Why cutting calories doesn’t work
A lot of diets involve some measure of food restriction – whether it’s counting and cutting calories, restricting portion sizes, or avoiding entire food groups, common wisdom holds that to lose weight you need to eat less.
But what if restricting your food actually has the opposite effect and causes you to gain weight? It might seem counterintuitive – but the research suggests otherwise!
Food restriction can actually lead to weight gain
Have you ever found yourself eating a whole packet of biscuits? We’ve all been there. But this is actually more likely to happen if you’ve been restricting your food intake.
A study published in Physiology & Behaviour found that food restriction encouraged binge eating episodes. Those biscuits, it turns out, are that much more irresistible if you’ve been grazing on carrot sticks all day!
While there’s nothing wrong eating a few biscuits, bingeing often has psychological repercussions. It leaves people feeling guilty and shameful, and many try to offset bingeing episodes with further restriction. This leads in turn leads to more binge eating, which over time can lead to weight gain.
Food restriction is a vicious cycle.
The cycle of food restriction and bingeing is vicious and painful, and really hard to get out of. It can be hugely psychologically distressing – and only gets worse when people gain weight, as this makes them feel even more out of control.
Yet so many diets seem to encourage food restriction and calorie counting. Not only are these plans unsustainable, they indirectly/inadvertently encourage binge eating! People cut calories, end up hungry, and eventually cave in, often falling off the wagon hard.
But, you might be thinking, how can I lose weight without restricting my food intake then?
Can you lose weight without watching what you eat?
Research has shown that a little bit of mindfulness and acceptance-based thinking alongside healthy eating habits can help weight loss, while simultaneously helping you manage and/or avoid binges. Why not try some of these techniques?
1. Listen to your hunger
Listen to your internal cues. We often mistake other emotions for hunger. So before you dash to eat that bar of chocolate, take time to reflect. Are you really hungry or are you just eating for comfort, boredom or stress, for example?
If you are truly physically hungry, do eat something instead of depriving yourself. But if you’re not – why not read a book or try something else you might enjoy, and take your mind off food. You will find that when you are busy with other activities, your hunger will pass.
2. Reconnect with your body
One way to be more aware of your internal cues is to practice mindfulness. This could be in the form of meditation, or just simple mental exercises.
It does take a while to master these techniques so don’t get discouraged if you can’t grasp them initially. Take the time to practice and it will get easier and more effective with time.
3. Don’t play the blame game
Certain foods are manufactured to taste good! Being unable to stop eating them has nothing to do with your willpower or strength. Stop blaming yourself for being unable to control your cravings.
Did you have a few extra slices of cake? It happens to all of us – try not to feel guilty! Fully enjoy your cake while you eat it.
If you do overeat, it’s important to try and avoid falling back into the restriction and bingeing cycle. Instead, try and accept it and move on, back to your balanced meals afterwards.