Why deprivation doesn't work

Self love is not about deprivation

How’s that deprivation strategy working out for your change? 

You know, you said you're not going to do this anymore because someone's told you it's bad for you. You read the article about the saturated fats and you feel you should cut down, shouldn’t have too much to drink, shouldn’t have too much ice-cream, or time on Facebook. You go without something because you spent so much money. 

Of course, actions have consequences. Drinking too much will make you drunk and give you a hangover. Spending a whole month’s pay on shoes may mean you have to come up with a creative idea to pay the rent. 

But with each choice, work out whether you’re not doing it because you think you ‘shouldn’t’ or because you’re making that choice in line with what you want deep down for yourself. 

Not doing it because 'you think you shouldn't’ rather than because 'you don’t want to' also has consequences. It means we don’t give ourselves what we want, and this becomes a way of life. 

We do things according to the wisdom we hear from others, instead of ourselves. And then we aren’t living the lives we want, we’re doing what everyone else thinks we should do. 

I've spent years doing it that way. It's not been very successful.

Now, I've discovered that if I give myself what I want, when I want it, that is; if I consciously choose to bring something into my life that I want, I have much less of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ driving me. I can more easily assess whether I actually want it and if it’s providing the right support for me. 

I'm not condoning illegal, immoral or dangerous behaviour. I’m not talking about extreme behaviour. I m talking about the choices we make in order to change what we want to change in our lives. 

Here’s an example. Recently, I decided to avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugar. 

Does that sound like deprivation to you? 

If it does, don’t choose it for yourself. Or at the very least, not now. 

The idea of going without caffeine, alcohol and sugar sounded like deprivation to me for a very long time. These were wonderful additions to food and drink that made it exciting! I thought I’d hardly be able to eat anything if I gave them up. It sounded horrible! 

But I also knew I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be healthier and eat foods which were organic and natural and with a large proportion of fruit and veg. 

Take caffeine. 

I knew I wanted to see effects of caffeine by testing them on myself. I knew it had some effect on me already; I wouldn’t leave the house without my morning cup of tea (English breakfast). Whenever anyone has suggested it to me, or told me the benefits of it, I’ve thought to myself, ‘Yes, I want that, but not now.’

Whilst I was still in my day job, giving up the cups of tea felt a lot like deprivation (even the tea-making provided a little light relief from the busyness of the day and a chance to say hello to my colleagues). The same went for my little ‘treat’ to myself whenever there was cake for someone’s birthday, sitting there in the office. 

Deprivation is not a good motivator for change. Desire, on the other hand, is a wonderful motivator!

I wasn’t ready until now to let my desire to be healthier come to the fore. I didn’t want to try it out my experiment until it had become a desire I really wanted to take action on. 

So, the time had come and I decided to avoid all caffeine, alcohol and sugar for two weeks. 

What did this mean in practice? 

It meant not drinking tea or coffee, or eating chocolate or any other foods that contain caffeine. I’m drinking herbal teas and Rooibos tea instead. 

It meant not drinking any alcohol or eating foods that contain alcohol. I’ve been mainly drinking fruit juice and water (and teas above).

It meant not eating chocolate, cake or sweets and any other foods that are ‘sweet’: puddings, ice-cream etc. However, I am eating fruit: I’m not restricting my fruit intake in anyway, and I’m also drinking fruit juices occasionally. 

How strict have I been?

There have been foods where I may have inadvertently consumed some sugar (for example, in white bread) but cake, chocolate, sweets, tea, wine which usually feature in my diet are all off the menu. On occasion, over the last couple of weeks of doing this I’ve also chosen to bring a few of the above back into my diet. 

But the initial two week experiment has now become an ongoing choice (I'm now on Day 38 of the experiment and my decision to go back to drinking alcohol again was Day 30).

It’s not been a blanket ban

Firstly, because I don’t want to act like a policeman. I’ve spent a lot of my life being really really harsh with myself inside my own head about the things I’m doing or not doing. This is a process of love, and I’m sure there will be things I miss and make mistakes around, but I’ll forgive myself and remember for the next time. However in my daily meals, whether eating in or out I’m choosing not to eat those things. 

Secondly because I don’t want to get obsessive about it. Spending my time squinting at food labels is not my idea of fun. I’ve got a good idea when something has sugar in it (processed foods mostly) or is anything ’sweet’ and generally food which hasn’t been prepared from scratch, as well as some foods that you wouldn’t expect to have sugar in (for example, white bread) which I have been eating occasionally, I haven’t gone overboard on avoiding everything. 

Testing the effect

But how about when I have a craving for chocolate? I’ve always loved chocolate, my chocolate of choice has been a square or two of Lindt dark chocolate with orange or mint for a few years now. It’s good quality chocolate and it tastes good. 

Well, to start with, I haven’t had as many cravings as I thought I would. I’ve looked at a chocolate bar and felt like I wanted it, but the difference is knowing that any time it feels like I’m not giving myself what I want, I will reconsider. 

Because what I ultimately want now is to feel better, healthier and more energetic, and that desire now overrides the desire for a sweet thing. 

I also know that we very often eat to squash our feelings, because we are afraid to feel them and that I was still doing this without being aware of it sometimes. I wanted to really highlight that awareness, and be more conscious in choosing to ‘feel’ how I was feeling.  

Do you see how ‘shoulds’ make this process complicated? 

I was also prepared. I was ready for the week of headaches that caffeine would give me and I knew I would love to indulge in the sweets that a family friend brought us in my second week of this experiment. I considered this all beforehand and decided I was ready to take on few moments of temptation for the benefits I would receive.

But then there have been a few times I have craved it. At each time I’ve asked myself: ‘Do I really want this?’ I’ve also noted how I’m feeling at the time. 

Do I just want a sugar rush to make myself feel better or do I actually want this? Where is this feeling coming from?

These questions aren't easy to answer, but I’ve been careful to take a step back and consciously choose to say no. 


I have made exceptions, but those exceptions I’ve made, I’ve done consciously. 

The first was when my friend had already bought me a pot of tea for our catch up before I’d arrived and I hadn’t told her I was off caffeine. I debated for a couple of seconds then realised I could use this as a test - I could turn it into an opportunity to see how my body felt after it had been in the 'no caffeine' situation for a while. I was on Day 9 at this point with the intention to extend my experiment so it was a good time to test it. 

I then did the same kind of ’test' with sugar, but this time I really wanted a cream tea. So I had one scone with clotted cream and half a teaspoon of jam spread on it.   

After both tests, I could feel the effect very clearly. I felt good after drinking the caffeine, but about 12 hours afterwards, when I woke up the next day, I felt horrible, with a bad headache and I felt really drained as if I had been overworking for weeks. It was the same withdrawal symptom that I’d experienced the first time around. The sugar was not so bad but I could feel a sort of ‘fizzing’ inside my body, and it left a less than pleasant taste in my mouth. 

There have been a few examples where I’ve eaten savoury items or those I thought had no sugar in them, and then realising my mistake. Firstly eating yoghurt which I thought was the natural kind (but which had added sugar in it) and inadvertently sampled sugar in packet couscous and a prawn cocktail mix.

These were the accidental ones. There were also times when I’ve deliberately chosen to eat sugary items. Over the last 38 days, these have been:

4 chocolates
1 piece of German gingerbread
1 small helping of rice pudding
1 small helping of eve’s pudding
1 plain croissant

These were times that I chose to give myself an exception. 

Although I’ve carried already carried out the experiment over twice as long as I planned, I’m not going to change the commitment to myself about caffeine and sugar. I have now chosen to go back to alcohol (since Day 30) although probably only wine for now. 

Why am I doing this?

I wanted to be able to feel the effect of everything I put in my body even more than I was (take a look at another post as to why this is important to me here)

It might sound like a strange practice but the way our body feels can give us such a big clue as to the reactions we really have - our bodies contract when we don’t want to do something and will feel expansive when we are making a choice in line with our values.

Already my body feels cleaner, my skin is better and I feel more energetic. I feel more on a level energy wise and no longer get achingly tired, like I did before.  

So how is this not deprivation? 

Since I first had the idea (I can recall a conversation in 2011!) I have decided that avoiding certain foods and drinks would have felt as though I was depriving myself. To know you want to change, but to allow yourself to do what you want, rather than trying to effect a change against your will.

That is why it’s so much easier than forcing myself to give things up. You notice that I have decided to make exceptions as well. There are some people who decide to go all out and completely eradicate sugar from their diet. That still sounds to me like deprivation, and who knows, maybe I’ll try that experiment one day in the future. 

For now however, it’s been amazing to feel better and be able to say no to myself. 

It’s definitely not been easy at times; there’s still chocolate in our house - cakes, biscuits and pain au chocolat. Who knows what choice I’ll make when I get back to Italy, with the gelateria on every corner? 

What have I learnt?

I’m glad I haven’t deprived myself before now. I’m glad I waited til now to do this. I’m glad I didn’t try and change everything at once and consciously choose to change things. 

The main lesson I wanted to share however, is that should and shouldn’t are really confusing. 

YOU are the only one who knows what you want your life to be like

If you consciously choose to eat and drink what you want, when you want, we feel more empowered. We step into our power to choose and I’ve found at least, we make better choices. 

Do you tell yourself that you should or shouldn’t do things?  Just exploring this can bring all sorts of emotions up, so be really gentle with yourself. 

Where are you depriving yourself and why?