Healing My Sugar Habit: Self-Discipline as Self-Love
I’ve done a lot of different food diets, for a variety of reasons. Years ago in college I was vegan for 3 years, basically out of guilt. I struggled with weight throughout my 20s. About 5 years ago I lost a lot of weight without really trying and then gained most of it back. Then a year or two ago I “got serious” about it and lost ~45 lbs doing a combination of Slow Carb (Tim Ferris), Paleo and Intermittent Fasting. It worked for me and I’m happy about it, but there are still some underlying struggles I have which are around sugar/carbs. I can manage my eating now, without feeling like I’m punishing myself or going against myself. What I’m realizing I can’t do is “let myself go” and “eat naturally” without slowly sliding back into the habit of emotional eating, which causes my weight to slowly creep back up.
I seem to have this story that goes, “If I were perfect, I’d be able to eat whatever I felt like because my body would only want good things”. It’s some magical nirvana of being perfectly in tune with myself all the time, and being able to always process my feelings in healthy ways, and therefore never abuse food or sugar.
But the reality is, that’s not my current relationship with my body. My body and I are on the best terms we’ve ever been, but that urge to reach for candy or cookies or ice cream is so ingrained in me that if I don’t have some structure to my diet, I don’t think I will stay healthy. That is what I’m realizing right now. So for me, part of self-care has to involve active management of my food and sugar intake. That means guidelines about when, and what, I eat, and when and what I don’t eat. And the thing is, I’m great at that. I know like the back of my hand how to eat the way my body needs. It just requires I be “on it” rather than “loosey goosey eat-whatever-I-feel-like”. And that means I have to let go of that desire to “not think about it”.
Maybe someday I’ll get to this place where I naturally want only healthy food, or don’t reach for sugar when I’m feeling sad. But right now it seems protective of my body to “force”, or at least “impose” a diet that I know is what my body needs. And I feel like it is different than when I tried to “force” it before with diets out of “shoulds”. This time, it feels like I know inside that I can’t do this very well for myself without active management, so my body wants me to give it this structure. It is like setting healthy boundaries for a child. My body actually needs me to do this, and that’s the way I can be in Right Relationship to it right now.
Structure and rules mean I have fewer decisions to make each day, so I’m more likely to make good ones. Structure means excess sugar is off the table as an option, so I have to look at my feelings and needs directly. It takes the decision out of my hands during the times I’m vulnerable to making a bad decision. And at this point I’ve done enough internal work that this feels like a way of loving and taking care of myself, rather than forcing and shaming myself. It’s a feeling of “No, I won’t let you hurt yourself”. I think of the concept of “protective use of force” in NVC. Non-violence is not hands-off…it sometimes means actively preventing harm using force if necessary (but only if necessary and the difference requires a lot of wisdom and discernment).
Realizing this, I can feel internally a relaxation and a sense of relief and gratitude, that the conscious-self-discipline part of me is taking charge and managing things so the i-want-sugar-right-now-give-it-to-me part is not given full reign to poison my body.
If I knew that I could let go of control and the part that would emerge to direct my eating was my original, organic, I-want-to-be-healthy internal compass-of-goodness, then I totally would. But that’s not what happens. When I let go of control and my will to make good decisions, what directs my eating is a hurt child who had no support and no resources except to find something sweet to dull the pain. And I do want to find that little girl that still lives in me and help her. But right now, pursuing health means not letting her self-destructive habits take over. It means sitting with her and finding ways to explore that pain that help it heal, rather than numb it. It means feeding her good food, and letting her know she is not alone, and that together we’ll find a way to actually feel better for real, and not just blindly pursue the instant, fleeting pleasure of sugar. Taking care of her in this way is part of helping her heal.