If nobody sees me eat it, it doesn’t count. If I eat it quickly, it doesn’t count. If I eat if off someone else’s plate, it doesn’t count. If I eat it without sitting down, it doesn’t count. If I eat it in front of the fridge, it doesn’t count.
There is so much magical thinking in those arguments. I am saying, precisely and exactly, that I believe that the food that I eat will not be absorbed by my body if I follow certain rules. That there will be no consequences to my actions as long as I pretend I’m not doing what I’m doing.
Simultaneously, I am making another argument to myself, that unless I eat this food alone, quickly, from another’s plate, while standing, or according to one of the many other arbitrary rules, I am not allowed to eat it. It is absolutely forbidden to me outside of these magical circumstances.
If I do eat that forbidden food without the proper circumstances or ritual, there are dreadful consequences. Gaining an inordinate amount of weight. Losing control of my eating and going on to binge. Breaking out. Getting an upset stomach. Being thought of by others as greedy or gluttonous.
The consequences are, as well, out of proportion to the amount of food I ate. It’s not just that I’ll gain a little weight, or an amount of weight commensurate with the food I just ate. No. Eating a slice of leftover birthday cake, that itself weighs no more than eight ounces by itself, off a plate, while sitting down at the table and enjoying it will certainly lead to a weight gain of five pounds. Or it will give me a terrible headache. Or a huge breakout.
I catch myself with these thoughts, and really, I wish so much that they were true. I wish that I could wave a magic wand, or perform the proper ritual, and alter the consequences of my actions.
It doesn’t work like that, though. What I eat—and how I move, and how much sleep I get, and every other way I act in this world—impacts my body in larger or smaller ways. It is as inevitable as the fall that will occur if I step off a cliff. Biology is relentless and inexorable; it cannot be fooled or propitiated or in any way convinced that this time is different.
I am, unfortunately, an adult, and maturity requires that I not play mind-games with myself like that. Or rather, I could play those mind-games, but they clearly don’t serve me and life is too short to mess with my own head.
So I’m left with the understanding that I choose my actions, and that those actions have consequences. Sometimes I know what those consequences will be. Sometimes I just have to find them out after the fact.
I know I usually get headaches from eating cheese and other dairy products with casein, but I don’t always know what will trigger it in particular. Am I able to avoid a headache by quickly gobbling down a hunk of cheese; will enjoying cheese with my meal assure me of a headache? How I eat the cheese doesn’t really affect whether or not I get a headache, so why not accept that I may (or may not; I don’t know) get a headache if I eat the cheese. I can decide if the taste is worth the possible discomfort and eat it (and enjoy it) or not. But it feels better in my head if I act like an adult, not a naughty child, and actually enjoy the cheese if I have chosen to eat it.
Choosing to be aware of both my actions and the consequences also means that of course I’m allowed to eat any food. There is no referee waiting to enforce a rulebook. There’s just me and my brain. I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want to, and in whatever quantities I want. I’m old enough that I know—because I’ve done it enough times—that eating certain things will make me feel badly. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to eat that food. It just means that I am aware of the consequences. I can still eat the food.
Sometimes I choose to eat it. Sometimes I decide it isn’t worth it. But it feels so much cleaner, so much more honest, so much better, to be able to make that choice openly instead of trying to play mind games with myself all the time.