The end of restriction, punishment, and shame as tools for dieting

This isn’t your typical post for the new year.  I’m not going to tell you whether or not to create resolutions, which new plan to seek, or how to finally make your goals stick.  Want that advice?  There are at least one million results in a Google search.  Instead, I’m going to share with you some insight that you simply cannot find anywhere else.  I’m making a call for an end:  the end of restriction, punishment, and shame as tools for dieting.


Any diet comes with restriction.  Don’t eat this, always eat that, make sure you follow the food rules.  Ugh.  Whether it’s a basic caloric model or something more specific like Paleo, there are always foods that are off-limits.  This is a problem for many reasons.

Eliminating foods or food groups creates havoc in our minds.  We may start out strong at first and be able to stay away from them.  But, over time, we miss them, crave them, wonder why we “can’t” have them.  So we have a taste.  And maybe that turns into a larger serving or a free-for-all.  Restriction of any kind simply doesn’t feel good, so it’s our natural tendency to want to reject it.

Look, there are no foods that are inherently evil, no matter you may hear.  Sugar is not the devil.  Carbs are not kryptonite.  Food is not to be feared; it is to be respected.

What to try instead of restriction:  Look at food as nourishment.  Food gives you energy to live life.  And you already know that some foods are better for your health than others (yes, you really do!).  Opt to choose the foods that make your body happy more often than not.  Restriction doesn’t feel good.  Nourishment does.


This tactic ties in easily with restriction.  When we “mess up” or eat the “bad” foods or overindulge, we broke the food rules, and we feel guilty.  Or we’ve spent too long not dieting, so it’s time to punish ourselves to get back on track.  Yuck!

This doesn’t work.  Truly.  Take a look at how often you’ve punished yourself so far for food choices.  Has it helped you make lasting change?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Punishment is a short-term tactic to shock you back into a routine.  But it’s not a solid long-term strategy for a healthy relationship with food or your body.  When punishing yourself for food choices becomes the norm, it loses effectiveness AND creates dysfunction.  “It’s okay to eat this and that, because I’ll just cut my calories way back tomorrow.”  Or…  “I’ll just burn it off at the gym.”

Here’s a bit of tough love:  You are an adult and do not need to be punished for your food choices.

What to try instead of punishment:  Use an overindulgence as a lesson.  What can you learn about the food choices you made?  And how can you adapt for the next time you encounter foods that don’t make your body feel its best?


This one is a little more “out there,” so bear with me.  Some phrases you may have uttered to yourself over the years may be like this:

“See, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to a plan.”

“I will always look this way because I fail at dieting (or exercising).”

“I’ll give this a try, but it will never work.”

“No one will love me unless I change my body.”

These fall under shame.  And we do it to ourselves.  Psychologically, shame is not a meaningful tactic for any kind of change.  It’s been proven through many behavioral studies over the last few years.  (Get familiar with Brene’ Brown if you haven’t already.)  Shame is what keeps us in a dark hole of isolation and it also keeps us in an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies.

What to try instead of shame:  Find appreciation for your body and your ability to have choice.  We forget that our bodies are pretty amazing.  I’m not suggesting that you can immediately love your body just because I suggest it’s a good thing for you.  Instead, start with appreciation.  What are you amazed that your body can do?  Breathe?  Move?  Hug your kids?  You can’t feel shame for something that you can appreciate.  And remember that you do, in fact, have a choice between how you want to feel and patterns you’ve made in the past.  You can choose to speak about your body differently, you can choose different foods, and you can choose to create a new relationship around nourishment instead of punishment and restriction.

Choose to Nourish

The word, nourish, by definition, is to provide food and other things needed to live, be healthy and to cause something to develop or grow stronger.  Restriction, punishment, and shame don’t fit into that definition.  They can’t.

Stepping away from those three isn’t easy because they are part of our daily habits.  They have ruled our world around food for so long.  But you can do it.  And I can help.  Go check out this free mini course about how to eat like you love yourself.  It’s the foundation to nourish!

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