Not Overeating: Deprivation vs. Constraint | TMOHP Episode 098

I don’t diet. I don’t restrict myself. A long time ago, I made a promise to myself: I can eat what I want, when I want. It’s been key to how I created peace with food and freedom from overeating in my own life. And a week before I recorded this episode, I felt that changing. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I couldn’t honor this promise. What happened? I got braces. The invisible kind that you have to wear constantly, except for when you remove them to eat and then do a complete oral hygiene routine. For the first time in my life, spontaneous eating is off the table (pardon the pun).

In this episode, I’ll explain more about why this led to deprivation thinking, what I’m doing about it, and the concept of constraint. I’m sharing how I’m using constraint and also some examples of how constraint can be useful for breaking overeating habits - including how a client used it to enjoy food without overeating when she went on vacation.

In this episode:

  • The agreement I made with myself about what and when I can eat
  • The difference between deprivation and constraint
  • Our tendency to think in terms of deprivation
  • The benefits, empowering qualities, and examples of intentional constraint

[If you love this podcast, will you take 30 seconds to leave a review? It makes all the difference in my ability to share this information!]

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Not sure why you’re overeating, or what your Hidden Hungers are? Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and get a free set of resources matched to your results.
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

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Full episode transcript:

Hey everybody, welcome back to the podcast. And if you are a new listener, welcome, I'm glad you're here. Today I want to talk about a couple of concepts that are pretty important when you are working to create a different relationship with food. When you're working to stop patterns and habits of overeating or emotional eating.

Let me start by giving you a different kind of background. Recently, very recently, I got braces. Those invisible braces. And the way they work, if you're not familiar with them, is that you have this upper tray that fits over your upper teeth and a lower one that fits over your lower teeth. And you're supposed to wear them basically all of the time, except when you're eating.

And then when you're eating, you take them out, you, you eat, and then you have to clean your teeth, brush your teeth, do all that stuff, and you put them back in right away. And when I say that I just got braces, I mean within the last 48 hours. And what I have learned so far is that it seems like the way my mouth and my jaw and my teeth work, it is a lot harder to take these things in and out than they show you in the YouTube videos where they make it look so easy.

Now, my deep, deep hope is that by the time you are actually listening to this episode, I will be popping these babies in and out with so much ease. But right now it is rather a production and because it's rather a production, it's something that I am really trying to avoid.

One result of this is that as of 48 hours ago, there are now boundaries on when I can and can't eat. I can't eat when I have the trays in. And there are limits to how long I can keep them out of my mouth and I'm only just getting started when it comes to developing the habits and the routines that are going to get me through this whole new process.

So the first time I took them out to eat a meal, I went through all the rigmarole to get them out. And then I ate my lunch and then I went through all the rigmarole to put them back in. I brushed my teeth, I cleaned them, I got them back in. And as soon as I did, I realized that I hadn't really finished eating. Because I'd had it in my head that I was going to have one more thing. I had finished my meal, but I was going to have a piece of chocolate. And I had completely forgotten in my fixation with these braces and everything I had to do and my worry about getting them back in.

I forgot to eat the chocolate. And now I knew I wasn't going to go through the production of taking them out and recleaning my teeth again. But I did really want that chocolate. I felt deprived. I literally felt deprived. For the first time in a very long time, I felt those old buttons getting pushed.

I think of these as my deprivation buttons. I felt like I couldn't have the chocolate and I didn't like that at all. I did not like it. I was surprised by how much this pushed buttons for me. It has been over 30 years since I was someone who struggled with overeating and emotional eating that, you know, that was problematic. It has been a long time.

And it wasn't about the chocolate. The feeling I didn't like was the feeling that went with the idea that I couldn't have it. That was the idea. And it got me thinking about the difference between deprivation and constraint. And this is what I want to talk about today.

As I stood there in my kitchen, thinking about the chocolate that I just wanted to grab and enjoy without having to go through a 10 minute oral hygiene production. As I stood there, I was really aware that I created my own freedom from overeating based on a series of agreements that I have made with myself. And one of these that has not changed in decades is that I can eat whatever I want, when I want. I don't do diets. I don't restrict myself. I make choices. And over the years, those choices have, have changed and I've come to understand them differently.

So over the years, I've deepened my definition of what it is that I want. What I really want. Because when my eating was out of control, when my eating patterns were out of control, what I wanted was reactive. It was this momentary, it was an impulse. Right? A momentary choice and a choice that I often regretted even just a few minutes later.

Now, when I think about what I want, it includes so much more than this moment. Right? What I want includes my energy level right now and in the next few hours. What I want includes how I want to sleep tonight. What I want includes how full or how hungry I am. What I want includes the fact that dairy does not sit so well in my stomach these days, even though ice cream has always been one of my favorite foods.

What I really want includes taking care of myself in a way that reactively wanting and impulsively eating never did. Because that really wasn't about taking care of myself. That was a momentary want.

So here I am standing in my kitchen and I realized That what I was telling myself standing there in my kitchen was that I wasn't able to eat what I wanted. I wasn't able to eat the chocolate when I wanted it. And I felt deprived. People often ask about how to get out of that feeling of deprivation. There is not a list of things that are deprivation. In fact, the very same choice, like not eating some chocolate, can feel like deprivation, or it can feel like a really empowered decision. Depending on the thoughts that are behind the decision.

Deprivation is imposed. It's imposed on you. In my head, deprivation sounds like you can't have chocolate. Or you can't eat anything right now. Choosing a constraint is, it's choosing, it's a choice. Constraint is a choice, it's a decision that I make. And I make it for a reason that feels good or important to me.

So in this moment, in the kitchen, I caught it. I, I saw it happening. I was irritated at myself for missing this chocolate opportunity, but I caught the old deprivation thoughts that were something along the lines of you can't have chocolate. You're not allowed to have chocolate for the next year or more it is going to be harder to eat what you want. You're going to miss out. Right? It's all being taken away from you.

I caught it. And I took my power back by looking at what I was thinking and reminding myself of some other thoughts. I reminded myself that I can take these darn things out and I can eat the chocolate if I really want it. I am in control. I also reminded myself that I chose these circumstances. I chose to get these braces. I'm going to get used to this. It's going to get easier. And I am still in control.

And my future want, the reason that I made these choices, which is having teeth that are more aligned, is bigger. That is a bigger want than my momentary want for the chocolate. Which I could have anyway, if I made a choice to have the chocolate.

And so, the final thing I reminded myself was, I am not losing my power. And I'm not having my power taken away. I am making choices.

And the reframe, or that series of reframes, helped. I felt better. I didn't feel ecstatic. I still had these things in my mouth that I'm still getting used to, but I felt better. And after I felt better, and after I saw all this thinking that had these buttons that had been pushed, I had some interesting thoughts or some thoughts that I believe are interesting.

The last 48 hours or so has shown me in a different way, how much I have valued the freedom of eating what I want when I want it. And how much I have valued being spontaneous about it and it works for me and it has worked for me because I've also done a lot of work. I'm tuned into my hunger and my fullness. And I have a pretty good. I have a pretty great handle on how what I eat is going to impact me in the near future and in the distant future.

But now, in the last 48 hours, circumstances have changed. And I realize that I can feel deprived and boxed in for the foreseeable future. Or I can play with what it is like to have chosen a set of constraints.

Whether I had fully thought about it or not, I have chosen constraints that will make me both a more mindful eater and a more mindful non eater. Because during the times that it's going to be a bit of a hassle to eat something, I'm going to be very aware of not eating. Sometimes when maybe impulsively, I might want to. I will need to be a more planful eater because I have to plan to take these things in and out of my mouth and do all the stuff that goes along with it. Constraints that I have chosen, because these are constraints, feel much different than deprivation.

So I want to say more about how I think about deprivation and constraint and the differences I see between the two. Deprivation is imposed on us. It feels like it comes from the outside. Rules, shoulds, requirements. And Deprivation tends to activate our inner rebel, our tendency to push back or to defy or to want to cheat. To want to get out of something.

Constraint is a choice and for me, a healthy chosen constraint is empowering. I might not always want to do it in the moment, but there is power in having made the decision and there is power in enacting it and honoring it.

Many experiences can be approached and can be experienced from either perspective. From a constraint perspective or from a deprivation perspective. And if you have been wrapped up in deprivation or diet mentality for a while, it is very likely that you can, and you probably do, fit most circumstances related to food into a deprivation way of thinking.

There is a joke inside my emotional eating coaching program, Your Missing Peace, and the joke is that outside of our awareness, if we're not really being aware and paying attention, we can make anything feel like deprivation. We can make anything miserable. We can create deprivation thinking about just about anything.

If we have a history of deprivation thinking, and if we are not paying attention, we can make any change in our eating habits, we can make it into a secret diet. A deprivation based plan. Because we have this long history of thinking thoughts that are rooted in depriving ourselves, sacrificing, going without, holding on as long as we can, white knuckling it. And then usually resenting it. When you step outside the trap of deprivation thinking there are different possibilities.

It is so possible and empowering to use the idea of constraint to grow stronger, to get better results, to feel more confident, to feel more powerful. So remember, deprivation feels imposed. And constraint is an empowered choice.

I used constraint when I realized I'd put on some weight during COVID lockdown. I had put on this weight and I decided to handle it by just choosing some simple constraints. I decided to get more regular about moving. And I added the constraint of no more handfuls. That's what I called it.

So I decided no more passing through the kitchen and grabbing a handful. A handful of crackers, a handful of cashews, a handful of grapes. It didn't matter. I stuck by my policy of eating what I want when I want to. I could still eat what I wanted when I wanted. But I decided it needed to be on a plate or in a bowl. No more handfuls.

I lost the extra weight and every time I caught myself in the kitchen and I remembered my policy, that constraint that I created, I felt powerful and I felt purposeful. I think would be the word I would use. I felt like I was cleaning up some habits that weren't really serving me. I knew why I was doing it. I didn't feel made or forced to do anything.

When you create a constraint from a place of power and a place of decisiveness instead of one of deprivation, there can be some real positive related effects. So, constraints like I will only eat food on a plate. Or I will always have vegetables as a part of my lunch. Or I don't order before checking in with my hunger level. Or I don't finish food that I don't like. These kind of constraints create boundaries. That's empowering.

Constraints are also decisions that you make in advance. And when you make decisions in advance, it means that you're making fewer impulsive decisions. You're making fewer decisions in the heat of your most vulnerable or maybe hungry moments. Those times when overeating and emotional eating is so easy to tip into, it's so easily triggered.

This can have big payoffs. A member of Your Missing Peace went on a vacation. She was looking forward to the amazing food that she was going to have where she was going, and she really wanted to savor it. So before she went, she created the constraint that she was going to enjoy the amazing local food, but she wasn't going to waste her time on vacation food. The kind of food that typically gets eaten on vacation that didn't feel special to her.

She decided... Decided that her ideal vacation was going to include no French fries, no bread that they brought to the table and unless it was this truly fantastic, fresh bread and no junk food that she could get anywhere, anytime. She made this decision in advance, she created the set of constraints and she didn't have to make them in the moment. And she felt great about it. She felt great after she came back from her vacation about how her vacation had been. And she ate and she enjoyed a lot of wonderful food.

When you create a constraint for yourself or decide to experiment with a constraint for yourself, there should be a solid reason that you believe in behind that constraint. Because when you have that solid reason, there's a solid why behind the constraint, then you feel good about it. You feel good about the reason.

The reason doesn't feel like deprivation. And so it feels different to honor a constraint. Because you know why it's there. It's not something you are being made to do. It is something you have chosen for a purpose.

When I got my perspective back, which has gotten easier, even over the last few hours, I remembered why I am wearing these things in my mouth, why I chose to wear them, why I am choosing to wear them and to continue to wear them. I'm not depriving myself. And when my brain crawled out of deprivation mode, I started to get curious about what I might learn from this new constraint.

It's, it's kind of like my no more handfuls experiment. What is it going to be like to be a little bit more planful about my eating? A little bit more mindful about when I choose to eat and when I put eating off the table. What's it going to be like and what might I learn from this new constraint in my life? I'm curious.

By the way, inside Your Missing Peace, we play and experiment with things like constraints all the time. We play with an experiment with putting a new habits in place, while at the same time we root out and we reboot the deprivation mindsets and the deprivation habits.

So if you would like to work with me to do the same, now is a fantastic time to join us. Enrollment is open. I will put the link in the show notes so that you can go there and get all the information about what's included and how we work together. Or you can just go to

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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