Well I'll tell you what I argued back, in a session earlier this week: "Don’t expect that you can have it both ways; that you can easily stop eating when you've had enough, while not eating when you haven't had enough! Don't expect that you can deny yourself food and still feel well fueled over time. No, that's just not going to work for you." Ultimately, we need to respect our hunger and to get enough.
If you only eat what you think you should eat, omitting what you'd truly love to eat, you will keep yearning. You'll have the popcorn, then the fruit, then a yogurt and ultimately the cookies. And not just one cookie. And not just a comfortable amount of cookies. Because even though you're eating them, you're thinking and believing you're not supposed to be. So you shovel them down. You neither taste them nor enjoy them. You'd rather not even feel them. Then you set the unrealistic goal that tomorrow (and the day after, and the day after that) you will not eat sweets, or carbs, or white flour, or fill-in-the blank.
It looked beautiful—the low-fat chocolate soufflé that my husband decided to make, prompted by the professionally photographed image on the cover of my nutrition magazine on our kitchen table. But the taste? Yuck. So after one or two bites, I left it. It made me yearn for the rich, satisfying, molten chocolate desserts my friend Amy makes. What a disappointment. (Now that's not to say there aren't great, satisfying yet reduced calorie desserts, mind you. I've got some really good ones in a soon-to-be-released recovery cook book, in fact).
A patient of mine recently said, "No spray paint supermarket cupcakes for me—if I'm gonna have them, they're going to be good ones from a great bakery." Yes, even full fat desserts can be a let down at times. Last Thursday I was served some of those tasteless, mass-produced brownies at a function, and I couldn't get past a single bite. I came home, still hungry after the yummy vegetarian entrée I had there, and ate a small bowl of dark chocolate chips, peanuts, and raisins—my go-to when there's no fabulous baked items available. And that hit the spot. I sat at the table, and I enjoyed them.
I'm bragging a bit; I want you to know that it's ok to eat what you like, and to taste it, and truly enjoy it. And that you can leave what you don't like—as long as you're still meeting your needs. (And that doesn't mean leaving what's not 'safe'—that's a very different story. You know who you are.) When I hear patients describing how fabulous something tasted—how much they enjoyed a particular dish or meal—I know they've made progress. That is, if they allowed themselves more that just a bite in a pathological restrictive way that's far from healthy.
Sometimes when we're hungry we eat for the pleasure, while sometimes it's just for the fuel. When my son was a nursing infant I experienced for the first time eating to live. I often ate simply for the fuel. I got hungry frequently as a new mom juggling my infant's needs and my own and I needed to eat whatever was convenient. I got hungry and I ate anything. Similarly, when I'm hiking or biking I eat to fuel. I'm just looking to get enough, and it's not for the pleasure of eating, but strictly for function. While most other times I eat, in part, for the experience.
Make a list of what you like to eat. And make a list of what you allow yourself to eat. Then start moving things over from one list to the other.
But don't just eat it. Eat it mindfully. Eat it peacefully. Eat it with all your senses. See it. Feel it—the creaminess in your mouth, the granular sugar on the surface. Smell it and hear it. Yes, note the crunch of the chips, the chewy sound of the chocolate caramels.
And of course taste it. Really taste it and enjoy it. Because honestly? It's going to be fine.