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“Staying in shape is definitely something I think about, but I don’t let it get in the way. I’m active, but I’m not just going to wake up and go to the gym and not eat pizza,” Kaia Gerber told us during a 2019 interview. “If there’s pizza or if there’s ice cream, I’m going to eat it. If you’re not going to eat it when you’re [a teenager], when are you going to eat it?” She’s right because, yes, I’m not able to eat whatever I want without gaining weight. But I do—most of the time. Though my behavior doesn’t come without regret, bloating, and yo-yo dieting. The routine is always the same—I’ll eat Chinese food, pizza, and cheeseburgers with abandon until an unflattering picture or particularly hot day sends me into a tizzy.
I start eating healthy, cutting out bread and most dairy in favor of leafy greens and vegetables until my jeans lie flatter around my waist. That goes on for a few weeks, and then the whole cycle will start itself over again. When I read Gerber’s interview, though, I decided to give it a shot. Go less yo-yo and more YOLO, so to speak. I was intrigued by the idea that her diet allows for my brain to be more forgiving of my body. While self-love is a good enough reason for me to try anything, there’s science behind it, too. Studies have shown that restricting yourself leads to increased food cravings. So, I decided to spend a week letting it all go—no food restrictions—to see if I ended up making healthier choices.
Keep scrolling to find out more about the science as well as what happened when I gave up restrictive eating.
The Science Behind Restrictive Eating
Candice Seti, PsyD, a psychologist who specializes in weight loss and weight management explains, “It’s common to have a list of restricted or ‘off-limits’ foods—whether because they’re high in calories and/or fat, nonnutritive or simply because we can’t control ourselves around them,” Seti says, “The problem with this list is restriction gives these foods absolute power and takes away your perception of self-control. If you feel you have no control around pizza and don’t ever let yourself have it, you will most likely feel out of control and eat the whole thing when you do. It can consume your thoughts.”
She continues, “The way to take your power back from these foods is to take away the off-limits signs and the red tape in your mind. This doesn’t mean having ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But it does mean adding the restricted foods back into your diet in moderation,” says Seti. Having struggled with restrictive eating in the past, I can definitely relate to the power dynamic. Here's how the day-to-day went for me.
Day One: Pizza
It’s the first day, and it’s time for pizza. I haven’t had it in a bit, as I’ve been trying to watch what I eat. It’s not about losing weight, per se, just about feeling good in my new summer cut-offs while I sweat endlessly on the subway. But, this is research, I tell myself as I indulge in a personal pie. Honestly, I don’t have to be convinced for more than a nanosecond before taking my first (and second and third) bite. I wash it all down with a glass of wine and a massive smile on my face. Sure, I realized afterward that I was too full, but, that didn’t stop me from dreaming about my next meal. If I was going to do this, I was going to go full YOLO. It’s what Gerber would have wanted.
Day Two: Cheeseburger
I woke up and immediately made lunch plans with my coworker to hit up Shake Shack—my favorite fast-food burger in the city. Excited, we planned our orders and headed over. The entire ordeal took forever, which is probably why actual New Yorkers go so rarely. The line was sizable, the wait was long, and the light-up buzzer didn’t ring for what felt like forever. But then it did and I raced over to grab our order like a kid on Christmas morning. After a double cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake, I felt like I could nap directly on my desk. But still, I was feeling good. Full, but good. This is the easiest diet I’ve ever been on, I told myself.
Day Three: Kale Salad
The next morning, I started to feel the effects of my eating habits. I was lethargic, bloated, and a little nauseated. I found myself craving nutritious foods. It’s working, I thought, as I packed a kale salad and roast chicken for lunch. When I sat down to eat it, I couldn’t have been more relieved. I was eating delicious food with ingredients that came from the earth instead of a factory. Every flavor jumped out at me in a super-fresh, delicious way. It became clear that Seti was correct in her explanation—foods lose their power over you when you stop excluding them from your life. I was allowed to have more pizza and cheeseburgers on my eating plan, but I didn’t want them.
Day Four: Roast Vegetables
I had an industry brunch the next day and couldn’t wait to see the spread. These things are always dangerous when you’re dieting (i.e., every delicious food you’ve ever wanted is placed right in front of you). This is the true test, I thought, as I washed my face and picked out an outfit. I got to the meal, and sure enough, pancakes, waffles, bacon, and just about every other sinfully delicious breakfast food was served. Though, I found myself gravitating toward the roast vegetables, as they looked so hearty and fresh. I piled my plate high with asparagus, tomatoes, and squash before finding a place to sit. I didn’t even realize I’d skipped over the sweet confections and savory bacon until I sat down. That’s a win, I thought, as I enjoyed every bite of my meal.
The Final Takeaway
In the end, the studies and nutritionists were right—feeling restricted and boxed into a difficult eating plan leads you to stray. When I was technically “allowed” to eat whatever I wanted, I found it easier to make healthy choices because I knew the fatty food wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t have to eat it all quickly before I came to my senses and banished it yet again from my plate.
So yes, Kaia Gerber made a (probably unintentional) change in my eating habits. But, because I’m an adult woman and not a teenage model, I identify more with the words Alison Brie once imparted in an interview with Marie Claire: “I’m mindful about what I’m eating, but I hate when people are like ‘My favorite food is pizza and cheeseburgers and I look amazing!’ … My whole life I’ve had a weird relationship with food. So it was nice to be like ‘I’m thinking about what I’m eating, but not in a psychotic way.’”
Cheers to “thinking about eating, but not in a psychotic way.”
Meule A. The psychology of food cravings: the role of food deprivation. Curr Nutr Rep. 2020;9(3):251-257. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00326-0