Not only not deprivation, it might be a step toward health

Let’s talk about deprivation. As in “deprivation diets don’t work,” which is a mantra of most of the registered dietitians I’ve encountered. Everything in moderation, because people won’t stick to a food plan on which they feel deprived.

I don’t disagree with that last part, “feeling” deprived, and I understand the necessity of meeting one’s patient where they are.

Still, I challenge the whole concept of deprivation in this context. The easy contrast is with, say, prisoners of war — considering a food plan as deprivation is an insult to them. The comparison is entirely fair, but I concede that perhaps it’s a bit strong regardless.

This is a much better approach, in my opinion: Advising people to give up refined sugar, for example, is not only not imposed deprivation but actually a favor to them. No, really, even though RDs everywhere are rolling their eyes, or worse, at the suggestion. Even if they might agree — and in my experience, few do — it would be a very tough sell to most clients.

Still, truth is truth, and no one needs a drop of refined sugar. No one. Do most people want it? Sure, but no one needs it.

Anyone who goes to a nutrition professional is seeking guidance. Advising a client to experiment with certain substances, to see whether they have noxious effects, falls well within the boundary.

For me, the issue was refined grain (aka flour) far more than sugar, but that owes to personal taste. I gave up refined sugar at the first suggestion, but held on kicking and screaming to flour for another eight years: “You can’t make me do that! I can handle it. There’s nothing wrong with it. You’re just trying to control me.” Blah blah blah. But to skip to the punchline, I did eventually become willing to try life without flour, too, and now I haven’t had it for maybe 12 or 15 years.

It’s a choice, not a rule, not because I wouldn’t love to have a toasted sub, or some onion rings, a box of Rice Chex, but because having tried life with flour and without, the latter is better for me — even if I still think that stuff is appetizing. It’s not unlike someone who’s allergic to strawberries. They like them, but they’re better off without them.

To recap: to call these ideas deprivational is absurd. But maybe, they’re even helpful. The only way to know is to try it out.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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