Although the word diet can mean what foods and drinks we consume regularly, it more commonly refers to a regimented, restrictive way of eating for the goal of weight loss or medical improvement. The latter type of diet can really shift our mind and our body into deprivation mode, which is not a fun way to live. The former version may not come with a mindset or feeling of deprivation, but we may still miss important nutritional needs that can have us working against, rather than with, our body. When our body-minds perceive we don’t have enough, we start to live life in survival mode, rather than thrive mode.
If you’re wondering why your diet, in either sense of the word, isn’t working, here are three surprising reasons why:
Not Enough Calories
Because our body works to maintain our body weight, when we don’t get enough food, we get hungry and nutrient-deprived. When this happens consistently, it triggers a survival response where the body slows down metabolism in order to conserve resources. Our body intelligently conserves our caloric expenditure, because it doesn’t know when it will next have access to the nutrients it needs. This is what keeps us alive in times of famine. So paradoxically, not having enough calories can make our body gain weight because our metabolism slows down.
When we are starving, in addition to our metabolism slowing, we will reach for anything to eat and we often cannot sense our satiety cues. We lose conscious choice because our survival mechanism overrides our cognitive brains. We can wind up overeating as an impulse to get as much food as we can while we have access to it. Our gut gets overwhelmed, our brain gets foggy, and then we may feel guilt for going against our goal to restrict intake. It’s a setup for failure.
Our cognitive brain is never going to outsmart our body brain, not because of lack of willpower, but because it’s how we’re wired for survival. Rather than spend a lot of time tricking our body at the expense of our central nervous system or health, we can work with our body’s natural functioning. We can give our body a steady stream of nourishment so that it can provide energy and vitality for us to live our lives with passion. Keeping a steady stream of nutrients keeps our blood sugar stable and our minds clear. When we aren’t starving, we make clearer choices about amounts and types of foods we consume.
Not Enough Essential Fat
The word fat is also used in two ways that can cause a lot of confusion out there. Fat is a macronutrient that every body needs to maintain health. Fat provides lubrication for joints, hunger satiation, taste for food, integrity for cells and nerve function, nutrient absorption for key vitamins, shock absorption for organs, collagen for anti-aging, and provides the most efficient energy source for the body.
Essential fatty acids, or EFA’s, are fats that our body needs to ingest for proper health and function, because we cannot synthesize them on our own. EFA deficiencies are also linked with inflammation and mood instability. Lack of the proper essential fatty acids in the body can trigger the body to store weight and resist weight loss. In fact, inability to lose weight has long been known to be a symptom of EFA deficiency. EFA’s are also the building blocks of many hormones in the body. So, lack of EFA’s can impact hormonal health, and hence, calorie burning capacity. This means that being overweight can actually very likely come from too little fat intake, not too much of it.
There is another way we use the word fat, and it’s as a judgment. In fact, this meaning of the word fat has slipped so deeply in our consciousness and is so linked with shaming ideas of being unworthy, that people can sometimes be afraid to consume the macronutrient fat. This is such a disservice to ourselves. The Institute for the Psychology of Eating encourages you to reclaim the word fat as a macronutrient and discard the use as a judgment or a feeling. No one is unworthy of love, and fat is not a feeling!
Not Enough Pleasure
Pleasure is essential to life. Without pleasure in our diet, we will tend be hungry, crave certain foods, constantly think about food, and eventually go off of our restrictive diet because it simply wasn’t sustainable to begin with. Our brain is wired for pleasure and to feel pleasure when we eat, because eating is that essential to our survival.
But beyond survival, pleasure is one of the most meaningful experiences we can have in a body. As we learn from Dynamic Eating Psychology, diets often don’t work because they deprive us of the pleasure of taste and nourishment. When we truly allow ourselves pleasure, we feel alive. We don’t overindulge, because part of the experience of pleasure is enjoying the right amount. More doesn’t equal better.
The deficiency mentality doesn’t work. It sets us up to rebel and react against the deficiency by overindulging. When we truly grant ourselves permission to feel pleasure, we align with the truth that we are already deserving and worthy of love. When we have enough, we can allow that pleasure to circulate in our body for an extended period of time. Food doesn’t have to be a battle. When we work with our body’s nutritional needs, food can be a wonderful part of our human existence.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018