We better hide these cookies, I said to my friend a few years ago. Because I can’t be trusted around them. Back then not having limits with food was the story I told myself. And I had plenty of evidence from my dieting days. In my mind it was an unquestionable truth that if I saw tempting food I would lose control and eat it all.
This fear of not being able to stop eating runs deep in those with a history of dieting. Women tell me a version of this story often. They tell me they know that they will go crazy with food if they don’t maintain rigid rules. The story is so ingrained that they will recoil in terror when given the homework of buying a favorite treat and eating as much as they want.
Fear of food may seem strange but it’s the logical result of years of deprivation. Through repeated restriction food has come to symbolize everything we didn’t get enough of in the past, be that love, emotional support, or cookies. This is why we feel so driven at times to eat it all right now, and so afraid that we will.
However, this time turned out differently for me because my friend didn’t accept my assertion. That’s not true, she said, before pointing out multiple instances where food had been in sight and I hadn’t eaten it.
It stopped me in my tracks. I realized that I hadn’t opened any of the chocolate I’d brought from Europe for gifts. And there were donuts from the day before also uneaten, as well as other delicious food easily accessible. The more evidence I gathered the more it became clear that since I had stopped dieting my story needed an update.
My new truth was that seeing tempting food no longer meant automatic loss of control. From then on I faced food without fear knowing there was a choice. Exciting new possibilities followed. I found that I could quit eating when I was approaching fullness. I could quit eating when not full if the taste wasn’t as hoped for. I could even quit eating something good in order to save room for something else.
When you aren’t operating out of deprivation your body will let you know when it’s had enough. You’ll begin to feel the uncomfortable tightness of approaching fullness or the taste will change such that it’s no longer as satisfying. Your mind will switch off the “wanting” signals and all of a sudden you can know you’ve had enough.
If you’ve never had food issues this might not seem like a big deal. But for me it felt like I had been handed a secret new superpower. Stand back food ‘cause I rule and you’ve got nothing, I thought as I strutted around feeling powerful. I could face down a chocolate cake, even when hungry, and eat only a piece if that’s all I wanted. I could even look at it with lust and then wait for later. I could also eat a large amount if that’s what I wanted without going crazy and eating everything else in sight.
To be clear, there are foods that still tempt me to eat beyond my wishes and foods I choose not to keep too accessible. Out of sight, out of mind is a good rule of thumb for a visual person. But more often than not if I happen to run across my husband’s stash of hidden chocolate I’m able to skip past and keep looking for whatever brought me to that drawer in the first place.
This is the value of updating your story. Outdated “truths” keep us in fear and sap our power. The fact is that you hold all the cards. The most tempting cake under a glass dome has no actual ability to grab you and push itself into your mouth, even when it totally feels that way. When you stop creating deprivation through dieting and restriction you can change your story and know that you have the power to eat however much or little you like now, later, or at any time.
If only there was an appropriate costume.
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