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Why Diets Are Failing You: Changing ‘Calorie Controlled’ to ‘Non-Deprivation’ Eating

Do you feel like every weight loss diet you try is doomed to failure?

That might be because of what’s happening under the surface.

Restrictive ‘diets’ often call to mind 1200 calorie low-fat meal plans that, unsurprisingly, are a disaster. In the setting of weight struggles, given the complexity and strength of feedback signals that are weighted toward weight regain, it is not surprising that overly simplistic, calorie restricted dietary patterns fail miserably-they simply WORSEN the physiological imbalance that is already present with hunger hormone regulation. 

After weight loss, many physical adaptions kick in which favor weight regain. For instance, levels of the hunger hormone Ghrelin increase after weight loss, a phenomenon which increases hunger and activates reward centers involved in appetite regulation (source). Other changes contribute to changes in food motivation to eat and impact the experience of appetite-these changes can persist long term (documented up to one year) after weight loss (source).

What if we started to think of our ‘diets’ instead as a set of information that we are sending to our metabolism? Let’s redefine diet for a minute with this idea in mind, as simply a set of eating choices that we make each day that are in alignment with our goals. There can be value in external food guidance which can help us to create the framework for foods which will support a healthy endocrine system and support appetite regulation.

If we are just relying on internal messages, It is silly to think a bowl of ice cream, a grass fed burger, and a bowl of black bean soup would send equally reliable messages. In fact, different foods shift hunger and satiety hormones & pleasure centers differently. If your blood sugar is out of balance, you are exhausted from not getting enough iron in your diet, low-grade inflammation is running amuck, your hunger hormones are poorly regulated as a result of sleep deprivation, or the signals that you are getting to eat ice cream all day can just be signs of a dysregulated appetite or underlying imbalances. Reliance on internal signals alone does not always provide well rounded information, especially when metabolism is in a state of chaos!

Creating a well-informed, nutritionally adequate ‘framework’ for eating also acknowledges the metabolic impact of food. The problems or concerns with traditional calorie-focused dieting include that these restrictive plans work against biological needs. Denying ourselves the energy, micronutrients, volume & community of food is not empowered eating, or self-respectful eating. 

Out-of-balance eating takes many forms, which could mean eating so healthfully that your mental health and resilience begins to suffer, or struggling with binge eating highly palatable foods. What would it be like to shift from out-of-balance to intelligent, non-deprivation eating?

‘Non deprivation’ eating means making a set of eating decisions which do not deprive you of what is in your highest good. For some of my clients, non-deprivation eating means removing certain foods from their diet (for a period of time, to a certain extent, or completely) because eating those foods deprives them of energy, mental clarity, or physical wellness.

 Having a supportive framework in place (for food, intention & mindfulness work) can not only create meaningful shifts in physical wellbeing and the experience of appetite, but in fact more clarity and opportunities to become intelligent and strategic with our food choices. 

About Sarah Ferreira

Sarah Ferreira,MS,MPH,RD,CDN,CNSC,IFNCP,CHWC is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with complementary certification as an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner and Certified Health and Wellness Coach. She is the owner of Mindfully Nourished Solutions, where she uses a whole-person, whole-food approach to explore the impact of nutrition on mood and cognition. Her individualized approach integrates an assessment of nutritional, genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors into a collaborative nutrition care plan using cutting-edge research designed to facilitate meaningful and restorative changes based around client goals and priorities.

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