If you’ve ever been in a controlling relationship with someone – a parent, a teacher, or a romantic partner, you know it doesn’t feel good.
In fact, it’s psychologically unhealthy for all involved.
On the receiving end of being controlled, you probably felt helpless, imprisoned, depressed, hopeless, and anxious to varying degrees.
Yet, one of the most socially acceptable controlling relationships to be in is one with ourselves. Self-control is considered admirable in our society.
And within a certain context it can be. But when it comes to our bodies, and especially with food, it can lead to disordered eating patterns, adherence issues, frustration, and anxiety.
We try to control everything we eat. We track our habits meticulously. We try to control how much we exercise. We need to gain control so we can go to parties and have lunches with friends. We want to control our bodies and what we see in the mirror. We want to control the size of clothes we wear and how much weight we gain in our pregnancies.
When you’re in a controlling mindset, you either feel depressed and anxious that you’ll lose the control (negative self-talk, mental wars in your head), or you are looking for ways to escape (binge-behavior, breaking diets, skipping workouts, etc).
Here is how the control mindset sometimes looks:
You feel unhappy with your body and how you look. You don’t want to feel like this, so you attempt to take control by eliminating junk food, following a diet, and exercising. These actions are driven by feelings of “I have to eat this so I can look better” or “I have to workout so I don’t gain weight”. All meals on the plan are considered a success, proof of willpower – you might tell yourself something like “I was good today”. All workouts are also deemed a success. Other possible successes: the scale moving in the right direction, counted calories are within budget, macros were hit for the day. Feels great, right?
But, you can’t be flexible when you’re also trying to maintain control because you’re afraid of the consequences. Family comes in town for a visit, or you get sick, or injured, or change careers, or the baby stops sleeping, or you go on vacation, or have to go back to work, or a family member becomes ill, or one of the million other life challenges that exists is thrown your way.
You eat a bagel instead of your normal vegetable omelet and feel like a failure. That failure feeling builds on itself until you’ve completely gone off rails. “I’ll start again Monday”, you tell yourself, because being in control all the time is exhausting and you just need a break from it. Inside, you’re thinking about how you just don’t have what it takes to succeed because this always happens. You just can’t eat those foods or give up sweets, and you just can’t make yourself exercise. You must have awful willpower, so really, why bother? Your self-esteem has taken a huge hit and now you feel worse than when you started.
You just can’t stay in CONTROL.
This mindset is exhausting and unattainable, and it will either make you miserable while you reach your goals, or you’ll never be able to keep it up long enough to reach them anyways.
So….what’s the answer? Should I just “let myself go”, give up and sit on the couch with a bag of chips for the rest of my life? Isn’t that the opposite of being in control?
You may think back to a time when you weren’t in control and gained a bunch of weight, or ate more than you think you should have, or didn’t exercise, and blame your lack of control on that situation.
Setting rules and regulations for yourself may have forced your hand at losing that weight or changing those habits, but chances are, you constantly struggle to hold onto that control with bouts of being on and off the wagon. If your results weren’t permanent or you constantly feel anxious about your body, there is a better way.
The opposite of self-control is actually self-care, which is simply doing what is best for you in the moment given the big picture.
When you are doing what is best for you in the moment, you probably aren’t going to be doing a lot of couch surfing and endless chip eating, although there will certainly be moments when that might be appropriate.
This mindset of caring for yourself is much more sustainable in the long-term because you feel free! Rather than being in a self-imposed prison of restriction and rules, you have the space and freedom to make thoughtful and informed decisions for yourself. You are no longer ruled by compulsion and reaction.
So how do you achieve this mindset? Rather than asking yourself the question “Why can’t I just stay in control?” ask yourself “What exactly do I need?” (the same way you do for your children). You are not basing your actions on controlling your body, rather trying to take BIG PICTURE care of yourself, balancing your physical health and mental health in a way that gives you the best quality of life.
The result? Your ideal body weight: the weight you sit at naturally when you are physically and mentally healthy.
Another result? FREEDOM. You are free to choose, and that feeling is so liberating that you find it permeating every aspect of your life.
No more micro-managing yourself, beating yourself up, feeling afraid of food and afraid of your body.
It feels amazing.
ACTION: For the rest of this week, wake up each morning and ask yourself “How can I take care of myself today?” Write down at least three things each morning. Make sure the answers are in your best interest and not veiled attempts at controlling your body.
PS – I have been hard at work creating something that is so stinking exciting I can barely contain myself. When I work with my 1:1 clients, I quite often think to myself how much one would benefit from connecting with another – our lives are all so similar and our challenges so universal – imagine if we shared and connected! This idea sparked me to create a BRAND NEW OFFERING that I will be announcing in April, so stay tuned! If you’d like the info now, just comment below with your email and I’ll keep you in the loop 😉