Self-Care, Not Self-Control

Diet culture teaches us that health is all about discipline, willpower, self-control, and sacrifice.

We're told that we have to fight against our bodies and control our desires if we ever hope to be healthy. If we let down our guard and eat what we want, the argument goes, we'll never eat another vegetable again.

This rhetoric is particularly seductive in moments when we feel like we've been overdoing it on supposedly "bad" foods. Maybe we've eaten to the point of discomfort every time we've been around certain foods, and we're desperate to feel less out-of-control. In those moments, it's so easy to get lured into thinking that we just need to "buckle down" and cut out all the "bad" foods in order to get our health back on track. 

The problem with this approach is that it doesn't work.

I repeat: discipline and willpower don't work when it comes to health.

In fact, they can actually lead to worse health, because they set you up to ping-pong between ascetic deprivation and "screw-it-all" eating. Or, in many cases, just the "screw-it-all" eating part, with a heaping side of self-judgment.

So what does work? A much more flexible, non-punishing approach involving kindness and compassion.

There's tons of research on the benefits of self-compassion for physical and mental health. People who use the compassionate approach of intuitive eating actually have better health outcomes and better relationships with food than those who use control to govern their eating.

As I always say, a peaceful relationship with food is one that's based on self-care, not self-control.

So instead of trying to exert control by making rules and cutting out food groups, take the compassionate approach: work on making peace with all foods, and giving yourself full permission to eat.

Once you let go of the mental restrictions and truly believe that you're allowed to eat anything you want, you'll be able to tune in to your body’s cues about what and how much to eat — and it won’t be because you’re using “willpower,” but because you’re eating what tastes and feels good. 

If you're interested in learning more about this compassionate approach to eating, check out this blog post and this podcast episode.

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