Often, in discussions about eating, it seems to me that two choices are being offered:
Worrying about it. This means that we worry — or at least think and plan — about our eating and weight.
Not worrying about it. This seems to be the opposite. Eating whatever, whenever. Not worrying about our weight. Throwing away the scale!
For many of us*, neither of these options works particularly well.
“Worrying about it” exhausts us. We can keep it up for a while, but sooner or later, we find ourselves with a dozen cupcakes leftover from that party on our kitchen counter…and we eat way more of them than we’d like to admit.
But “not worrying about it” doesn’t always serve us, either. We love that we don’t have to worry so much about calories or portions or grams of sugar…but we also sometimes (or frequently) feel like we eat in ways that don’t serve us.
A lot of people I speak to are burned out on “worrying about it.” And yet, they’re afraid that I’m going to tell them to “not worry about it,” because they’ve had bad experiences with that, too. People often tell me things like, “I tried to follow intuitive eating and throw away my scale, but then I just kept eating all the time and gained a ton of weight — I think it didn’t work for me.”
To be clear: I do think that getting rid of your scale + worrying less about your precise weight is a great idea, and I think that if you’re craving perfect chocolate chip cookies or perfect fried chicken you should eat those things, and eat them frequently.
However, I also believe that developing a sane, joyful relationship with food is typically more complex than simply saying, “don’t worry about it!”
Many of us develop our “worrying about it” behaviors because we’ve noticed that we tend to eat in ways that don’t serve us. Maybe we eat when we aren’t actually hungry. Or we choose foods or quantities of foods that don’t actually make us feel good.**
If we just release the restrictions associated with “worrying about it,” without putting any new skills, insights, or tools in its place…there’s a good chance we’ll end up eating in a way that doesn’t serve us. And then, inevitably, we’ll go back to “worrying about it” again, convinced that we “can’t be trusted” around pita chips or shortbread cookies.
The alternative, in my opinion, is we leave the “worrying about it” – “not worrying about it” dichotomy entirely, and go deeper.
There are several fundamental, subtle questions that we have to answer when we go deeper:
What does it look like to eat in a way that serves all parts of me (my mind, my body, my spirit, my emotional well-being)?
Why do I sometimes eat in ways that DON’T serve all parts of me?
What actions do I need to take to more often eat in ways that serve me?
These actions may have something to do with eating, or nothing to do at all with eating.
What are the trade-offs associated with those actions?
These questions are simple to read, but they are very, very complex to answer. Answering them requires deep, personal examination and experimentation. They require a level of self-awareness and a willingness to sit with difficult feelings or emotions that is genuinely hard to achieve. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and everyone’s “answer” will be complicated.
I’m going to say it again: these questions are simple to read, but complex to answer.
Deeply engaging with these questions is the core work of the Dessert Club, which start on Tuesday and Wednesday of this coming week! (You can learn more here.) A group like the Dessert Club can be helpful because you can’t engage with these questions by simply reading a book or an article — you need to actually apply the questions to yourself, and try new actions in the world.
You could call this work “gathering data,” “mindfulness,” or “turning up the volume on our inner experience.” But at its core, this work asks that you pay attention — so it’s not the same as simply “not worrying about it.”
But it’s also, in my opinion, not the same as “worrying about it.” Instead, it’s about gently exploring how you can best take care of yourself in this world, and taking action in that direction. It’s not harsh or aggressive or judgmental.
Which is all to say: if you feel yourself boomerang-ing from “worrying about it” to “not worrying about it”, why not try something else entirely?
*It’s worth naming that there are versions of both “worrying about it” and “not worrying about it” that work fabulously well for people. I’m not talking about those people in this essay — if what you’re doing is working fabulously well for you, please keep doing it!
**Of course, those behaviors, themselves, may be triggered by other things — we might eat an entire bag of chips, for example, because earlier that day we went on a four-hour diet.