"I want to eat whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I want, and never exercise. That's what I want."
My wife Fawn had asked me what I wanted my relationship with food to be like. Hearing me answer, I think she was starting to regret having asked.
"I want to eat hot fudge sundaes. I want to eat donuts. I want to eat chocolate chip cookies—In fact, that's such a great idea, if I wasn't talking to you I'd go get some cookies right now! That's how brilliant that idea is. I want to eat what I want, when I want it, and as much as I want of it, and nobody can stop me."
We were talking because I had been losing weight and become more healthy, but—and this is putting it mildly—I wasn't feeling like doing what it would take to continue to get those outcomes.
"Cookies, and more cookies," I continued. "That is what I want."
"So, why do you want that?"
Fawn looked a little shocked by my belligerence. But, being an experienced facilitator, she moved on anyway.
"Okay," she said, "That's what you want. But why do you want that? What does it seem like doing that will give you?"
I knew the answer without a moment's hesitation. "Why do I want that?" I answered. "That's an easy one.
"I want to eat whatever I want because I want to be free. I don't want to live that dull, grey, restricted, boring life of eating 'healthy.' I want to be unrestricted and free, eating up the wonders of life. I want life without restriction. I want joy and color and amazingness. And if that means eating cookies whenever I want them, then that's what it means."
Fawn had wisely uncovered what I truly wanted: Freedom.
And she had seen my prescription for freedom: Cookies.
It was time to take the next step.
The heart never truly longs for something unwholesome
In the work we do we are always looking for the deepest longing a person has in a situation. We like to think of it as if the Divine placed that longing in your heart. It's sacred.
And by that same token we believe that the heart never truly wants something unwholesome. We never truly, in our deepest heart, long for something that will destroy us.
Therefore, when I said "I truly long to eat cookies, and never stop," Fawn knew that I was full of it. Did I really, truly, on the deepest level of my being, long for something that would eventually give me diabetes and a heart attack? Of course not. The heart never truly longs for something unwholesome. Fawn knew she had to look deeper.
"Okay," she said. "So let's get into this. I really want to understand your experience of eating cookies and being free. Where do you get the best cookies?"
"The coffeeshop by our house," I answered. "They have the best freakin' chocolate chip cookies in the world. Hot out of the oven, perfectly browned, chocolaty and gooey. MMMmm. I wish I had one right now."
"Okay," she said. "Imagine how it feels to walk into that coffeeshop. You walk, in, and what happens?"
"I walk in, and walk up to the counter." I told her. "I see the cookies. I smell them. Wow, they look so good. I have to have one. I absolutely have to have one."
Fawn said, "Just out of curiosity—could you choose not to have one?"
"No!" I said. "I can't choose that. I must have one. I want one. I have to have one. I must have one! I must! I must!"
At that moment I had one of those "comes the dawn" experiences.
I had one of those rare human moments of actually hearing the words that were coming out of my mouth.
And it was quite a revelation.
"Hey, wait a minute!" I said. "If I must have one, I don't have any choice. That's not freedom! That's not freedom at all!"
Not free at all
There I was, a guy who was committed to feeling free. I had just discovered that I wasn't free at all. In fact, I was being controlled by the very food I desired most.
That was a big realization.
I continued to talk as I unpacked this new insight. "You know, I do like the pleasurable sensations of eating; that's for sure. But I see now that I do not like being out of control. I do not like going to a coffeeshop for a cup of tea and getting a cookie and a hot cocoa because I can't stop myself. I do not like that at all.
I continued, "I don't want to be controlled by 'there's a cookie, I have to get it. There's a mocha, I have to buy it.' I hate that, actually. I hate that I'm consigned to being out of control, and to not have any choice."
As much as I enjoy eating, I had to admit, "There's no joy in being out of control."
In that moment, I discovered that my true longing was to be in control of my eating. My true longing, when it came to sugary foods that made me fat and out of control, was simply to stop.
"I want to be able to take a stand," I told Fawn. "I want to be able to take a stand in the world and say, 'for the sake of my health, I'm not eating that.' I want to be that free."
Until you connect to your desire to change, change is hard
Your motivations may be different than mine. Perhaps feeling free is not your top priority. Perhaps it's feeling supported, or feeling powerful, or feeling in control.
But, fundamentally, if you are saying you want to change your behavior, but actually don't want to change it, you probably shouldn't lie about it. You need to look deeper to see if that behavior is really, truly giving you what your heart longs for, and move from that new realization.
Let's look at my case:
If I hadn't acknowledged that I wanted to keep on eating everything, how well would I have been able to change my behavior around food? Probably not very well. I would have "talked a good game," but still eaten and eaten and eaten.
I often see this in my clients, and participants at my workshops. People want something to be different in their lives, then pretend to want to take the action to make that change happen...but part of them really doesn't.
Then they try to change, but their repressed desire to do the behavior they are supposedly trying to stop works against them. They then wonder why they are having difficulty, and why they can't be "self-disciplined."
Once I acknowledged that I really liked overeating because I thought itgave me freedom, I was able to look deeper. I was able to ask, is my compulsive eating really an example of being free? From that perspective I was able to see quite clearly: It was not.
In the face of that realization, I really started wanting self-control. I got "on board" with my desire to control what I was eating. I wanted to be free to make my own choices about food, not have them made for me.
This opened up a real feeling of lightness and possibility for me. I felt a new energy in my body, and the energy said this:
"I want to choose, and I CAN choose."
I started to really feel the truth of it. I wasn't doomed to be an automaton, shoveling sugar into my mouth. I could choose for myself.
I started feeling how it felt to able to make my own choices, rather than having food make those choices for me.
It felt great.
Getting "on board" with changing
Your process may be different than mine. The important thing is that you participate. You have to acknowledge where you are at right now—even if it's wanting to eat everything in sight. Then you need to look deeper, to your deeper desire, and let yourself come into relationship with that longing.
When your heart is really "on board" with changing, it's much easier to ignore the cookie you'd otherwise eat, or whatever else is tempting you as you set about changing your life.