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When my physical therapy (knees, hips, shoulders, basically everything) ended recently, I became a client at my therapist’s sister outfit, a fitness consultancy. It’s all the same people: everyone is a post-doctoral fellow physical therapist, a rarity in the personal training world.

I’m there for bone density issues. Also because I want to be able to open jam jars and take out my rubbish until the day I die. I am emphatically not there to lose weight or “get a beach body” or hike my booty up three inches. (Although I admit the latter would be welcome.)

However, part of the “accountability program” I’m signed up for is … nutrition. And I could use more nutrition knowledge, sure! Poor nutrition earlier in life probably contributed to my bone density issues.

But I make my living helping people give up dieting and diet thinking, among other things. So when my trainer said “You’ll be tracking your nutrition daily. We’ll probably put you on a ‘maintenance’ level of calories,” I beheld him with serenity. Equanimity. Friendliness, even.

Inside, I said to myself: I promise nothing, sir.

The Cookie Reaction

And my thoughts turned to chocolate chip cookies. Lots and lots of them, aka my Early Warning System that unless I take evasive action, a binge is about to occur. This is how fast a gal can revert to Diet Brain, if she’s not paying attention.

To avoid that binge, I did what I teach my clients to do, and what you might experiment with, if you’re prone to a diet/binge cycle of your own:

  1. I reminded myself of this crucial fact: I am a sovereign adult woman who is allowed to eat anything she wants. I don’t have to, but I may. Then I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, exactly the way I like them (here’s the best recipe I know of; these are serious-minded chocolate chip cookies), and I baked three, and ate them (they’re BIG, just so you know), and I froze the rest.

Because sidebar: A supposedly “insatiable desire” for [your most desirable food] is probably satiable, actually. Unless I’m at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with a craving for fried oysters, I like to satisfy a desire for a food with that food. Worth a try.

And yes, sometimes a desire for companionship or entertainment or an apology or a pay raise can masquerade as a desire for food. Also worth trying to get. I’m for all of us getting all the things!

But often, a desire for a specific food is best handled by having that food.

  1. I reminded myself that no matter what my weight or what society has to say about my body, I am allowed to eat regularly, as in no less than three times a day. I don’t have to, but I may. And I usually do eat three times a day, if not four.

Even if—and if you are familiar with Intuitive Eating, this may sound crazy to you—even if I am not “hungry.” (Though mostly, because I eat at regular times, I am hungry.)

The Cure

It’s called MEALS, and it’s a miracle cure for the diet/binge cycle.

Many of us were raised eating meals and are still doing it. (Lucky people!) If your eyeballs are rolling back in your heads until they make a thunk at the obviousness of the regular-meals concept, I don’t blame you.

But I will say this: Eating regular meals is astoundingly uncommon among the women I work with.

Many women skip meals because our pervasive diet culture encourages it. And in rebellion (reasonably enough) many women find themselves eating more or less all day long, in an endless round of snacking and picking and bargaining and arguing with themselves. This too is the opposite of eating meals.

So if you’re not already doing this, here is my simple two-step plan for anyone struggling with eating, one of the most basic acts of self-care:

  1. Allow yourself to eat anything. It doesn’t mean you have to eat everything. It just means having freedom.
  2. Allow yourself to eat often. It doesn’t mean eating all day. It means eating several times a day, with non-eating in between.

And let me know how you go.

Image:  Still Life with Fruit, Oysters, and a Porcelain Bowl, Abraham Mignon, 1660-1679, Rijksmuseum.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew.

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  • Last year, I discovered these wonderful olives at Trader Joe’s, which were a seasonal treat. They came in this beautiful jar, but the jar was a very very difficult to open. I remembered what my father used to do to open a jar in the years after he had developed Rheumatoid Arthritis. He ran the jar under hot water while prying the lid loose with a tip of a spoon. I found that I did not even have to use the hot water. All I really had to do was to insert the tip of the spoon between the lid and the jar and pull out on the lid a little bit. That releases the air, the lid is no longer tight and can be easily opened.

  • Very sensible advice and I might also add : sit down for those meals, use real cutlery/dishes AND pause 10 seconds before plunging in. It’s a help for me.

  • You make so much sense, you should be a logic consultant.

  • We must eat. We must eat.

    I tried to use a trainer at my gym. My goal was to work on my endurance to help with my asthma. After ending up almost in tears because I was given such horrible advice about food I left and decided to work on my own. An hour of being told I had to lose weight was enough to make me see that this was not the right fit. My goals were clearly not in line with the program.

    14 months later I am generally stronger, feeling better and not on some weird eating program. While I’ve been down almost a month with flu and the resulting pneumonia, I know as I heal I will easily be able to get back into a routine that works and makes me feel good physically and mentally. Listening to my body works really, really well. Mostly it craves food that nourishes it but sometimes it needs that chocolate chip cookie. And I know how to make a most excellent one.

  • Absolutely understand this and love that I have my permission to eat whatever I want….and still be in control.

  • Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite too. My doctor told me recently that we all eat too fast and don’t even know we are full but keep on eating. I love what you say about eating for entertainment. I thought I was eating in the evening out of habit but it just might be boredom that’s the problem.

  • I completely agree with you and understand the perils of “diet brain,” obsessing about each morsel. Now I eat three healthy meals a day, plus an afternoon tea (with a chocolate chip cookie or two). I eat a little less, letting myself know I can always have a bit more if I wish. Now I enjoy my food, walk, do stretching exercises, and enjoy life (including taking out the garbage and shoveling a bit of snow).

  • This is so simple but so many women seem to equate beauty with intense suffering and hunger. Lots of hunger. I still remember a conversation I had years ago with a group of friends who all had toddlers. We all went for ice cream and one woman wistfully said, “I do not remember what ice cream even tastes like because it is so fattening but I know I used to love it.” While she was impressively thin, her voice was so sad that I felt really sorry for her (her husband was hypercritical of any weight gain whatsoever). I am on the thin side and generally eat well but, when ice cream is what I want, ice cream is what I eat.

  • My favorite cc cookies are from Maida Heatter. The woman did chocolate well.

  • I wish good logic with food could be taught to us as children. My mother was a gorgeous woman, but appearance obsessed. She started putting me on diets very young and by the time I was 12 I had bulimia. Though I’m not trying to blame her, it was my decision after all, I do know that had emphasis been put on who I was rather than what I look like I might not have gone down that path. It took me 17 long years and a lot of physical health problems before I stopped. I believe I finally have a healthy relationship with my body and food. The damage is done however. I would encourage the well-balanced women of this world to pass on that intelligence, acceptance, and knowledge to the young women of this world. That’s where it needs to start in my opinion.

  • I was thinking I might make some cookie dough for the weekend – now I can compare the recipes people are posting – ha!
    TRUTH! Everytime I start to feel bad about being overweight, all I want is cookies.
    Have been trying the app “Fabulous” since sometime in January, and the biggest difference it’s made is that I have a teammate (my husband who is also doing it) who agrees with the idea and helps with getting a high protein breakfast. It has changed my days immeasurably, and having someone in agreement and saying with me “we will do this EVERY DAY” means we shop for it, and I’ve also bought some unhealthy proteins because my day and the rest of my eating all day long really does go better even if the morning protein is bacon or sausage.
    I still have a hard time eating lunch, though, and it’s not because I think I shouldn’t, but because I resent it. I resent how much time it takes, how much puttering and cleanup. I definitely overthink it.

    • I will check out this app! Having a high-protein breakfast is another miracle for many, many people.

  • Love what you are saying. I have found if I’m craving something, I eat it. Not the whole thing, a small piece or bite will do. It Does work!
    Also, go get fitted at a Good lingerie store for a new bra. There is a reason underwear is called “ foundation garments”
    ( yes, I work in a lingerie store, and 99% of new customers are wearing the wrong size bras)

    • Small piece absolutely works!

  • Oh, this gives me joy. I have been seeing a dietitian for a year, now, and we have basically determined that all of the above is true. We know now that if I try to go from my good breakfast in the morning (I love breakfast, including protein) to my second nutrition break at 12:50, I will, when I get home, attempt to eat everything in sight while making dinner. However, if I eat a protein-y snack at 1st break (10:30-ish), I will feel much better when I get to 2nd break, when I will have a balanced lunch to adjust my blood sugars, and then I will not need to eat everything in sight when I get home.

    It’s peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies for me, and we have adapted them with the best chocolate we can afford, coconut sugar and our own maple sugar, and they are sooooo good. And I will eat them when I feel so inclined.

    • Your *own* maple sugar?! SAY MORE, Lisa.

    • Those sound sooooo good!

  • Geneen Roth wrote a little book a couple decades ago that I read over and over: If You Eat At The Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair. That combo of mindfulness and permission is so opposite of everything we are taught, it’s very hard to frog the bad and reknit with the good. But so worth the effort!

  • I started a yoga class this year for the very same reasons… was told by an OT friend that what does for old people is inability to balance. I walk a lot but am amazed by what muscles its tweeking!

  • I love chocolate chip cookies, but don’t need a lot of them. I use this recipe; it makes 2 very large cookies or 6 to 7 normal ones.

  • I recently became aware that I am the only mom in my son’s class of 21 who eats an actual food lunch. The rest get a hit of caffeine (and I suspect perhaps some Adderall) and maybe a bar and don’t eat until dinner. How did this become normal?

    • IDK but I want to salute you! May you be an inspiration to any unhappy lunch-skippers.

  • Oh, Max, this is wonderful to read–I’ve been thinking about it since you first sent it to us. I’ve never thought much about my eating habits until about three years ago, when Mother Metabolism decided to stop coming by so often, and I was rather quickly finding myself increasing in girth and decreasing in energy simultaneously. Your two thoughts at the end of this piece are so helpful! It frames eating as a natural, healthy thing, and reminds me that my attitude toward food and eating is half the game. Thank you so much.

    • <3

  • I had an epiphany about giving myself permission last week. I spent a long morning in the emergency room with my mother, who is in the early stages of dementia. She was confused and anxious and frustrated, and so were the doctors. They wanted to help, but there wasn’t anything out of whack in her lab tests, so not much they could do.. But they’re doctors, they always want to put people in the hospital. So I did some talking, and finally all agreed she’d be better off at home. We loaded her back in the ambulance and I took off following. Then it dawned on me that my sister would be at Mom’s place when they arrived and I was in serious need of some self care. What I wanted was a sandwich–Italian cold cuts, some of every kind, with all the fixings. So I stopped and bought one and I sat down and ate the whole thing. With a diet soda. And it was good. I have lost 30 pounds in the last year, with 10 more to go to reach goal weight. I’ve cut out a lot of sugar and processed meats, I eat regularly, watch my portion sizes, try not to snack. It’s about overall health, although buying size 10 pants is a bonus kick. And I knew full well when I ordered the sandwich that this was full on stress induced semi-binge eating. And I Did. Not. Care. I arrived at Mom’s place with salami on my breath. Also, I was relaxed enough to be present for her and her caregivers. And I’m down another pound this week.

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