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Don't Want to Diet? Choose Your Food Like You'd Choose Your Outfit

Choosing an outfit teaches us a lot about choosing our meals. I mean, think about it. When you choose an outfit to wear, there are a lot of things to consider.
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I help women stop dieting and learn how to trust themselves around food. It's an amazing process, but also a very challenging one.

One of the most common questions I get asked is:

"If I don't use a diet or some other external 'system' of eating (e.g., Paleo, the Mediterranean diet, etc.) to decide what I should eat, how should I decide?"

This is a complex question to answer, but one of the most useful metaphors I've found for explaining the process to clients is this:

Choosing an outfit teaches us a lot about choosing our meals.

I mean, think about it.

When you choose an outfit to wear, there are a lot of things to consider:

  • What's the weather like? Do you need a sweater to keep you warm, or a sundress to keep the air flowing?

  • What kinds of activities will you be doing today? Should you wear pants so you can do jumping jacks and scale mountains, or a mini skirt so that you can look hot at da' club?
  • What kind of clothes do you like? Which ones are aesthetically pleasing to you? It doesn't matter if an outfit is generally agreed to be "fashionable" or "appropriate" -- you won't feel amazing in it if it doesn't appeal to you.
  • What clothes do you have in your closet right now? Sure, I fantasize about a certain Oscar de la Renta lace-trimmed black cocktail dress, but that's not gonna happen in my near future. So I've got to work with what I have.
  • Similarly, when you choose what to eat, there are many different factors to consider:

    • What is the weather like? Is it a hot day, so cold food would be refreshing? Or would hot food warm you up on a snowy afternoon?

  • What kinds of activities will you be doing today? Do you need a bunch of protein to power you through a tough workout? Or would a cappuccino and a pumpkin muffin best fuel a leisurely morning spent reading the paper?
  • What kinds of foods do you like? Which ones are tasty to you? It doesn't matter if a food is generally considered to be nutritious or delicious. If you don't like eating it and it doesn't feel good in your body, don't bother (you'll just end up grazing more, in an attempt to feel satisfied).
  • What food do you have in your kitchen or nearby, right now? Look, I also fantasize about that perfect almond pastry that I've only bought from a stand at a Parisian farmer's market, near the Bastille. But am I going to get that on a regular Tuesday morning? Probably not.
  • I think this is particularly important because so many people -- particularly if they are frustrated with their eating -- try to focus only on the more "practical" elements of eating: Food is only for nourishment! It's not about pleasure!

    And then they get annoyed with themselves for wanting pleasure, as though they're doing something "wrong," or somehow being "bad."

    But think how silly that would be if someone told you that about clothes: You're not allowed to choose clothes that are pretty to you! All that matters is practicality!

    Of course, practicality matters quite a lot, but if you also care about aesthetics, there's also nothing wrong with that. Similarly, you can care about the taste and the nutritional content of food.


    When it's time to re-think everything

    I also think that fashion has something important to teach us about eating in the area of closet refreshes.

    Do you know what I'm talking about?

    That moment when you finally realize that that pair of jeans in your closet is just way too worn out and needs to be thrown away.

    Or a dress that felt very fashionable when you bought it in high school now looks young and cheap, so should really be donated to Goodwill.

    Similarly, there are moments when we need to accept that outdated ways of eating are no longer serving us.

    We might have loved eating meatloaf with peas and mashed potatoes when we were 10, for example, but now that meal doesn't make us feel good. Or chicken and vegetables might have been our favorite delicious, healthy dinner when we started eating it, but now it feels tired and boring.

    Is it time for you to rethink your eating habits? Are you still eating the food your parents served in your childhood home, or the foods you ate as a college student or 20-something?

    There comes a time in all of our lives when we need a closet refresh.

    And we occasionally need the same thing in our eating, too.

    For me, this really has to do with the narratives we tell ourselves about what we eat or what we wear. "Oh, I'm someone who could never pull off a crop top" or "I'm someone who could couldn't possibly wait until 11 a.m. to eat my breakfast."

    We have all these stories we tell ourselves about what we want, what we don't want, what is appropriate, and more -- with our clothes, with our food, and beyond. But are they really true? How do you know? Could you try it as an experiment, and see?

    You might surprise yourself.

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    Over to you: Do you choose your food like you choose your clothing? Or not? In what ways? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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    Are you used to "having it together" in your life, but your eating + weight is the little piece that's not going right? Check out Katie's free "What's Your Eating Style" ebook -- a beautiful, 22-page ebook that lets you identify your eating archetype, and offers detailed, personalized practices to try TODAY.

    If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.