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Riots Not Diets

Taking the risk of blossoming (aka letting go of the un-controllable)

Updated September 26, 2022

Last week, I wrote about intuitive eating, the practical and healthy alternative to dieting and other forms of food restriction. There are many objections to intuitive eating out there, and one of the most common is, “How can I possibly allow myself to just eat whatever I want? If I did that, I’d dive into a container of [insert X forbidden food here] and never claw my way out!

But here’s the thing: there is paradox inside of intuitive eating that is the real key to its magic. Once you remove all food rules—not the ones related to allergies or other sensible things, but the emotionally-based food rules—no food is off limits. Every food is available to you, and permissible to eat. No longer are you a child being told by a diet company that you are forbidden from eating this or that. Instead, you are launched into Food Adulthood, someone who has complete autonomy, freedom and choice over your food. 

Herein lies the paradox: once everything is available to you, the excitement that food used to have is extinguished. There’s no magnetic pull from sugar, no screams of “EAT ME!” coming from the chip aisle in the grocery store, no more panting and salivating over chocolate. When nothing is off limits, the only things that become truly interesting to you are the things that your body really WANTS to eat. You discover, as I did, that cheap chocolate burns your throat; that certain formerly-forbidden goodies that make you feel bloated just aren’t worth it; that having a third piece of whatever is just actually not that interesting. When you can eat a bag/box/container of your most favourite thing in the world any time of the day or night, it almost entirely loses its appeal.

So, yes, sure, when you’re going through the “legalization” phase of intuitive eating, yes, it’s entirely possible you will have an emotional and physical need to dive face-first into a McCain’s cake so that your body and mind can truly know, yes, I won’t take this away from you anymore. In doing so, you learn you can relax around this food because you’ll never have to grip on to it ever again

But once your body and mind are completely aligned with the fact that you’re not policing your body’s desires anymore, everything just calms the hell down. Formerly forbidden foods just become one more no-big-deal option you can choose to eat or not. This is the moment that intuitive eating really feels like magic.

The second objection is the corollary to the first, which is “But will I gain weight if I don’t follow any more food rules?” The answer to this question is a solid you can’t really know the answer to that in advance. When you stop yo-yo dieting, your weight will naturally stabilize at its set point. This is the weight your body will naturally take when it is allowed to have everything that it wants and needs: the level of physical activity that is the most fun and satisfying for you; the amount of sleep that best restores you; and yes, the amount of food that your body needs to fuel everything you want to do with your life. That’s why some people lose weight, some people gain weight, and some peoples’ weight stays the same when they start eating intuitively. 

If not being in control of your weight terrifies you, consider the alternative: a lifetime of wasting time, energy and money trying to control something that is actually uncontrollable. Because remember, you were never actually in control of your weight in the first place.

Your endless attempts at various diets and methods of restriction were all ultimately about the fact that your body has countless mechanisms to make sure you were never going to threaten your own life. Your weight gain was never a failure of willpower; it was a success of your body’s will to survive.

Still, I know that relinquishing the illusion of control over our weight can feel terrifying. It’s for this reason that when someone I know bravely decides to take this path, it brings to mind that old chestnut from Anaïs Nin:

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

AnaIs Nin

When you relinquish control in favour of peace, that is the moment when all of the trust, respect, acceptance, love, and security that you’ve been longing for—that I wrote about here—arrives right on your doorstep. It arrives in the form of You, the fully grown-ass adult who knows she is gonna be ok, and can therefore finally breathe.