I’ve had many realizations about my relationship with food that have helped me become a long term maintainer, but I’m going to share with you now the single most effective truth I’ve yet come to understand. All your choices are yours, even  when they don’t feel like choices. When you overeat, or eat something you didn’t want/plan to, that still is a choice you have made.

I’ll explain why this particular realization is so powerful. To start, I was going to title this article “Being a grown up,” but then I went for the more positive, He-Man reference. By the way, this is probably about the best thing ever:

Sorry, that had nothing to do with being a healthy weight, except maybe He-Man has really exceptional abs, he’s clearly watching his macros while he’s maintaining enviable oral hygiene. Anyway, I was going to title this “Being a grown up” because it’s about one of the best and worst things about being an adult — owning your choices.

It’s one of the worst things because owning your choices means when you make bad choices, well, they’re yours, and nobody can bail you out. You have to accept responsibility, live with them, or clean them up. This is scary, and hard, and it’s not surprising that we all try to find ways out of it.

But it’s also one of the best things, because when you truly own your choices, (warning: post title) you have the power. You are captain of your ship. Nobody bails you out, but nobody orders you around either. You get to make the calls. And if you can accept the scary, hard things about it, it’s really a pretty awesomely empowering idea.

So why do we always give up this awesome power when it comes to food? C’mon, you know you’ve said it at one time or another: “Oh, I just can’t resist when there’s nachos/brownies/candy/insert delicious food item here.” Or another insidious form of this: “Oh {bringer of delicious food item}, you keep bringing {food items} that are so good you’re messing up my diet!” (variant: “These work lunches/my social life/my schedule makes it impossible to eat right.”)

All these statements have one terrible thing in common, they all lay the responsibility for your choices on someone or something else. I get it, nobody enjoys taking responsibility for a bad choice, it’s incredibly unpleasant. And I continue to have those moments when I’m tired, and stressed, and run down, and then, magically, there is food and eating it seems both irresistible and inevitable and I give in. I get it. And bonus, if what you eat is out of your control, then you don’t need to feel bad about that extra helping of cheese fries, right?

But you do yourself an enormous disservice by describing YOUR CHOICE to eat something as “out of your control” somehow. Words are very powerful. When you tell yourself that you simply can’t resist eating or this one food is your achilles heel, you are giving up all of your power to an inanimate object. You are effectively saying it is more powerful than you. You may not believe it at first, but when you say it over and over again it eventually becomes your truth and a self fulfilling prophecy.

As a baker who only occasionally eats the things I make, I actually get kind of mad at people who half-jokingly blame me for “messing up their diets.” It’s usually particularly ironic as I, myself, have chosen to not eat the thing that they are so “powerless” against. And I made it and lived with it in my house! But unless I’m the blue guy and you find yourself in Homer’s situation, I’m afraid you, and you alone, are messing with your diet.

I’m going to tell you right now, if you want to create a narrative for yourself wherein you are powerless and constantly at the mercy of food, you will never, ever be successful at maintaining weight loss. The ONLY way you can have long term success is to know, with certainty, that everything you eat is by your choice. Good choice or bad choice, own it.

Ok, I know I’ve also talked about how losing weight is not just about simple willpower, and how our brains have stacked the deck against us with powerful hormones and chemicals. So how can I argue that we have a choice now? While we may not have a choice to radically increase our slower metabolisms, or to magically decrease our hunger pangs and cravings, we do have a choice to take responsibility, to decide we’re not just our base impulses. We have the choice to look that delicious food item squarely in it’s metaphorical eye and say with conviction “I am NOT going to eat you today.”

Now, it is a choice. So sometimes we choose to give the delicious food item a proper home in our belly. But that’s a choice. Your choice. You may feel that it’s a very unfairly weighted choice, heavily biased towards eating the food, but you need fully accept that nobody and nothing is “making” you eat that food. That you have chosen to eat it.

Accepting this may feel crappy at first — oh, how many thousand of bad food choices have you made? I’ve made millions I’m sure. But step past the self flagellation for a moment and look at this from a different angle. When it’s always your choice, you are never powerless. You are powerful! You are not this weak-willed, sad, doomed person, you are a superhero, a CEO.

I’m not going to say that embracing this truth will magically fix all your eating issues. It won’t. You’ll still make bad choices, I sure do, we’re all just human. But I can’t fully explain how it changed how I look at food and what was possible for me once I stopped saying I was powerless against food. Once I accepted my choice in everything I ate. I remember feeling like everything was different. I stopped feeling panic that I would gain the weight back against my will. I knew if I gained it all back, it would be at a fundamental level, my choice.

Of course, those of you familiar with weight struggles and psychology know this is a really complex issue, and sometimes, as much as we really, desperately believe we want to weigh less, we are not really ready at a deeper, unprocessed level. It’s a hard thing to wrap your brain around. I yoyo’d with my weight for years before I realized that part of me simply didn’t want to let go of the weight. I’d been heavy for so long, it was my identity, my security blanket, my shield. And my choices kept me heavy. When I genuinely chose to lose weight, it was incredibly scary, but I was ready to make that choice and let it go.

You may need to accept that deep down, you may not be ready to lose weight. This unreadiness feels like it robs you of choice, but it still is a choice, and it’s valid, something in you needs the weight for some reason. If you wish to change this, you need to work on what that reason is and why it’s important for you. This is where a trained therapist or counselor can really be helpful. You may never even talk about food issues. If you discover why you chose to stay heavy and address it, you may very well find that the choice to lose weight becomes far more achievable.

Regardless of where you are now, take away this: All your choices are yours, you have the power. Stop, please, stop using language that renders you powerless against food or circumstances. Sometimes you’ll have to say, yup, I ate that (or all of that). Hopefully it was tasty. But sometimes (and this is something I actually do) you will find yourself standing in front of your open refrigerator announcing to the lasagna “I am NOT going to eat you today!” before slamming the door. You’ll remember this saying if you rehearse, and you’ll be like the Masters of the Universe.

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