Although I’m behind on my reading (and all things unnecessary to the daily functioning of my life), every once in a while I get to read a page or two of Why Weight, another Geneen Roth book based on workshop-type exercises rather than some of her other books that are filled with personal stories and anecdotes from readers.
So I got to the “Forbidden Foods” exercise the other day, and as you might guess the nature of the exercise was to make a list of all the things you “forbid” yourself to eat — whether that’s ham, salami, cookies, cakes, candy bars, chocolate, pastries, scones or ice cream — whatever it is that you think is off-limits, or SHOULD be, for whatever reason. In my mind, for example, it’s not always just junk food — I even have conflicts about who made the product sometimes, whether it’s local or not, how much it costs, whether it’s bad for the environment, so much so that as I was drafting my list today it occurred to me that it’s a wonder there’s anything left in the world that I do allow myself to eat “guilt-free”! Think about all the possible excuses or conflicts from my list alone:
- It’s too expensive
- I should have bought something healthier
- It has refined flour in it
- It’s a processed food
- It has sugar in it
- It has high-fructose corn syrup
- It’s not organic/free-trade
- It has caffeine in it
- It comes individually wrapped, which is bad for the environment
- It’s not on sale
- No health nut would eat this
- I’d be embarrassed if someone I knew saw what’s in my shopping cart
- There are “traces of corn or peanuts,” which I’m allergic to — although even my doctor said I don’t need to be too concerned about this anymore
- I should only be snacking on fruit, not this
- I shouldn’t be drinking the juice; I should be eating the fruit because it has more fiber
- I should buy more vegetables instead of spending my money on cookies
- So-and-so would never eat this
- It was handed to me through the window of my car
Really, from that list, what’s left? Whole-wheat bread, organic fruit and vegetables, and local, organically raised meats that, frankly, taste like the dirt and grass the animals were munching on before they came to their demise? And immediately, of course, a red flag goes up in my mind — YES! That is all you should be eating. What’s wrong with that? Maybe then you wouldn’t catch colds. Maybe then you wouldn’t also have conflicts about whether to call in sick when you’re sick. Maybe then you’d feel better about yourself and the tiny little world you live in.
And here, of course, lie all the problems.
Again, it took an outsider to point this out to me, but taking illness as an example, do you think it’s possible to not ever catch another cold again just because you eat more fruits and vegetables? And on the flip side, do you think it’s possible to never eat another blueberry scone again, for the rest of your life? Because that’s not the point. The point is to be able to eat the scone if you want it and to not feel guilty about it. What good does guilt do? Your initial reaction may be, well, it spurs you on to act differently the next time. But…not really. Guilt, fear, panic, anxiety, even happiness or joy are just emotions. What counts IS the action you take next time, not whatever emotional reaction you had yesterday or last week or this morning. I may feel guilty, but I still eat the cookies. And pita chips. And store-bought guacamole.
So why don’t you take a crack at it? Make a forbidden foods list, and then bring one of the items into your home for a week. Buy plenty of it. Eat it only when you’re hungry, and eat it only to satisfaction, not fullness, but try your best to not feel any guilt about it. Don’t feel any emotions, necessarily; try to just focus on how your body feels after you eat it, and while you’re eating it, for that matter. Does it taste as good as you thought it would? Do you even really like hard candies? Do you like the texture of the steak? Think about this as you munch, and try to push away any other emotions — or write them down as part of the exercise. Identifying them may help you to move past them in the future.
Let me know how it goes!