The phrase, “you have self control / discipline / willpower around food.”
During my dietetic internship I was placed at a rotation under 2 dietitians at a long term care facility who liked to say that the people we were meeting with, “had no self-control with food.” I spent most of my dietetic internship pretty conflicted because the mentalities of the RDs I was working under just felt wrong. One of the RDs was on Weight Watchers and counted the number of grapes she ate at a snack. (Like, what?) I have a lot of empathy for that RD now because she was around menopause age and I’m sure her body had changed (as it does when you hit menopause) and it sucks she felt the need to have to be on Weight Watchers, instead of pursuing a more life-giving and self compassionate approach like Intuitive Eating.
At this time I had never heard about intuitive eating or HAES but I was putting it together that 1) restricting (aka dieting) only helped me overeat, 2) having a list of good and bad foods left me overly full of foods I had labeled as bad and 3) having to exercise so much wasn’t going to be sustainable for much longer and I needed to figure out a way to be okay with the body size I was meant to be. At the time I was still figuring out what being truly healthy meant, but I knew counting the number of grapes you ate was neurotic and not what healthy meant for me.
I believe having willpower or self control around food is a euphemism for –> “I have a massive set of food rules that says I’m not allowed to eat X”. Like, I wonder…do you also have rules that micromanage other instincts? Do you put a limit on how many times you get to breathe that day or how many times you get to pee that day?
I don’t believe having food rules that say you can’t eat x food makes you a healthier person, therefore I think it’s strange that our society will say “oh you have such self control around food” as a positive thing…when having self control around food means you are micromanaging an instinct that isn’t meant to be micromanaged.
I now know that it’s not self control / discipline / willpower with food we should be going for…it’s awareness. We should work towards:
- awareness of hunger and fullness cues
- awareness of what level of movement is sustainable and nourishing for your body
- awareness that sometimes eating just to eat is a perfectly normal way to cope
- awareness that always going to food or always going to restriction of food for comfort from uncomfortable emotions isn’t effective long term
- awareness that you’ve been taught that having pretty much any fat on your body is a flaw and something you have to be working to change
- awareness that cellulite is a made up disease
- awareness of how crazy it is that the idea of letting your body find it’s natural body size is a radical concept
As an RD, I think it’s helpful to teach people about having awareness around their food choices rather than teaching someone to constantly deny or feel guilty about their instinct to nourish their body. I believe that having awareness is an act of self care, while constantly depriving yourself is self control.
Another thought I have about controlling your food and not listening to your hunger/fullness/cravings is…
You know when you think about breathing too much you forget how to breathe normally? It’s no different with food. When you think about micromanaging your food you eventually forget how to eat. Week after week, month after month, year after year of disordered eating likely will lead you to feeling neurotic about feeding your body. Food rules take away your ability to be a competent eater. Slowly but surely eating becomes more complicated. A delicious dessert gets transformed into a certain number of calories that you feel guilty about eating. A slice of pizza starts to be viewed as a villain rather than the excellent source of carbs, fat and protein that it is. You start to minimize wellness to how much quinoa and vegetables you ate that day, because that “healthy” living blogger you follow sure looks happy and she’s a self-proclaimed wellness expert and that’s all she eats (well, that, and Pressed Juicery fro yo). (<– clearly I have some annoyance towards wellness bloggers who water down wellness to clean eating and attending Soul Cycle.)
Just know that…
having willpower to say no to certain foods isn’t something to praise someone for. If you are able to physically or mentally restrict your intake due to an intense fear of gaining weight or because your self worth is highly influenced by your body shape or weight, that is not “taking care of your health,” “practicing self-control,” or “just a diet”…that is a disease.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on any of this!