diet recovery · parenting

Day 521: Control

I have issues with the word “control.” I mean, yes, I’ve called myself a control freak, but there are definitely some things for which “control” is inappropriate at best and damaging at worst.

A century and a half ago, men would talk about controlling their wives.

Plenty of people complain about parents who “can’t control their kids.”

And—of course—we talk about control when it comes to food. As in, “I have no self-control, I just ate that whole bag of chips.”

I heard someone say that very recently, and I winced. I feel that just as when parents try to control their children, if you’re trying to control your eating you’re fighting a losing battle.

And yet it’s so pervasive in our culture, the fear of losing control of our food and our body size, the obsession with controlling portions, especially of “bad” or “unhealthy” foods.

As I started my diet recovery efforts, I spent a lot of time thinking about how a natural process such as hunger and eating had become so unnatural for me, to the point where I felt paralyzed about what I “should” eat, and incompetent at judging my own hunger and satiety levels. Shouldn’t it be as simple as, “Eat when you’re hungry”?

There seems to be some scientific consensus that food restriction leads to overeating. If that’s true, this is a problem we’ve created for ourselves. If you’ve been told your whole life that you can only have two cookies because that’s a serving, and you like cookies, anytime you’re given unfettered access to cookies you’ll eat as many as you possibly can—after all, this chance doesn’t come around often. On the other hand, if something is constantly available to you and has a neutral moral value (i.e. it’s not good or bad, it just is,) you’re unlikely to overeat it… after a period of adjustment, of course.

I find it fascinating that we seem to understand this concept as it relates to alcoholic beverages—first-year university students who’ve never been allowed to drink often drink themselves sick, while those whose parents allowed a beer or wine now and then don’t get drunk as often or as badly—but we don’t seem to connect it to our relationship with food; when we eat too much we then double down on “control”, which then makes us overeat whenever we get the chance, which makes us lament our lack of control… and so on.

I can already see a difference in my own habits. There’s ice cream in my freezer all the time now—something that hasn’t been true for me since I left university—and I used to eat it every single night, but now I’m starting to not bother because I don’t feel like it. Last night we took E out to dinner and then to Baskin-Robbins for dessert; in the past I would have gotten ice cream anyway because it was a rare treat, but last night I was already full from dinner and didn’t really want anything else, so I didn’t have any.

I’m not trying to say that not having ice cream is virtuous—I don’t think we should attach moral value to food—but to observe that my eating patterns are already shifting. It seems that the less I control my eating, the less my eating controls me.

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