But Katie, if I let myself eat whatever I want, I am going to want NOTHING but flourless chocolate cake.
I hear this a lot from people who’ve spent years or decades “managing” their eating in one way or another — through mainstream diets or personal guidelines like “don’t eat more than three bites of dessert.” They’re pretty terrified of giving up all of those rules in favor of a non-dieting or intuitive way of eating.
And I don’t blame them. Most of us have had pretty scary “overindulgent” eating experiences when we’ve boomeranged OFF of those restrictions — eating a whole pint of ice cream and a family sized bag of chips in one sitting.
So we’re pretty afraid that we’ll do the same thing again.
And then never stop.
The short-term answer to that question of “will I want to eat tons and tons of junk?” is yes. Yes, you probably will want to eat tons and tons of junk.
But the long answer is no, you won’t want to eat only junk forever.
When you first take away all of the rules, in any area of life, you’re going to do the opposite of what you were “forcing” yourself to do. Think about a time when you’d worked hard at school or your job for days or weeks or months, and you finally had some free time. Did you want to be super productive? Did you crave checking a million things off of your virtuous to-do list?
Probably not. You probably wanted to be a Totally Useless Ball of Mush, who mostly watched TV, noodled around on the Internet, and ate pancakes.
But eventually, if you gave yourself enough time and space, at a certain point being a Totally Useless Ball of Mush would stop feeling good.
You might want to do some errands,
or clean your house,
or see friends,
or go to the dentist.
It wouldn’t be that you’d stop wanting to lie on the couch and watch “The Bachelor.” It’s just that your reality TV needs would eventually be in balance with your needs to live in a nice home, have a body that feels good, have clean teeth, etc. — so you’d do what you needed to do to take care of all of those things.
It’s exactly the same thing with food. When we know that we’re allowed to do what we need to do to “take care of ourselves,” in the most holistic sense, the prioritization becomes clear.
Yes, for the first day or week or four months or whatever, we may choose bacon cheeseburgers and double-chocolate brownies (or whatever happens to be your favorite).
But when we truly relax into the fact that we can have these things anytime we want, we realize that having these extremely indulgent foods for every meal just isn’t the best self-care.
We realize that excellent self-care means having these foods, but balancing them out with foods that help us feel good in our bodies and have the energy to get through our day, and more.
There’s one really important thing about this whole “let yourself have what you like” business. Did you catch it?
You have to give yourself time and space to figure this stuff out.
If you are constantly thinking, in the back of your head: I’m going to do this “non-dieting” thing for a week, and if it doesn’t work, I’m going back to Atkins, it won’t work. You’ll eat everything in sight even if you’re not hungry, because in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking, I only have one week! Gotta eat it all now!
So if you haven’t let yourself have grilled cheese sandwiches for years, when you actually let yourself have what you like, you’re going to probably want a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches.
But if you stay with it, over time your food consumption will come to reflect your multifaceted needs. Your needs for delicious foods and for convenience. Your needs to connect with others and to not spend too much money and to feel good in your body.
Or whatever your needs happen to be.
How long will it take? I have no idea — everyone is so different, and it depends on your dieting history, your level of honesty with yourself, and many other factors.
For me, the mostly-eating-cupcakes-and-milk phase lasted a couple of months. Then my eating started to look a bit more “normal” — though I still ate a lot of peanut butter cups for dinner. It was probably nearly a year before the idea of “vegetables as snacks” appealed, but it genuinely did appeal (and does to this day).
And you know what? When it wasn’t completely terrifying, the mostly-eating-cupcakes-and-pie-and-milk phase was incredibly fun and liberating.
You might like it :)
Still terrified about this journey? I can’t recommend getting support enough. If you’d like to work with me, I do individual coaching, and run super fun small group mentorship programs (as you've probably heard :) called Dessert Clubs.