On a popular weight loss forum, there was a discussion recently about entering into the mental conversation about whether or not to eat something. This came about because someone wrote a book which said that once you ask yourself the question of whether or not you're going to eat something, you're doomed because the answer will always be "yes, I will eat it." The underlying premise is that you can never trust yourself with food so it is best not to ask the question. One should rather wall oneself off from all food options that are not in the "good girl" vein. All pastries, cakes, cookies, etc. are to be placed completely outside the realm of possibility.
This situation reminds me of a scene in the Simpsons where Homer is hitching a ride on a truck full of watermelons. The driver tells Homer that he must ride in the back with the melons because the driver's pig must ride up front with him because, "you can't trust a pig with watermelons." As he says this, Homer is in the back of the truck devouring the melons. Are we pigs that cannot be trusted around food?
Everyone has heard variations on the saying that "trust is earned, not given." Trusting ourselves is something we can earn, but not if we operate from a central notion that we cannot be trusted with food. One of the reasons that I advocate mindful eating practices with small portions of treats on a daily basis is that it helps build a sense of control and trust in ourselves around food. If you eat small portions of a treat food - half a cookie, a bite-size candy, a few bites of ice cream - and then stop enough times, you will feel that you can stop every time. One slip up will seem a lot less dire if you have a history of not losing control.
That being said, I am not immune to anxiety related to (not) trusting myself with food. Even after all this time and practice, I still second guess myself. I mentioned in a previous post that after prolonged periods of eating 1500 calories per day, my body will rebel and insist that I eat to absolute satiety, and sometimes I just have to eat closer to 2000 calories. This type of hunger is not psychological, but physiological and is marked by desiring things like eggs or lean meat rather than craving specific types of food such as sweets or salty foods. That actually had not happened for quite a long time for me. However, last night, I had one of those days where I simply had to eat more.
Even though I only ate about 1900 calories yesterday, I felt strange about it. I didn't exactly feel that I was going to lose control, but rather that my trust in my ability to endure hunger and not eat in accord with my desire to lose weight might waver as a result of "giving in". I realize that this is paranoia, and not something that I should actually be worried about. Frankly, it's not something that I'm deeply feeling or have any but surface anxiety about.
Feelings cannot be denied or censored. They simply exist, and I have to experience them, but I don't have to allow them to penetrate my confidence and undermine the trust I've earned in myself through repeated success and recovery from small "failures". The reason that this is not a dire, nail-biting situation is that I have come to trust myself with food. That trust is not absolute, but it is quite solid, particularly given my history of losing control. Through time, with more practice, that trust in myself will continue to grow.
At the same time that the discussion on the aforementioned forum about having a conversation about "to eat or not to eat" was going on, there was another thread started by a woman who talked about how it was easier to "diet" if she was "safe" in her home. Free from temptation and in absolute control of exposure to various foods, she had control. I felt for her, and I understand why many people may desire a similar cocoon when it comes to food.
That being said, I think that if you can only succeed under such conditions, that success will not last. Eventually, one must go out in the real world and be exposed to temptations and ones family members will grow weary of keeping all "junk" out of the house for the sake of your protecting yourself from your impulses. If you don't endeavor to incorporate methods to build trust in yourself with food, you will have to live in your safe environment forever, or you will eventually lose control and start to regain weight.
I think part of the problem with the way in which diets work is related to the assertion by the writer of the book being discussed. He is telling people (mostly women) that they shouldn't trust themselves. There isn't even an attempt to teach people practices or methods to build trust in themselves. There is only affirmation of your inherent and never-ending weakness when it comes to food. With that sort of mindset, is it any small wonder that we feel powerless when it comes to food?