Have you ever experienced this? You’re at work. You get an email that it’s Susie’s birthday. Everyone is meeting in the breakroom at 2:00 pm for cake.
What are your next thoughts and actions?
- “YUM! I love cake.” You enjoy a piece of cake with everyone and go back to work, not giving it another thought. It’s just cake.
- “Oh no. I didn’t plan for cake today.” You announce to everyone that you’ll have a tiny piece but you’ll work it off at the gym later. You spend the rest of the afternoon anxious about working off the calories from the cake, calculating how long you will need to stay on the treadmill to make up for your splurge.
- “Cake, oh crap. What am I going to do?” You decide to show up and take a piece but announce you’re still full from lunch and you’ll take it back to your desk to enjoy later. You get back to your desk, throw it in the trash and cover it up with some papers so no one will notice.
- “Oh, no thanks. No cake for me, I’m on a diet.” You watch everyone else enjoy the cake, get congratulated for your willpower, and obsess about cake the rest of the day. On the way home you stop, buy a cake and binge on it alone that night, falling asleep blanketed in guilt and shame, vowing to do better tomorrow.
Do you see yourself in one of these scenarios? Do you secretly envy the people in the first scenario? What if I told you that the real secret to breaking free from dieting and constantly obsessing about food was to stop assigning labels to foods and to give yourself permission to enjoy all foods?
It’s true. When we remove the moral value and labels of “good or bad” from food, it loses its power over us. Food becomes just food and our choice to eat it or not is just that, a choice.
One of my first memories of assigning a label of good or bad to a food was when I was 10 years old and on my first formal diet. A Weight Watchers leader told me in a meeting that peanut butter was bad and I shouldn’t eat it. I liked peanut butter but never really thought about it that much. I ate it sometimes on a PB&J sandwich like most kids, but that was it. Now it was forbidden. There was a moral value attached to it; “Eating peanut butter was bad, therefore if I ate peanut butter I was bad.” I got home after the meeting and all I could think about was peanut butter. I thought about it constantly for the rest of the day. I went to sleep that night thinking about it. I woke up at 3:00 am and the first thought that popped into my head was “Peanut Butter!” As if on autopilot, I got out of bed, went to the kitchen, took the jar of peanut butter out of the cabinet and grabbed a spoon. Sitting on the kitchen floor, in my nightgown, I ate spoonful after creamy spoonful of peanut butter. When I was finished with what I would later come to understand was a binge triggered by restriction, I returned the jar of peanut butter to its proper place in the cabinet hoping no one noticed how much was missing, washed the spoon and made sure I didn’t leave any evidence behind. I went back to bed with a pain in my stomach and a blanket of shame pulled over me.
This restrict – binge cycle blossomed into an eating disorder, accompanied by other behaviors, and would become a secret I lived with for the next 40 years. Self-loathing, negative body image and feelings of never being good enough were fueled by diet culture and the dangerous beauty standards placed on young girls and women in our society. When I finally decided to heal my relationship with food and my body, I sought help. With a skilled and compassionate team by my side I confronted all the false-beliefs and demons from my past and successfully broke up with diet culture. In doing so, I found the space to rebuild a relationship with myself. Being human, I’m still a work in progress but now I call the shots.
Breaking up with diet culture isn’t easy. The diet industry is powerful, like a narcissistic partner who works hard to groom, manipulate and gaslight you into thinking you are broken, in need of fixing or rescuing, and it promises to be your savior. It knows how to charm everyone it engages with; the media, your friends, your family, even the medical community. It makes fantastical promises only to leave you feeling unworthy and useless when you can’t meet its standards.
Leaving a relationship like that is hard but it’s possible. Once you make the decision to break free and experience life on your terms amazing things start to happen. You begin to trust yourself more, forgive yourself more and love yourself more. It takes practice and it takes time but it is worth it. You are worth it!
PS. Just eat the cake!
If you’re ready to take back control of your life, I’d love to help guide you through your journey.
Contact me if you’d like to find out more.