I was listening to an interview on NPR a while back and a remark made stuck in my mind. To paraphrase, it went like this: The question isn’t whether you have the right to do something, but whether it’s right for you. Hmm, I thought, this is exactly what troubled eaters need to know about making food choices.
Many of you struggle with feeling deprived of or entitled to food. You’ve dieted and restricted food for so long that a tension has built up which has made you want to break out and eat everything in sight or, at least, everything you think you couldn’t or “shouldn’t” eat. Believing you can’t have something—food, love, attention, etc.—may cause you to crave it. And to overfocus on it as if you’re on a crusade.
Insisting that you have “the right” to eat something has roots in your upbringing or history with food. First off, if you were raised in a my-way-or-the-highway household in which you had few rights, you either had to insist on and fight for them to get your needs met, or you simply gave up and quietly simmered, imagining that when you grew up, you weren’t going to let anyone—anyone!—tell you what to do about anything. This is one way you become obsessed with expressing your rights as an adult.
Another way is when you’ve not allowed yourself to eat foods you love because you wanted to lose weight and, therefore, snatched away the “right” from yourself. You became your own oppressor. When you categorically deny yourself specific foods for a long time, your anger and a sense of unfairness can build, creating tension to break free. And you often do—to prove that you have “the right” to eat these foods. To whom are you proving that you have “the right”? As an adult, you have no oppressor, no one policing what you do. It’s all in your imagination or memories. Even if you’re with people—parents, a spouse, friends—who tell you not to do something, because you’re not a child, you don’t need to listen to them. You now have full rights to make decisions for yourself, accompanied by the need (we all have) to live with their consequences.
When you know you have “the right,” you can stop beating that dead horse and ask the question about food that will be of benefit: Is this food right for you? You can have it, but is eating it going to enhance the quality of your life, help you become a “normal” eater, make you proud of yourself, etc. That is the only question on the table. If you’re still fighting the “can’t-can have” battle, it’s time to understand that you won. Hands down. Now the question is not can you have it, but is it the best choice for you.