A client of mine for weighloss walked into my office, sat down in the recliner. She looked as if she was going to get in really big trouble and weakly said, “I ate popcorn with butter and peanut M&Ms while watching TV last night.”
Me: “Was it good?”
Me: “Good. Did you eat stop eating when your stomach said it was comfortable?”
Me: “Good. Did you count it as your meal and not eat anything else?”
Client: (looking a bit surprised): “yes”
Me: “Good. You did great, keep it up”
This conversation eventually happens with all of my weightloss clients. I love watching the expressions on their face, first of disbelief, then the look of relief and excitement as I give them permission to eat foods they think they should not have.
If you have tried losing weight at any point in time, you probably are thinking this woman is N-U-T-S! But hear me out. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the course of my life. I’ve been as thin as a size 6 and as fat as a size 28. I know what it’s like to be “on a diet” craving “bad” foods or not on a diet and craving “bad” foods. But as I’m 20 pounds away from 100 pounds lost, I’ve learned something. Human beings create addictive behaviors. The thing you can’t have can become the thing you want the most. So I gave myself permission to have what I wanted.
When I first gave myself permission, I ate what I wanted. I reveled in it. I ate ice cream, chocolate, cookies, and potato chips. This went on for two or three days. It was amazing. At first it was ha ha, I’m eating what I’m not supposed to. Here is the thing. It wasn’t binge eating. I ate three times a day. I ate until I was comfortable and when my stomach felt comfortable, I stopped eating. Those foods were my meals. Before, if I had snuck a food that was “bad” for me, I would then try to balance it out with healthy foods, eating even more food. I think I kind of saw it like your carbon footprint. Saving energy by turning off lights and eating less or no meat balanced out the use of driving a car. Eating healthy food canceled out the cake.
By the third day, I realized something amazing. My body started craving green leafy vegetables, green drinks and other healthy foods. Most importantly, my perspective changed. I stopped looking at those foods as bad, can’t have, or guilty pleasure foods. That broke the cycle of craving and wanting those foods. If I want a food that is not as healthy as a whole food, I don’t deprive myself. I found that I eat less of that food or even pass it up because I no longer restrict myself. I count it as part of or all of one of my meals.
I used to be big on saying “diets don’t work”. Diets work amazingly well. The problem is that after we are done with restrictions and measuring food, our relationship and beliefs about food haven’t changed. So it’s easy to fall back on old habits. The cycle starts all over again.
There is no such thing as bad food. It doesn’t make you steal a car or rob a bank. It doesn’t turn you into a gangster. If you struggled with weightloss, one part of breaking the pattern of choosing poor quality food is giving yourself permission to have it and enjoy it (of course, if you have health restrictions and can’t eat certain foods for health reasons, DON’T EAT THEM!, this is for people who don’t have issues where food impacts their health).
I’ve realized that permanent weightloss is complicated. It’s not just about losing the weight. It’s about clearing my perspectives on food, how I’ve used food as an emotional crutch, learning how food can support my body to prevent cravings and increase nutrition.
This experience of changing my perspective about bad food has removed one more restriction on my free spirit. I don’t have to follow the rules of diet to continue to lose weight. I’ve broken the habit of obsessing about eating certain foods. Today, I am one step closer to reclaiming my free spirit.