3 Reasons Deprivation Is Not the Only Way to Lose Weight

Deciding you want to lose weight is the easy part; determining the how is the challenging part. You think about a juice cleanse, but decide you like to chew your food. You've heard co-workers rave about going "keto," but too much meat and fat doesn't agree with your stomach. You consider a low-carb approach to weight loss for about a second before remembering that bread is your favorite food!

These methods for quick weight loss have one thing in common: they're restrictive.

What if you could achieve your weight-loss goals without restriction or deprivation? What if I told you a non-restrictive plan is actually better for your overall health and long-term success?

While years of hearing diet propaganda might make this hard to believe, a more balanced approach to eating driven by sustainable behavior changes for maintainable health is the best option for anyone looking to lose weight. Not only will you drop pounds, but you'll learn to feel better in your skin and enjoy an increase in energy levels without ever having to sacrifice your social life or favorite foods.

Restrictive diet plans, on the other hand, can have detrimental effects on metabolism, backfire on long-term weight maintenance, encourage overeating and can even lead to a preoccupation with food. It's time to start changing the way we think about healthy eating and banish the word "diet" from our lips. Start here, with these three compelling reasons.

1. Your body compensates for an extreme calorie deficit by slowing your metabolism

If you've ever been on a strict diet plan before, you likely found great success in the beginning. Then, without changing anything, your results stalled. The simple explanation for this common phenomenon is that your body fights an extreme caloric deficit by slowing your metabolism, effectively making it harder for you to continue to lose weight. This reaction could account for why most dieters regain the weight they've lost, with some potentially reaching a higher weight than where they started. When you take in fewer calories or burn more through exercise, your body's metabolism slows to conserve energy and store fat.

Furthermore, when experiencing a chronic caloric deficit, as is common in dieting, the body undergoes hormonal adaptations that stimulate appetite and dull feelings of fullness. Specifically, your body produces less leptin, a hormone that tells your brain you're full, and more ghrelin, a hunger-promoting hormone. Low leptin levels plus a low caloric intake prompts a hormonal cascade. Essentially, your body starts working against you for long-term weight loss. These hormonal adaptations, among others, promote feelings of hunger and boost appetite, encouraging weight regain.

Instead of extreme calorie cutting and restriction for quick weight loss, work with a qualified nutrition professional to make sustainable behavior changes for lasting weight loss and better health. By modulating the behaviors that influence your health, you'll be able to overcome barriers to change and learn how to self-monitor for long-term success.

2. Restriction is associated with the primal drive to overeat

When you're underfed, a biological reaction to overeat kicks in. Think about the last time you were overly hungry: Perhaps you skipped lunch because a work meeting ran late, then had no time to eat throughout the afternoon. When you finally have time to eat after work, the balanced meal you previously planned suddenly doesn't seem appealing. Your body craves high-calorie, carbohydrate-heavy foods to end your fast, so you instinctively order pizza and scarf it down without realizing if you had three slices or four.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Cutting back the number of meals or snacks you eat throughout the day, whether intentionally or due to stress, could be the culprit behind those late-night cravings. Your body physiologically reacts to extreme over-hunger or deprivation. As mentioned, hormonal adaptations contribute to the drive to overeat, so it's important to keep your body adequately fed with enough energy (calories) to sustain your daily activities (including breathing and sleeping). Learning how to detect and understand when you're hungry—versus just bored or distracted—and honor that feeling is a huge breakthrough for many who struggle with binges.

Studies found that eating more frequently throughout the day (three meals instead of two, for example) led to more satisfaction from food and may even decrease overall food intake by improving appetite control and reducing hunger. The key here is that your body must trust that you will stop under-eating or restricting for it to avoid overeating later. Substitute skipping meals with eating balanced meals and snacks with nutrient-rich ingredients, like vegetables, fruits, protein, healthy fats and whole grains, when you feel hungry.

3. Restriction leads to a preoccupation with food

Remember the saying, "You always want what you can't have"? This rings especially true when it comes to dieting and food. When you declare that bread is off-limits, it's common to immediately crave a fresh, warm loaf with melted butter, sometimes more than ever before.

Can you imagine never eating ice cream, pizza or [insert your favorite food] again? Most people cannot successfully eliminate their favorite foods for their lifetime, and why should they have to? When you restrict certain foods, psychologically, you become preoccupied with thoughts about those foods. Dieting makes you hyperaware of what you're missing. As it is, you make more than 200 food-related decisions a day. Add restriction to the equation and you're thinking about food and testing your willpower more than before. Over time, your willpower will give out and you may find yourself overeating or binging on the foods you restricted. You may even experience feelings of guilt for giving into the temptation.

Still more, extreme dietary restraint is associated with an increased risk of disordered eating. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, individuals who report "moderate" dieting are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Those who restricted their intake "extremely" were at 18 times the risk of developing an eating disorder.

Instead of eliminating your favorite foods or removing an entire food group from your diet, as is common with a lot of quick fixes, practice a more balanced approach to eating. Eighty to 90 percent of the time, eat well-balanced meals with plenty of fiber-filled vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein to keep you satiated, plus healthy fats to promote satiety. The other 10 to 20 percent of the time, include room for mindful indulgences. Enjoy your favorite foods in a mindful manner, making deliberate decisions when you decided to eat dessert and your favorite foods. Planning for treats is an essential part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

While they're marketing as the solution to your problems, starting a restrictive diet plan will more often backfire on your weight-loss goals in the long-term. The Weight Loss Control Registry, which follows those who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a minimum of one year, finds that the patterns best associated with sustainable weight loss are those that are doable. You don't need to rely on quick fixes or fad diets for weight loss. In fact, the slower you lose weight, the more likely you will keep it off. Practice patience and you'll be rewarded with a lifetime of health and happiness.