Is There Value to Placing Restraints on Certain Foods?

I don’t like feeling restrained when it comes to food choices, but I believe there is a lot of value in learning restraint while trying to lose weight. In the past, when I decided to avoid certain foods, I often felt like all I wanted to do was eat whatever food I was trying to exercise restraint with.

When I weighed over 300 pounds, I had no “red light” foods. If I wanted to eat six chocolate glazed donuts I ate them. If I really wanted a chocolate milkshake from McDonald’s I loaded the children up in the car and got that shake. If I wanted chips and all we had were those little 1 oz. bags that you put in kids’ lunches, I would eat bag after bag until I was satisfied.

Fortunately, I restrained myself in public. I did not eat six donuts in front of my family, friends, or small children. In front of the “public,” I ate like a normal person. I moderated what I ate and tried not to appear as though the chocolate cupcakes sitting on the table held much appeal to me. (Of course inside my head I was screaming at myself, “If those were at my house, I’d eat every last one.)

As I began learning how to eat a healthier diet and began to lose weight, I had to decide how to handle the concept of restraint when it came to foods. Because I had tried so many commercial diets in the past, I understood that almost all diets required restraint and the limiting of certain foods.

I wanted to set myself up for success when it came to what foods I would or would not limit. I had never had any success self-limiting foods because as soon as I tried, that’s the exact food I wanted. If I was limiting candy, all I could seem to think about was candy. Then I gave in and ate as much candy as I could stuff in my mouth.

I really thought this whole concept through when I first started. Should I even try to set limits? Should I try an intuitive approach and eat when my body “told” me to eat. Should I swear off certain food groups for life?

I eventually came to realize that because of my tendencies to eat everything I said I wouldn’t, I did not want to restrict myself too harshly.

Instead I wanted to figure out how to enjoy food in a healthy way. I decided to set some guidelines which gave me some freedom but also helped me gain control over those trigger foods that I always seemed to have a hard time controlling.

Here is what the first month of my weight loss journey looked like.

Month One Limits

No chocolate at all.

Keep my fat consumption to about 30 percent.

Eat just one portion at a time.

Exercise every day (just 15 minutes at first).

No eating after dinner unless it was planned.

You can see that my month one limits were pretty strict. I was particularly strict with chocolate and nighttime snacking because I knew those two habits played a huge role in my obesity.

Did I ever stray the first month? Absolutely. But the key thing to know is that I had more good days than bad days and those days where I was successful gave me some much needed confidence in my ability to control my eating habits.

Rest of My Life

Once the first month passed, I worked on one food habit after another just like many of you do.

Sometimes when I’m reading your blogs or responding to emails where you share habits that are difficult for you to break, I mentally think, “Yes, I had that habit at one time as well!”

Another thing I did that really helped me was to figure out which emotions were attached to bad habits. That was an important part of my long-term success.

Over the years I have increased my exercise time to about 30 to 45 minutes, continued watching my portions, and still eat about 30 percent of my calories in healthy fats. Those restraints stayed in place and have been valuable to me. You notice that I do have the occasional chocolate treat and eat after dinner every once in a while!

Those restraints I kept actually allow me the freedom to make healthy choices and still enjoy life.

Have you placed restraints on certain foods or behaviors? What was the outcome?  Diane

23 thoughts on “Is There Value to Placing Restraints on Certain Foods?

  1. Tanvee says:

    Hi Diane, I don’t like making a list of things I can’t eat..instead I make a deal to stick to my calories, use portion control and just in case I eat something more than planned I workout more…I think following these rules with time I have started eating healthier and making better choices. For me if anything is on the restricted list that’s the first thing that will go in my mouth 🙂

  2. PlumPetals says:

    A few months ago I did the Whole Life Challenge for the first time (cutting out all dairy, grains, sugar, preservatives, soy and a few other things for 8 weeks). It took some getting used to, but I did it, and it worked well for me. In the 2 months that followed I slowly added back a few foods and nothing in great amounts; however, I found that my gradual approach was not gradual enough. I gained some weight back. Now that I’m back on the Whole Life Challenge things are finally moving my way again. I’m not ready (yet) to eat without parameters, but I hope one day I will be.

  3. blackhuff says:

    There is some foods I don’t have at all = restraints from those foods. The reason for this is that these are my trigger foods. Make me eat too much of them.

  4. Joe says:

    Eliminated beer completely from my life. After a couple beers eating that slice of pizza seeemed like a good idea. I have felt a million times better since.

  5. Dr. J says:

    Of course!

    There are many very unhealthy franken-foods out there and I do not eat them. There are some borderline foods that I eat in moderation. Whole natural foods, no limits.

  6. Gwen /Sunny says:

    Just like BlackHuff and Dr. J, for the first time ever, this time, I am flat out saying no to most sweets, most if not all of the time. I’ve seen too many times for myself how the slippery slope on certain kryptonite foods for me simply doesn’t work on portion control. Oh, I can keep the portion size small enough, but the guilt ultimately makes it not worth it. This time, I’ve developed pretty much an aversion to those sweets, so it’s not even a denial thing anymore; I simply don’t want them, and all the baggage that comes with them. I feel more in control than ever, and know even if there are tiny slips along the way, they will be very, very few and far between, and I will succeed at not only the weight loss but finally at maintenance as well!

    Great post as usual!

  7. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    I do make choices not to eat certain things OR keep them in the house… BUT I do plan for treats that I really really want! I think we are all different & jut have to find what works for us. Some can’t handle the temptation & others get crazed if things are denies.. got to find the happy medium that is right for you. 🙂

  8. From Polyester to Spandex - Kimberly says:

    Fast food was my trigger, so I went “cold turkey” on it and completely banned it when I first started 20 months ago. To this day, I still don’t eat it, and have no desire for it at all anymore. Outside of that, much like yourself, I knew if I told myself I couldn’t have things, I’d want them even more, so I’ve taken a “balance and moderation” approach. I still eat things like bread and mashed potatoes…just not every day, and I’ve discovered healthier alternatives for those and others of my old favorites that have contirbuted greatly to my success. I still feel like I eat like a “normal” person, in that I’m not afraid to eat at restaurants, or at other people’s homes, get-togethers, etc., I just know how to do it wisely now!

    Down 160 pounds in 20 months through food and exercise choices…65 left until goal!

  9. Caron says:

    I wish I could eat everything in moderation. I have not reached that point and it may never happen. I bought one of the intuitive eating books, but I knew that it would not work for me. If I had been able to do that, I would never have gotten to almost 180 pounds. I stay away from pizza, fried foods and ice cream most of the time. They are not nutritious and I would eat more than a moderate portion. I find it much easier to leave them off and keep them out of the house.

  10. Tiffany says:

    I have thought about this very subject a lot. I tend to be more like you- if I am telling myself I can’t have any sugar, then all of a sudden I’m craving sugary treats that I never crave, just because I’m telling myself I can’t have it.

    Therefore, I don’t tell myself there are any foods I can’t have- I just simply focus more on what I can have and that seems to help a lot. Plus, I’m not sure I want to live a life where eating a piece of cake at my birthday party makes me a failure.

    Good stuff.

  11. Laura Jane says:

    Honestly, I do better with very strict rules. If I plan to have sweets in “moderation,” I waste so much mental energy deciding if eating this piece of chocolate counts as moderation. I also use “moderation” as a loophole to convince myself it’s okay to eat way too much of certain things. That said, restriction has a huge dread factor in my mind. I will do it, but not cheerfully.

    • Janis says:

      Same same same. Moderation is tiring, and forces you to keep revisiting decisions you thought were made already. Abstinence is much, much easier. You say no ONCE, and that’s it. No having to rethink, redo, and re-say it all the time.

  12. Carey says:

    I just started restricting my access to sugar and white flour, and that’s changed my life. Yeah, I occasionally crave the sugar, but it was such a trigger for me that eating even a little of it made me obsess until I had more. I wasn’t ready for this kind of restriction until recently, but now I find it kind of liberating because I don’t obsess over food anymore. I still enjoy it, for sure. But it’s not running my life anymore.

  13. Alejandra @ wishfulshrinking says:

    My trigger foods were and still are white carbs- specifically pasta. I used to have a big stomach for those bakery fresh dinner rolls, and had to cut it out completely. If I give in to one, I want one the next day immediately. Pasta is an ongoing battle that I used to turn to most nights of the week because it’s delicious, filling, and quick- that was key. I’ve given it up for Lent to break down my want for it, and hopefully I will be able to eat it as a treat once in awhile.
    Right now, my biggest battle is against chocolate and sweets and I’m not sure why. I never had a sweet tooth, but lately it’s all I want. Hoping to cut that craving down so I don’t a) give it and b) don’t get frustrated for not being able to eat it.

  14. Jill says:

    I tried eating sweets in moderation – I thought, “If I restrict myself completely from eating, this, then I’ll just binge later”. So, I’d let myself have ONE treat a week. It worked for a while, then I had the opportunity to eat a cookie from a boxed lunch three days in a row – something unusual for me. I ate it the first day, then told myself not to eat it the next or the next. When I ate all three, I realized I needed a different method to help me deal with the sugar cravings that lingered after my weekly treats.

    I ended up giving up sweets entirely. It was very difficult at first, but after I got used to it, it is now much easier. I don’t even crave sweets any longer! Most other things, I can have in moderation without too much trouble. However, the basket of chips at Mexican restaurants, that is another story…. 🙂

  15. Dr. Haley Perlus says:

    I do not believe the topic of restraint is black and white. What works for some doesn’t work for others. I have many clients who need to avoid certain food 100% (similar to your first month chocolate-free). I also have clients that need a little taste each day (one square of a chocolate bar for example).

    The best way to be successful is to train your brain to focus on what you can eat (instead of focusing on what you cannot eat). There are plenty of sport psychology tips and tricks to help health enthusiasts develop concentration skills to help them achieve this.

    Thanks for the blog post Diane – you’re great and start great discussion.

  16. Sharon says:

    Yes, there are some foods that I am still learning are going to have to be total restraint foods except on very, very rare occasions. I went cold turkey on them while losing my weight and have found that trying to add back in moderation really isn’t going to work. It’s best to just leave them alone. I did fine without them – no need to tempt fate.

  17. KarenJ says:

    I believe I’m probably like most people who have gone down this path. At the beginning, I was not willing to restrict too much for fear of bingeing. But I found that there were certain foods that were just triggers for me, and I made a “decision” to restrict foods that I found difficult to control. As time went on, however, I found that I was able to incorporate many of these foods back into my life as my ability to exercise control increased. Now I “choose” not to eat many of these foods whether due to their high calorie count or because they are devoid of nutritional benefit. The decision as to whether to restrict one’s eating of certain foods or food groups is a very personal thing. If it works for you, then you should do it. And Jill, I go absolutely weak in the knees for the tortilla chips at the Mexican restaurant! But I don’t go very often, so I allow myself the occasional indulgence 🙂

  18. evilcyber says:

    When I consciously was “on diet” I didn’t place restraint on specfic foods, I chose what I ate by their calories. Perhaps that was the restraint.

    Today I eat what I like, but keep check on my weight.

  19. Jill says:

    I keep somewhat of a restraint on what I eat, such as if I notice that I’ve been really giving into my sweet tooth, I’ll make a conscious effort to make better choices such as fresh fruit instead. As for eating before bed, I always like a snack before bedtime but, I’m conscious of what it is. My rule of thumb for that is that anything with protein is ok for a late night snack like a piece of cheese or plain yogurt, but chocolate before bed is a no-no.

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