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Saying No in Non-food Areas

A client told me that she’d just been put on medication on which she couldn’t drink alcohol or would suffer serious side effects. Although she usually had a glass of wine at night to unwind, she said it was no big deal giving it up because the medication would make her feel better and she didn’t want to cause herself harm by drinking. Sighing, she said she only wished she could say no to food as easily.

She went on to wonder how the alcohol decision felt like such a no-brainer, yet the idea of giving up certain foods made her feel deprived and resentful. I pointed out that other people might feel exactly the opposite: to give up specific foods would be no big deal, while the thought of reducing (or eliminating) alcohol consumption would send them into a tizzy. This led to discussing what’s really going on when we get stuck in a deprivation mindset and haven’t figured out how to get out.

Much of our eating and drinking is sheer, mindless habit. We ingest and imbibe at a specific time according to the clock, external cues, or body signals. We have a pick-me-up candy bar in the afternoon at work, a snack when we arrive home, a beer watching a ballgame, a drink after dinner, dessert before bedtime. We don’t need to do any of these things, but they’ve become so integrated into our lives that we’re convinced we can’t do without them. Rather than view change—giving up a “must-have” post-work snack or after-dinner cocktail—as positive and effective self-care, we can’t see it as anything but distressingly deprivational and an affront to enjoying the small pleasures of life.

What things are easy for you to give up that others might find difficult? Could you give up alcohol if you were put on medication that made drinking prohibitive? How about not drinking coffee to see if it reduces heart palpitations or avoiding dairy or wheat products to discover if you have an allergy? Notice (without judgment!) where your attachments are and aren’t and how strongly you feel them. Dairy may be a cinch to let go of while you can’t imagine doing without wheat—or vice versa.

What’s the difference between habituations you can easily relinquish and those you’d go down fighting for? Consider your attitude toward various habits. Sometimes you’re just not that into them and other times you say no because the consequences of saying yes are just too huge. Now apply this information to doing what’s healthy for you in the food arena. How can you take the sting out of saying no to food based on saying no to other things? If you can do it in one area, you can do it in another.