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Food &Love Hack Friday: Say Goodbye to “Why”

January 25, 2013
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Today’s food and love hack is one of my favorites.  It has been one of the most important hacks for my own health and happiness.   It gets at the very root of many over/under eaters’ issues, and, I would argue, perfectionists and this society as a whole.

The Hack: Loosing your Dependence on “Why”

Why do we ask the question “why?”

We ask the question “why?” because we are curious creatures.  That makes sense.   We like knowing things.  Additionally, the question “why” is key to our survival.  It’s an evolutionarily evolved advantage.  The more we question, the more we know.  The more we know, the more we can navigate our environments safely.

For an every day example: just two days ago I felt my face start to heat up.  I thought: “hm?  The cold weather?” and I sat in that hypothesis.   I let my body feel what it needed to feel.  But the sensation did not get better.  In fact, it got much worse.   Much later that day I remembered that I had used an old therapeutic lotion that morning, and I thought: “holy crap, I gave myself a chemical peel.”  I am now recovering as appropriately as I can because I have that knowledge.   This is what we get for thoughtlessly using modern interventions, ladies.

Knowledge enables us to control ourselves and to exert control over our environments.   This is a good thing– perhaps the most excellent thing of all!    It is well-known in psychological and sociological literature that the more control a person perceives she has over her own life, the happier she tends to be.  No one likes to be controlled, and no one likes to be out of control, either.  “Learned helplessness” is in fact the clinical term used for one of the greatest causes of depression and anxiety.

For this reason, the question “why” is of supreme importance to our lives.   I might even argue that it is the most important concept for us as human beings.  The question “why” I really do believe makes us human even more than love or virtue or awareness does.

So why advocate loosening our hold on it?

It is my belief that we sometimes develop unhealthy relationships with the word “why.”  The great extent to which we have “figured out” existence up to this point in our society has led us to develop the illusion that we can know and control more than is actually possible.

Many of us have health issues or are at least concerned about optimizing our health.  But how much is this truly possible through tweaking?  Much we might like to believe that we can master our bodies completely, even in the most highly analyzed and tweaked body there are millions of processes going on at any given point in time that could influence the individual.    We simply cannot account for all of them–we cannot.  Accounting for every single feeling, fluctuation, or indicator we experience is an exercise not just in fertility, but in a particular kind of madness.

Which is my own kind of madness, mind you.

Hyper-attention to the question “why” when coupled with the belief that our bodies can be controlled by food intake is not a godsend but a big time trouble maker.  Appropriate attention to the word “why” is great.  Hyper attention is not.  When we continually ask why we are feeling a certain way, and needing desperately to know the mechanics of it all, then we come to a place where we are trying to optimally control everything that is happening in our bodies– something that I would argue from personal experience is just about impossible.

There are a wide range of factors that make health still as mysterious as it is a hack-able problem.   Our psychology is one of them, perhaps the most important one.   How we are thinking and feeling at any given point in time exerts an enormous influence on our health.  For this reason, our desire to control what’s going on in our bodies may in fact be counter-productive.   But we cannot know precisely how and why that works– we just have to do it as best we can.

Our immune systems are also quite complicated.  How do we know when and what we are battling at any given point in time?

Or what was our gut flora doing on that particular day?  Had we reacted to a food that would normally have been quite comfortable?

Is our hormone balance off because of a night’s sleep, or just because of a natural fluctuation?

If we are healthy, and we feel healthy, I believe that we need to let go.  We should ask why as often as it is helpful, and on other occasions begin trusting our bodies and our lifestyles to do their job without micromanagement.

This can powerfully help us relax our relationships with food.  We want to know how certain foods affect us, but micromanaging our food intake exacerbates the impulse for control and perfection.    We become obsessive over figuring things out, controlling our bodies, and being the master over them.  A bit healthier of a perspective might be to let them speak to us without prodding back.  And trust them.  It may seem impossible at times — how do I know if I am hungry or not?! — but we’ve just got to trust that the right hunger response and the right healing mechanism is in there and trying ot come out, and we’ve got to let it happen.

It won’t be perfect moving forward, but that’s almost the point.  Work with your body and trust in it, and ask it questions only that you think you have the power to answer gently and without panic.

This has to do with our bodies, but it also has to do with our lives.  Are we trying to control too much?  Are we attempting to master our environments and our friends and our emotions with an iron-tipped whip?   We don’t need to — and it’s probably a bit of a illusion that we ever think we might be able to, anyway.   Questioning and loosening our relationship with “why” and working on trust issues helps us loosen up if we have a controlling grip on our lives.

The task:

Don’t let go of “why” entirely.  But analyze it’s role in your life.  If you feel a bit off one day, don’t run to scary questions and conclusions.  Don’t question your whole eating paradigm.  Give yourself some grace, and trust in your body, and see how it goes.  Perhaps it shall resolve itself.

And think about the issue particularly as it relates to your relationship with food.  Do you micromanage your food intake based on microsymptoms?  Do you hyper-detect, and therefore get a bit obsessive about what you are eating?   Do you exercise so much control over your eating patterns that you have forgotten what it feels like to be hungry, to be satiated, to feel good about yourself naturally?   Work on micromanaging less, and trusting your body more.  It’s doing what it needs to heal itself much of the time.  YES it needs help, and yes it needs questions and answers, but never in a way that harms you or it, psychologically, physiologically, holistically, spiritually.

Give “why” a looser leash.  Permit it some freedom and some peace, and move forward with trusting, loving, and embracing your natural self and life.

 

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Managing director of Paleo for Women and author of Sexy by Nature.

7 Comments

  1. Lovely blog post today. Very much enjoyed it.

  2. Oh Steph, my love. This past year has been a bastard of a year for learning that “why” + quantified hyper-micromanaging is nothing but the devil’s dildo. Uggg. I think its cranked my angst, blood sugars, reactions to food, to myself, to my symptoms, to my LIFE way out of proportion to what it could/should have been.

    I am thankful for the experience of the year, but hells yes and amen to a little lightening up of the load and putting down the microscope.

    I am thankful for what you have the heart and knowledge to share. You are appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hey, BrandiLynn. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart. I am with you thousands of percents.

  3. This post really got me thinking: I don’t think I’m overthinking the whys of food and health, but I do overthink the whys in other areas of life. In particular, I’m always asking myself why a person behaved in a certain way, when it would often be much healthier to simply accept their behavior and move on. Of course there are plenty of times when it is absolutely appropriate to think about a person’s motives (perhaps you can help them, for example), but often, when a person says something rude or behaves in a way that bothers you, dwelling on the why can drive you crazy and cause you to attach much more significance to the event than it deserves. Thanks for this!

  4. So well said! I think our tendency to navel gaze and over-think (aka obsess about) our diets creates such a poor relationship with food. Our bodies are far too complex to be completely controlled with food, which is exactly what we try to do when we restrict, eliminate and create ‘rules’ about what we eat. A great reality check! Eat healthy food and don’t attempt to micromanage your body. Great post, thank you once again.

  5. Thank you, Stefani, I needed this. I am getting married in 4 months, so of course that makes me want to obsess about everything I’m eating. Not for weight, once I went Paleo, the weight went lower than I ever expected so I’m very lucky in that aspect. However, I still have issues with acne, eczema, and very bad gut issues. I’m now gluten-, dairy-, night shade-, nut-, and legume-free(I feel like I’m forgetting something). But then when my stomach cramps after I eat a steak and a sweet potato, I just want to kick and scream and ask why I can’t get a hold of what my problem is. Your wonderful Food and Love Hack reminded me that my body will heal. Even if it doesn’t completely, I still love and nurture it the best that I can. But I also have to be patient with it. After 23 years of eating gluten and dairy (which I am definitely allergic to), I have to remember it’s going to take more than just 1 year of Paleo to fix it.

    I also have to add that after you did your series on birth control, which was fascinating, I was very interested in the information about FAM. Then I heard Liz Wolfe recommend the book Taking Charge of your Fertility a couple of times, and I finally bought it and started reading it. And I absolutely love it. I’m not even using it yet, but just the swell of information I never knew, and the pride in being a woman that seems so downplayed in our society is just so refreshing. So I have to throw in a another hat tip to you for being open and honest about women and their hormones.

  6. Pingback: The WFL Step 1: Start with self-love | Eat, Recycle, Repeat

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