The answer to your health, happiness and food and weight struggles is eating whatever you want - that is, whatever your body wants. And you have no idea what kind of expressions I get from people when I say that and to that I ask, why have we allowed losing trust in our own ability to make this most basic human decisions for ourselves become a thing?
"Wait, I don't understand... what do you mean I can eat what I want? Isn't that what got me into this mess? How will I be healthy or lose weight if I live on pans of brownies and eat nothing but sugar all day? So like, for breakfast, what would I even eat? And what about lunch? I don't understand."
And they look at me in complete disbelief, like I'm batcrap crazy.
Before I go on, sit with that for a minute.
A very large percentage of our population doesn't even trust themselves to decide what they should eat. They're actually going through their entire life afraid of the concept and live most of their lives (ineffectively) trying to force themselves to follow someone else's food rules - if you're reading this right now, I'd be willing to bet you're one of them - and I totally get it because I was too for most of my life.
Millions of grown adults -- brilliant, accomplished, talented, skillful people, raising families, running households and even entire companies -- don't trust themselves to make this most basic of human decisions for themselves.
Not only do they not trust themselves, they're terrified to even consider it.
"Eating whatever I want got me into this mess. I can't be trusted. I'm addicted to food. I have to eat what someone else tells me. If it was up to me I'd just binge and eat crap all day."
That's what we're taught to believe.
But, how did we ever come to believe that choices made from restriction, deprivation, guilt, shame and punishment would ever lead to anything positive or healthy for ourselves or our bodies?
It's the not listening to our bodies and eating whatever we want that makes us feel food obsessed and out of control around the "bad" foods. Eating is not a learned skill. We are born into bodies that instinctively know what they need, bodies that know how to eat, bodies that know when they're hungry and when they're full. The problem lies in the fact that over the course of our lives, we're taught to unlearn those things and distrust our bodies.
We're taught to ignore, hate, distrust and disconnect from our own bodies.
Parents who (while trying to do the best for us) force us to eat when we're not hungry, to clean our plates even if we're full because heaven forbid the plate doesn't get cleaned or try to control intake for fear we may 'get fat'.
A weight loss industry that convinces us their magic diet and all its stupid restrictions, is the magic answer to health, happiness & the perfect weight - their magic diet that all too often eliminates foods or entire food groups that our body knows it needs to feel and function its best.
It's an industry built around convincing you that you cannot trust yourself or your body to make this most basic of human decisions for yourself - they teach us to ignore our bodies and instead eat what, when and how much they tell us our bodies need.
The rules create chaos in our brains because they're not designed to manage food restriction - in fact, the survival center in our brains freak out over food restriction - that's what causes cravings, caving and autopilot/mindless eating.
Our brains also learn that eating fills emotional needs that may otherwise not be getting met in our lives and relationships so it starts creating auto-pilot habits of relying on food to fix everything we feel, whether or not our bodies are physically hungry or want the food.
Look at the Source Why do we gain weight in the first place? Before the first diet ever? Because we're taking in more fuel than we're burning. It's just an overflow of fuel.
Why are we doing that? I've seen a number of common themes in the people I've worked with over the years but it's never, ever because they're lazy, lack self-control, discipline or are addicted to "bad" things like we've been taught to believe.
The reality is, there are so many reasons why we eat, a large amount of which have nothing to do with physical hunger. Again, it's just the result of behaviors that are being driven at the brain level. And it doesn't help that we don't generally have any idea how much fuel is in the foods we're eating and have an abundance of foods at our disposal that have more than we need. (Side note: you'll notice I use the term fuel, not calories. I do that purposely to try to remove the stigma and emotion from it because we're taught that excess calories are bad - when the truth is, they're really just fuel that keeps us alive)
When we're eating for all of these reasons that have nothing to do with physical hunger, it's not our bodies making choices for our bodies. It's our brains. And THAT is why spend our entire lives struggling with food - because when we're taught to ignore our bodies need, our brains start driving our choices - often completely unconsciously.
So weight gain starts simply because we're eating more fuel than we burn and we do that for a number of different reasons - none of which by the way are bad. It just is what is.
Before we ever learn one single diet rule, that can easily be turned around by simply figuring out your individual cause -- the why behind why you're eating the way you're eating and changing that. It would literally be that easy if food rules never got involved.
But that's not the way it turns out because we're taught that weight gain is failure. It's stigmatized and demonized to the ends of the earth so we start feeling ashamed of our bodies. From this place of shame, we're taught that fixing it requires that we disconnect from (and stop trusting) our own body's needs, and follow their rules to fix the problem - when all it really does is attempt to band-aid the symptoms.
Starting to try to follow a diet to "fix" the problem is a lot like throwing a match on a can of gasoline because we don't want it to explode.
It makes everything worse. Dieting, that is losing weight by following someone else's rules, is the greatest predictor of future weight gain.
Trying to force ourselves to follow someone else's rules and not ever eat certain things again (because those things are "bad") just makes it all worse.
I'm not getting into the science behind that now because I've talked about that a ton already (grab a copy of my free ebook for more on that or check out this piece I wrote for Tiny Buddha piece here) -- but for now just know that it's literally the way our brains have evolved over the entire course of human history - to keep us alive.
Trying to restrict makes us food obsessed and wires our brains to obsess and overeat the very things we're trying to restrict. (Yeah, I know low-carb proponents want you believe that sugar is addictive and the only way to stop feeling addicted to it is to cut out carbs/sugar/"bad" foods. But that's completely untrue and in fact, it's the trying to eliminate them that makes you crave them more. Read more on why here) THEN, because we're told we are what we eat, and allll those foods are bad, we believe that WE are bad.
We lose trust in ourselves. We feel shame for being "bad" and we punish ourselves, with destructive and abusive thoughts and with food, either by trying to restrict further or by overeating or bingeing even more. Read more on food shame here.
All of the self-destructive food choices we make, that are the cause of our weight and food struggles are the result of what's happening in our brains and are in fact, in large part created by dieting and food restrictions - by not just eating what our bodies want and need.
You're not eating an entire pan of brownies because your BODY wants that, you're eating it because of the stuff going on in your brain that's driving that behavior.
Your body is a thousand times smarter than any book, program or Netflix propaganda that's trying to tell you a lie about what it needs and doesn't need.
You've just been taught to ignore it and your brain has hard-wired compulsions and habits that drive destructive choices.
Take the restriction, guilt, shame and judgment away and you slowly stop your brain's food obsessions.
Then keep it busy addressing where all of the obsessions and self-destructive choices are coming from and changing them, instead of trying to force control over every morsel that goes in. And most importantly, learn to trust and listen to your body when it tells you it's hungry, when it tells you it's full, when it tells you what it wants (remember, that's not the same thing as what your brain wants), how the things you're eating are making you feel and most importantly, learn to value yourself enough that you believe you deserve to feel good. It took me many years to learn to perfect this process and in those years of work, I found a very specific set of steps that are required to get there but when you do this process right, something unexpected happens.
Your body starts to go... uh, no... we don't want to feel the way eating that entire pan of brownies makes us feel. Can't we just have a little broccoli instead? Or maybe half a brownie and a little salad?
And all of a sudden, those who previously felt completely out of control around certain foods, don't even care about them anymore. We start eating less over all and eating less of the things the make us feel like garbage - not by force or restriction but effortlessly, without even trying because what we actually want to eat, starts to change.
We start making choices for our bodies by listening to them from a place of love, nurturing and connection.
I'm not here to argue whether or not brownies (or whatever "bad" food) are healthy. I'm not saying that. I've written entire articles on how bad sugar is for us. I'm not advocating living on processed or sugar laden foods.
BUT... what I am saying is that trying to force yourself to not ever eat anything "bad" again is a huge driving force in what's making you eat the entire pan of brownies and eating the entire pan instead of just having a small piece is WAY less healthy (both physically and mentally) than just allowing yourself to enjoy a little piece and moving on.
Eliminating food rules is the first step in the process of learning how to eat healthier and even lose weight without feeling out of control or obsessed with food.
You're not eating destructively because that's how you want to eat. You're not eating an entire pan of brownies or bag of chips because you want to or because you're a pig and can't be trusted, or whatever you're telling yourself.
It's precisely because you feel like you're not allowed to have it and can't ever have it again that you're eating a pan instead of just enjoying a small piece. Your brain telling you, "you idiot, why'd you eat that.. you blew it again. You may as well just eat the pan and start again tomorrow" is driving that behavior and now we know those thoughts aren't true and where they're originating from.
You're eating the way you're eating because your brain is driving the behaviors - change that and everything changes. Forever.
When you allow yourself to just eat a brownie if you feel like it, without guilt or shame, you know you can have more aaaany time you want more, you're paying attention to how it makes you feel when you eat it and you begin to believe that you are worthy and deserving of feeling good in your body, the compulsions and destructive eating fades away.
That's the good news because it means that everything you've been telling yourself about how you're addicted to food, have no self-control, can't be trusted with food, etc is simply the result of faulty wiring in your brain and it can ALL be reprogrammed. When you rewire the faulty programming that drives self-destructive food choices, remove all the food rules and start actually connecting with your body and listening to what it needs and wants, learn better coping mechanisms for emotions and start to believe you're worthy of goodness, you start automatically reaching for more things that serve your greater good and less of the things that don't.
It's a simple (but not always easy) process and there's definitely a right way and a wrong way to do this whole "permission" thing.
Wrong way: thinking, "Oh good, I can just eat what ever I want and never think about food again" ...without doing any other work and while still having those nagging feelings of guilt for eating "bad" things. WRONG way. That will absolutely result in weight gain and probably continuing to feel worse about yourself which will result in more overeating stuff that makes you feel awful. This is not helpful to the process.
Right way: releasing the food rules WHILE doing the work required to understand why you're eating the way you're eating (the habits and emotions behind your behaviors), rewiring your brain to change those things and building a loving connection with your body. Here's one simple step that you can start practicing right now: before you eat ask yourself, why do I want that? Am I physically hungry? What am I thinking and feeling? How will I feel if I eat it? Do I want to feel that way?
Can you imagine a life in which you didn't even think about food or weight, you just ate what made your body feel the best? I'm finally living it and it's such a beautiful thing.
If you need help digging further into this process, that's exactly what cognitive eating was created for. I had to do it alone. It took forever and was sooo hard. That's why I created this process - so you don't have to do it alone.