Food and willpower, and judgement

I have had a complicated relationship with food since I was a kid. I grew up in a family in which healthy eating was a high priority. We very rarely ate out, ate a lot of veggies, and had few nutritionally deficient foods in the house. So certainly eating healthily was modeled for me. However, food & fat & character are tied together in really destructive ways in our culture, and being labeled fat as an elementary school kid really didn’t help. And there were ways in which food & hierarchy & character assessment were intertwined in our family which made me eating food a bit of a loaded thing.

As an adult I have gained weight. I am definitely not the same size I was when I was an 18-year-old college freshman. Given that for so long I bought the fat=unhealthy&ugly/healthy=thin&beautiful messaging that is so prevalent, it has been really hard to make clean choices about my food and about my health; underlying all of them was a passionate desire to become thin and therefore acceptable. As I have written about before, I have been working on gradually jettisoning some of that baggage from my mind and heart, especially since having children.

One of the things that I’ve done that has worked for me has been the Whole30 program, where for 30 days I eat principally meat proteins and veggies. Staying off sugar and most grains helps me have a clearer head, a happier gut, and more energy. However, I have found that though I can successfully eat no sugar while doing a Whole30, once I’m off it, the just-this-once mentality quickly kicks in, and I start quite frequently eating all sorts of crap I really don’t want. And when I do that, it is so easy to fall back into being hard on myself. And then, given societal pressures and childhood programming, I can find myself teetering on the brink of a punishment/indulgence pattern that is so destructive.

In the quest to find a balance that feeds all parts of me while creating a structure that helps me achieve my health goals, I have discovered that what works for me is to have assigned treat days at reasonable intervals (every two or three weeks seems to work). That way, when I’m tempted to eat that pizza/ice cream/bag of chips I can delay the fulfillment of that gratification rather than telling myself a flat no. Knowing that in a week or two I can have X, Y, or Z, (or some reasonable and delicious substitute) helps. It also helps me focus on which “treats” I really want, so I’m eating higher quality sugar when I do have it, for example.

Mostly, my goal is to move away from the model of punishing myself for a failure of will-power (“I was bad: I deserve to suffer!”) to one in which I can offer myself compassion, understanding, support, and a deeper connection to what I really want (“How do I want to feel, and how will this food support or work against me feeling good?”).

And then, if I can do that with myself, maybe I can do it with my kids.