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?

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I allow myself a treat once a week...but not always something like a piece of cake or hamburger...just something I like that is still on my plan but that I don't log on my nutrition tracker. Then as far as the food that tempt me to over eat, I just have resigned myself to the fact that I cannot have them. So far it is working just fine. Report
With Spark I have learned that it is okay to have an occasional treat and not go over board. Report
What I am learning on this weight loss journey is...whatever works for you works for you. Everything doesn't work for everybody. You have to tailor make this lifestyle. I believe in moderation. That doesn't mean I can purchase a bag of chips because I won't eat those in moderation. So throughout this journey I learn what works and what doesn't and to adjust when necessary. Report
I have a problem with sugar- it makes me sad, depressed and out of control. If I don't eat it for a month- I start to calm down, but it only takes a bit to start the craving/binge cycle again. It feels like addiction to me. I try to make my carbs complex- i.e no whites- and seem to be much happier. I am sure everyone is different. The cool thing about Saprks is no judgement. Find out what works for your body- I'm tracking my emotional state along with what I eat to gain a sense of what works.... Report
This is really good. I talked to my nutritionist about my bad eating habits. She actually told me it is fine to have your sweets every once in a while. But you need to plan for it. The rest of the food you eat during the day should be low in calories. You should also eat only one serving. For me, this means I am less likely to stop dieting if I can treat myself every so often. Report
I'm in this for the long run, so I agree with making room for occasional treats. I know that for me, I must learn to have the treats without setting up a binge of bad eating. If I don't learn this over time, I'll not be able to maintain a healthy weight, ever. I enjoy food as a part of life; but food is not the center of my life or obsessions anymore. I'm also committed to and satisfied with a very slow rate of weight loss. So far, so good.

P.S. I'm also pre-diabetic so I do monitor my blood sugar daily...and I have reduced greatly the amount of "junk" I eat. I am thus far able to keep my diabetes in check with just diet and exercise. Should my condition change, I will be ready to adjust. Report
hmm I don't know... certain things ARE bad for you... like fried foods and high fat, sugary treats... I guess the idea is not to put yourself in a position of feeling deprived. maybe that's what our minds rebel against: being told we can't have something. I've always called it the brat in me. but I do understand that it's better to change my desires than to tell myself I cannot have that which I desire! and of course, I am all for an occasional indulgence in the "bad stuff"!

:) Report
For me, it's all about where I am in my cycle. When I get into a certain phase of my cycle I can't get enough food-mostly sweets. Then, anything I have in the house is fair game. The only think I can do is keep it out of the house. I can't even go do exercise to take my mind off it because I feel so crummy. Then after I binge, I get so depressed and give up.
So, the answer for me is to not have anything sweet in the house, but, if it is a special occasion, or I am at someone's house and they offer, I can have a small bit of something and be OK. Report
I really got tired of dieting. I was always setting myself up to be doomed. Not anymore!!! NO FOOD is off limit to me. Tracking my food daily has been such and eye opener. It helps me make better "choices". Like, instead of 2 chocolate chip cookies I can eat a piece of string cheese and a yogurt. Which fills me up and I wont have to graze 10 minutes later. And it makes me feel good to know I made a better decision both physically and emotionally. Report
I agree with some of the comments that have been posted, but everyone is different on how they react to certain foods. I have been overweight/obese/morbidly obese since I was about 13yo. The weight has just crept up slowly over the years. I would diet, sometimes rather successfully, then gain it back plus more. I now have diabetes, well controlled, but it is still a concern. I have been doing a rather popular lower carb diet now for the past 6 weeks, and have been quite successful with it. I have lost 20lbs and find it so much easier to control my "binges" when I completely avoid refined carbs/sugar. Sure I miss that kind of stuff, but I enjoy having more control over what I put in my mouth now that I abstain. People who say that "moderation is the key" are either fooling themselves, or don't have the addictive issues that a lot of people have. I know what works for me, and most of the time I don't feel deprived. I have a lot of foods that i use as substitutions, and for the most part, they satisfy me. As for those times they don't, well life isn't always easy. There are choices to be made. To be or not to be in control... that is the question. I choose to be in control this time around, so very tired of failing at every diet attempt made so far. This time I consider it a "lifestyle change", not the dreaded four letter "D" word. LOL Report
I'm still struggling with this one--sometimes I can practice portion control, and eat just one small serving of sweets, and sometimes I just totally lose control and can't stop craving sweets. I guess it depends on my motives: if I am just wanting a treat for the sake of having a treat, it goes ok; if I am trying to treat some unpleasant emotional state, I lose control, because it's usually not food that I need at that point... Report
I try to pair my splurging momments with the days that I exercise in the morning. I don't feel as guilty about eating sweets if I know I had a good work out earlier. Report
Another thought: maybe it's just thinking about what's really food and what isn't vs. good and bad. Report
I like to think of it as giving myself a gift by NOT eating certain foods. I, like many of the folks writing, find it difficult to stop at just a little bit of certain things and find that after awhile of not eating them, the temptation disappears. These are not nutritious foods. In fact, some of them aren't really food at all. Instead I treat myself with a bowl of fresh strawberries or with the time to make a delicious spicy dinner. Report
I try to include ALL foods, even those I love but aren't good for me. It's difficult as I love chocolate and how to stop at just one small piece? But I do find if I cut out a food then I crave it, so I work at keeping with "all things in moderation."
Difficult but not impossible! Report
I believe that the comment is correct about being an alcoholic and just limiting yourself to a couple of drinks. Overeating is an addiction and like any addiction you have certain foods that are triggers. One of my triggers is doughnuts and I can't just eat one. And if I allow myself the privledge of eating it....I can assure you it will send me off on a binge and it will take months before I return. So the easiest way to control it is to not eat it at all. Report
This is what I am struggling with right now! Is it ok to have an icecream cone or sweets and how often. I eat sweets once- then want them every day. For me, I think I need to limit to once a week sweets.
The word "moderation" needs defined more for it to work for me. In my family a piece of cake is 1/4 of the cake. If I dared to serve my great uncle a piece of cake smaller than that he would look at me like I am crazy and say "where's the rest"!
Portion size and frequency have to be my biggest problem with this. I hope to get this sorted out very soon! Report
Sorry, I have to really disagree, there are indeed bad foods and pretending there isn't does no one any good. Moderation isn't always a good thing--would you urge moderation for arsenic, nicotine, heroine? I put refined carbs in the same category for those of us with weight problems--obese bodies just don't handle insulin properly and that's a fact. If my diabetic sister gave up those foods without a problem, so can the obese sister--both obesity and diabetes are fatal diseases if not properly managed, and that means chucking the refined carbs. Report
Great article, than you.I have eradicated certain foods from my eating habits like sweets, honey, and process food. I have learned , to do without, "junk food" and somehow my body and mind have accepted that fact. I have tried for a taste of honey and found it not at all attractive and the same goes for many other foods. The desire went away the taste for it does not exist.
I have kept a couple of exceptions, chocolate and chocolate ice cream and every two weeks on week end I actually go out of my way to have some, not like I used to, just enough to appreciate and so far it all works well.
Now I need to work on sea food that is where I indulge and boy do I at time.
Thanks for this article I think it is going to help come to term with sea food the same way I have come to term with junk food.
Take care
Bernard Report
I've learned that for me, moderation is not a word that I need in my vocabulary. I have learned that for some people, like myself, certain foods trigger mental issues which could be avoided if they stayed away from those foods. For me, I can not eat foods that contain a great deal of sodium or sugar. If I do, I get anxious and then up goes the blood pressure because I have anxiety issues. Therefore, I give every effort to refrain from going to restaurants of any kind; however, if I must go, I do the research before I go so I know what I can eat upon arrival. So, I have to tell myself no and although I want it, I know I want to live a calm life even more and I do the things which will help me achieve that goal. Report
I think that I've learned the hard way that If you try to completely eradicate something from your diet, the more likely it is that you may end up binging on it. I completely agree that there has to be limitations rather than complete abstinence. I think that for me, that's what's going to make or break my diet. Report
Just my opinion and about me,not necessarily anyone else.: Giving in to my craving is like telling an alcoholic that the key to controlling alcoholism is limiting drinking to just one or 2 on special occasions. With me, it's all or nothing. I'm not an alcololic, but maybe a foodaholic? That's why I don't go to buffets. Report
I always make room for what I want to eat within reason. If I don't then I would indeed slip and then go for broke. Report
It is a balancing act. When I deprive myself, it back fires into a binge. Then I get back on and exercise more, stay on my food plan, and feel success. Sometimes I allow myself a new treat, like a skinny cow dessert, or some such other treat in moderation. Then it seems sometimes I want more of that sugar taste, and I have another. That makes my weight loss really slow, but that's ok this time. I've been on a more restrictive diet, lost the weight, and never stuck with maintenance and gained it all back. This time I'm trying to allow myself more calories like Spark recommends, and it's slower, but hopefully will develop better habits that I keep over time. I seem to accumulate a few more "trigger" foods, but later, after I've indulged, they don't carry the temptation they once did. Then I stop buying them at home, so I can't go back for more at night. Mindless eating at night is something I use the community at Spark to help me stay away from the process when I log on, it always helps. Report
I notice several of you choose the McDs cone! You might try Arctic Circle cone. It has fewer carbs and less calories than McDs.
I do not usually have a problem wanting or craving sweets until I tell myself I cannot them them because I am on a 'diet'! Then, I go crazy! My brain is really messed up so thanks for all the tips! Report
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?

I think it is best in moderation. I found when i say an item is off limits I crave it more than ever. Now, I try to eat chocolate and other "bad foods" in moderation. For example, I made miny cheesecakes for a bbq. I purposely (even if it meant leaving my plate behind) to leave the cheesecakes there when we left early. I knew if they came home with me I would eat them all. Also, I made cookies for get together. I purposefully left a cookie each for my daughters and then gave the rest away to family. If all had stayed in the house I would have eaten them all as well. Have a little and then get rid of is my motto. :) Report
Like some of the other commenters, I agree in principle. I am most successful when dieting, and on maintenance, when I avoid deprivation, allowing myself treats in moderation.

However, I also know that for me certain foods (like pizza) are triggers to over eating. I do not seem to be able to stop until I am miserable - both emotionally and physically. It's a balancing act to avoid having those foods become intense cravings from depriving myself.

I am continuing to develop strategies to work around my triggers. I avoid all you can eat pizza bars - think Cici's. I simply don't go there. If pizza is on an all you can eat buffet, I stay away from it. Period. When we go out, and others want pizza, we choose a place that serves Italian, and I order from the dinner or lunch menu. When I really, really want pizza - I order by the slice and leave, or I have less delivered for a family pizza night so there are no leftovers. Report
I worry less about the good and bad foods and concentrate more on portion and moderation. I also pay attention to how it will fit into my caloric intake for the day. I have found that often, when I see the big calorie picture I find I don't want it as much as I thought. Those times that I just must have it, I stick to portion sizes and enjoy it! Report
I think it depends on the person and if they have a 'trigger' food. For me, I HAVE to stay away from candy-my brain lights up when I eat it and I can't stop until the entire bag or contents are empty. I truly go on autopilot and all of my self-control goes out the door. Therefore, I now longer buy candy and I don't buy sweets because they are my trigger foods. If it's a special occasion-I will talk to myself before hand and try to eat one small piece ONLY if I know I am in control of myself and can walk away. It's really really hard for me so I buy single servings of low fat ice cream because I can't even eat only one small bowl if I buy a pint or (God forbid!) a gallon. Report
If I tell myself I can't eat somthing I will think about it untill I eat it, not only eat it but can't stop untill it is all gone Sparkepeople have made me relive that I can eat anything I want but in moderation Report
I try not to put anything "off limit", I just restrict sweets, (my weakness) & I allow myself one "cheat" day a week. Keeps me going & not feel deprived! Report
Well if losing the weight and KEEPING it off is going to work, one has to be realistic. Chocolate cake (if that's your downfall) will always be in your repertoire just not the whole cake like before. Only logical.

Enjoy life! Report
I have to have potatoe chips. I just don't exclude them anymore. I buy the $0.35 bag and have it for 2 days. That takes care of it. Report
(sorry, I didn't get point for my first post and I thought it didn't go through. Now I see it and I got the 3 points. not 6 so don't think I'm cheating.) Report
hello = many foods are like drugs. Take butter - you need only a small amount, but if you love it - that can set you off and a small amount won't do it for you. sweets also set up a reaction in many people - (like me) and even though you know in your mind to stop, your body drives you to eat it. many of us eat it until we literally suffer. where's the benefit in that? it is not a matter of will power or we would all be skinny. it is a chemical reaction and every one is different. i love carbs - never met one i didn't love - so i stay away as much as possible, and the ones i do eat are good ones - fresh fruits and vegetables. no refined junk. there definitely are 'foods that should be off limits' . actually many are them are 'frankenfoods' we should never have been introduced to. TRANS FATS ANYONE!!!!!! BB Report
I "never " eat donuts. I don't crave them. Donuts, especially Dunkin Donuts tend to make me sick. Then why was it, when someone brought 2 dozen DunkinDonuts to work, I was so tempted Report
It is sooo true. If you deem something off limits you want it more. It is our nature. I eat all things in moderation. An occassional treat helps keep me on track. Report
Its so true! That's why Slimming World works so well. DIET means Dare I Eat That? With SW nothing is considered off limits and we use our 'syns' to allow for the less healthy options! Currently I am trying to feed the birds or my mum and dad's chickens my or my children's leftovers! I come from the upbringing that you clean your plate! Great ideas, thank you Report
I'm trying to keep a balance with what I eat. So I eat a bowl of ice cream every once in a while. what I notice is that after the ice cream I want more. I also noticed yest in front of the cheese appetizers, I could not stop. I moved myself away from the plat and so it was more of an effort to eat more. In general, I'm an impulse eater. Maybe this will stop as I continue on this path. Report
Cake is my downfall as well. I however like German chocolate cake. I only bake this if I am going somewhere. I take it, I have a slice, and I leave it. Report
I agree! I have been on diets that banned certain foods which made me want them even more. I like the SparkPeople focus on a healthy lifestyle and the 80/20 approach to eating. I find it easier to focus on healthy foods but am still looking forward to chocolate cake with chocolate icing for my birthday. Report
I can let a sugary treat in my diet occasionally without overdoing it. If everyone is eating cake, I can eat a small piece too. Salty is harder for me to not overdo and caffeine has a real hold on me. If I drink one cup, I'll drink four: then not sleep and get an acid stomache. So while I occaisionally succomb to this, it's basically off limits for me. Report
I used to allow treats more often than not, but I am trying my best to do better at that. After finally reaching 179.8 (I was shooting for anything under 180 for months) on Sunday, I was more conscious about what I was eating at the picnics the last two days. Sunday was a bit healthier choices, but yesterday was birthday cake, mac and potato salad, chips, hot dogs, junk. The only healthy thing were shish kabobs (which weren't done until after the hot dogs were cooked) and a veggie tray! I also had a small amount of diet pepsi, which tasted terrible (thankfully) and some sweeter iced tea than I make at home. then I drank water. I can definitely tell when I have had too much of a bad thing, I get that yucky feeling and crave anything that is healthy for me.

Even the cake and ice cream didn't taste as good to me as it usually does. Guess that is a good thing. If you tell yourself you can't have something, you will just want it more. everything in moderation. Report
I determined this time that in order to stick it out, I would have to include some of my favorites (adapted). Instead of ice cream I have a small frozen yogurt, sometimes with an ounce of peanuts to make my nutrient goals. I also allow myself a glass of wine with dinner, a couple of nights a week, and a small piece of very dark chocolate once or twice a week. There have been a few weeks where I don't need the treats, but I am "allowed" to have them. This takes away the "forbidden fruit syndrome" that I have encountered in past efforts to lose weight. This summer in Belgium will be my true test, but I know I will pick myself up and start over if I slip. Report
I to have a sweets weakness. Which includes almost anything sweet. I have only recently joined Sparkpeople and have lost 14 lbs so far. The systems that works for me is for every 5lbs I loose I treat myself to one of my all time sweat cravings.
Which can include ice cream, a candy bar or pastry. This is not only an incentive
to loose another 5lbs but it gives me something to look forward to. Report
I absolutely allow myself ANYTHING I truly desire to eat! It may mean I do a little extra exercise, OR it may even mean I accept a (eek!) momentary set back from weight loss or a wee gain... but like you, on a day-to-day basis, I am eating healthy! And loving it! (and CAKE is my weak spot too... I could eat the whOLe thing... *sigh*) Report
I am okay if I have a treat either at a friends house or a resturant, but if I have it in the house I can not leave it alone, so I make sure my treats are not in the house, because I can control them much better. Report
Yes I agree, and I do crave those high calorie foods, but when I do crave them I eat small amounts. I never deny myself the occasinonal sample ; ) I think that if you allow yourself to eat these things in moderation than you wont crave them as often. I always keep in mind that I am trying to lose weight not gain cake,chips and cookies and hips... Report
Hello everybody! I'm sorry to say, but this is BS! at least for me. I have been trying to lose weight since the beginning of March now, with running outside for 45 mins and exercises in the house. I haven't lost anything just because I have been eating treats "from time to time" and what not. In my case, it is very hard to be moderate. I have been chubby my entire life because I love eating, I weigh 64 kgs and I'm 5.0. I can eat a whole cake at once, so better to stay off it altogether, because I cannot stop at "just a piece". In these 3 months I haven't eaten junk food and I had plenty of fruit and vegetables. No change in my weight. So diet and weight loss, in my opinion, is all about pain, about enduring, having an apple when all you want is cake, or having water (bleah) when all you want is a milkshake...life is hard for fatties! Report
It is called portion control whether healthy foods or craved foods. When you don't "feed" the craving, you end up eating more of other foods and still not satisfied. By eating what you crave, you satisfy the brain. Report
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