If you want to lose a few kilos then what’s the best approach? Should you give up carbs? Sugar? Gluten? Dairy?
Well, you could try giving up any one of these food groups. But if you’re like many people, you may find you abandon the plan quicker than you can say triple chocolate chip cookie. And probably with less difficulty.
Those people are just weak-willed, lily-livered wusses, though, right?
It’s seductive to think all it takes is strength of mind and you should be able to cut out a food group and shed unwanted weight. But the truth is your mind has its own agenda, and can sabotage your weight loss efforts like a neural Eve Harrington.
For one thing, when you give up something you try to avoid thinking about it. But in a study called Suppressing Thoughts of Chocolate* it was found that trying not to think about chocolate can make you more likely to have chocolate. So giving up something you love in order to lose weight can lead you to eat more of it. Excellent.
For another, when you’re deprived of food it can lead to binging and disordered eating. Which will come as a shock to literally nobody who has ever been on a restrictive diet. This is precisely what happened to WWII veterans after they suffered food deprivation as prisoners of war** – so you can’t put it down to being a contemporary food issues thing.
And as a nasty little kicker, metastudies*** have found that dieting leads you to become preoccupied with the denied food and also makes you more dissatisfied with life in general. So now you’re obsessive, binging, and miserable. Great.
That explains why dietary goals and resolutions are so tough to stick to.
So then, is it hopeless? Is there anything you can give up to help dislodge excess kilos?
Don’t throw your protein ball at me yet – the answer, happily, is yes. You can give up certain foods without triggering your brain’s self-preservation instincts.
But! You have to choose the foods carefully and relinquish them gently. Here’s how.
First, get in touch with what you love, and don’t deny yourself your favourite treats. Maybe for you that’s chocolate or ice cream or cheese.
Second, when you really feel like it, have it. And enjoy it – without guilt.
Third, when you don’t especially feel like it, let it go. There’ll always be another chocolate eclair. If you’re not really in the mood or this one is not the greatest, leave it.
Fourth, once you identify the treats you love, say no to the ones you could take or leave. In fact, make this your mantra: if you can take it or leave it, always leave it. If you love red wine then skip the cocktails. If you adore cheese then who needs dessert.
Fifth, give up calorie-dense food you don’t especially care for, rather than arbitrary groups that contain foods you love. If you don’t love cake, don’t eat it. Save yourself for the most pleasure.
The secret to goals and resolutions that become permanent lifestyle changes is to work out what you truly enjoy, reassure yourself you can have it when you really want it, and give up what you can pretty happily live without.
That way you don’t have to suppress cravings, or feel deprived, or lose life satisfaction. And nobody’s head has to look like like a chocolate eclair.