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Legalizing Food

  • Eating

When the idea of "legalizing" food was introduced some three decades ago, I was just starting to work through my own dieting/binge-eating struggles. By the time I began to treat and write about disregulated eating, I was pretty much a “normal” eater and no longer thought about food as good or bad, legal or illegal. Now, I’m concerned with how much trouble disregulated eaters have with the term legalization. For too many of you, it seems to provide license to go hog wild with food which, of course, creates more problems than solutions. My ideas on legalizing food may differ from other experts, and hopefully will help those of you who are trying to expand food options constructively.

Here's what legalization means (and has always meant) to me: I have the right to and, therefore, can eat anything I want any time in any quantity. For me, legalization is a belief or mental construct, an approach, a mindset, a perspective—not a behavior. It means I’m allowed to eat all foods, not that I must. By expanding options, the phrase works paradoxically to help me consider and make satisfying choices about what I want to eat. I think, "Although I can eat whatever I want, I don't have to. Based on multiple considerations, none of which are moral, it’s not better if I eat one food or another. Because I can eat whatever I want whenever I want it, I have freedom to make broader choices than I did when I had a restrictive diet mentality and fewer options.”

To me, legalizing foods does NOT mean going out and eating everything and anything with abandon or leaving your brain at home when you go to a supermarket, restaurant, buffet, party, or Mom’s house for dinner. Legalization means knowing you have options the same way you have them with everything else in life: you can buy whatever you want, go to work only when you feel like it, or be as nice or as nasty as you desire, as long as you recognize and accept the consequences of your actions. With food, these consequences include pride, shame, satisfaction, pleasure, weight gain, weight loss, better health, worse health, little or no impact on health, and feeling balanced and sane or imbalanced and crazed around food.

How do you define “legalizing” food? If you have pen and paper around, write down your definition. Does it have the same gist as mine or does it seem more like a food free for all? If your definition is off-base, create one that encompasses options, choice, consequence, and balance, then commit it to memory. Repeat it whenever you’re about to make a food choice. Another way of expressing the concept is contained in one of my favorite quotes, "With freedom comes responsibility."