Struggling with overeating or binge eating? As scary as it sounds, learning to just say yes to "bad" foods is the first step in making peace with food.
If you were a child in the eighties and nineties, then you very well remember "Just Say No," the mantra of the anti-drug campaign, DARE. We were lectured extensively on the dangers of using drugs, and when we were old enough, shown graphic images of tarry lungs, scarred livers and the bodies of teens killed by drinking and driving. Drug users were bad people with bad intentions, right up there with strangers in white vans and Shredder from TMNT. And you know you rocked that oversized black t-shirt emblazoned with "JUST SAY NO" in bright red letters.
It was a well intentioned program, but almost 30 years later, we know it was totally and completely ineffective. Studies have found children enrolled in the DARE were no less likely to have tried drugs. Not only that, they were more likely to suffer from lower self esteem.
That's because telling someone to say no is an ineffective and often dangerous message. It makes yes so much more tempting. We've all been told not to touch the hot plate. And what did we do? Touch the hot plate. Plus, it ignores the fact that at some point, many kids will say yes, and when they do, they'll brand themselves as one of those "bad" drug-using people they were warned about and probably feel pretty crappy about themselves, increasing the likelihood they'll continue to use.
So, what does all this have to do with food? It dawned on me the other day that "Just Say No" is the same approach most people have been taught to manage their weight. Magazines and diet books tell us the key to successful dieting is ironclad willpower. If we can stick to the "good" foods and just say no to the "bad" foods, then we'll be skinny, healthy and GOOD. Of course, that approach has had about the same outcome as the DARE drug program. Most people struggle with overeating and binge eating low nutrition processed foods, and then feel pretty crappy about themselves for it.
The solution? Just say yes...to food at least. Give yourself permission to eat all the foods you love and desire. As much as you want, when you want. It may sound scary at first - it can be hard to trust yourself around "bad" foods without the reins. It may also sound counterintuitive, but taking away the restrictions makes these foods much less tempting. Most of us have a little bit of a rebellious side. Telling yourself you can't or shouldn't have a food usually leads to an intense craving and then bingeing. When you do inevitably eat a cookie or candy bar or whatever it is, you won't feel so guilty about it because it's not like you broke any rules. Without the guilt and hit to your self esteem, you'll be better able to get back up on your feet again.
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The next time you feel a craving hit for a "bad" food, take away that negative label and give yourself permission to enjoy and savor it. Is it still as tempting? Maybe. Or maybe not. Take one guilt free bite and check in with yourself. How did it taste? Are you enjoying it, or was it tempting simply simply because it was off limits.
If you've struggled with overeating or binge eating, I know how scary this sounds. You fear giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is a free pass and that you lack the willpower to stop. But telling yourself "no" is keeping you stuck in the cycle of overeating and guilt. Put a little trust in yourself. Learning to just say yes is the only way you can start making peace with food.
Need more help in making peace with food? Check out my guide, 20 Days of Joyful Eating in the Nutrition Shop. It includes 20 activities and strategies to help you make peace with food and rediscover the joy of eating.