As any child who's been told not to press a button can tell you, restriction is hard to handle. Although adults are much more capable of dealing with button-related rules, it's still difficult to stay on track when it comes to restricting food. 

I'm not eating junk food anymore, you tell yourself. You hold off for about a week, and then you devour an entire bag of potato chips in a fervor. It's a nasty cycle: You feel guilty for eating a certain type of food, you resolve to never eat it ever again, you eat it again (because you're a human being) and then the guilt comes back. Not only is it emotionally exhausting, but it's also ineffective. When you go through these routines, you end up eating just as much (or more) than you would have. 

"Your brain is wired to want things it can't have."

Refusing to eat specific foods can also lead to a black-and-white mentality when it comes to health and weight loss. When you give yourself unrealistic expectations (no more potato chips ever) and then you break those expectations, you can become disproportionately discouraged. When you're following a food and weight loss plan that allows for eating snacks and treats in moderation, it's easier to stay on track - even if you go overboard. Restriction works this way because your brain is wired to want things it can't have. According to a study published in the journal NeuroImage people who use restriction-based diets have a stronger reward response to food. This means that when you attempt to cut something out of your diet entirely, your brain will start wanting that food, and releasing happiness-boosting chemicals when you do finally have it. 

Moderation over restriction

Rather than categorizing foods as "allowed" and "not allowed," try to think of them in terms of what is going to be good for your body and help you reach your goals. Keeping the fact that food fuels your body in perspective will help you make healthy choices. It's also important to remember that even "junk" food has a place in health: Being healthy and losing weight is all about enjoying your life, ultimately, and cake is a vital part of enjoying life. 

Keeping a food journal can help you determine what foods and eating patterns are good for you. Don't just write down what you eat; try to note how different foods made you feel physically and emotionally. If a particular food regularly makes you feel sick or tired after you've eaten it, that might be a sign that you should reduce how much of it you're eating. By staying in tune with your body, you'll be able to dial in to a good amount that satisfies your "wants" while making your body feel good. 

Quick Tips:

  • Resist the temptation to make ultimatums for yourself.
  • Work toward eating appropriate serving sizes of treats and snacks.
  • If you slip up, acknowledge the problem and move forward. Look at the wider picture, and remember that road bumps are just one part of the journey.

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