All or Nothing Versus Confident Choices in the Middle

One thing I really struggle with is being all in or all out. So, either I’m restricting, usually an unsustainable extreme, or I’m rebelling against “the system.” The system in this case is ANY restricting. In that sense, I feel like I’m either in recovery or relapsing. And when I’m in a recovery phase, I’m ON, all on. Or when I’m off, I’m a full blown messy messy mess.

The interesting thing is when I’m restricting, no matter how extreme it is, I haven’t lost weight in years. I think it’s been close to ten years since I’ve lost weight. And for a long time after I realized I had orthorexia, I REFUSED to go on any type of diet or restrict in any way. I expected to find some sort of level off where I wouldn’t want to keep eating “bad things.” But I just never got there. Eventually I realized I was gaining weight with no sign of “normalizing” so I decided maybe I needed to try different things: intermittent fasting, keto, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc. Essentially I kept thinking SOMETHING was causing me to over-eat. If restricting wasn’t the problem, then what was? Was it dairy making me always hungry? Was it simply that I should eat less often?

I think, ultimately, my extreme personality around food is the root of the problem. While it can afford me the focus to do some extreme diets, keto, paleo, fasting (even longer fasts – I fasted for over 20 days once!), autoimmune diet, Whole 30, etc., the ability to be so extreme means when I’m off my brain is like, “SWEET FREEDOM!” And no matter the length of the freedom, it’s never long enough to settle into any sort of healthy eating pattern. I’m always kind of thinking, “Next week I’ll do better. So for this meal I’ll eat….” And consistently make a “final meal” choice for every single meal. Often thinking, “Next week I won’t eat pizza/dairy/gluten/pasta/high calorie/high carb/fried foods/fast food anymore. So I definitely need it today!” I suppose my brain isn’t unlike the person who’s agreed to an intervention but wants to get high one last time. I was ALWAYS having a “last time.” I had good intentions but there wasn’t enough follow through because my path after my “last time” would eventually get too extreme to maintain, too.

So what do I want for myself? How does my best future look?

  1. I can order fries at lunch and enjoy them. But likewise can order a side of broccoli or an interesting vegetable-based side dish to give it a try. I don’t love all vegetables, but there are plenty I like. And plenty I’d like to try in different ways.
  2. I don’t NEED to have the most indulgent item today. It will be there tomorrow. There will always be more pizza, more fries, more onion rings.
  3. Likewise, if I go out to try a local restaurant, I don’t need to ONLY look at the grilled chicken or vegetables as a side. Maybe when there are two sides, I try the two most interesting sides, not the “may as well this last time” sides.
  4. It’s OK to make choices to be healthier. But it’s also OK to not see a vegetable side I like and order the potatoes or rice, which I also love. There’s a Mediterranean restaurant near my work that, bless their hearts, CANNOT make a good side of vegetables. They are over-done and too mushy. So I shouldn’t order their vegetables and force myself to eat them. But there’s another restaurant that has delicious steamed broccoli with parmesan cheese. So why am I passing on that?
  5. I don’t necessarily ever over-eat, binge or eat like the world is coming to an end. I just often choose the heaviest meal and sides. Even if I’m not stuffed to the gills, my choices in general are enough to tip me up on the calorie scale and keep gaining weight. If I eat out five times in a week, that can be OK. I don’t have to choose the most indulgent meal every single time. But I also don’t have to choose the lightest, “best” choice every single time. Maybe today I have grilled chicken with a side of fries and broccoli. And tomorrow I have pasta with vegetables. And the next day a sandwich with some soup. I don’t always have to have the pasta with fries and a creamy soup.

I can tell right now there’s a lot more to explore on this topic. But I definitely think the all in or all out is a HUGE part of my issue. I’m either being restrictive and obsessive or I’m rebelling against being restrictive and obsessive. I’m realizing now that the restrictive and obsessive part is NOT healthy, when I thought it was before. So not being perfectly restrictive and obsessive is actually NOT the goal. The goal is to make some smart choices, and smart choices can include some not “perfect” choices.

And even marking foods as good, perfect, smart, indulgent, etc., is confusing for me. Even trying to say, “These are good for my goals and these are for pleasure” turns into a black and white thing for me. If I add a bun to a burger or a slice of cheese, does that make the whole meal a “poor” choice? Does eating just a burger, bunless, no cheese make it smart? The truth is it’s a combination of things I enjoy, things I know will help sustain my energy and keep me full, a variety of foods and textures, and flavors and foods that I WANT to eat.

So often, eating healthy means denying myself things I actually like. Learning to not force myself to eat food has been a first step. It’s also OK to order a food and not like it and not eat it. Or to cook a food, and not like it and not eat it. I don’t want to be intentionally wasteful, but it’s OK to try and not like new things. Or to admit I want things like pizza and fries. Or mashed potatoes and cheese. But also realize I like broccoli, cauliflower, broth-based soups, onions, grilled lean meats, salads and strawberries.

I also struggle with judging myself and others based on food choices. When I’m “on” I judge people for not following my plan. Or when I’m off, I judge people for being strict with their diet. No one’s worth is determined by what they do or don’t eat, including mine. I know when I’m judging, I’m actually looking at myself. And I know when I get triggered by others around me talking about “healthy food” or “crap food” that I’m worried far, far, far too much about what others thing (or convincing them my choices are OK).

This is my journey, with foods I get to choose, with a lifetime I get to live with. I want to find a variety of foods I like, and movement I enjoy. I don’t need to find a diet to define my path forward. I also don’t even need to be diagnosed with an issue. I know some of my issues – I’ll keep working through those one issue at a time. Lean into the discomfort I feel with my choices, the noise coming from others, or even the prevalent “diet voice” that’s all around me. I don’t need to avoid these things. I just need to find and be confident in my path. A path that’s not all in/perfect or all out/rebellious.

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