The Question to Ask When You’re Making a Change with Eating
Updated: Jun 27, 2019
A few months ago, I was working with a woman on her digestive health, her relationship to food, appetite and generally improving her energy and vitality. We hit an unexpected a-ha moment that changed the trajectory of our work together.
One of the strategies we were working on involved her eating more nutrient dense food. So one week I asked her to follow a particular protocol around her food choices-namely, to let herself eat to satiation, to eat whatever she wanted without judgment of it being good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.
At our follow up appointment, she explained to me the process she went through of eating and the mind chatter she had around satiation & fullness. She described that after one particularly satisfying meal, she continued to feel the pull of her appetite toward a smoothie she really loves, but rarely lets herself have.
Over and over, she explained how she kept asking herself “Could I have it?” as though that answer lived somewhere outside herself and in disbelief that she could in fact have it, she kept asking and asking.
After the 3rd or 4th time of repeating this phrase, I offered a different perspective.
What if, I suggested, the question about food, satiety and appetite wasn’t about whether or not you can have it, but whether or not you will allow it?
The difference between the two questions is that the first, "Can I have it", suggests that the permission to eat, have pleasure and satisfaction lies somewhere outside yourself, that you are not the one with power to make decisions about what is right for you.
This is a normal conditioned response inside of the confining box we’ve been taught to squeeze ourselves and our appetite into through dieting. Inherent in a diet culture mentality is that you and your appetite are not to be trusted or given control because you’ll likely make choices that will have you fall outside the prescribed ideal of beauty.
The alternate question I posed, "Will you allow it", is born from an inherent belief that you have the sovereignty and power to make decisions for yourself that feel good and right for you.
That not only can you make your own decisions, that you have the power to do so and that more over, you actually can trust your discernment and choices. Considering that you have the power to allow something means that it is you with your hands on the controls. You don’t have to second guess yourself or your choices, you can truly begin to live into the reality that you have the sovereignty and power to make the right choices for yourself. but that you can ebb and flow, give and take with what is right for you in any given moment.
It was a pivotal moment for this woman. To see herself as having dominion and choice around food and appetite, rather than believing she was at the mercy of food having to control, monitor and be ever vigilant of the choices she makes lest she make a choice that the “doing it right” diet police would judge and criticize her for.
Except that the diet police in this example really only existed in her own psyche. No one around her was judging her food choices. That’s the thing about conditioning- once we’ve learned it, we internalize it so well, we see it as a personal failing or problem that only we have to deal with, no longer seeing that maybe this is a systemically flawed problem, not merely a personal failing.
So if you find yourself going in circles with your food choices, feeling tortured between what your appetite is asking for and what your head or conditioning is telling you to do, see if you can change the question altogether.
Maybe like my client, its a matter of loosening up on the restrictive behaviors, or maybe its getting out of your same old routine around food or starting to question the beliefs and attitudes you’ve been taught around food & appetite.
No matter what your question may be, a good answer is always a little more permission, a little less (self) judgment.