It is that time of year when well-intending people set themselves up for a miserable battle with that thing we can not live without: FOOD. Resolutions turn into obsessions and suddenly the very ingredients that invigorate us are leaving us to feeling guilty and bad about ourselves. This doesn’t have to be however.
I cringe when friends and family tell me what is on their list of restrictions for “diet season”. Often times these restrictions are self-imposed and nonsensical, nutritious foods like bananas, carrots, or whole grains. In life, where a lot of things are out of our control, food can take the brunt of our control issues. Imposing rules and restrictions on calories, fat, carbohydrate, gluten, dairy, or protein can make us feel we have control over something that can seem uncontrollable.
Even as a dietitian I have been there. Dietitian confession alert!
Once upon a time I would get up in the middle of the night and munch like a little mouse in the cupboards. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t fully awake, and I would eat. It seemed out of my control. Sometimes I would eat cereal, yogurt, bars, or (gasp) ice cream. I would wake up in the morning knowing I did it and feel guilty, full, and tired. It seemed out of my control.
I would then estimate my calories consumed, skip breakfast to compensate, and go on with the day counting calories so I wouldn’t exceed my estimated needs. This behavior caused me a great deal of anxiety and for good reason. It was linked to an anxiety disorder I never let myself recognize, obsessive compulsive disorder.
It took the birth of my first child for me to see that constantly totaling up calories on my hand, sticky notes, or whatever paper was nearest was a pointless waste of energy, and like other OCD behaviors providing me a false sense of security. I needed the irrational obsessiveness to stop so I could begin enjoying my son more and worrying less about nonsensical things like calorie counting before every meal.
To get stop this behavior that was driving my nutrition-mind insane I had to kick this OCD thing to the curb. Being the first person in a long lineage of family members with OCD to get help took a tremendous amount of courage and trust. Once I began sorting through real thoughts and feelings with a therapist the nighttime eating stopped and with it the calorie counting. Poof! Life anew!
Today I happily eat whatever strikes my nutritious fancy without obsession, self-criticism, or guilt. I eat to feed my adventures as a human who thrives doing human-powered things. I am not destined to calorie count. I have learned that if I don’t eat small, often, nutrient-filled, and without obsession my mood and energy can not keep up with the activities in my life that are truly fulfilling.
So carry on world with your dietary obsessions if you must, but I say you don’t need them.