Deprivation is a feeling that usually happens when we are restricting our options. It’s the wanting of something we cannot have.
For any of us that have changed our diet in an effort to lose weight or improve our health, this is a big reason we avoid diets. Deprivation becomes an obstacle to reaching our goals.
I just spoke to someone who was telling me he wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes with a strong desire to eat ice cream. The desire is intense, and when he makes the decision to not eat the ice cream, he feels deprived which leads to thoughts of self-pity. It’s embarrassing to admit this kind of thing to others, but ALL OF US can identify with an experience like this.
It fascinates me that all human beings know what these emotions feel like: deprivation, self-pity, shame. We didn’t have to learn how to feel these. We just can. Isn’t it a miracle that we can identify and tell the difference within ourselves the kaleidoscope of feelings that are part of the human experience?
Deprivation is a feeling. It is in response to denying our desire for something. The example I gave is an example of overdesire. We teach our brains overdesire when we eat concentrated foods (like ice cream and donuts), which produce a concentrated reward in the form of a dopamine flood.
Our brains are not evolved to deal with this kind of intense pleasure. They learn to see these foods as very important for our survival and drive us to seek more of them by creating overdesire and strong urges to eat these foods again.
When you have a strong urge that is followed by an intense reward and you practice this over and over again, it becomes a well-worn pathway in our brains. What is also fascinating is that we actually experience a dopamine pleasure response in ANTICIPATION of the reward. That is why you will get up in the middle of the night and drive to the ice cream shop in a snow storm to get the ice cream!
The good news is that if desire is learned, it can be unlearned. By interrupting this urge-reward cycle, and dealing with the deprivation that follows, your brain will eventually stop pestering you. This is how we break addictions, stop overeating, and conquer many other harmful behaviors.
So how do we deal with deprivation?
Deprivation is a feeling.
Feelings are created by our thoughts. 🤯 We create deprivation with our thinking.
As humans, we have the privilege of awareness of our thoughts. We can see them, notice how they make us feel, and then watch them drive our actions and create our results.
Here are some thoughts I have that create a feeling of deprivation for me:
“I can’t have that.”
“I’m never going to be able to eat that again.”
AND THEN… I have these thoughts that have me feeling sorry for myself:
“It’s not fair that I can’t have that.”
“Why am I the only one that has to deal with this?”
“I can’t do this forever. It’s too hard.”
If you are unaware of your thoughts, they can go on and on creating more and more suffering. It’s a lot like a toddler running around with a sharpie.
How many times have you given up on an important goal because of thinking that creates so much misery that you quit? If you had no idea this was going on – a relentless onslaught of negative thinking – you were missing the most valuable tool anyone can ever have. So forgive yourself.
Some of us naturally intercept crappy thinking and cut it off, choosing a more constructive attitude about problems. But most of us do not because our brains are programmed to find the negative. It’s a remnant of the survival motive of our brains: to identify and neutralize threats to our safety and well being.
Looking for the negative is our DEFAULT setting.
So if your brain is looking for and focusing on the negative and doing so unsupervised, it’s no wonder that having a positive mindset requires practice.
You may not be able to stop the first thought that comes into your brain (“I can’t have ice cream”), but you CAN stop the spin out of misery-inducing thinking that follows it. You CAN tell yourself a different story that doesn’t feel like deprivation.
First of all, it’s not even true! Acknowledging that this is a lie is so empowering. The truth is that you can eat whatever the F you want anytime you want. You are an adult and no one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.
So then why are you not eating the ice cream?
Is it because you are choosing not to? Why are you choosing not to?
This pattern of thinking is SO MUCH MORE empowering and constructive. And it will choke off the feeling of deprivation before it has a chance to sharpie all over your living room furniture.
The second approach I want to offer you, which I teach all of my clients, is that you can give yourself permission to eat whatever you want as long as you plan it ahead of time. I go into a great explanation of this in here if you want the full story.
The reason why this is helpful is that it shuts down the thinking that you can NEVER have a certain food again AND it stops you from rewarding urges in the moment, which only strengthens the overdesire-reward pathway.
It’s actually a different experience to eat or drink something you believe is SO GOOD when you aren’t rewarding an urge. You might find it isn’t as intensely pleasurable.
See how this is all a mind game? You can win at this game if you know how to play. The first step is knowing your opponent, which is your own default thinking. Then you question it, outsmart it, and teach it to play according to your rules.
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