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Diets and Mental Bandwidth

by Nell Stephenson
Home/Blog/Protect Your Mental Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

“Diets don’t just reduce weight, they can reduce mental capacity. In other words, dieting can make you dumber.”, begins an article in the Sunday Times.

The piece, The Mental Strain of Making Do With Less, compares ways we respond to deprivation from voluntary calorie restriction to the ordeal of outright poverty.  For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus solely on the calorie deprivation component.  A few of the key points highlighted included:

  • Psychologists find that dieters have spontaneous self-generated cravings at a much higher rate than non-dieters.
  • Further, these diets force trade-offs: If you eat the cookie, should you skip the appetizer at dinner?
  • Many diets also require constant calculations to determine calorie counts. All this clogs up the brain; bandwidth that might otherwise have been spent on being more focused at work, for example, is ‘wasted’ on adding up how many calories that Fettucini Alfredo splurge you indulged in at lunch and how long you’re going to have to spend on the elliptical to burn them off

So here’s an idea:  think about Paleo.  Not just adulterated Paleo, which we’re seeing more and more of these days, but real, True Paleo.

Then, imagine that you don’t have to worry about weighing out four ounces of protein, measuring out two cups of veggies, or pouring out one tablespoon of olive oil.  What if you could just serve yourself some of each, sit down and enjoy the meal, and be done with it?

Now, for those of you who have kids, think about a time when they screamed and cried for a toy they wanted that they couldn’t have, compared to a time when they could select a favorite toy they already owned.

The thing we cannot have is the thing we want.

If we set up our kitchens (and our minds) in such a way that there is a bounty of lovely, fresh Paleo food to choose from that we can have when we’re hungry and nothing that’s not food and not healthful, we’re far more likely to respond in a similar way to the second scenario rather than the first.

Yes, of course, there will be an adjustment phase, but once you begin to adapt (and it doesn’t take long at all), your own improved health, energy and overall well being serves as the impetus to carry on.

Later in the article, we learn that

  • A recent study shows that people persist longer with diets that require less thought (think- veggies, some fruit, wild protein and healthy fats.  Period).
  • The same study had another interesting finding: it was the perceived complexity of a diet —  not its actual complexity — that determined persistence.  (I repeat- eat real food.  Don’t eat things that are not food.)

The True Paleo lifestyle is the opposite of many ‘diets’ in the sense that it’s neither a deprivation model, nor a temporary one.

Give it a try and observe yourself as you go from a space where your every thought is about when you’ll next eat  — and what you should’ve eaten or shouldn’t have eaten and what you’re going to have to do for penance — to a place where you’re balanced, healthy, relaxed and have more brain space available for other things… such as family, work and relaxation!

This post was originally published at Paleoista and has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

Header photo: Louisbourg Lighthouse.  Licensed under the Creative Commons.


The Paleo movement incorporates several different optimizing perspectives for helping you improve your health, all based on the latest science. Everyone is different. We want to support you in understanding your unique genetic makeup, symptoms and health goals so you can choose the path that is right for you.

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