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How Do You Know What to Eat?

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How do you know what to eat? For every diet, there’s a counterpart, claiming it’s opposite. Likewise, how do you know which exercise program you should follow? What about supplements? Alternative medicine?

We are fortunate to live in a time of multiple options for health care, food, and lifestyle. But our depth of choices can also be overwhelming.

For years, I was a diet book junkie; I’ve read and tried them all. I was a sucker for the magazine cover that proclaimed, “Lose ten pounds in ten days.” Or, “The Best Foods to Fight Depression.” Diets were hope in a book:  finally, I had a solution to my problem.

Until.... the diet didn’t produce the nirvana I sought and hope turned to frustration; then, to despair.

The alternative was trusting myself to know what to eat, when to exercise, or even knowing whether or not my “ideal weight” was realistic and attainable. (The ego, you see, would have me on a constant diet/beauty regimen until I was “perfect,” and even then, it wouldn’t be satisfied. I lived this way for years, and wouldn’t wish this hell on any woman.)

I knew this was the way to go. And I knew, unlike the latest diet, this way of living would bring me peace:  peace from my need to control my body, and its desires. But this process was scary. It felt risky, for if I don’t trust myself enough to make supportive choices—relying on my internal guidance—how can I survive without the external guidance; the food lists, diet phases, and meal guidelines?

But this is exactly the risk that I had to take. I stumbled upon this quote today:  “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

It took me a long time to switch from external guidance to internal guidance. I had to let go of my rigidity:  my extreme expectations for my body (only a size 4 will do), my food choices (You can never have carbs!), and for myself in general (you’re a bad mother whenever you lose it with your children.)

I spent months veering from one extreme to the other, where I let myself eat whatever I wanted to, because I could, but making choices that didn’t make me feel good (read:  lots and lots of sugar.) Then I would feel so badly that I would veer to the other extreme, which meant going back to the food lists and diet restrictions. Now, I’ve found a healthy balance. Most days, I wake up, and ask myself what I want to eat. If I want to run, I run. If I don’t, or if I’m really tired, I don’t force myself. If my pants are tight, I change them:  I don’t freak out about a few extra pounds or believe there’s something wrong with me. (What’s wrong are the pants, not my body.) What’s remarkable about this way of living is how much I don’t think about food, calories, my appearance, my body, my size, or my looks. I am remarkably comfortable being free of make-up or a hair-do for much of the time, even contradicting my earlier advice of keeping myself well groomed at all times.

What’s happened is that as I trust myself, I love myself. As I love myself, I accept myself. As I accept myself, I am comfortable with myself. This means I don’t feel a need to change myself to feel okay about who I am:  the false hope I sought in all of those dozens of diets.

The coolest thing about this process is how trusting myself with my food and health habits carried over into every other area of my life. As I relaxed about my weight, I relaxed about my messy house. As I relaxed about going to a party with “forbidden foods” a-plenty, I relaxed about attending a party full of intimidating people. As I relaxed about my food choices, I relaxed about my other choices.

It’s a beautiful, symbiotic circle, that blossoms and grows and expands with each turn of the wheel. Learning to trust myself on the small things enables me to trust myself with the big things:  decisions beyond chicken vs. risotto; choices that are not so much about what I eat, or how I feel, but about how I live my very life.


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