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Deprivation and Eating

Disregulated eaters often feel deprived when they refrain from eating foods they crave. But are we truly deprived or, as the golden oldie asks, is it just our imaginations? If we’re not actually deprived, why do we persist in having the intense experience that we are—and, moreover, what can we do about it?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, to deprive is “1. To take something away from; dispossess; divest. 2. To keep from the possession or enjoyment of something; deny.” To deprive implies imposing divestiture and denial, someone doing something to you. Who is taking food from you, denying you food or its enjoyment? Deprivation occurs when we’re helpless and have no say—a frequent occurrence in childhood, but rare in adulthood, such as having a fatal disease. As children, we lack power and decisions are imposed upon us. As adults, we simply make choices.

We make decisions with the recognition that life has trade-offs and is not fair, that the name of the game is choice and consequence. When I choose not to take my well-loved, routine evening walk in a thunderstorm, I feel the loss of an activity I enjoy, but I don’t feel deprived, because I’m choosing safety over pleasure. When you say no to another helping because you’re full or satisfied, you’re not depriving yourself, but giving yourself the gift of being in sync with appetite and enjoying feeling satiated.

It’s vital to understand where the experience and feelings about deprivation come from. First, from food or other deprivation in childhood. It can be physical or emotional, about food or other choices we lacked. Second, from dieting and imposing deprivation on ourselves. When we choose diets, we choose deprivation. By choosing “normal” eating, we move beyond self-denial into making wise choices with better consequences.

Our childish wish is to have everything we yearn for, but as we mature, we understand the concept of mutual exclusion and choice and consequence—to get this, we must give up that. To make money, most of us have to work. To raise a child, we may pass up travel or a promotion. That’s not deprivation; that’s plain old decision-making. That’s life. And so is what you do when you say no when you crave a food because eating it is not going to be healthy for you in the long run. It’s time to stop saying that you feel deprived when you say no to unwanted eating. You’re not deprived, you’re making a choice. By saying no to cravings that aren’t beneficial, you’ll feel proud and more trusting of yourself because you’re choosing health!