How Eliminating the Word ‘No’ Changed the Way I Look at Food

I wrote a piece several months ago about giving up sugar. Since then, I’ve received several queries from friends and strangers asking if I cheated, succeeded or ventured back to sugar all together. The answer is: a little of all of the above.

[Read: 10 Ways to Detox From Sugar in 10 Days]

When I originally cut sugar out of my diet, I was going through a difficult time and had mindlessly consumed peach-flavored Pinkberry 4 nights in a row. Convinced I had finally gone off the deep end in the food department, I decided the only solution was to eliminate sugar all together. I just didn’t trust myself to moderate.

That word, “moderation,” has always been a tricky one for me. Since I have a tendency to overdo it, it helps sometimes to simply take a break all together.

[Read: I Was a Secret Eater Before I Lost 135 Pounds]

When I wrote the article on sugar, I also received several curt responses from readers who seemed irritated that I couldn’t moderate. They reminded me that “everything in moderation, even moderation” is key. If only it were that simple.

The truth is, I really didn’t enjoy a sweet for more than 6 months. As you can imagine, the first week felt awful. Detoxing from sugar, especially in the “after- dinner-witching-hours,” killed. Within a few weeks though, I began to feel all right. It wasn’t until around the 7-month mark that something shifted.

[Read: Change Your Eating Habits One Baby Step at a Time With This Ditch & Switch Guide]

Brownies swept into my mind like an ex-boyfriend’s engagement pictures on Facebook and simply refused to leave. Most of the time, I didn’t even want a brownie. It was the idea of saying “No” to brownies indefinitely that messed with my head.

The brownie thoughts eventually won, and I caved. Surprisingly, when I finally succumbed to brownie pressure, the doughy squares tasted too sweet, and the experience didn’t take me on the magic carpet ride I thought it would.

Despite the brownie letdown, I immediately scrambled to find and devour all of the Cinnabon and Moose Munch I’d missed. Weirdly, they didn’t give me the euphoric explosion I thought they would either. After I ate cinnamon toast one night, I actually tossed and turned in bed as if I’d downed 6 cups of coffee. Like a double-edged sword, sugar continues to make me feel like a million bucks and hell on wheels at the exact same time.

[Read: 7 Simple Swaps for Health Without Big Diet Changes]

I did however experience a sense of freedom around allowing myself to once again have those sweets if I wanted them. Feeling like I was on to something, I elicited the help of a registered dietician named Shelly Starrett.

After listening to my story, Shelly suggested we start with working on the “Nos” and all of my hang-ups/restrictions/self-beating behaviors around food.

“I want you to eat whatever you want this week, Michelle,” Shelly suggested.

[Read: It’s All About Your Hormones! Dr. Sara Answers the Top 3 Weight Loss Questions]

To a food-obsessed person like myself, this initial request terrified me. If I did what Shelly asked, I was sure to gain 10 pounds in a week.

Something, however, told me to trust her. So I went to the store and bought a box of granola. This is my go-to favorite/I love it so much/binge food I rarely buy.

My heaven dream is actually me, lying on a beach, with granola for sand surrounded by trees sprouting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So, yes, I bought all the ingredients for peanut butter and jelly too.

[Read: Top 10 Tips to Reset Your Hormones Naturally]

The only promise I made was that I could not beat myself up for eating these items, no matter how much I ate. Full disclosure: When I’ve bought these foods in the past, I typically eat too much and then throw the leftovers in the garbage immediately so I won’t have them the next day (punishment).

When I sat down to eat the granola and sandwich this time, I assumed that, like always, I’d overdo it. Surprisingly, something weird happened: I only ate part of the sandwich and one gigantic bowl of cereal because it occurred to me that the food would be there in the morning if I wanted more.

[Read: Calories Don’t Matter; Here’s Why]

The next morning, I ate a bowl of granola. I haven’t made another peanut butter and jelly sandwich since. Knowing the food was there if I wanted it, and I could eat it or not changed everything.

Fast-forward 9 weeks, and I have not gained one pound. I am still on the “eat whatever you want” train and what it has taught me is I am not as pathological as I thought. Shelly has me write my food choices down and my feelings around food, which forced me to face many long-held false beliefs.

I have been uncomfortable around a full fridge because I believe I will eat everything inside: not true. I thought I would want to order pizza every night: I’ve had it twice. I was afraid I’d eat brownies every day: I’ve baked them once.

[Read: A Healthy(!) Recipe for Hazelnut Chocolate Salted Caramels]

It appears I was operating on an outdated fear, when there was a guide inside of me the whole time completely capable of saying, “Michelle, let’s eat something healthy since it will satisfy you and make you feel good.” That guide does occasionally take a quick vacation, but most of the time, I am making great choices and not beating myself up when I don’t.

When I’m sad about something, I am also learning to actually deal with the emotion rather than eat around it. That, and learning to love my body exactly as it is are the trickiest parts of this journey.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest “I’ve Been Thinking” essay]

I still haven’t figured it all out, and I understand this plan, or solution, or whatever it is will not work for everyone. Food compulsions (mine included) are complicated and very individualized.

What I do know is I’m not as stressed around food. Removing the “No” is setting me free in ways I did not believe possible.

{Image credit: Picjumbo}


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