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The Science of Scarcity – Why Putting Food off Limits Doesn’t Work

I want to paint a picture…let me know if you can relate…

You’ve decided to work on your nutrition.  You are putting effort into it, you know you feel better, you are proud of yourself, it’s work but it all seems very worth it.  Plus, you are starting to see results!  You finally got this nutrition thing nailed!

Then you are around one of those foods.

You know the ones.  The delicious foods that you put off limits.

You didn’t even think you wanted it but now it’s all you can think about.  You try to white knuckle it but next thing you know you are at the bottom of the box and 100% full of a sticky sweet combo of Girl Scout cookies and shame. 

You have no idea why you did it.  You know that it conflicts with your longer-term goals.  You promised yourself you wouldn’t have any of it and (if you’re being 100% honest) it wasn’t nearly as good as you thought it would be.

If you have ever felt this way you are not alone (and if you don’t believe me, check out my Instagram Story from yesterday).  You are also not broken or addicted, and food is NOT more powerful than you. Although it can sure feel that way.

It is actually your (very logical) strategy of putting things off limits (i.e. bad, unhealthy, high calorie, etc.) that is keeping you stuck.

The book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means so Much details years of research showing that when scarcity is present, our mental capacity diminishes. This applies to scarcity of money, time, connection and food.

Specifically, it makes our brain hyper-focused on immediate results rather than long-term best interests.  Bringing it back to the Girl Scout cookies – this is why you logically don’t want to eat the cookies, but you barely even hear that thought.  You are mentally stunted.

Qualities that we typically think of as part of our basic character like decision making and self-control can be completely reversed.  This is why clients will tell me they have no discipline with food in the same breath as they share that they have a master’s degree, are running their third marathon all the while keeping 3 kids alive, fed and (mostly) functional.  Clearly, they naturally have discipline, but the scarcity/diet mentality has paralyzed them in this one area.

It is also why you (who started going to weight watchers at 12) is mentally aware of every single desert/treat/carb in the house while your husband (who isn’t 100% sure what a calorie is) can sit in front of fresh apple pie and barely notice it.

What do you do with this information?

The first step is to really challenge some of these scarcity ideas that you may have.  Oftentimes when we hear something over and over, we just absorb it as fact, rather than understanding why people say it and then deciding if it is relevant to you.  They also might be old ideas that were true at some point but are no longer helpful. I will be giving a free webinar in March about the main diet myths that keep us stuck, so be sure you are on my mailing list so you are the first invited!

The second step is a technique I teach in The Hunger Solution called the 15 minute factor.  We tend to think of how food will feel in this instant or WAY in the future.  For instance, “If I eat this now it will be sweet and delicious!  Or if I skip this now, I may lose a 1lb in a few weeks.”  With those two pieces of information you will most likely eat it now (at least I would!).

The most powerful information you can get is actually 15 minutes after you stop eating.  It can show you that something you thought was great made you feel sluggish or something you thought was lackluster made you feel awesome.  Next time you can use this knowledge when you are making a decision.  There is no right or wrong answer, just a powerful piece of information to help you get closer to knowing how to eat best for your body and stop worrying about food all the time!  {Insert The More You Know .gif here ;)}

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