Unless you’re low-carb, intermittent fasting, or paleo extremist, you’re educated enough to know that losing weight requires eating fewer calories than you burn. The problem begins with how you get yourself to eat less. 

The first thing many dieters do is cut out foods that are considered (subjectively) “bad/unhealthy/dirty” or simply not allowed on their chosen diet: 

Wanna start keto? Sorry mate, never again in the whole of eternity will you eat more than 50 grams of carbs.
Uh, but why?
Listen, I don’t know. I’m a keto diet guru, not Jesus Christ. I don’t know everything. But I heard it’s ‘cuz insulin.


Interested in paleo? Grains and dairy gotta go because they’re blacklisted as “bad” foods.
But don’t worry. Paleo allows for BCAA and tequila. Just don’t ask me why. Dunno.

This is where “the forbidden fruit effect” appears in our story. It describes that anything that’s not allowed, as a result, is more desirable. If keto forbids your favorite chocolate against your will, you will probably want it more. 

It’s a basic psychological theory called reactance—telling you “not allowed” just makes you want it more.

In the 2017 study, researchers put subjects into two states: 

High and low trait chocolate cravers were instructed to maintain chocolate consumption for 1 week (i.e., non-deprived phase) and to refrain from eating chocolate for 2 weeks / Participants with high and low trait chocolate craving (HC, LC) refrained from consuming chocolate for 2 weeks but otherwise maintained their usual food intake.

During weeks 2 and 3, when subjects were told “go home, eat furniture or something, you can’t have chocolate” aka were refrained from eating chocolate, they reported higher cravings for chocolate: 

chocolate deprivation study results

And it’s not just increased cravings—cutting out foods you like hurts dietary adherence too. In this study, forbidding bread increased subject drop-out rate by 3-fold compared to the group that was allowed to have bread: 

Evaluation of the usefulness of a low-calorie diet with or without bread in the treatment of overweight/obesity

This sucks because any diet you can’t stick to long-term is simply not a healthy diet. 

And here’s another interesting tidbit which I didn’t mention earlier because I’ve been saving it: Seeing foods as “forbidden” can result in binge eating: 

"Food thought suppression also predicted binge eating, food cravings, and other eating-disordered symptoms."

All that I just said could be summarized in one sentence from Brian Wansink, a researcher of consumer behavior, who said:

If you tell your daughter she can’t date Spike anymore, the next time she calls will be from a Las Vegas wedding chapel. 

So cutting out your favorite foods is not a Nobel prize-worthy idea. “The forbidden fruit effect” is very likely to kick and backfire. You will end up burying your face in a pint of ice cream.

The exact same ice cream you said you cannot have ‘cos you’re on a diet.

While cutting out foods is a shit idea, cutting down on how much and how frequently of them you eat is not (I’ve spoken about this ad nauseam in the flexible eating article): 

The 8020 rule

Study after study shows that successful weight losers who lost and kept weight off have learned to reduce and limit certain foods in their diet. Not eliminate completely

Instead of blindly following a diet of monumental rigidity which tells you what you can and cannot eat, you should decide that a certain food is not worth eating.

As Menno Henselmans, physique coach, noted: 

Choosing not to eat a certain food instead of not being allowed to eat it makes all the difference. One is a rigid dieting mindset with poor chances of success. The other is deliberate, goal-directed behavior.

I had always thought one of the worst things some paleo diet lover could say to me was “WOAH! Fuck oats. Can’t have it. That’s not what our prehistoric ancestors (supposedly) ate.”

And since the whole of my existence is dedicated to eating oats, I’d reply to him with “Get outta my face. I like oats.”

So don’t create forbidden fruits. Give yourself permission to have occasional chocolate, ice cream, cheesecake. Or ​​wicker furniture. Whatever strikes your fancy.

“Occasional” is the keyword here. 

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Originally published by me on Medium on Sep 24, 2021

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