What a terrible way to live–not being able to eat the foods you love without your conscience ruining the fun. The sheer misery of living like this is the simple reason why diets don’t work. We start them with every intention of sticking to them, and as we begin to get results we allow just a few “shouldn’t” foods to work their way into the diet, maybe as a reward. They taste good, we eat more of them, and we start feeling guilty. We realize how much feeling guilty about eating sucks, and we eventually quit the diet in favor of our “shouldn’t” foods.
I’m here to tell you there’s a better way.
Let’s think about what “I shouldn’t be eating this” means. When you say you shouldn’t eat chocolate ice cream, what you mean is that you think it will be bad for your body. Your brain knows that it’s not a nourishing food. But some part of you wants it; let’s call that part of you your heart. And I strongly believe that your heart should have a say in what you eat.
Why? Because life isn’t a contest to build the best body, or even to live the longest. When two people are lying on their deathbeds, who’s happier? The guy who lived to be 100 by eating the perfect diet his entire life, or the one who ate moderately well but allowed himself lots of delicious exceptions and died at age 80? You think I’m going to say Guy #2, but I’m not. The answer is it depends. It depends on which of them lived the life he wanted to, of which diet is a small part.
If Guy #1 willed his way through life always wishing he could eat certain foods that he couldn’t, cursing his diet when he was trying to have a good time with friends, then I’ll bet he had a pretty darn miserable century. If, on the other hand, he was an elite athlete or an animal rights activist and vegan, and every bite of healthy food affirmed his life’s purpose, then his extreme diet was a necessary part of his life’s mission. He probably felt pretty good as he kicked the old bucket. You can fill in the same type of story for Guy #2. But to be fair, realize that eating what you want doesn’t have to mean living less. I’m a firm believer that the happier you are, the longer you’ll live.
My point is that what matters in the end is how happy we were. And when you talk about what you “should” eat, you’re usually just talking about your body. In reality, you “should” eat what makes you happy, and your values determine that. When what you’re eating is in line with your values, then whatever you’re eating starts to taste pretty good. I’ve experienced this shift firsthand. It’s easy for me to eat well now, because I don’t want to eat that cake. Desserts don’t taste that good to me anymore.
What I don’t want is for you to run off and eat whatever you want because the NMA said it’s ok (referring to oneself in the third person can be fun when one has a stupid nickname to use). Here’s why that would be bad: you’d be really happy during the 10-minute eat-fests, but feel terrible during all the time in between.
You need to first get clear on what’s important to you, then decide what diet will best support whatever that is. But you need to be careful. The reason America is fat is that we make this decision for the short term. We’re used to eating fake food, and because change is uncomfortable before it starts to feel good, we stick with the fake food. My plea is that you not be afraid to change. If you’re used to eating fake food, I can tell you that real food won’t taste as good right away. But if your mind is open and you stick with it for a few weeks, you’ll notice that your taste buds go from enemy to ally in the battle between brain and heart over what you should eat.
What is YOUR heart telling you to eat that your brain is telling you not to? I’m interested to hear. I’ll go first–coffee. And I apologize for the creepy photo.