I talk with hundreds of men and women who are healing from emotional eating, chronic dieting, binge eating and sugar addiction. And there’s one crucial, essential place where everyone – including me – has gotten stuck.
It’s this: There’s a voice – a chorus of voices – that nags at them all day. This voice is the food and weight cop. It’s the voice that communicates the rules – the “shoulds” – about how you should eat, live and be. We get so hung up on following what this voice says – on how we should eat – that we forget the why. We turn suggestions/tools/practices/ways of eating/food guidelines and turn them into dogma:
- I should eat more protein.
- I should eat less protein.
- I should eat vegan.
- I should practice intuitive eating.
- I should have clear boundaries around what I eat.
This dogma becomes very rigid. Very serious. Very life or death.
We start to feel crazy because the dogma starts to contradict one another. We feel confused – what is the right way to eat? We go back and forth and spin ourselves around in circles. We try everything and feel lost, unmoored, ungrounded, uncentered. So there are no guidelines and every meal is a huge decision with all this anxiety, “What the heck DO I eat!????!!!”
We can also feel ashamed. We try to eat a certain way – let’s say an approach of mindfully eating whatever we want – and we fail at it. Miserably. Instead of looking at that approach and saying, “Perhaps it’s not the best fit for me, perhaps I need more structure or boundaries,” we internalize it and turn it into shame: “I’m bad because what worked for this person (or what this expert says is best) didn’t work for me.”
We can even rank ways of eating – if only I ate vegan, or if only I ate 100% clean, all the time, or if only I ate like this spiritual leader or guru eats, or if only I ate like this super fit successful author says – then I would have the highest, best, greatest way of eating. It’s like we’re trying to be the best – the most evolved, the healthiest, the fittest, to be aligned with the “right” group – and so there’s all this pressure about finding the best and joining forces with them.
Beloved, can you feel the pain here? The suffering? The anguish as all of this mental energy is caught up in the (not so) simple question of, “What do I eat?”
Dear one, if this describes you, I invite you to try on the practice of centering – questioning the thoughts, rules and shoulds about how we eat and live. I unpack centering in detail in Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life, my workbook to free you from sugar addiction, and in Heal Overeating: Untangled, my program to free you from overeating and binge eating. For now, I offer this:
All food plans/practices/diet plans/approaches, etc. are simply this: TOOLS. They are tools to find greater health and ease. They are a means to an end – the end being a healthy, happy relationship with food, your body and yourself. They are not dogma. They are not ranked, with one being more evolved than the other. They are not life or death.
The “right” tool or approach for you is this: the one that supports your being. Instead of getting tied up in knots about the tools, I gently invite you to focus on the end, what you’re really seeking – a healthy, happy relationship with food, your body and yourself.
If a tool doesn’t mesh with you, gently let it go – and then give yourself a tool that does support you. And, please, please, don’t personalize it – don’t make yourself wrong because the tool isn’t a good fit for what you need. (Neither do we need to attack tools that don’t work for us, because they may be exactly what someone else is needing, or what we need at another time.)
So let’s make this concrete with an example. Right now, I thrive with routine, structure and clear boundaries. They make me feel safe, supported and held. When I loosen these structures, I suffer. I overeat. I skip meals. I feel anxious and unmoored. My moods are volatile.
So I set clear boundaries around the foods I don’t eat – I don’t eat sugar and wheat. I do my best to eat 3 meals a day. I eat breakfast. These things help me thrive.
What’s interesting is that these tools are very difficult for me. They make me feel great, and they are not natural, easy or intuitive. I have to work at them, and I stumble a lot. (This observation could be an entirely separate post about how just because something is difficult/not easy doesn’t mean it isn’t essential or helpful to us!)
I could make myself bad and wrong for needing this concrete structure – I could say that I should just go with the flow more, that I should be less structured and more intuitive in my eating. But I see that is arguing with reality, with what it – with what does support me.
I am learning to let myself “love what I love,” to let myself need what I need, to let myself be who I am, to give myself all that I need to thrive – and not to feel ashamed by it.
Precious soul, what do you need to thrive? What tools help you? Can you give yourself permission to use those tools, and to gently, kindly release the tools that don’t help?
Mary Oliver says it this way:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Beloved, let yourself “love what you love.” I’d love to hear your thoughts and a-ha’s.