Today is the day after Halloween and candy leftovers abound. Are you locked in a war with yourself about eating it? Here’s how to take the power out of the candy and put it back in you, where it belongs.
The crucial shift is in your attitude. You must know on a deep level – not just intellectually, but emotionally – that you have the right to eat whatever you want. This is true no matter what your current weight. If you feel your rights are constrained by societal mandates – that others can tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat – you’ll stay stuck in a childlike mindset, either doing as you’re told or rebelling against it. Only people with the right to choose can make choices. You can’t freely choose to forego candy or eat a salad unless you understand you have the right to make either choice.
This understanding – this crucial shift in attitude – is the primary goal in Stage 1 of Normal Eating. Recognizing your right to choose won’t make all cravings go away – there’s more fueling emotional eating than just feelings of deprivation – but it will help. And understanding you have this right forms the foundation for progress in later stages.
Note that simply eating a food does not mean you know you have the right to eat it. Someone in the forum posted this recently:
To me, it seems that the goal of Stage 1 is to understand that you are allowed to eat whatever you want. Since I am struggling with bingeing right now, I think I have the “eat whatever you want” part down pat.
Actually, if you’re bingeing, it’s highly unlikely you have the “eat whatever you want part down pat." Usually people who are bingeing feel wracked with guilt about their eating and filled with self-condemnation. They don’t feel at all like they have the right to be doing what they’re doing. And the self-flagellation that goes along with bingeing tends to perpetuate the cycle.
Stage 1 of Normal Eating is not something you eat your way through, it’s something you think your way through. If you eat something and feel guilty about it, you have not not progressed in Stage 1. What’s important isn’t whether you let yourself eat a particular food, but what you say to yourself about eating it. You may actually eat it or you may not – that’s not what’s important.
The goal of Normal Eating is to stop being at war with yourself, where one part of you is pulling you one way, and another part of you is beating the crap out of yourself for it. The first step in the recovery process is to eliminate the false parent you’re rebelling against – the "shoulds" in your head. There are no "shoulds" when it comes to eating; you have the right to make whatever eating choices you want.
Your Body, Your Life
You can know intellectually that you have this right, yet find it hard to accept emotionally – especially if you’re fat. Our society can make fat people feel ashamed of eating anything at all. From someone else in the forum:
I understand the concept that I have the right to eat what I choose. I get that, and I agree with it. However, I feel guilty about EVERYTHING that I eat. Healthy food, junk food, all of it.
I have to live in a world where I am ostracized for how I look.
The solution to this may surprise you: Recognize that you have the right to be fat. It is your body, your life, and no one has the right to tell you what to do with either. This is a core boundary issue.
Now, perhaps you don’t choose to be fat. Perhaps you are fat because you are driven by compulsion and unable to make true choices. You still have the right to be fat! The goal of the Normal Eating program is to free you from compulsion so you can make choices. But one of these choices may be that you prefer eating what you want over being thin. That is a legimate choice for you to make about your life. Or you may not choose to be as large as you are now, but down the road you may decide you prefer to eat cookies and be a size 12 than eat no sweets and be a size 0. That is a legitimate choice, too, and your right. No one else has the right to tell you how much you can weigh. It’s simply none of their business.
There still may be fat bigots who ostracize you – nothing to be done about them. But at least you can stop ostracizing yourself. That will help quite a bit. Most fat people say horrible things to themselves. It’s important to monitor your self-talk and stop doing that. There is only one person whose opinion of you really matters, and that is you. If you don’t feel good about yourself as a fat person, losing weight will not fix this. In fact, it’s the reverse. You must feel good about yourself in order to give yourself the gift of a healthy body.
Some proponents of the non-diet approach say it’s okay to eat whatever you want because there is no such thing as a “fattening food”, that it’s just a matter of how much you eat. This isn’t completely correct. There are fattening foods: Nutrient-empty snacks and desserts loaded with quick-digesting carbs are fattening – not because of their calories, but because of their effect on your hormones (see my post on the real cause of obesity). Granted you won’t gain weight from one bite of a brownie, but that’s not the point.
You have the right to eat whatever you want, regardless of whether the food is fattening, because you have the right to be fat. You have the right to do whatever you want with your own body, without limitation. You even have the right to eat in a way that kills you, though you probably will choose not to do this once you reach Stage 4 and become able to make choices. The main point is this: Your right to choose what you eat is absolute. This is your body and your life.
Something to Try…
If you are feeling plagued by your leftover Halloween candy – or if you’re at war with yourself over eating any other type of food – try this novel approach:
- Constantly tell yourself – every time you even think about eating something – that you have the right to eat whatever you want. This needs to become a refrain in your head that you repeat constantly, to counteract the constant cultural pressure in the other direction.
- Ask yourself this very important question: Do I want to eat this right now – do I truly feel like eating it? The answer might be yes, or it might be no. Either way is fine. What’s important is that you ask yourself the question to reinforce in your mind that it is a choice.
- If you decide to eat it, don’t scarf it down so fast that 10 seconds later it’s like it never happened. That’s guilty eating. If you’re going to eat it, enjoy it, savor it. Eat it mindfully. (And if that’s hard, check out this previous post: 5 Reasons Emotional Eaters Shun Mindfulness.)
After you’ve tried this, please report back! How did it feel to do that? Do you feel your attitudes shifting, on an emotional level? Do you feel angry about societal pressure to take away your right to eat what you want? Did the shift in your thinking cause your eating to change at all?