “low carb thing” or the “no sugar thing” and sure enough a week or 2 into it they are “bad” and “cheating” and “need to start over.”
    I prefer to give my body a good variety of whole foods, knowing that when I watch the total calories and make sure I’m getting a good mix of nutrients, my body will know what to do. If I skimp on veggies one day, I don’t stress, because I know the next day I’ll make up for it because my body will be craving more veggies. And I know that if I factor a yummy beer (a Sam Adams or Harpoon, no lite beers) into dinner on a hot summer night I will have plenty of room for my healthy meal, and won’t feel deprived in the slightest.

    Laine’s last blog post..Dinner Yum!

  • [...] my decision to put the scale away and they reinforced my choice. Then I read a fantastic blog post (“How Eating As Much As You Want Can Help You Lost Weight”) by Marsha Hudnall, the Program Director of Green Mountain at Fox [...]

  • Joy Manning says:

    This is such terrific advice. What a great post. I could not agree more.

    Joy Manning’s last blog post..New York, Day 1, Corton

  • Gina says:

    I used to deny myself many of the foods I love, only to overeat those same foods at a later time. Since I’ve been a dietitian I have learned to do otherwise (mainly from watching and hearing others’ experiences). Now I let myself indulge when I want and it really does help, tremendously. I think it’s a wonderful strategy.

    Gina’s last blog post..Wendy’s, New Purchase, and Some Summer Goals

  • Marsha says:

    Sounds like we’re all on the same page! I particularly agree w/ Sagan. I find myself not really wanting rich foods, unless they’re things like nuts, avocados, and the like. I do confess to a current weakness for potato chips. Not just any potato chip — gotta be Lay’s. But because I let myself have them when I want them, I really don’t want them very much. And if my hubby didn’t bring them into the house (he loves them, too), I’d probably hardly ever eat them because I only think of them when I see them! How’s that for environmental cues? :0

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