Back in my diet days I would constantly switch between modes of being “really good” or “really bad.” Had you asked me six years ago if I could “have a piece of chocolate” or “just a few” Cadbury Mini Eggs at Easter, the answer would be HECK NO.
I just can’t do that.
I just don’t have that kind of control around food.
I just don’t have the willpower.
Thanksgiving? I’d wake up and hit the gym first thing in the morning if I was being “good.” Then I’d wait to eat all day until we got to my aunts house around 3:00 to eat. I knew I was going to overeat, so I made sure to prepare for it and save up all my calories ahead of time.
Normal day? I’d start off each morning with the intention of “having a good day.” I’d wake up, hit the gym, come home, make an open faced egg white, spinach, and tomato breakfast sandwich. Drink black coffee. Head to school, and continue the day like this… celery, carrots, a 3-inch veggie sub for lunch. Trying to eat PERFECTLY and not too much. And all day I’d be thinking about how “good” I was doing. One slip up would cancel out a good day, always.
And, every week, I’d have full blown binges. What did this look like? This looked like planning an entire evening around EATING. Typically, I was with friends who were my diet buddies. We’d hit Taco Bell for bean burritos and hot sauce, McDonald’s for french fries, Wendy’s for frosty’s, CVS for candy… you name it.
My favorite binge food was making a giant plate of nacho’s at home. That was some good stuff.
I would deprive myself so heavily throughout the week, and then have these insane binges at night, usually on the weekends, promising to “be better Monday.”
Here’s the thing… I lacked so much pleasure in my food, because I was so focus on “eating clean” and “low-calorie” that most of the time I’d binge on foods I didn’t even like. I just didn’t know I didn’t like them. Cadbury Mini Eggs for example… I used to say those were my favorite candy. Today? Don’t even like em’.
I was so focused on NOT having certain foods that it made me THINK I wanted them that much more.
To make up for it I’d over-exercise, diet really hard, and focus on keeping a low body weight while having these big binges. How my body hung in there, I don’t know.
I had an epiphany of sorts one night… I was thinking about all the ice cream I’d eat during binges. I visualized it, imagining a months time. It was a lot!
I remember one night, while studying statistics homework, my brain was wracked. I was so tired, so fed up with my homework, and just wanted a break. I found myself in the freezer FIVE different times scooping vanilla ice cream into my red cereal bowl (remember this like it was yesterday) topped with Honey Bunches of Oats. I’d crush the cereal into the ice cream, and the sweet flavor and coolness of the ice cream took the anxiety of the homework away, just for a moment while I was eating it. Mind you, still hunched over my homework, starring at it to avoid FULLY engaging in this behavior that I was participating in.
The ice cream was SO good, and my homework sucked SO bad, and I just wanted to continue feeling something good. Relate? Five bowls later, and not an ounce of progress made on my homework, I’d finally decide “it’s time for bed. I’ll come back to this in the morning. I’m too exhausted to be doing this right now.”
Two realizations here:
- How the heck much ice cream did you just eat? Is NOT letting yourself have ice cream 80% of the time actually working for you to NOT have ice cream? NO.
- Did it really need to take eating all that ice cream to give yourself permission to take a break, go to bed, and say I’ll do this in the morning? NO. You could have simply noticed that you were exhausted, that your brain didn’t want to function anymore, and gone to sleep.
I continued to think about the ice cream thing and asked myself: “What would it be like to allow yourself to have a small bowl of ice cream anytime you really craved it, and stop the binges in exchange?” I thought to myself “I bet you’d actually end up having LESS ice cream at the end of a month this way.”
Then my fears crept in… “How will you ever just have ONE bowl of ice cream? When was the last time you ever did that? Impossible.”
SO I had to get creative…
How WOULD it be possible for me to just have one bowl of ice cream, anytime I really wanted it?
Enter: intuitive eating, moderation, mindfulness, eating when calm, and learning to savor.
I realized that in order to just enjoy a small portion of something THIS tasty (something that was so forbidden to me before) I’d have to really sit with it, give it my attention, and slowly enjoy it. I’d have to make it MORE satisfying to savor a small amount than to eat 5 filling bowls.
And? What happened?
I did it. Anytime I had this food, I made sure to care for myself through it. I’d eat when calm, sit down, really enjoy it, and anytime guilt would creep up I’d knock it down, reminding myself that I did not need to feel guilty.
Over time I learned this truth: It’s not the AMOUNT of any one food that leaves us satisfied (five bowls of ice cream vs. one), it’s HOW we’re eating it (savoring slowly, tasting all of the flavors, enjoying it without guilt).
I had little phrases that I’d remind myself of, that I still share with my own clients today, like: “Guilt never helps.”
I began to tie this into other areas…
When I’d go to a dinner party and a family member would bring homemade Mac N’ Cheese, for example… I’d scan the table, choose what sounded really good, and ask myself what amount of each thing would allow me to walk away feeling good & calm, in my body and choices.
I’d add a small spoonful of Mac N’ Cheese to my plate, realizing that much more than this didn’t feel good. Then I’d move on and get other things that I wanted, gauging each food for what amount would probably leave me feeling good. And during the meal, if I felt a little off while I was eating, I could always stop.
I’d began choosing my meals based on two things: 1) what would taste good and 2) what amount would feel good.
Over time, I started to trust that I could eat any food I wanted and still feel good.
Over time, I began to let go of all rules around food, and began trusting my body to let me know what was or wasn’t okay instead.
I let go of the pressure that focusing on weight loss brought on, and began focusing on FEELING GOOD one moment at a time instead.
I could write a book on this topic and how much I’ve learned, so I’d better stop here.
What does this teach YOU? What can you take away from this post? Can you see in your own life, how thinking in an “all or nothing” mentality doesn’t work in our favor? What questions do you have? Post them below. I’d love to hear!