Restrained Eating: is it ever good?

cookie and apple in handDecades of research indicate that “cognitively restraining” your food intake often leads to binge eating and/or disordered eating. Cognitive restraint means using your head to determine what to eat instead of listening to your body. Most people who restrain their eating do it in order to lose weight. They may follow a specific diet and try not to sway from the diet. They may count calories or avoid certain foods altogether (see “Are You In Diet Jail”). They typically weigh themselves regularly. There is actually a “Restraint Scale” consisting of several questions that evaluate the degree of restrained eating.

You may have already heard about this research. I think this can be confusing for many who may say “then does that mean we should not pay attention to what we eat? Aren’t we supposed to try to eat healthy?”

The answer is yes, it is good to care about your health, but that does not mean avoiding any foods or counting calories or weighing yourself. Instead it means using your head to make healthy choices WITHOUT being overly restrictive.  What the research also has revealed is that certain types of “restrained” eating may not lead to problems but may actually be helpful. This type of eating is referred to as “flexible” restraint verses “rigid”. Flexible means just that. You may love the bread sticks at a certain restaurant, however you may also love the entree you just ordered….so you decide you are going to eat one bread stick to save room for what you really love! If you were to “listen to your body” and you were really hungry, theoretically you could eat 5 bread sticks! But then you would ruin your appetite! Is that restrained eating? Well, yes, in a way, however it is also flexible. You are making a decision because you know your body and you want to honor it and feel good. Another example may be planning ahead of time to cook for the week. This does not mean you will not allow yourself to stop for a burger at the drive through, however you also may not want to waste the money, and if you plan ahead and have healthy and yummy foods in your home, you are again being healthy but not rigidly restrictive.

The bottom line is that it is ok to want to be healthy, eat healthy, and yes, you do have to use your head! But being flexible is what is important. Being rigid does not contribute to health, just food obsession, disordered eating and a that is certainly not healthy.


The Truth About Drinks


I remember many years ago going to a Sports Nutrition Conference and never forgetting the message. I heard a researcher named Richard Mattes speak about some cutting edge research he was conducting about how our bodies responded differently to liquid calories. I found the research fascinating. The bottom line message was that when we eat solid food, our brains get the message that we had enough calories and so we feel full and stop eating. His theory was that with liquid calories, we did not get the same message, and so our brain allowed us to keep drinking and take in excessive energy which eventually would result in weight gain.

Recently, I did a search and found that Dr. Mattes has not only been continuing this research, but has strengthened his earlier theory that liquid calories do not register in our brains. What is the important message here? If you fill up on drinks such as juice, soda, beer, wine or lemonade, it will be impossible to listen to your body as far as how much you need to eat. Instead, drink water to quench your thirst (free and healthy!) and limit juices and soda to once in a while instead of daily. Limit alcohol to social occasions and in moderation.

See below if you are interested in the dirty details!

Beverage vs. solid fruits and vegetables: effects on energy intake and body weight.



Volume 20, Issue 9, pages 1844–1850, September 2012

According to  Elizabeth Garrison  in “A summary of Richard Mattes’ research since 2005: Effects of food form, feeding patterns, and specific nutrients on appetite, satiety, and metabolic responses in humans”:

Differences in food form, beverage versus solid, elicit different appetitive, satiety, and hormonal responses. Solid foods, matched on energy content and macronutrient composition elicited lower levels of hunger and desire to eat. Additionally, solid and liquid meal replacements caused different ghrelin, insulin, and CCK responses, all hormones involved with regulation of food intake and body weight. Specifically and most importantly, beverages cause greater levels of ghrelin, a hormone that initiates hunger and desire to eat, after a meal than solids. Therefore beverage and solid meal replacements should not be used interchangeably for weight control or energy balance.