This week was a time for new ideas. My goal for those in my weight loss groups was to put together a nice assortment of 5 to 10 easy, quick, tasty meal options as “go to’s” during busy or stressful times. I have my personal favorites. They are mostly in my head, and they have morphed over time so that exact measurements – and even exact ingredients – are no longer necessary.
In the middle of our discussion last night, while mentioning one of my favorites (a quick skillet dinner incorporating chicken thighs), this question arose: “Are Chicken Thighs Allowed?”
In years long gone by, I may not have been caught so off-guard. It would have seemed like a commonplace question to ask, given the dieting rules that seemed part of life around me. Now, although the general culture of dieting – black and white, right and wrong, following rules and breaking them – is still going strong all around me, I have worked on creating a “counter culture” for those I counsel. I like to think of it as a temporary escape from the craziness. The question was a reminder of how difficult it is to completely escape it.
The conversation this question stirred up was interesting . . . and entertaining to all of us there. The question came straight from the gut, a remnant of deeply embedded thinking, a throw-back to old ways that didn’t work then and won’t work now either. Even when ideas change and thinking patterns continue to improve with time, every now and then the old ways pops up unexpectedly. It does not mean that thinking has not changed.
We all laughed at this reminder of all the diet “rules” – those we saw our mothers, sisters, and aunts follow (or try to), and those we ourselves tried to follow through the years.
The funniest part of it all is that there seems to be an illusion that there is some kind of enforcer (the diet police?) who will catch us if we break the rules. In reality, I think this is just an outdated feeling that goes way back to a time when we did need rules to control dangerous situations we did not understand yet. “Don’t play in the street” is a very good rule for a 3 year old, because the road just looks like a playground at that age.
While most adults would be offended if they had someone constantly telling them where they can go and what they can do, why do so many dieters willingly accept a set of rules about what they can and cannot eat, even when the rules make no sense to them? I think the feeling takes us back to childhood – good children follow the rules, because they don’t want to get in trouble.
At 30, 40, or 50 years old, who do we really think will be enforcing the rules?! If there is such a thing as the food police, it is no one but ourselves. The punishment many people give themselves in the form of negative self-talk can be brutal.
The best rules are the ones we set ourselves for reasons that make sense to us. Why? Because we are the only ones who will really be enforcing them. In fact, don’t call them rules if the word seems authoritarian. How about “guidelines” or “boundaries”? I like those terms better myself; they seem more flexible.
Guidelines we set in a thoughtful way can be helpful, and if they turn out to be useless, we can eliminate or change them. That’s the beauty – and the power – of adulthood. Don’t give that power away by just accepting a set of rules that is not right for you.