When is Deprivation not Deprivation?
Have you ever met someone who said, “Oh, I’ll eat anything?”
The state of freshness or decay doesn’t matter to you: you drink sour milk and eat maggot-infested beef without concern.
The source of the food doesn’t matter to you: you don’t care whether it came from a garbage can, was picked up from the floor, or stolen from another person’s lunchbox.
The details and origin of the food doesn’t matter to you: any kind of human/animal waste or chemical compound can be used as fertilizer and you could care less whether you eat cows and raise dogs or raise cows and eat dogs.
The means of preparation don’t matter to you: you have no preference around whether a food is raw, cooked, burned, salted, seasoned, pickled, canned, or fermented.
The truth is, the vast majority of us have hundreds of guidelines governing what we will and will not eat.
Spoken or unspoken, these food guidelines influence our everyday decisions:
“Always have at least one piece of Grandma’s casserole so you don’t hurt her feelings.”
“I never order spaghetti, lobster, or anything that will become stuck between your teeth during a dinner date.”
“If an almond drops on my couch, I’ll eat it; on the floor, I’ll wipe it off and then eat it; on the floor for more than five seconds, I throw it away.”
The voice of deprivation is asking you, “Why be deprived? Why would you want to set unnatural limits around your eating?”
Once you acknowledge all the food guidelines you have already, you can ask the opposite question: Why don’t you feel more deprived now?
If you don’t eat maggot-infested beef, well, why don’t you feel ripped off, cheated, depressed, and angry about that? How can you be happy and fulfilled, knowing full well you could be rummaging through a dumpster outside of a grocery store and be rewarded with pounds of free, rotten beef?
The answer is simple: You do not experience all of your guidelines as restrictions.
We focus so much on our restrictions—that is, those food guidelines around our eating with which we struggle and resent—that we fail to consider the many guidelines we have totally accepted. The voice of deprivation is quick to tell us about all the fun we are supposedly missing and eager to convince us that refraining from any food-related activity is just weird.
What we rarely acknowledge is that most of us have a great many food guidelines with which we have no struggle at all. Something about these guidelines is so self-evident, right, and useful to you that you do not experience them as keeping you away from something desirable. You don’t fantasize about “breaking” this guideline (“Only 10 days until I get to eat maggot-infested beef!”) or attempting to rearrange circumstances so your guideline can remain intact (“Well, if I eat maggot-infested beef with lots of vegetables, it doesn’t really count.”). You appreciate these guidelines and are glad they are there, even if you rarely think about them in this intentional way.
When the voice of deprivation tells you that ‘going without’ is unacceptable, don’t argue. Allow the voice of deprivation to have its full say, and add this to the end:
I have always lived within some guidelines around this (food/activity).
“It’s just not realistic. I can’t give up drinking beer on the weekends. I should be able to have a beer while watching the game without consequences.”
To this, you can add: “Of course, I’ve always lived within some guidelines around beer—I refuse to drink Brand X and never have more than three when I plan to drive.”
The voice of deprivation has a piece of the truth: changing your eating habits will mean going without a familiar food/pattern.
The value of perspective adds another piece of the truth: right now, you live quite contentedly within many food guidelines.
Is there a way to transform a guideline (something we accept without struggle) into a restriction (something we accept without struggle)?
We’ll explore this in the upcoming column.
Copyright: Dr. Ndiya Nkongho
Dr. Ndiya Nkongho is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Atlanta, GA. Her website is www.boldquestions.com. She is an athlete who trains at BTB Fitness.
Today's Pic: Rich Drye's prep.