Tag Archives: dieting

A Culture of Rules

(Warning: This post addresses ideas about dieting and food rules.)

I picked up a skinny little book at a thrift store when I was in Las Vegas called Wake Up! You’re Probably Never Going to Look Like That … How to be Happier, Healthier and Imperfectly Fit by Michelle Pearl.

The whole book is only 100 pages and on first glance seemed to be about how a person could workout until they were dead and still not look like a supermodel/body builder/ideal role model.

So, I sprung the 50 cents and bought it. And then I read it.

Pearl, it seems, lost more than 100 pounds. Twice. The first time, she lost 120 and gained it back. The second time, she lost 150, went to Mexico to have her excess skin removed, and has kept it off for several years. She’s a fitness trainer now.

On page four, Michelle explains that she is always hungry and has found ways to handle the hunger.

At first I thought–this is clearly a self-published book and maybe she just needed an editor to clean things up so that it didn’t read like she had figured out how to be okay with always feeling hungry.

But then I got to the part where she talked about what she ate. She has so many rules. So many rules. One of them is that she won’t eat a certain sandwich at Subway because it has (gasp) almost 400 calories. Her favorite lunches have less than 300 calories and no fat.

No wonder she’s always hungry.

One of her favorite parts of her day is when she eats fat free/sugar free pudding with fat free/ carb free nondairy whipped topping and a few nuts with her husband. I’m all for tradition, and I fully understand that people find their comfort where they can. My favorite night of the week is my husband’s first day off when he makes gluten-free pizza and the kids watch American Idol with us.

But the nuts on her fat free/ sugar free/ carb free treat are the only part that seems like food.

As I was reading the chapter with her food rules, I started thinking about my work with addicts and alcoholics. When I was evaluating someone, I would always ask about their patterns of use.  And often they would say something like they only used on weekends, would only have two drinks if they weren’t at home (except that one time, when they got a DUI and ended up in my office), never drank and used in the same day, never drank or used until after noon/work/dinner.  And because they, mostly, followed their own rules, they did not believe they were addicts.

Here’s the thing. If you have to make a laundry list of rules to regulate something, it might be a problem.

I don’t want to be like Michelle Pearl.

I don’t want to have rules that regulate every bite I put into my mouth. I don’t want to be so terrified of getting fat again that I have to learn to cook without potatoes, rice or pasta. I certainly don’t want to have to drink a constant flow of non-fat, sugar-free hot cocoa to stave off the desire to eat dinner/popcorn at the movies/ french fries.

When I was a counselor, most of my clients were clean most of the time. They had a big motivation to be that way–they were urine tested nearly daily and if they came up dirty they went directly to jail. Too many of those and they went to prison. But despite not actually drinking or using dope, they still acted like addicts. They drank an alarming amount of energy drinks in order to feed their brain the stimulant it craved. They either smoked more than they had before or took up smoking if they didn’t already.

Often times, they needed these things to feel like they had some kind of control over something that felt too big to handle.

A meth addiction that has escalated to the point where you’ve lost your children, your job and your teeth is one big boulder hanging over your head.

And maybe losing 150 pounds by dieting is, too.

I’m not sure what I think about food as an addiction. I used to firmly believe I was addicted to food. Lately, I don’t like that thought much. I’m still forming my opinions on it.

I’m challenging some of my own food rules lately. And sometimes, there is a lot of anxiety that comes with that in the beginning. But that anxiety is always followed by a deep sense of relief. I can eat french fries without turning into a raving, binging fast foodaholic. I can eat a handful of peanut M&Ms without finding myself later that night in a food coma amidst a liter of candy wrappers and empty ice cream cartons.

It seems silly, I guess, for the idea that given the opportunity to eat whatever I want I won’t always choose the richest, most processed foods available to be a revelation. But it is. Turns out, it only feels that way because those are the foods I’ve either restricted or felt really guilty about eating for the last couple of decades. (Ever since Susan Powter taught me the fat formula.)

Those are the foods I have always had strict rules about.

Okay–follow me on this thought.

I don’t want sugar free/fat free hot cocoa to become my energy drink. My substitute for the real food my mind and body will crave until I die.



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