Have you ever given up on your eating habits because you felt deprived, or restricted?
Have you ever felt like an outcast, or embarrassed at family or social functions, because you have to explain that you “can’t” eat something?
You don’t have to experience situations like this in order to get the lean, strong, healthy body that you want.
You can eat whatever you want to and still move towards your goals, day in and day out.
I’m not saying that what and how much you eat doesn’t matter.
It matters – big time.
What I am saying, though, is that what you “can” and “want to” eat might warrant a bit more consideration than you’re probably giving them.
Often, when we say we can’t eat something, what we’re really saying is something closer to “eating that won’t move me closer to my goals”.
This discordance might be something as minor as a few (or more) extra calories that will need to be accounted for elsewhere.
In other cases, this discordance might more significant like triggering an all out binge, digestive distress, or – if managing an autoimmune condition, for example – other adverse physical symptoms.
Regardless how much the decision you face might affects your progress towards your goals, there’s something dangerous – or at least inaccurate – about using the phrase “I can’t eat that”.
When you say, “I can’t”, you are saying that you want to, but that there’s something outside of your locus of control that is stopping you from doing so.
You’re implying that there’s some external factor keeping you from indulging in that piece of cake at an event, or satisfying a craving with ice cream, chips, or some other hyper-palatable food.
This external imposition is rarely – if ever – the case.
Barring some physical limitation – there is no cake near you, the chips are locked up and you don’t have a key, the ice cream has translocated to an alternate universe – you can eat it.
You can reach forward with that fork, spoon, or hand, and stuff your face.
I’ve done this countless times.
You have, too.
What you might consider to be a more accurate description of this situation is something along the lines of “eating that won’t serve me” or “eating that doesn’t align with my goals”.
That is, you might acknowledge that, while you might have the option to set off certain neural pathways associated with immediate pleasure, doing so will set you back from a separate, more meaningful, future satisfaction.
We – including you – are complex beings with complex needs, and desires.
Often these needs and desires don’t agree, yet the choices we make often aren’t made in the context of these complexities.
This truth is demonstrated in a variety of areas of life.
Consider debt, for example.
In some cases – like student debt, for (a perhaps soon to be outdated) example – this might be a worthy decision, as going into debt now might put you in a position to earn significantly more in the future.
In other cases – like financing a television – there might not be so much of a prospect of a future, deeper, satisfaction that outweighs the decision to take on debt in for immediate pleasure.
In either case, how we frame the situation matters.
Did you “have to” go into debt to get that education, or did you “choose to”, understanding that it would serve you in the long run?
Did you “have to” put off purchasing that TV, or did you “choose to”, understanding that you might be better off saving and getting it later?
Looking at these as deliberate decisions, rather than forced decisions, will have a significant impact on how you feel about the decision you made.
You reframed the situation.
The same process of reframing can be applied to our food choices.
You could say that you “can’t” eat that, positioning yourself as the victim, powerless over your own food choices.
You might feel deprived, restricted, and resentful towards this decision, perhaps even lashing out against this imposition by saying “screw it” and quitting all together.
You might open up the door for those around you to tempt you further, encouraging you to “live a little”, or “not be so strict”.
Or you could just as easily say that you “choose not to”, “don’t want to”, or “don’t” eat that, putting yourself in a position of power, in control of your actions.
You’re no longer deprived, restricted, or resentful, teetering on the edge of giving up out of frustration and FOMO.
You’re no longer doing something you don’t want to, unnecessarily “missing out”.
This doesn’t mean you have to enjoy – or even act like you enjoy – this decision.
You don’t have to act like you don’t, in a very real way, want to eat what’s in front of you.
You can – and should – even acknowledge this in your decision.
Just as you can say, “man, I’d love to buy that TV, but I just can’t afford it”, you can say, “man, I’d love to eat that cake, but it will set me back from fat loss goals”.
You can acknowledge that you have competing desires, but come away feeling secure and confident in your decision.
You didn’t have to make that decision, but you did.
You always have a choice.
Skipping after-work drinks to hit the gym?
Going out of your way to pick up something healthier (don’t look into that term too much) than what you’d grab at the fast food restaurant?
Turning off Netflix to go to bed?
You never have to do any of these things.
You can grab drinks, hit up Mickey D’s, and stay up late watching The Office the fourth time through if you’d like to.
But you can choose not to.
Not because you’re forced to forgo these pleasures, but because you’re pursuing a different desire.
The way we think – and speak – about our circumstances matters.
While our thoughts and feelings influence the language we use, the language we use can influence our thoughts and feelings.
Choose your words – the way you frame your circumstances to those around you and, more importantly, yourself – carefully.
Next time that you’re faced with a decision, weighing immediate pleasure against future satisfaction, keep in mind that you are in control.
Make a choice, and own it.
You can nearly always do whatever you want.
You can’t always do whatever you want and see the outcomes that you want.
But you can nearly always do whatever you want.
Rather than thinking about what you can and can’t do, consider your various needs and desires – without judgment.
Decide, deliberately, what you “want” in the context of these competing desires.
Do you want that immediate pleasure more than that future satisfaction?
In some cases, you might choose immediate pleasure over future satisfaction.
That’s totally cool.
You’re not weak.
You don’t lack willpower.
You haven’t been “bad”.
There’s nothing moral about food decisions that affect only you.
If you’re going to see long-term physical change, however, you might need to sacrifice immediate pleasure for future satisfaction more often than not (not necessarily always).
Yes, this sucks sometimes.
And you might even better off acknowledge that it sucks.
You might only be making your situation worse by suppressing your feelings, only to be dealt with later.
Regardless the decision that you choose, own it.
Often, the immediate pleasure we fear might be a horrible decision amounts to nothing.
Likewise, acting in accordance with our long-term goals often yields satisfaction within seconds or minutes.
Sometimes, you’ll make decisions that you nearly immediately regret.
Regardless, take ownership of your decision and move forward.
Remember that you are in control.
You alone decide what you do and don’t do.
You alone decide whether to prioritize immediate pleasure or future satisfaction.
Saying you “can’t” is a lie.
You can do whatever you want.
You can eat whatever you want.
Rather than focusing on what you “can” do or eat, focus on what you “choose” or “want” to do or eat.
Consider all of your nuanced, often competing, needs and desires.
But always remember – you are in control.
You’ve got this.
Have a most excellent day!