Self Imposed Limits

I don’t like limits. Limits aren’t fun. Limits box me in and often times I hurt myself trying to get out. During my obese days, I didn’t have any limits on the food choices I made. If I wanted an entire 16 ounce bag of peanut M&M’s, then that’s what I had. If I wanted five individual chip bags at 2:30 in the afternoon, I ate them, and if I wanted to sit on the couch all day feeling sorry for myself, then that’s exactly what I did.

Of course I had societal limits – I didn’t eat that bag of M&M’s in front of my friends, nor did I model the five chip bag trick to my children. In front of other people I limited my food choices to those that were healthier and more moderate in amount. Once I began on my final journey to lose weight I had to decide what limits I wanted to set up for myself with regards to food. I had done some of the more popular diet programs, read a lot of weight loss books and magazines, and honestly, had all the book knowledge I needed to lose weight. But because I had never been successful in self-limiting my food choices, I was concerned.

Should I even set limits? Or should I just eat when hungry and stop when full? Should I limit the amount of certain types of foods I was eating, and if so what? I eventually came to realize that because of my personality, I didn’t want to self-impose very many limitations on myself, but rather I wanted to learn to enjoy food in the right way. So instead of strictly imposing rules on myself, I had some guidelines which gave me enough of a box to get the job done, but also had some openings for breathing room. Here were the limits I set for myself during month number one:

Month One Limits

No chocolate (this was huge)

Keep fat percentage overall to 30% or less

Eat just one portion at a time

Exercise every day (just 15 minutes)

No eating after dinner unless it was planned (this was very hard at first)

You can see that my month one limits were a bit strict, especially with the chocolate and the nighttime eating. I picked those two habits to work on first because I knew I had a serious problem. Normally, I ate chocolate more than I ate veggies, and nighttime snacking had become like a second meal to me. Was I always perfect that first month? No way. But I had more good days than bad, and those good days gave me the confidence I needed to start believing in myself. As the month went on, I started feeling better about myself emotionally, even though I hadn’t lost much weight. I felt some control over my choices, and for the first time in a long time, felt positive about my future.

Rest of My Life

Once the first month passed, I tackled one bad habit after another. Whenever I read your blogs, and you talk about a habit you are working on, I always think, “Yep, I had that habit too!”  The rest of my weight loss year was spend finding my way through the minefield of emotional habits I had developed with regards to food and replacing them with good habits. I still limited my food’s fat percentage, but loosened up on the nighttime eating and chocolate ban. I increased my exercise time to 30 minutes, and continued with the portion control. And you know what? Those self-imposed limits I placed on myself 12 years ago are still in place. Why did they stay in place?

Because they weren’t the kind of limits that made me feel constrained, but rather limits that gave me the freedom to make healthy, wise choices. What limits have you placed on yourself that may be hard to continue for the rest of your life? Or are there some limits you need to set to help you succeed?   Diane

40 thoughts on “Self Imposed Limits

  1. Miz says:

    I LOVE how you say that they were limits which gave YOU freedoms.

    Its all so personal and entirely why I choose the tagline I did.
    For me ‘no eating after dinner’ would cause this nonbinger to eat a package of cookies in rebellion—-but it entirely works and is kind of freeing for you.

    it also made me come back around to how children (and dogs :)) love boundaries.

    How they make them feel safe.

    selfimposed ‘diet’ rules arent too different huh?

    great post.
    .-= Miz´s last blog ..Pediatricians: are you listening? (part two) =-.

  2. Lance says:

    When I first started to lose weight, I too set limits. The biggest and first one was to stop drinking soda. This one was huge for me. And it’s one, that while I’m more relaxed on it now – I’ve really lost most of my desire for soda, and only have it on rare occassions now. And I agree with Miz – this all is very personal – and it’s also something that only works when it is personal. Without the personal reason behind doing it, it becomes way too easy (for me) to slip back into old patterns.
    .-= Lance´s last blog ..Sunday Thought For The Day =-.

  3. Yum Yucky says:

    Pizza slices! Ever since I was kid pizza controlled me. In the last few months I’ve been tired of being controlled.

    I used to eat 4 to 5 slices plus everybody’s pizza crust. Now I’m down to only 2 slices and not so much pizza of everybody’s crust.

    Still room for improvement. I know. But it was hard to get down to 2 slices. And I did it.
    .-= Yum Yucky´s last blog .."Tasting!" Keebler Fudge Shoppe Caramel Cookies =-.

  4. Monica says:

    I tried to go down this diet road with no limits at first, but realized that I did need some. I’ve seen a difference in my success since I’ve been setting some general limits about the amount of food I eat on a daily basis.

    Limits aren’t always bad, but rather can be very freeing.

  5. Sara N. says:

    Limits are what has helped me so much on my journey. Even at my age, there are times when I need to set firm limits in order to be successful. I limit my alcoholic beverages, my sweets, and my red meats. I don’t limit the exercise though because that’s what really helps me stay on track and makes up for the times when the limits are stretched a bit.

    I really love this post Diane, and am going to share it with my best friend who thinks we shouldn’t have limits on our diets.

  6. Marcelle says:

    I’m totally blown away whenever I read that you have maintained for 12 years…gosh…I know the work a few months has been for me..*Respect*

    I no longer eat fried potato chips and pizza, those two foods are no longer on my agenda…other stuff was easy to give up as they didnt have much of a part in my life…
    But pizza I had once a week and fried chips with take aways now and again.
    I have seen the calories in those two foods and its NO NO NO…
    .-= Marcelle´s last blog ..I Got Spoilt =-.

  7. South Beach Steve says:

    I struggle with limits, but I know that I have them. I have often said there are foods I may never have again. Why? Because I know I cannot control myself when I start eating those foods. Sadly, I am realizing there are other foods that need to go on that list too. Nevertheless, those foods are few and far between. As long as I understand those parameters, all is well.
    .-= South Beach Steve´s last blog ..Obesity Gene? =-.

  8. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    Diane, this speaks to how we all are different & we have to find the right way for us. Some need to restrict more, others less & some it is in-between where they just can’t bring certain foods into the house but others, they can handle. It really is a great post to get people thinking on what they can do to live long term at this.

    I really have changed this along the way. When I was younger, I was more restrictive, I did different things. & it just kept changing along the way as it continues to do now.

    Ya know, one thing I said I would never do is give up my every day bagel… but I did because as my body changes, it just can’t do that every day. And I know I will have other things change as I go.

    Always gets us thinking Diane!
    .-= Jody – Fit at 52´s last blog ..I CAN vs. I Don’t Want To =-.

  9. christieo says:

    ok, so i really did just think that was me with the rebellious personality. the second someone or something tells me i can’t, i go ahead anyway full force! i did that with food, too. my body got fatter but i wasn’t going to let it tell me what to do! eventually when I got control, i did actually feel more freedom. Because I was choosing. Mind games, for me. Great post again, Diane!

  10. Lori says:

    Those are really good suggestions to have. I was trying to think of limits that I have, and I guess I haven’t really “defined” any limits exactly. I know that I just try not to go “overboard” with my eating, but it might help if I set up some guidelines. Thanks. 🙂
    .-= Lori´s last blog .. =-.

  11. Sunny says:

    see, as a self-admitted Control Freak™, I accept that without limits, my life sucks. I need to control myself, or I’m miserable-inside and out. Limits are a GOOD thing for Control Freaks like me.


    So now, it’s just a matter of defining livable limits, and sticking to them. It is a juggling act; no doubt about it. My current limits are:

    1,200 calories a day
    South Beach Phase 2 menu
    45 minutes of (dance) exercise a day, 6 days a week at a minimum
    No alcohol except maybe 1 Michelob Ultra per week. (not much choice: wine gives me kidney stones.)

    It’s working. When I reach goal (probably around Valentines Day), the only thing that will change is the calories will jump, to start, to 1,400 a day, which allows me to be in South Beach Phase 3. But, I will monitor that the first weeks of maintenance to make sure 1,400 calories is right for me. 🙂
    .-= Sunny´s last blog ..Brownies Day™ =-.

  12. Laura says:

    A year or two ago I remember reading something in Oprah’s magazine about not letting other people be “your beagle” or something to that effect – beagles are always wanting wanting wanting. They are a bottomless pit of want. I would know, I have an adorable little beagle who is constantly begging. For some reason (other than that I love beagles) it struck a chord with me, and now I like to think that I don’t need to let MYSELF be my own beagle!

    Sometimes being good to yourself means saying NO to those treats. Happiness isn’t a constant stream of food like my beagle seems to think, or like I used to.

    I don’t have specific limits, but I try to remember every day that treating myself really means eating healthy and making good choices. It took me a while to get in that mindset but I’m there 95% of the time now!
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..AHH! Meal Monsters =-.

  13. Leah says:

    This was perfect timing for me, Diane, because I’ve been struggling with setting limits, or maybe new limits, versus only eating when hungry.

    I like how you say that setting the limits actually freed you. It’s like tough love, it seems so restricting, but it’s all done in love and with good intentions for a great outcome.

    You definitely help me put some thoughts in better perspective. Thank you!
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..Morning Funnies =-.

  14. Leah says:

    Oh, and I was imposing the sweets only once a week idea, but felt deprived. I decided to go with the one small piece or bite and that works fine. Since I’m able to stop at that (except last night with my 20 M&Ms) I’m going to keep doing it. That one small piece is usually perfect for me.

    My limit I’m learning right now is to stop when I’m satisfied with food and be content with that. Listening to my body is NOT easy and it’s taking some work.

  15. vickie says:

    Much of what you write about today – I think of as impulse control.

    I think that for many of us – we are a weird mixture of not being developed enough in some areas and being over developed in others.

    Like too much was expected of us as kids in some areas and not enough with other areas of development. I suppose I am saying that I think many of us grew up with parents that were too demanding in some ways and did not teach/level it out in other ways. Not a lot of EVEN. And a lot of disfunction.

    I have very much seen this in myself as my kids (19,15,11) have grown and bloomed. I have seen the areas where I just plain missed whole sections of developement. And I definitely see the areas where too much was expected of me – and that had nothing to do with ME – it had to do with the disfunction of the adults in my life when I was a child.

    My first year of losing was all about learning to eat at meal time, learning to eat portions, and then eventually learning to eat balance (carbs, fat, protein within calories). I was eating 5-6 small meals that first year. so the next meal time was always right around the corner. But not eating all day, every day, impulsively, compulsively – was a major adjustment. I sat and cried over it (like a 2 year old). It was hard.

    And it was actually quite telling to be in my mid 40’s and just learning, really learning impulse control.
    .-= vickie´s last blog ..Muck, muck, who’s got the muck? =-.

  16. Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit says:

    I think those self-imposed limits are especially important in the early stages of a successful weight-loss journey. Let’s face it: most of us got in the situation we were in because we couldn’t be trusted to act like responsible adults when it came to eating. I was very strict with myself early on, establishing a long list of DON’Ts (DON’T eat out of vending machines, DON’T eat in the car, DON’T go to fast-food places). As I made my way, I transitioned to more positive, more flexible concepts (eat more slowly, think about what you’re eating and why). I like where I am now, but I understand perfectly why I needed the harsher rules early on.
    .-= Jack Sh*t, Gettin’ Fit´s last blog ..I’m Sorry, Rolling Stones =-.

  17. Diane says:

    I do not think of them as limits, but rather as allergies. If a person has an allergy to a substance ( simply meaning an adverse reaction to the chemical compounds found in the substance) it is avoided. If I think in terms that I have to “limit” foods I love but are not in my best interest, it weighs me down mentally. However, if I think in terms of I have an allergy to whatever food ( and the allergic reaction manifests in weight gain), it’s pretty easy for me.
    .-= Diane´s last blog ..What is and is not nessisary =-.

  18. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    As others have said, it’s all so very personal but the common denominator is the element of boundaries. (I call them “guidelines”–sounds so much nicer.*G*) For me, establishing parameters around everything worked really well. As long as I was sticking with basics such as 5-7 fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains, I could have a 50-100 calorie chocolate-y treat, or I could have one white flour-based product a week. And so on. I never felt like I was on “a diet.” It was simply a new way of living. I still follow those guidelines.
    .-= Cammy@TippyToeDiet´s last blog ..Steppin’ Up =-.

  19. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    Great post! I don’t do well with too many limits either, and I don’t really have any foods that are “completely off limits” for me. But there are certainly some limits I had to set. One of them is no eating after dinner. When I taught night classes, I had a huge issue with night time eating and that’s how I gained weight. So the only way for me to get a true handle on it was to stop it completely.

  20. julie says:

    I rebel against limits, even self-imposed ones, so I need to be careful with this. I don’t like the psychological games I tend to play when I try to be strict about anything, so I’m quite relaxed. Just the same, I do know what foods will help me lose weight, and which ones won’t, and I definitely limit the ones that don’t. I rarely eat a piece of chocolate cake, but may buy a $0.10 Reeses Cup on rare occasion, or a mini-cupcake, or eat a bite of yours if I know you well enough, but don’t overdo, and don’t eat if I don’t really want it. As for pizza, I eat a slice or two, instead of three or four, and I don’t eat it nearly as much as I used to. I eat as many vegetables as I can stand, and I generlly eat fruit for dessert. I’ve tried to instill good eating habits so I don’t have to set limits, and it’s been working fine so far. I generally try to plan and be prepared, because if I find myself starving and there’s nothing but a convenience store within a long ways, I’ll have to make do, and end up eating stuff I don’t like and is not healthy. So, yeah, I guess I try to limit the stuff I don’t even like. I only eat potato chips at parties, never buy them. Same with ice cream. I’ll still occasionally eat a big fatty meal, but eat a bit less for a day or two before, a day or two after, and don’t slack on exercise. After a while, this just becomes normal living, and straying from it can make me feel yucky.
    .-= julie´s last blog ..It ain’t been easy! =-.

  21. julie says:

    OK, just thought of some others. No eating meals late at night, just because I’ve had a few drinks and it seems it would taste good. I allow, though discourage eating out of boredom, but it has to be veggies or fruit or popcorn, and even then I try not to overdo it. And similar to Cammy, I eat 7-10 fruits/veggies daily, and so some pure pleasure calories here and there of white flour or sugar or salty fat won’t bother me (I get away with this more than many because I exercise 1-2 hrs most days). I drive little, bike/walk much. Little adaptations that aren’t disruptive, but seem to work.
    .-= julie´s last blog ..It ain’t been easy! =-.

  22. Biz says:

    Loved this post! I think for me this time around I’ve dropped the all or nothing. Before I lost my 70 pounds in 1999, if I slipped up and had a candy bar, I’d throw my hands up in the air and then went on a two week binge.

    Now I take each day at a time, still go out to restaurants and try to exercise more on the days I eat a little more than normal.

  23. Lori (Finding Radiance) says:

    I think more in terms of boundaries than limits. That gives me roaming room (at least in my mind). I am the type that if you tell me not to do something, that is the first thing I want to do LOL (and I’m 41….).

    I will challenge myself to do something, like abstain from snacking on cereal for a week or whatever. While I don’t make a boundary or limit as a lifetime goal, they do seem to stick around a long time once they are habits.
    .-= Lori (Finding Radiance)´s last blog ..Lori’s rules of lifting =-.

  24. Sarah says:

    Like @julie above, I too rebel against limits. That’s why it took me so long to be successful at this, because every time I told myself that I had to go on a diet, I’d freak out about the limitations and binge for a month. I do better thinking of them as “guidelines,” because that means that I don’t have to follow them if I don’t want to. I do follow them for the most part, but knowing that I have the option (without feeling like I’m failing) is key for me. I also try to focus on bringing things into my life, rather than limiting them out. More fun exercise and movement, more delicious ways to cook veggies, more yummy snacks that happen to be healthy, rather than a list of things I can’t have. Even thinking about putting limits on myself right at this very moment makes me feel anxious! 🙂
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..25% =-.

  25. Nicole, MS, RD, LD says:

    You’re so insightful! I love reading your blog.

    I do have “boundaries”, not necessarily limits. I don’t like to feel limited, but like you said, empowered to make good choices for the right reasons and within reason.

  26. Shelley B says:

    My “no baked goods” rule worked really well for me and now that I’ve eased up on it, I’m having a harder time stopping after a couple of bites. So I don’t know…maybe I need that one in my life forever? I do think personal limits are important in order to keep the changes that we have worked so hard to make. But I’ll have to revisit this in another year to see what is still working for me.
    .-= Shelley B´s last blog ..Cookies and Clothes =-.

  27. Roberta says:

    Hi Dianne

    First time commenting on your blog but I have been following it for about a month since I found it through Spark People.

    It’s so liberating reading your post, specially when you said “Was I always perfect that first month? No way. But I had more good days than bad, and those good days gave me the confidence I needed to start believing in myself.”

    I am in that boat at the moment. I have more GOOD days than bad ones, still trying to conquer weekend eating and social events. BUT for the most part, my choices are good ones and its so refreshing reading it from someone that “been there done that” that it is possible and I am probably in the right track.


  28. Mia says:

    I had to think about this, whether I have “limitations” or not. I do but I’m OK with that. What I realize is that my limits are more to protect me, my health and my happiness. I know that certain foods will trigger uncontrollable eating which, as everyone knows, leads to unhappy thoughts. So I know better than to eat them. Even taste them. They are not completely banished from what I eat, just that I don’t have the freedom to eat them whenever!

    I also recognize that to get in my fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbs and lean protein, I am going to meet my daily caloric allowance. This doesn’t leave much wiggle room for “fun” foods. There’s a time and a place for them. Just not every day!


  29. John W. Zimmer says:

    One person’s limit is another person’s guideline. I’ve noticed that it is hard to change but if you have had a reason to change, then the issue is how to change.

    I like your method, picking a few habits at a time and trying for achievable goals.

    I know from experience when I try to go too strict, I tend to blow it off easily because once I fail – I just stop.

    My solution is to have guidelines or metrics I try to achieve but no big deal if I don’t make it on any given day. I just try again the next day.

    Good info Diane!
    .-= John W. Zimmer´s last blog ..Thinner; Getting used to Weightloss? =-.

  30. Gina Fit by 41, Maybe 42 says:

    Great post and comments. I really liked how Diane likened restrictions to allergies.

    Last Sunday, our Sunday school teacher was talking about walking the “straight-and-narrow path.” We can’t do this and can’t do that…seemed very restrictive until you realize how freeing it is…free from the horrible consequences poor choices lead us to.

    I related that to eating habits. I wanted my freedom for years to eat what and how much I wanted. My result: I feel trapped. I feel trapped in a food/sugar addiction, trapped in habits that are challenging to break, trapped in a body that isn’t functioning the way it should, and trapped in the guilt of knowing I’ve abused a perfectly healthy body instead of cherishing it.

    I’ve behaved as a spoiled brat (food-wise) and need limitations.
    .-= Gina Fit by 41, Maybe 42´s last blog ..Focus Pocus =-.

Leave a Reply