Does Perceived Deprivation Cause You to Overeat?


Robyn Priebe, RD, Green Mountain’s director of nutrition, is back with some thoughts on deprivation.  It’s a subject we talk a lot about at Green Mountain and on A Weight Lifted.  Sometimes it takes a while to really understand the significant impact it can have on our eating.

sign post: yes you canHow will giving myself permission to eat what I want help me if I already eat anything I want?

This may sound like a confusing question, but it’s a something I hear often at Green Mountain.  We encourage everyone to eat what they want, even those of us with type 2 diabetes, PCOS or other health issues that are affected by what we eat (and what isn’t?).

When we discuss the idea of putting all foods in a “permissible” category, people often tell me, “That won’t work. I already allow myself to eat _____(fill in the blank — fast food, ice cream, whatever type of food you might not believe is consistent with healthy eating).  That’s the problem.  I eat it every day, or if I don’t, I binge on it.”

The idea of telling these people that they should allow themselves to have the fast food or whatever seems crazy.  However, I question whether they are truly giving themselves permission to eat the food, despite the fact that they may eat it daily.  There’s a big difference between eating something and feeling guilty about it versus being OK with eating that same food and not dwelling on it afterwards.

There are various different reasons/triggers for binge eating or compulsive eating.  One very common type of binge is a deprivation-sensitive binge.  What I find interesting is that deprivation can trigger a binge whether it’s actual physical deprivation of food (under-eating), deprivation due to eliminating/restricting specific foods, or perceived deprivation (thinking you should be avoiding a food or eating less).  With perceived deprivation you may actually be eating enough food, eating all types of foods, but we still have this sense of “I should be eating less” or “I shouldn’t be eating this specific food.”

Changing the way we think about food often changes our relationship with food.  Sometimes it’s helpful to evaluate our relationship with food.  How would you describe yours?  Do you view food as something that can do wonderful things for your body and mind or perhaps you think of it as a full time job or an adversary.  I have had both of these relationships with food.  There were points when I thought food was the enemy and I was the victim.  It was a struggle making food-related decisions every day, all day.  However, once we begin to tune in to all the amazing things food can do for us, and actually feel those benefits, our food choices often change without a lot of effort.

I find that fast food makes me feel ill.  I do not consider that a benefit.  I know I can eat it if I want to, but in most cases, I don’t want to.  I personally feel great when I’m eating lots of fruits and vegetables and the chefs at Green Mountain find it mildly entertaining when I get excited because there’s extra salad in the kitchen for me to eat.  I actually crave salads.  There was a point in my life that I’d never expect to crave a vegetable and I wished that I could live on ice cream and cake, if only that wouldn’t make me gain weight.  Now I know I can have any of these things if I really want them and by giving myself that permission, I’m often amazed at the results.

How about you?  How would you describe your current relationship with food?

9 responses to “Does Perceived Deprivation Cause You to Overeat?”

  1. Michelle@Eatingjourney says:

    This is SO true. Once I told myself that I could have anything I wanted…I didn’t want to stuff that made my tummy hurt. I get into patterns of thinking, sometimes, where it’s the ‘this is the LAST bite EVER’ that runs through my brain.

    tell tale sign of a binge.

    I have let that go and asked myself how I am fueling myself. It helps a lot more than I could have imagined. Thank you for that.

  2. Deb (SmoothieGirlEatsToo) says:

    When you defined “perceived deprivation” I thought: Yup, that’s me in a nut-shell. Honestly, I don’t know that I will ever get out of that nutty nut shell. Sad but true. Maybe one day.

  3. I’m about 3/4ths the way there. There are some foods that aren’t good for me, like cookies or chocolate cake, that I just love too much to eat “all I want.” But I can certainly have some, sometimes, as treats. I have other healthier treats I can turn to on a regular basis (like dark chocolate and wine), and for special occasions I can enjoy the really decadent stuff. But I don’t keep it in the house; it’s easier that way.

  4. Robyn says:

    @Michelle – It’s great that you have that awareness that the “this is the LAST BITE EVER” thought is a trigger for a binge. I find that when some of those old thought patterns pop back into my head, it’s so helpful that I can recognize them & take a second to remind myself “that was my OLD way of thinking and it never lead to a good outcome; I know where this road leads.”
    @Deb – It takes time; I know. Sometimes it’s something we need to practice. I didn’t need to practice eating cake, but I did need to practice BEING OK with the fact that I ate cake. You’ll get there.

  5. Robyn, this is an excellent post! I had the same experience – In college, I never gave myself permission to eat dessert or richer foods. I’d watch my intake like a hawk. I’d always go for the lower-fat or low-cal option and then eat more of it than had I actually eaten what I was craving!

    Once I realized that I can enjoy a variety of foods (Michelle, you put it perfectly! I used to have the same thinking), I started eating healthier. I make sure to get my nutrients every day but I also have a cookie, dark chocolate or some kind of dessert – without feeling guilt. But that works for me and it’s taken me a while to get here.

    Again, thanks for a great, insightful post!
    .-= Margarita Tartakovsky’s last blog post..Healthy Living: Q&A with Nicole Ohebshalom =-.

  6. Great post! This is such an important topic. It’s really important for people to recognize that they can eat a treat without feeling guilty, otherwise they will not truly enjoy it and the temptation will remain.
    .-= Nutritioulicious’s last blog post..nutritioulicious™ Talks About Eggs Around the Plate =-.

  7. Robyn says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone! I really appreciate it!

  8. Lisa1 says:

    I am a 28-y o woman that was raised by a mother that still is a severe overeater. I don’t recall eating foods that I would call healthy, and sure enough I hit puberty extremely early and struggle with my weight every day. I exercise and try to eat well, but I have found that since I cancelled by cable, I don’t feel tempted to eat as often or to eat random junk. I do agree that whole, unprocessed foods are the way to go, but I saw a documentary about morbidly obese patients that were living in a care facility designed specifically for their needs. Their doctor stated that he tells his patients to have an orange instead of pizza when they are hungery, but they end up eating 13 oranges instead. I am capable of controlling myself, but I completely understand the need for the rush that eating brings.

  9. Jake says:

    Hello my name is Jake I currently live very close to natural whole foods lifestyle I am an anti-diet advocate and kno they don’t work I just need help with the deprivation side of it I tried to keep a healthy mindset about my eating and tell myself that I can eat whatever I want and I do feel better eating healthy. Its just hates when I’m around unhealthy treats and my emotional side comes out. I don’t know how to get over that I want to eat healthy, but still fit in the fact that I can have whatever I want.. Just a weird paradox I suppose. Thanks for any help! I suppose. Thanks for any help!

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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