Attention Dieters: Do you realize that you may be creating your own cravings and lack of control with food, at least to a certain extent? I read with interest a recent article in the New York Times that discusses the results of a study on kids and food restriction. It came as no surprise to me.
In fact, I see this same kind of pattern in adults who place overly restrictive rules on their own eating. I often tell clients struggling with intense cravings that at least a part of it may be the feeling of deprivation they have placed around eating. What researchers found in children’s snacking behavior was:
. . . children who grow up in homes with restrictive food rules, where a parent is constantly dieting or desirable foods are forbidden or placed out of reach, often develop stronger reactions to food and want more of it when the opportunity presents itself.
While the researchers acknowledge that genetics may contribute to the quantity of food consumed as well as taste preferences, there is clearly an environmental influence as well. This is what I observe in adult dieters. You may know what I mean. Most of us have experienced the feeling: Whatever you try NOT to eat is exactly what you cannot stop thinking about eating!
The solution? The advice offered for children is no different than what I tell my clients struggling with overly restrictive (and SELF-IMPOSED) rules:
. . . be aware that tight control over food can set off overeating in some children. The solution is to control the quality of the food in the home.
Don’t buy soda, candy and chips and place them off limits on the top shelf of the pantry. Stock the house with healthful foods, and then allow children access and a reasonable amount of control over what they eat.
Occasional treats outside the home are fine. “Take the kid out for ice cream once or twice a week, but don’t keep it in the house,” Dr. Birch said.
“I don’t like the concept of telling a hungry child you can’t eat,” said Dr. Ludwig. “Ultimately, we want children to gain better connection to their inner satiety cues. So if their body is telling them they are hungry, don’t ignore that — just pay close attention to the quality of the foods that are offered.”
I tell my clients that they cannot expect to solve the problem by just telling themselves to “knock it off” (the binging or uncontrolled eating). I believe the solution has to include stopping the deprivation that ultimately contributes to overeating and cravings.
Can you be the adult in your life and set yourself up for success? Can you give yourself some reasonable boundaries, yet still allow yourself a feeling of free choice based on real curiosity about your needs? Can you clean up your food environment and still hear the occasional messages that tell you it’s time for a trip to your favorite ice cream store for a special treat you can truly savor, not devour desperately with guilty feelings?
The first step is realizing who is creating the rules – YOU!