Choice is what distinguishes us from other animals. Our ability to evaluate options and then pick one option over another is an essential part of our humanity.
It has been argued that choice is a prerequisite for being in control of our environment; and theoretically, being in control of our environment should improve our chances of survival. It follows that:
In this way, the need for control is a biological imperative for survival. And, having choice is associated with having control. So, at it’s core, choice or autonomy is a survival mechanism.
Even young children fight for choice. Parenting wisdom suggests that we should always offer children a choice, rather than mandating their actions. Would you like an apple or a banana? Would you like to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt? Would you like to clean up your toys now or after dinner? For children, exercising choice helps to develop a sense of autonomy. The same is true for adults.
So, why am I taking you on a tour of motivational psychology? Because this same pattern plays out with our health behaviors. Traditional diets don’t work because they take away our choice. They make us believe that we can’t trust ourselves. They make us feel out of control. They strip us of our autonomy.
And so, if you want to be in control of your body, you must be in control of your choices. Stop handing over your power to this eating plan or that exercise plan. Stop deferring to others on what is best for your body. Instead, tune in to your body and make decisions from your internal knowledge. Does this food make me feel energetic and vibrant when I eat it? Does this food agree with me? Does eating this food feel consistent with my goals and self-image?
Now, I’m not suggesting that all health information is evil and that you should bury your head in the sand. But, we tend to get very caught up in listening to external cues about our health. Health is a balance between internal cues (e.g., hunger, fatigue, pain) and external cues (e.g., lab test results, health articles). If you’re too externally focused, you’re not in tune with your body. It’s time to take back control of your relationship to food and body. You can certainly filter external information into your decision-making process, but when you completely cede control of your behavior over to a diet plan, you will feel out of control. And, eventually, you will rebel in order to take back control.
So, where have you been giving up control of your health? And what small action can you take today to take back control?