Are You a Deprivation-Driven Eater?

There are two forms of eating that can feel out-of-control: deprivation-driven eating and emotional eating. Most people think that out-of-control eating is mostly emotional. Actually, it is far more likely that ‘over’eating is deprivation-driven.

Most of us do not think we are really in a state of deprivation. However, if you have a history of restricting food intake or of trying to eat "healthy" (with a focus on low calorie foods, which I call restrained-healthy eating), there is a good chance you are experiencing deprivation-driven eating.  Unfortunately, this type of overeating can occur if you under eat by as little as 200 calories! It can also occur if you did not eat enough last Tuesday and Wednesday.



Deprivation-driven eating can arise from a belief system that reinforces diet mentality. If you say to yourself: “I should not eat that,” “Well, I won’t eat it again,” “I’ll eat now and cut back calories or exercise more later,” or  “I need to eat healthy”, and you are overeating, that overeating is deprivation-driven eating.

If you don't realize your eating is actually deprivation driven, you will blame yourself and your poor choices and will miss the opportunity to heal this overeating.

The deprivation-driven eater’s drive to eat stems from having been restricted or limited from food. Perhaps your parents only kept "healthy" foods in the house, and you only got dessert when you went out to eat, or when you were at a friends house. Your parents were well-intentioned, but you were set up. I am never surprised to discover that my clients who struggle with over eating grew up in a home that controlled food intake on some level.  

On the other hand, you may have made the decision to limit certain foods, or to cut back on the amounts eaten, on your own in an effort to manage body weight or shape. This almost always results in deprivation-driven eating

This means that deprivation-driven eating can arise from physical or psychological restriction from food

From the physcial perspective, deprivation-driven eating results from having been deprived of enough fuel (calories), whether it was self-imposed, or caused by someone else. From a psychological perspective, it can be caused by not having freedom to eat the way you want, or being criticized or judged for eating what you want, or from having been deprived of satisfaction from food. 

Deprivation-driven eaters will eagerly soak up nutrition advice in the hope to avoid overeating, so that some nutrition guidelines will get them back on track. Perhaps they eliminate carbs, or again try to follow a “reasonable, healthy diet…nothing drastic.” But, sooner or later, they feel compelled to eat those foods not allowed, or allowed only with discretion. They do so with abandon, and then feel like a failure. Guilt seeps in. The professional who advised them recommends they get back with the program, after all it wasn’t even really a diet. Besides, they've done it before, they can do it again. However, until the deprivation driven eating is healed, no amount of nutritional cheerleading will result in a diet conducive to metabolic fitness.

This sure sounds like emotional eating, but it isn't. The drive to eat stems from past physical or psychological deprivation around food. It was not actually triggered by emotions. Sure, plenty of emotions will arise when you overeat, but these are the result of the eating, not the cause. The cause was that you told yourself, "I can't, I won't." 

Yes, emotions can drive the urge to overeat. But until we deal with the deprivation-driven eating, we will not be able to even truly know if we are being pushed to eat by emotions or deprivation. As we become familiar with true physiological hunger, and learn to work with it, rather than try to control and work against it, we can overcome deprivation-driven eating. And then we have a fighting chance when emotions drive the urge to overeat.


About Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LDN, SEP

Karin can help you escape food and body angst and learn to manage your eating and weight naturally. Visit for free handouts, online courses and more tips on mindful, intuitive eating and healing disordered eating.

© 2018 Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, LDN. Adapted from the work of Amy Tuttle RD, LCSW and Karin Kratina.