Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fully Embracing Food...and Your Body

I recently read “Women Food and God” by Geneen Roth, a long-time overeating and body image guru, and author of many books including “When Food is Love” and “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating”. I subscribe to her e-mail club and yesterday received a message that included a concept that I finally understood before I gave up sugar 43 days ago.

She said that a Zen master once told a friend of hers who was trying to quit smoking that, “only when you give it to yourself completely can you completely give it up.” The same is true for food – or, in my case, sugar. I have heard this concept over the years and I never really could understand how this could be possible. I mean, aren’t you trying to reduce something in your life, not wrap your arms around it and embrace it as if it were a good thing? I always felt like if I “accepted” or “surrendered” to my love of sugar that it would consume me and I would be out of control eating sugar hand over fist. If I said it was “okay” to eat sugar, then wasn’t I just giving myself permission to eat and eat and eat? And then, wouldn’t I be doing exactly what I DIDN’T want to be doing? No, that concept never seemed to work for me. I thought it would backfire for sure.

Lots of self-help and body-image experts talk about how you have to fully accept your body, flab and all, before you can truly change it. Again, this made no sense to me. If I “accepted” my body in the state it was in with my too-big thighs, love handles, and stomach pooch, wouldn’t that just mean I was acquiescing to the state my body was in? I hated the way my body looked! Why on earth would I want to embrace it? I didn’t want to “approve” it, I wanted to change it!

Well, fortunately for me, perspectives can change over time. Here is how I finally “got” this principle. Knowing that I was going to attempt to give up sugar for good, back in June, I allowed myself 2 weeks of an unfettered consumption of sugary foods – ice cream, crème brulee, doughnuts, candy bars, you name it. Foods that I never even really ate on a regular basis (candy bars, really?), but decided to eat just because I could. I went nuts! I truly ate lots and lots of sugary foods. I gained a pound or two in 14 days, and I mentally accepted that this would happen. What was so ironic was that even though my body gained weight, emotionally and mentally, I could feel the “weight” of judging myself every time I ate sugar just lift away. It drifted upward like a balloon pulling a big, dead weight off of me. I could feel my self-inflicted judgment and tension just melt away. I felt so much lighter and freer, and for the first time in my life, I did not judge myself for eating whatever I wanted. It was an incredible feeling, and I let myself fully feel it, knowing that I had put a cap on my feeding frenzy of just 2 weeks. I knew that 2 weeks was long enough to really feel like I could just indulge, but not too long that I would do serious damage to myself. Amazingly, it was the best gift I could have ever given myself because after that…everything changed.

Seriously, everything changed.

I realized that I was always free to eat sugar anytime I wanted because I had finally given myself full permission and now I know what that felt like. I realized that every time I ate that sugar, I made a choice to do so.

When you truly feel free to do something, that means you also have the full freedom to choose to do it or NOT do it. You are not forcing your own actions against your will or judgment. It is totally and completely your choice. The exercise of free will at work. Having the freedom to choose to eat sugar in copious amounts also gave me the freedom to decide not to eat sugar at all. I know that it was MY decision that I made willingly, not a knee-jerk reaction to the never-ending war in my head between The Dictator which spoke to me in a judgmental voice (“Do NOT eat that sugar!”) and The Wild Child which always had a rebellious voice (“You MUST eat sugar now!”) (Besides, I know from experience that in that war, the rebellious side always wins. Read The Four-Day Win by Harvard-educated Martha Beck for more about that struggle.) When I decided to give up sugar the day I got back from my vacation on June 20th, I knew it was my full, free, beautiful, unfettered choice. And, I truly think that is why I have been able to do it.

I now know that every day I am making a conscious choice to live sugar-free. In fact, now that I have been doing it a while, I don’t even have to remind myself that it is a choice. It has become a habit. It is now a part of the fabric of my being, and part of who I am. Remarkably, I now do it without much effort. It’s kind of like brushing your teeth. There is no judgment around it. It’s just part of what you do every day because you know it keeps your teeth and your body healthy. End of story.

I never ever would have thought that I would get to a place where I don’t feel confined in the battle between The Dictator and The Wild Child in my head. It has completely surprised me. And, if I hadn’t given myself full rein to eat sugar – if I hadn’t “given myself completely” to it , just as the Zen master instructed, I know I would not ever have been able to “completely give it up”.