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Your Pre-Holiday Diet Could Actually Be Why You Lose Self-Control

You restrict because you go overboard at the holidays, but you are going overboard because you feel deprived and restricted.

11/13/2017 12:59 EST | Updated 11/14/2017 10:02 EST

Are you trying to cut down on food in preparation for the upcoming holiday festivities?

Do you get a little worried when thinking of the abundance of food at holiday gatherings?

Do you feel you can't trust yourself around treats?

If so, it may be due to your diet.

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We've all heard it before: the vow to diet or eat better before the onslaught of holidays meals and treats, the idea being that we should compensate for future overeating by eating less now. The same scenario plays out after the holidays. We are told we must compensate for the treats and overeating at the holidays to keep the pounds at bay, or be healthy, or atone for our bad behaviour. But does undereating or "being careful" in preparation or after the feasts to really work? The answer may not be what you've come to expect.

You restrict because you go overboard at the holidays, but you are going overboard because you feel deprived and restricted.

What influences overeating?

Dieting before and planning to diet after the holidays may be the exact reason why you are overeating at the holidays. Imagine that! The very thing you are using to offset the overindulgences is leading you to overindulge.

This reaction to dieting is explained by two concepts: backlash from restriction and the anticipation of a food restriction.

Restriction backlash is the reaction we experience when coming off a diet (in other words, when we stop the restriction). After trying to avoid certain foods, it is normal that we craved them more intensely and eat them in large quantities to make up for the deprivation we've experienced. An example of this is overeating at holiday meals and gatherings after dieting for a few weeks or months beforehand. It is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. You restrict because you go overboard at the holidays, but you are going overboard because you feel deprived and restricted.

The anticipation of a food restriction is when you gobble up a lot of a food that you will be one day (maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday) not allow yourself to eat. An example of this is dieting in January. Knowing that in January you will no longer be allowed to eat these shortbread cookies or mashed potatoes, means you will load up on them now to get all you can in before the diet starts. Again, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: "I knew I couldn't trust myself around these highly palatable foods, so I better put up some rules about them!" BUT the impending rules are what drive us to overeat.

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Why you are overeating is more important than what you are eating

Understanding the reason why you are overeating is hugely important in order to find the right solution. Blaming self-control, or willpower, or motivation is, for most people, pointing at the wrong reason.

Psychology dictates our natural reactions to restrictions and dieting. Instead of working against our instincts to eat what is denied to us, try working with them. That means ditching the pre-holiday diets.

Learn how to ditch dieting as well as how you can improve your body acceptance to help you feel better and be healthier with radical self acceptance.

Dieting may not be the right change for you

Ann Papayoti, a life coach and owner of SkyView Coaching, has some great advice to offer regarding making changes in our life and setting goals. Her advice can be applied to changing the way we think about food and understanding how our past plans of dieting before the holidays has been a negative experience. If you are looking to change your routine and how you approach food this holiday season, here are some words of wisdom from Ann:

"Many of us have a goal in sight, even a plan to take us there. But often, we give up. Why? Could it be that what we expected to protect us is actually more about where we've been than where we're going?" she says. As a non-diet dietitian, an example that comes to mind is that many of my clients believe that dieting is protecting from weight gain or binge eating.

"Could it be that we are carrying emotional baggage that blocks and stops our momentum, and perhaps even convinces us to give up?" she adds.

Guilt and shame do not help us change, but rather keeps us stuck.

If you imagine putting your history with food and dieting into a backpack and carry this pack on your back, perhaps it is this that is weighing you down.

Ann asks, "What do you need to unpack? To leave behind? What are you carrying unnecessarily? Perhaps you could lighten your load — release your guilt, shame, regret, anger, resentment. You've carried them far enough. See how much farther you can go, faster, without them." With food and weight concerns come a lot of guilt and shame about eating foods we've labelled as forbidden. This guilt and shame do not help us change, but rather keeps us stuck.

Ann asks her clients, "What is really weighing you down?" She explains that when we really unpack that backpack, what we find is the load we carry isn't about food, it's about self-criticism — and food is just one numbing agent. And like all numbing agents, when they wear off, the pain is greater than before. And so goes the cycle of self-sabotage.

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