The other day I was sitting at a tattoo parlor waiting my turn while eating a takeout container of sushi. This is not normally part of my regular diet as I brown rice but it was the option that appealed to me as I walked through the grocery store. It was full of cucumber, avocado and tuna. All good things. As I sat there, a girl looked over and said "ugh, I'm hungry. I guess I'll have my bar" She proceeded to take a protein bar out of her bag (I won't name the company but let me just say, you should all be reading your ingredient lists when you buy packaged foods. If only to be fully aware as a consumer). She made a face, opened it up and started eating. She then looked at me and said "what I really want is sushi". I proceeded to tell her I had simply walked across the street. It wasn't far. She told me she was on a diet. I think my head cocked like a puppy hearing a new noise. She explained that it wasn't really a diet but she had to eat these bars because she had to eat at least 4 times a day at certain times and she couldn't deviate and was hardly home to cook and the only bars that were on the diet list of ok foods where the ones they sold at the gym that had put her on said diet. I immediately asked her what was in it. "Oh, I don't know" she said as she flipped the bar over and pulled at the wrapper to expose the ingredients list. It went something like this. "Corn syrup (yup, it was first), beet syrup, sugar..." I stopped her there. "you know that's ALL sugar" I said. She seemed a little surprised at the contents of her bar and then said, "if only it were cheat day I could ditch the bar and get some sushi". The conversation kind of stopped there as she wandered over to hold her friend's hand who was getting her first tattoo but her face told me that maybe she was pondering the bar and wondering why she was being told to eat that.
On top of the sushi I had yesterday, I also had a donut. Krispy Creme. Chocolate frosted. Delicious.
I enjoyed every bite and it wasn't even "cheat" day.
Back when I worked in an office people used to bring food in every once in a while. I would get to work and there would be a box of donuts in the kitchen or a tray of brownies. It was never carrots and hummus. Always baked goods. I would spend all day convincing myself not to eat one. Then, I would make a deal with myself. If I walked by the box after lunch and the chocolate cake donut was still there I would have it. Whether it was there or not seemed irrelevant as even if it was gone I'd have one and tell myself "only one". Then, after I had inhaled it at my desk where no one could see me eating it I would make another deal with myself. If there was still one left at the end of the day I would have it.
I would spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about the donut and hoping it was still there but also hoping it wasn't. All the while knowing full well that if it wasn't I would stop and buy myself one on the way home from work. The end of the day would come and I would check for the donut and if there where more than one make sure no one was looking and stash one in my bag and eat another on my way out the door. Then I would spend the rest of the evening berating myself because it wasn't "cheat" day and donuts were "bad" therefore I had done something wrong. I had no willpower or discipline and I might as well give up because I'll be fat forever.
The thing is about the foods we want and obsess over is that eventually we will eat them. Especially if they are easily accessible.
The girl in the tattoo parlor will probably go have sushi on top of the bar she just ate. She won't necessarily be hungry but she won't feel satisfied with what she ate and so she'll go out and eat what she really wants. She will then be mad at herself because it wasn't "cheat day. Of course this may not happen that same day but it's bound to eventually.
This has NOTHING to do with my thoughts on her willpower or discipline. In fact, I no longer think willpower or discipline are necessary in order to eat well. Now just hold on before I lose you here... That's not to say I haven't eaten my fair share of things that I thought I shouldn't have and then thought "If I only had more willpower" (see my story above!). What I mean is that if you are constantly feeling deprived then you are constantly thinking about that thing you "cannot" eat. The more we can't have it, the more we want it and the more we think about it. Its a vicious cycle.
A friend of mine once said that food addiction is possibly the worst kind of addiction. I'm not sure where I stand on this but her point was that you can't just not eat ever again. It's not something you can quit. We need to eat and so it makes the whole thing messy. Just like the word cheat.
When someone says I "cheated" it brings up all kinds of bad thoughts. We use the word cheat for so many "bad" or "wrong" things. "I cheated on my spouse", "I cheated on a test", "I cheated on my diet". We then go and use the word to try to make ourselves feel better. "it's cheat day!" Except it's not better. You are still doing the same thing but giving yourself permission to do it. It's a mind fuck!
What if instead you gave yourself permission to eat whatever you wanted every day. Do you think all you would eat is junk? Really? Because I don't. Not for a second. If you told yourself that you could have anything so long as you ate it slowly and stopped when you were satisfied and paid attention to how the food made you feel you would probably eat a lot more wholesome foods. In general, a bag of chips is not going to make you feel stellar but an apple will give you energy to go on with your day.
I used to dream about food. I would go to bed thinking about what I would have for breakfast. I would constantly be looking at the clock to see if I could go have my next meal. I would daydream about those donuts in the work kitchen because I couldn't have them, shouldn't have them. Once I let go of the negative associations I was making about food things changed. I no longer felt the need to think about the baked goods at work because If I really wanted one I would simply have it. I paid attention to the way foods made me feel physically rather than emotionally. I ate slowly, stopped eating when I was satisfied and paid attention to how often I wanted something that in the past I would have considered a "bad" food.
By removing the stigma from foods I found myself not craving, wanting and dreaming of foods that In the past I would have. It didn't make me eat more of these foods either. In fact, I eat less of them as I am more aware of how they make me feel. I don't enjoy feeling bloated, stuffed and lethargic.
Foods should never illicit feelings of "wrong" or "bad". Food is just food. We may have good feelings around celebrations that involve foods and certain foods may elicit some nostalgia or comfort but there are no good or bad foods. Food is food.
What are some foods you should NOT eat?
-Anything that does not make your body feel good
-Anything you are allergic or sensitive to
-Anything you don't want to eat
Drop the cheat days. Instead, eat what you want. Just be mindful of how it makes you feel.
Do you do cheat days? Let me know in the comments.