Putting Foods Off-Limits Can Sabotage Your Diet

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Do you ever notice that as soon as you decide a certain food is "off-limits", it's the food you crave more than any other? For me, it's cake- specifically, yellow cake with lots of white icing. My husband's birthday is coming up, and I always make his favorite cake (which happens to be yellow cake with white icing.) He's content to eat one or two pieces, and then be done with it. I tell myself that I shouldn't eat any of it, because the less I have, the less I'll want. But as soon as I do that, I find myself thinking about how good it would taste, and usually I end up caving in and indulging more than I should. A new study shows that restricting certain foods increases the positive feelings associated with those foods. The more you make a food off-limits, the more tasty and delicious it sounds.

The results, published in the journal Appetite, were based on two different studies. The first study compared whether restrained eaters differed from unrestrained eaters in the positive and negative associations of high calorie food, compared to low calorie food. The second study just looked at whether restrained eaters differed from unrestrained eaters in their feelings about high calorie foods. Both studies found that there was no difference in negative associations with high calorie foods, whether they were restricted or not. But restricting foods did seem to increase the positive associations associated with these foods.

I think this goes along with the whole "diet" versus "healthy eating" mentality. In general, I consider myself to be a healthy eater. But if someone told me I could never have another piece of birthday cake, it would be tough to accept. Instead, I do have those treats from time to time. I just try to make sure they are in moderation and not an every day indulgence. Then the foods I really love aren't built up to be some kind of sinful temptation that sounds so delicious, if only I could have it. Setting myself up for that kind of deprivation increases my chances of failure because I can't stick with it forever. Everyone deserves a treat now and then.

What do you think? Do you try to make room for the occasional treat in your diet, or does that make you more likely to start slipping back into your old habits?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


DIVAGLOW 4/8/2021
THANKS! Report
PATRICIAAK 9/19/2020
:) Report
PATRICIAAK 8/31/2020
:) Report
PATRICIAAK 8/10/2020
:) Report
PATRICIAAK 7/30/2020
:) Report
The first RD that talked at me was wearing black leather, spiked high heeled boots and used a whip for accent as she said you can never eat............... I didn't listen and now 40 years later I am paying the price for eating those "forbidden foods". To late to sue her! Report
Since I started Spark I have not eaten chocolate and have not craved chocolate. Don't miss it either! Thanks for sharing the information! Report
Sometimes my "forbidden food" is junk food so bad for me, so high in processing and preservatives and artificial ickiness it's really better for me to keep it forbidden....and then figure out a healthier way to make it (cake, ice cream cookies etc) that won't poison me, at least!! For example, some of the foods that I find myself "craving" I'll find out later had soy in it, or something else, and it's sort of addiction to what I'm allergic to. That's not good for us!! Report
I can't have the food I can't have in the house right now because I have low willpower at this point in life. But my willpower changes as I go through the fat shedding. As I lose the weight I can resist my want for poison foods. Not everyone has the same mindset. For successful dieting you need to be proactive with your diet and exercise. Report
forbidden foods make me want them more. I try to eat them in moderation so I don't finally give in and go crazy eating it Report
Seems to be a theme going on here with "cheat" days or "diet" food. Once again, I don't do diet food. I eat the same foods I've always eaten, the only difference now is that I eat more often and much smaller portions. I don't have a whole list of foods that I "can't" eat.

I realized pretty early in my weight loss journey that I would never reach my goals if I had to "deprive" myself of foods that I loved. Losing weight is hard work and after losing 50+lbs, I deserve to eat whatever I want, whenever I want.

Now, having said that, I have most certainly changed the ways that I eat my fave foods. Yes, I still eat chocolate and cake and cookies and whatever else I want, I just eat much smaller portions of them than I used to.

This is what works for me and I strongly suggest that anyone who is trying to put together a weight loss program for themselves to just find whatever works for them and stick to it and don't worry about what everyone else is doing. JMHO Report
Thinking of a food as "bad" or "never to be eaten" feels wrong to me. I'm learning to see all food as energy source and trying to make the healthiest choice each time. Sometimes, healthy means a little treat. Knowing that no food is ever off limits for life helps me make peace with food. Report
I am all for a "cheat day" once a week. It's good for the soul and when you don't feel deprived, you are that much more motivated to make sure the rest of the week works out well for you. I feel like I am going crazy on my "cheat day" but when I actually examine the food that I cheat on, and the amount I consume, it's really not that much at all. So go ahead. Give yourself a treat. Report
I find that moderation helps me deal with any cravings I have. I keep Dove Dark Chocolate pieces, York Peppermint patties in the freezer. I also will make Red Velvet Cupcakes and keep them in the freezer. If I am craving something sweet, I allow myself one and that way I don't feel deprived Report
I disagree. Putting foods off-limits doesnt sabotage MY diet. Tasting them sabotages my diet. I think it depends upon the person. Using myself as an example, I'm better if I dont eat my 'trouble' foods at all. Just the taste makes me crave them even more. If I treat myself to a piece of chocolate, it doesnt make me satisfied.... it makes me want even more Report
I totally agree! All things in moderation! I really crave and go nuts if I tell myself I can't have something. When I get into that state of mind, things get unhealthy. Instead, I have a little bit of what I crave and savour it like it's the last time I'll have it. Report
Putting Foods Off-Limits Can Sabotage Your Diet - yes. So can trigger foods. What's a person to do?

It goes without saying that some unhealthy things, like arsenic and Coca Cola, should be eliminated. I cannot "leave room for cokes", for example; I could die from drinking too much and still not have enough. But for the occasional treat, like icecream on the 4th of July, and like birthdays and weddings and celebrations, the No S Diet teaches you moderation if you can't do it on your own. Moderation is something many of us have to grow into.
"Cause we ain't there yet" on our own efforts. See my SparkPage for the team icon for the No S Diet. Report
I try to leave room in my plan for treats. Even the 100 calorie reeses wafers satisfy any desires for chocolate. Moderation is the key Report
I believe you should be able to eat anything in moderation. Report
Good article, I think all foods should be eaten in moderation. Labeling some foods as off-limit is a recipe for disaster. I think one of the things that is needed for those of us who are struggling to lose weight is for us to accept responsibility for what we eat, by finding out the amount of calories that are in these foods, so that we can incorporate them in our calorie intake for that given day. Report
I agree with the writer that primarily I will eat healthy foods with the occasional treat of something usually 'off-limits' - at a later date; with any luck, that 'later date' comes and goes without my feeling the need or having the opportunity to indulge. I need to keep myself honest when it comes to defining 'occasionally'; the lies are subtle! One of my triggers is that we often have treats at work of NO nutritional value. In that instance, it is easier for me to just say "no" or at least, not today. I find it easier to abstain completely than to stick to a bite or taste. One day at a time! Report
That's what is different for me this time, I don't sweat it when something comes up, sometimes I indulge and sometimes I don't. If it's not really something I want, I pass. I used to subscribe to the all or nothing approach and as Dr Phil says -"how's that working for you". Not! So this time there are no off limit foods, I'm choosy on what I'll indulge in, knowing that there's no way it could ever taste as good as seeing that scale going down feels! Report
I do have a list of off-limit foods but I plan for them on special occasions. My daughters dance recital for example, we always stop for ice cream on the way home. I pre planned for it in my meal plan and had a small vanilla cone. Sure I would have loved a hot fudge sundae but I was satisfied with the cone. Report
Jen, for the most part, I think you are right on the money. Most of us need to occasionally treat ourselves. But each of need to find out the best way to treat ourselves and with what. As some have said, diabetics need to be very careful with sweet treats and those with heart issues need to be very careful with high fat and sodium. And alcoholics and drug abusers really cannot treat themselves to those addictions at all. Report
My problem is my 'treats' aren't occasional, so, yes, having them does contribute to a slide. At this point in my journey, I'm trying to increase my water and greens and I hope that I'll soon be less tempted for the carbs.

As for the study, it's true for me, because I've already been told that I shouldn't have chocolate or mint and yes that make me want it even more. Report
I find the best strategy for me is not to bring sweets or other fattening foods into the house. If it's there, I will eat it. There are lots of things I don't miss anymore like regular ice cream, whole milk, butter etc. Still have a weakness for cookies and donuts so I really try to avoid them. When I do stray for more than a few days, I find it all the much harder to get back on track. Report
I have only put one item on my "absolutely not" list. That is Mt. Dew. I haven't had any for 6 months now and am fine without it. From past experience I know if I allow myself to have just one, then I will fall back in the daily habit. There is something addictive about Mt. Dew besides the caffeine. Report
For me, I'm fine with limiting myself, as there are many foods that I love too much to completely eradicate. However, I find that the foods that are generally the worst for you, I don't even like anymore. Things like home baking can be dangerous for me, but as long as I make sure I don't have heaps of servings available to me (for example taking one piece of cake and then washing the plate and putting it away afterwards) then I can usually limit myself to a single serving. Report
I have learned that, for me, it's best not to have certain food in the house, because when I'm in the mood to graze, I'll eat anything... if I have only fruit, I eat fruit. If I have chips or sweets, I eat that. Sometimes, I'll eat, in moderation, some of these treats when I'm out... That way I get my treat, in a control portion, and that's it. Report
I find that if i make room for the occasional treat, it makes it less likely that I'll over-indulge later. I have noticed that if I make food off-limits as soon as I allow myself a treat I'll want to eat everything else i have made off-limits in one sitting. It's a bad cycle that I'm trying to rid myself of. Report
I like to eat my dessert before I eat my main meal, to make sure I have room for it. Report
I allow myself an occasional indulgence and I know that it helps me. If I really crave something and don't eat it, everything else in fair game. I have made the effort to find better alternatives though; an 3 Muskateers bars instead of a Reese's, an DQ soft-serve vanilla cone rather than a Blizzard, chocolate rice cakes, Fiber One bars, a few Tootsie Roll midgets and every so often a brownie. I make sure to fit these into my nutrition tracker for the day. And yes, there are days when I over-indulge but I have learned not to beat myself up for it. Report
This is a tough one. I don't think its good to put certain foods off limits because you will be bound to crave that one. But sometimes its hard to keep self-control when faced with things you really love. I think the foods that you know you don't have any discipline with you have to not have them around very often. For me potato chips is the worst. I can't have just one serving. Once my hand goes in the bag it doesn't stop until its empty!! I know one way around that is just to have small portion size bags so I don't have a big bag around me. I think alot of times it depends on your state of mind, sometimes you can resist and other times you lose control! Report
I'm trying to label things "Good" foods and "Better" foods. So, about once a week I'll have a carefully measured dessert. The 130 calorie brownie or 240 calories of ice cream keep me from feeling deprived. Another bonus for planning what you eat! Report
This is the exact truth for me. When I restrict myself from having something, I eventually cave in, and allow that cheat snack/meal to turn into a binge fest. If I allow myself the food, but in moderation, I'm much more likely to eat it on occasion. Thanks for the great article :) Report
Hmm, a tricky one this – as we all react differently to things that are “off limits”. For me, it all hinges around that feeling of “being deprived”… when that hits, the rebel in me steps out and then I simply…. EAT IT!

Chocolate is a “yellow cake” example from my world… And so, I’ve had to flag certain types of chocolate as “off limits” – not chocolate bars or slabs... But I can have all the hot chocolate, chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream I want. This “trick” seems to have worked well, as I have stopped craving chocolate bars – because, in fact, I do have chocolate “all the time”… well almost!

Hope this helps, Lu :-D
I have to put some foods off-limit because I have no self control around them, like oreos. I cannot even stop at the serving size. Report
I try to keep it where I am able to eat a treat here or there or I will end up binging on those things but I have to be very careful that those 'treats' don't become everyday occurances. Even when I treat myself I try to keep within my calories for the day so I see the negative part of eating those foods (More high calorie food like treats the less I can eat) Then I remember that if I eat healthy I can eat MORE so that helps. Report
It's been 6 months on this journey and I have to agree with many. It's better to allow a little bit if you have the will power to stop at the little bit. I am finding the longer that I continue to eat healthy the more I tend to find fruit as an alternate for dessert and it sastify me more. The calories in some dessert are wow..... and i generally will put whatever it is back on the shelf and leave it at the store.
I think of what I would have to not be able to eat so that I could have a 400 calorie dessert and i think "Hey that ain't worth it".
Eliminating sugar completly is hard however if you really had to to save your life you would do it wouldn't you? Report
Since I look at this as a lifestyle change not a diet - I need to know how to fit my favorites into my lifestyle. Report
I have learned that you live only once and that you should enjoy life. I eat what I want but only in moderation and small portions. I want no regrets when I leave this life. Report
I have found that if I tell myself I can't have something I end eating lots of other things trying to satisfy the craving. This often ends up with more calories than if I had just had a small amount of what I wanted. Report
I would never eat that stuff. Report
I can't put something off limits because then I obsess and focus on that food all the time....knowing I can't have it....it's better for me not to put ANYTHING off limits... Report
I have major restrictions and find it works best for me. I eat only natural foods and mainly meat and vegetables, with a few fruits here and there. Grains only once or twice a month.

As long as I stick with my plan I have no problems. But for me one bite is the start of a problem. Report
I definitely think you should have some room in your life for foods that would be considered forbidden. I don't have any food that I consider forbidden because I think moderation is the key, and I've had to learn that. I have learned that it's okay to have a slice of (not a whole!) chocolate cake, but not everyday. On a special occasion, like a birthday party. I refuse to demonize foods that are ultimately not going to do you any extreme harm if it's a once in a while treat and not for everyday consumption.

On the other hand, I don't think ANYBODY should consume the KFC double down chicken sandwich EVER. lol Report
I never consider anything as forbidden. If I have ice cream I do it outside of my house and there is no more at home. At home is all the healthy food and healthy snacks. Report
Some items labeled for human consumption are not FOOD, but chemical concoctions. Report
I have to agree with this one. I have noticed that the more I tell myself I should not have a certain food the more I tend to crave it. I am a sucker for chocolate ice cream. What I have done to ease down my craving is not label my desire to have some ice cream as bad. This way I can have ice cream but, I don't indulge. I won't lie in the beginning it was difficult not to have too much ice cream but, as I began to keep cautious on the amount of ice cream I am having, I have been able to keep better control. One thing that my husband suggested I do (which I did) was to buy a bucket of chocolate ice cream and challenge myself to make it last one week in the fridge. Before it would not last two days. But since I since my husbands idea I began to remind myself to make it last a week, once I was able to I pushed for another week. Next thing I knew I was only taking small spoon size taste of the ice cream. To the point that I began to forget that the ice cream was in the fridge. At this point I believe I can still have ice cream but, it's not a must anymore. Report
i allow room for pretty much everything which i credit to the success i've had so far. Report