Moderation Not Deprivation: Why You Should Eat That Cookie

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This guest post was written by Yael Cohen, founder and CEO of F Cancer, the movement that educates people about early detection, prevention and communication of cancer. At just 22, Yael founded FCancer after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, to create a more human cancer movement. The views expressed herein are hers.

So I like food, probably more than the average person. They say men think about sex 19 times a day, but that’s tame compared to my vivid food fantasies. Being healthy is also really important to me, so I had to find a way to balance my desire to eat even the fake fruit in hotel lobbies with my need to be healthy and treat my body right.

I read up a lot on different diets, approaches, and lifestyles. What struck me in my research is how prescriptive and staunch most methods are. I’m from the generation that thinks sex is a choice you make as often as nail polish colors, and that jobs are like magical chairs: We don’t like to be tied down. So I wondered how I could possibly stick to something that didn’t allow me to live my life and wasn’t flexible enough to adapt.

Fad diets tell us what to eat, what not to eat, hell, they even tell us to inject ourselves and starve to be “healthy,” and it’s really damn confusing trying to figure out what you should be eating.

I’m all about 80/20, which  is something my mom taught me. It’s about doing the right thing 80 percent of the time and doing what you want the rest of the time. This is in regards to health choices, by the way, not sexual partners... or children’s names.

What Should You Do 80 Percent of the Time?

Eat clean, whole foods. It's easier than it sounds. To stay on track, I stick to a few basic guidelines:

  • If it doesn’t expire, avoid it. And be scared, that’s pretty gross.
  • If it’s wrapped in plastic or tinfoil, avoid it. This generally means its got added preservatives.
  • If you don’t know what plant or animal it came from, avoid it. That’s just creepy.
  • Aim to get your fill of fresh whole fruits and veggies. I like to use hot sauce, hummus and lots of spices to keep it interesting.

Fad diets tell you what to do or what not do; they’re pretty black and white. They forget that any diet or lifestyle choice has to check two major boxes:

  1. Does your body respond well to it? Are you healthy and happy eating vegan/paleo/gluten-free/whatever you’ve chosen to be? Everyone’s body is different; we need different things and respond differently, so it makes sense that there isn’t one diet that's perfect for everyone.
  2. Does it fit into your lifestyle? Obviously new diet decisions often require making lifestyle changes, but there are things you just can’t control, such as food allergies, or career circumstances that require frequent travel.

Until we understand that diet should be a lifestyle choice rather than an aggressive period of deprivation and discomfort, we don’t stand much of a chance of any longevity or real change in what we consume.

If I can understand why I’m eating this way and can reasonably fit it into my life, then I stand a much better chance of sticking to my new healthy relationship with food.

What Should We Do the Rest of the Time?

Eat that damn cookie. Whatever that magical, desirable, unforgettable food is that you dream about marrying just to eat at the alter, eat it. Eat some of it, that is. If it’s cookies that get you going, eat a cookie. Eat one delicious cookie, savor it, really appreciate it and acknowledge it for what it is — an indulgence and a treat. Then put the bag away and go on your merry cookie high way.

When we’re told we can’t have something, it’s all that we want. We obsess about it, we dream about and ultimately (unless you’re Kelly Rippa) you give in and eat it. But you don’t eat just a bit, you binge. This is because:

  1. You’ve been fixating on this food — the forbidden fruit — so when you cheat, you’re definitely gonna go for it, and cheat Tiger Woods style.
  2. You think you can’t ever have it again, so you eat as much as of it as possible now. It’s the same reason a lot of us gain weight right before we start a scheduled diet; we squeeze in as much indulgence as possible, which ultimately sabotages our diet because we shock our bodies and go into sugar/alcohol/whatever withdrawal.

What happens next is the worst part of it all. You feel defeated and like you failed. So you give up. This isn’t because you’re weak, it’s because eating healthy is hard, and it’s a hell of a lot harder when you hold yourself to an unrealistic and unenjoyably standard.

How to Eat Healthy and Be Happy

The path out is pretty simple (even though it's not always easy!):

  • Eat clean, whole foods.
  • Avoid processed junk and chemicals.
  • If you want to eat crap, eat clean crap. A homemade chocolate chip cookie beats a Chips Ahoy by miles and doesn't have the chemicals or creepy long shelf life.
  • When you indulge, enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty, defeated or regretful. Acknowledge the indulgence that you (hopefully) deserve, and then get right back to your 80% awe-inspiring dedication to your health and wellness (or just losing the belly fat -- whatever floats your boat).

How have you handled indulgence? How important is the "20 percent" to you? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!

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