Do you ever want to eat what you think you shouldn’t eat. Or the converse…don’t want to eat what you think you should? You might be craving a burger but feel like you should have a salad. Or you might think you should be eating a bowl full of broccoli, but want to stomp your feet “NO NO NO!”
This very much resembles an “All or Nothing” mindset when it comes to eating.
If you swing between following rigid food rules or chaotic eating patterns, I recognize you. You match the profile of many of the clients I work with.
You’re either eating all the veggies or you’re eating none.
You’re either reading labels and buying only “healthy” food or living at BurgerLand and PizzaVille.
You’re either following strict rules about meal timing, or you’re grazing or forgetting meals entirely.
Thinking in these types of all-or-nothing ways is something we all struggle with to some degree in at least some areas of our lives. We notice something about ourselves we’d like to improve and we grit our teeth and vow to do better. But not just better…amazingly well: from zero to perfect overnight. We see where we are (possibly with some guilt, maybe even a bit of shame), and we feel a great urge to leap to the ideal. Thinking that every single choice we make must be perfect, and thus could make or break our journey to this final goal. But this kind of thinking is just plain ineffective and sets us up to fail, repeatedly.
It also removes us from making decisions in an authentic way and means we rarely feel satisfied with our eating because we’re either wishing for something else or feeling guilty about what we have chosen.
Let me give you a more concrete example using an experience of one of my clients, BW, who regularly struggles with black-or-white thinking. BW is a person working to learn healthy eating and self-care habits.
Grocery shopping was something BW identified as useful to the quest to eat well. But one day, BW put off grocery shopping all day and into the evening. Before BW knew it, dinnertime had long past and BW was hungry. So at that point, the only viable option BW could see was to go to a favorite restaurant and order a favorite meal.
Turns out BW had wanted to eat this meal from the start and this want actually made grocery shopping a difficult and undesirable choice. BW felt trapped between a “should” and a “want.” Grocery shopping signified opting out of a delicious restaurant cooked meal. But choosing to go out to eat was a sign of failure because it meant not doing a “should.” It was easier for BW to procrastinate and passively “lose” the chance to do what was believed was a “should” in order to get what was truly wanted than to consciously choose against a “should” to get what was really wanted. Making a conscious choice left BW feeling guilty for doing something “wrong.” Procrastinating removed the opportunity so there was less guilt.
But this want vs. should dilemma was a false dichotomy. When we think in this black-or-white way we miss the myriad of other possibilities. Is going out to eat wrong? No. Is going out to eat mutually exclusive with grocery shopping? Of course not.
BW could have said yes to both, going grocery shopping and eating dinner at the restaurant that evening.
As with most things, healthy eating does not mean you have to always eat, or never touch, certain foods. Healthy eating is not black-or-white…there is considerable gray. Lots of nuances that make the “right” choice very dependent on the person and situation.
We can use nutrition facts and taste as a guide. We can enjoy vegetables and burgers. We can make time to eat regular meals and be flexible when a day doesn’t fit the norm.
And we can go grocery shopping so we have a good selection of food to eat at home while still choosing to go out to eat when the mood strikes.
When you’re feeling uninspired to follow through with a nutrition or eating goal you have in mind because there is something you’d rather do instead, be honest with yourself. It could be that your specific goal is too lofty and needs tweaking. Or it could be that you’re creating a false dichotomy.
Use the following 3 questions to help you find a happy middle ground that works toward your goals and values:
- What do I think I should do/eat? Dig in a little bit and figure out why you believe this and check to see if this is true and accurate of what is best for you.
- What do I want to do/eat? Dig in to this too to determine where this want comes from. Perhaps it is in direct reaction #1 above and suggests you’re feeling your autonomy at stake by a rule that doesn’t really fit. Get curious about what’s behind this.
- Can I attempt both in a way that makes you feel good and honors my values? You might be surprised at what you discover.
If you’re ready to get off the diet roller coaster, ditch black-or-white food rules and learn joyful and realistic ways to take care of health with good nutrition, schedule a 15 minute FREE discovery call with me: Click here