Don't Blame Yourself

Don't Blame Yourself

Most diets aren’t about action; they’re about thoughts. You spend so much time thinking about not having food, that you develop only two sets of standards when it comes to eating. Either you follow your diet or you don’t. It’s all or nothing.

And once you’ve blown it and deviated even an inch from the plan, that’s it. You head back to the locker room, game over. Diet’s dead. Pass the fondue pot.

What’s worse, you point the finger squarely at yourself. Deep down in your gut, you blame yourself. Not the fast-food industry, not the unrealistic body images of magazine covers, not the 60-hour workweeks at a desk or the cloud-soft recliner and reality TV programs that keep you glued to the set -- and sitting down -- all night. You blame yourself. And you start to play the "if only" game.

If only you had the willpower to step away from the mayonnaise. If only you could stop after four Pringles. If only you had the power, the strength, the discipline, the chutzpah, the energy, the drive, the motivation to control your waist, then you’d finally have the body you want.

Ultimately, you blame your mind for not being strong enough to win over your waist. You’ve placed all the responsibility for dietary success or failure on your little 3-pound brain, and you’re ashamed that it wasn’t strong enough to go head-to-head with such formidable foes as deep-fried taco shells and fettuccine Alfredo.

But you can’t outwit nature. The truth is, your body is built for eating. It’s full of hormones and neurotransmitters whose jobs roughly translate into "pass the pound cake." Here are just a few examples:

  • Overeating works a bit like drug addiction. Studies show that obese people have reward centers in their brain similar to the reward centers of drug addicts.
  • Stress eating is cyclical. When you eat to reduce stress, you activate the reward centers of your brain. When the feel-good effects wear off, you reach again for the thing that made you feel relaxed: food.
  • Heavy people respond differently to certain foods. For example, in heavy people, the parietal region of the brain -- the control center for the tongue, lips, and mouth -- is activated by sugar. In skinny people, it isn’t.
  • Some cravings are hardwired. When people on a rigid diet crave certain foods, the hippocampus lights up -- triggering a willpower-busting memory of the food

To expect that your will or your fortitude can override chemical messages like these is the equivalent of trying to stop a train with your pinkie.

To get on the road to waist management and stay there, you have to first strip away the guilt that comes with eating, the guilt that comes with diets, and the guilt that comes with occasionally enjoying foods that aren’t at the platinum level on healthy-eating charts.

And you have to start listening to your body and responding intelligently to your cravings and your emotions. You have to train your brain to stop obsessing about eating right -- and stop punishing yourself for slipups.

Over time, you’ll learn what your body is saying and why, and you’ll learn how to eat right to manage those cravings. Because the unrecognized truth about dieting is that when you stop overthinking, you’ll stop overeating.

Get started on the path to controlling cravings with an online menu planner. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it helps take the overthinking out of waist management.

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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