Do NOT Diet in 2019 Reason #30: Your mind will be full of pink elephants


What are you thinking about right now?

An interesting phenomenon occurs when we attempt to restrict our thoughts about or access to something. We suddenly can’t stop thinking about it. This is also what happens when we eliminate foods and whole food groups. The very second you say “I can’t have it”, you start to crave and obsess over it. Couple that with cutting calories, and you’re going to have donuts and pizza on the brain 24/7.

A World War II study conducted by Dr. Ancel Keys powerfully demonstrates this:

Thirty two healthy men who had never dieted, and were of average weight and height, were chosen to participate in a starvation study. During the first three months of the study, the men were told to eat as they pleased. They averaged nearly 3500 calories per day. The next six months was the “starvation period”. Calories were cut in half to about 1500 per day. The effects of this semi-starvation were strikingly similar to dieting. Among some very disturbing physical changes such as metabolic rate decreasing by nearly 40%, the men were also obsessed with food. They talked about food constantly and even collected recipes. DUDES COLLECTING FOOD RECIPES…in the 1940’s…when women still did nearly all the cooking! The men also reported disordered eating habits and weekend binges totaling more than 10,000 calories in a sitting. These men went from healthy, normal eating habits, to feelings of obsession and shame, and in some cases full-blown eating disorders, in less than 6 months!

The lesson: restricting food makes humans obsess over food. This is basic survival stuff. When food became scarce for our ancient ancestors they thought about food, which caused them to look for food. Any human that didn’t think about food during lean times probably starved to death - Darwinism at its finest. Today, despite the fact that we are surrounded by food, our genetics haven’t changed very much. When you go on a restrictive diet, your brain and body perceive a famine…and the same cascade of hormonal and psychological problems ensues. Food restriction causes food obsession!

What you should do instead…

Anti-Diet Wisdom: No food or food group should ever be completely off the table (unless you have a true allergy or extreme sensitivity). The best way to stop obsessing over a food is to be allowed to have it. Additionally, try never to cut calories too low, too quickly. Yes, a calorie deficit is required for weight loss, but going from eating 2,000 or 3,000 calories per day to less than 1500 will be disastrous for both your body and your mental health.

Try this self-experiment: For the next week or two, add more nutrient-dense and fiber-filled foods to every meal - pears, apples, berries, almonds, broccoli, cauliflower, and beans - without tracking or cutting calories. Don’t even try to change anything else about your normal way of eating…see what happens!

If you struggle with intense cravings, constant thoughts of food, or feel like you lose control around certain “trigger” foods, you need to take my Intuitive Eating Course! I address these issues and help you regain control and confidence with food!


Blog Author: Kelly Bailey, IIN certified holistic nutrition coach, and NPTI certified personal trainer

Learn more about the author here.