I can have it, but I don’t want it.

For the last year or so I have been struggling with my eating habits. Food has become an obsession, with both good and bad consequences. On the positive side, this obsession has propelled me into investing more time and resources into cooking and expanding my culinary repertoire. The down side, however, is I have also developed an unhealthy relationship with food. I would mindlessly stuff myself with any sweets I came across (mostly in the office), only to mire in self hatred for the rest of the day. I would look at pastries with an all consuming desire and feel utterly incapable of resisting them, and I would wage this internal battle on a daily basis. If this sounds like the mentality associated with eating disorder, it’s probably because it is. Fortunately, I don’t have an eating disorder. This is most likely the result of having the importance of health pounded into my head by my parents all my life.

Nevertheless, I can’t ignore the fact that my relationship with food is no longer a healthy one. While talking about this with a friend, she pointed out that I was relying on food more for the pleasure it gave me than the nutritional value it offered. I would never deny that food is a great source of pleasure and should remain so. However, food should be primarily a source of fuel for our bodies, and the pleasure it brings should be secondary. Viewing food primarily as a source of pleasure was what led to this love-and-hate relationship. Food became this incredibly desirable thing that I craved regularly, all the while agonizing over the fact that I should not give into it. It was the classic case of desperately wanting something that I knew was not good for me. The more I knew I shouldn’t have it the more obsessed I became. This line of thinking drove me into a series of downward spirals into self hatred. I felt disappointed and scared. Disappointed at my lack of self control and scared that there was nothing I could do to overcome it.

I have come to suspect that at the core of all of this is the fear of deprivation. I am not very good with deprivation (perhaps no one is). But if I ever feel deprived of anything, it only makes me want that thing even more. In fact, knowing that I can’t have something is almost a guarantee for me to become obsessed with possessing it, at any cost. Again, back to the wanting what I cannot / should not have. This mental struggle is not unique to my relationship with food. I suspect it is also at the root of my relationship with money and spending habits. Growing up, I was always told what I cannot have because of the lack of money. So as soon as I had the means of buying the things I wanted, I was unstoppable. Anything and everything I wanted, I would buy it, even if I knew I should not. I was sick of feeling deprived and did everything to be free from it. Except the unbridled pursuit of satisfaction of every desire only led me to becoming a prisoner of excess. Yet even as I was fully aware of my bad habits and the havoc they wrecked, I could not stop myself at those moments. The Buy buttons and the cookies still beckoned like dangerous sirens.

Then one day I heard this phrase, “I can have it, but I don’t want it”.  I was immediately intrigued by it. It was a deceptively simple phrase, but a surprisingly powerful one. It was the reverse of what I have been telling myself all this time : I want it, but I can’t have it. It completely turned my toxic thought process on its head. By telling myself, I can have it but I don’t want it, I was able to distinguish between things that I truly wanted, from things that I wanted merely because I can’t have it.  This has been a recent revelation and I have not had the chance to test it out in the office, where most of my daily battles with temptations happen. However, I have already found myself saying the phrase this weekend while contemplating whether to have that piece of cake or not. So far, it has led me to drinking more water and eating more fruits instead. Only time can tell how effective this will be, but I am hopeful!

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