By Michelle May, M.D.
Woman Choosing Between Apple And Doughnut For SnackIf you were the author of three books (soon to be four with the release of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Athletes) with the title “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat,” you too would bristle every time you heard the phrase, “I can’t have _____________ (fill in food or ingredient).” And these days, people say that a lot!
Words are very powerful. The three words, “I can’t have,” (and the related words, “I’m not allowed to have”) have the power to backfire by triggering deprivation, cravings, rebellion, and the eat-repent-repeat cycle.
When you say “I can’t have,” it strips away your choice and your power. Unless you have a serious food allergy, you’re an adult, so you can have anything you want.
But I want to feel better!
Now perhaps you don’t want the consequences or side effects that you experience when you eat certain foods. In fact, one of the many benefits of mindful eating is awareness of the connections between what (or how much) you eat and how you feel. If you recognize that a particular food leaves you feeling uncomfortable, in the future you may decide to skip that food.
Since you have the power to choose for yourself, use phrases like, “I choose not eat _________,” “I’d rather have __________,” “I prefer __________,” or simply, “No thank you,” to affirm that you’re in charge of the decisions you make.
Rules triggers cravings
More often than not, “I can’t have” is based on a rule from whatever diet you’re following. However, when you say, “I can’t have bread,” or “I can’t eat sugar,” your brain focuses on bread and sugar! With the brain on high alert, you’ll begin to notice bread and sugar everywhere. Since you’re “not allowed to have it,” that triggers feelings of deprivation and cravings that eventually lead to overeating.
On the other hand, the Mindful Eating Cycle is a powerful decision making tool that eliminates the need for all those rules. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, you use a few new and surprisingly simple strategies to create critical shifts in your relationship with food. You can eat what you love—fearlessly.
But I have diabetes!
Some individuals, such as those who have diabetes or those who have had bariatric surgery, do much better when they limit or eliminate certain foods. Even then, the key to making sustainable changes is to apply mindful eating strategies without turning those limitations into a restrictive diet that you’ll be on for the rest of your life.
Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Assuming that your intention is to feel great, think about your dietary decisions as choices you make in order to feel your best, rather than based on what you can or can’t eat. Mindful eating guides you to balance eating for nourishment, health, and enjoyment so you’re free to focus your energy on living your life vibrantly!
(And while we’re talking about the power of words, let’s eliminate “should” and “shouldn’t” too!)