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You are starting a new diet tomorrow, so tonight you declare that you are going to “eat whatever you want!”. You have some dinner and dessert (and then some more) of your favorite eats because surely, after tomorrow, you won’t be eating them again. The deadline is approaching quickly and your stomach is FULL.
Over the years I have uncovered what it really means to eat “whatever you want”. This concept was first introduced to me by a dietician whom I was working with. She suggested that having unlimited access to ALL types of food would lead me to make balanced food choices. And that, over time, cupcakes and kale would hold a similar place in my mind. Food would just be food.
Well, it was never quite that cut and dry for me. I believe my turnaround was much slower because I held on to that lingering diet mindset… for years. Its effects still clouded my food decisions and made it harder than ever to actually eat as I wanted.
EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT. REALLY?
When you think of eating whatever you want, what comes to mind? For many, it is often a scene including excessive amounts of “junk” food and/or whatever the latest diet told us was “off limits”. After all, we want to make something super-appealing, just label it as a behavior that we “can’t do” or a thing that we are “not supposed to” have. Limitations can quickly become a pedestal to perch a forbidden food upon.
If we really think about it, we are allowing our restrictions (or diets) to tell us what we desire. Imagine a child who was not allowed to have a toy that he wanted badly. Oddly, he could have cared less about the blue truck 5 minutes earlier. But, now that this playmate is making that little truck vroom across the floor, nothing else matters!
It’s reverse psychology. In a sense, our ideas about eating “whatever we want ” outsource our desires to whichever diet we decided to follow last. It is just more proof that labeling foods as “good” and “bad” does us no favors.
Be sure to check out these posts detailing our freedom of choice when it comes to food. This is an essential part of this process but is more than we can cover in this blog post. Take a quick skim of one of these articles and then come back.
DEFINING OUR WANTS
When I speak to clients about letting themselves eat “whatever they want”, they panic a bit until I further explain exactly what I mean.
Our true wants, in regard to indulgent food, tend to look a lot different when we excavate them from under a pile of diet rubble. Our desires are about so much more than the 10 seconds we (halfway) taste that sneaky lick of chocolate icing on our tongue. If we confine ourselves to this limited way of thinking, we are being cheated!
It is important to define what we really want in life.
Matthew 6:21 NLT Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
Let’s veer what feels like a little off topic and discuss the priorities and values that you want MOST to influence your decisions. Take a moment to answer the following questions. Jot down the answers that pop into your mind first and then revisit them again later, prayerfully.
- What are your top 3 priorities in life?
- What are your top 3 values in life?
- What are the top 3 character strengths you want to possess?
Ok, great! So, now you have a bird’s eye view of what really matters to you. Let’s examine how this fits with food.
- If your food choices aligned with your priorities, how would the way you eat look different?
- If your food choices aligned with your values, how would the way you eat look different?
If your food choices aligned with your desired character strengths, how would the way you eat look different?
Oh, the priorities that I have overlooked, the values that I have ignored and the character flaws that I have possessed all in the name of food. How I’d give back that carton of ice cream for these things any day.
THE REAL DEPRIVATION
While no one wants to be deprived of foods that they enjoy, true deprivation comes when we skim past the very things that matter most. For example, integrity is one of my top 3 values. However, when my food choices lacked integrity, I felt AWFUL. Yes, it is nice to eat tasty things but when those treats interfere with a value that is near and dear to my heart, it stinks. Well, actually, it hurts.
Phillippians 3:8 NLT Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
Behavior change becomes easy when we see the desired behavior as enjoyable and rewarding (“Wow, it feels good to eat in a way that makes me feel proud of my actions!”) and the behavior that we are wanting to nix as painful (“I want to eat this but I know that afterwards, I will regret it deeply, so it’s just not worth it.”).
EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT. REALLY!
No doubt you are wondering how you apply this mindset shift to your daily life. Well, it all starts with a pause. As you probably know, unthoughtful food choices are typically not the greatest. If you have a stress–>eat reflex or a see food–> eat reflex, then what you need is a pause. A pause will allow you to connect with what is truly enjoyable and what is truly painful for you.
In the moment, ask yourself, “What do I really want? and refer to your musing above.
Now, understand that there is no right or wrong answer here. Some days the cupcake will align with your values, other days it may not. The important thing is that you know why you are making the choices that you are. Then you can mindfully choose your desired outcome.
If you struggle to find your pause, ask God to help you in the moments prior to your most challenging times. If “after dinner” can feel like a train wreck, maybe hit your knees as soon as you put the kiddos to bed.
Each time you pause, you are breaking the habit and confirming what you esteem most.
I hope that this post has helped you to examine what it really means to eat whatever you want”. We have looked at how our interpretation of this idea has been largely influenced by our dieting past and our perception of which foods are “off limits”.
However, as we begin to examine the root of these thoughts, we are better able to unravel what we really crave in our food choices. We don’t have to be held captive by arbitrary rules. Nope, we can make decisions that encompass our true wants and needs. It’s pretty fabulous!