What happens if I give up my food rules?

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

As you know by now, dear reader, I have created an identity around being a sugar addict. I have strong urges to eat sweets, and I almost always overdo it and eat ten times more than a usual serving. Once in a blue moon it’s a full out binge, where I eat a pint or two of ice cream, plus cookies, a piece of cake, and some chocolates in a short period of time in the shameful privacy of my car parked somewhere away from prying eyes. This is rare, and not frequent enough to technically diagnose me with binge eating disorder (BED), but distressing nonetheless. More often, I eat one or two cookies and then come back for “just one more” 8 or 9 more times over the course of a few hours. I’m trying not to eat them and failing each and every time. I feel out of control, and to layer shame upon disappointment, I judge myself harshly for being seemingly unable to control as simple a behavior as putting a cookie in my mouth. And of course, the self judgement intensifies the whole problem, leading to extremely negative feelings which I then buffer away by making myself feel temporarily better with — you guessed it — sweets.

I have experienced first hand the dramatic decrease in cravings that occurs when I give my brain a break from sugar, and this is why I advocate for eliminating added sugars from your diet for at least 4-6 weeks when embarking upon a new healthful lifestyle. It’s simply a tool to decrease overdesire. And it works. Once you have settled down your brain, you can then add back in a sweet treat once in a while, maybe once a week, in an intentional way and enjoy the pleasure of sweets in your life while still mostly avoiding sugar and losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight).

The trouble is, I have taken sugar from a benign innate substance that simply provides energy and increases the dopamine level in my brain and turned it into an all-powerful villain that has a death grip on me. My first memories of treat sweets as something to be restricted (and hidden) were in 6th or 7th grade, when I’d sneak Little Debbie snack cakes and oatmeal cream pies on my way home from school and toss the wrappers before I got home to ensure my parents didn’t know I’d eaten them. Since then, I’ve had over 35 years of vilifying sweets even as I secretly desire and eat them. And the more I’ve emptied out the contents of my brain and written down my thoughts and feelings on paper as part of my life and weight coaching experience, the more I see that giving sugar all of my power and restricting it (or intending to restrict it) has created a belief that I am powerless — an addict — and has become a self fulfilling prophecy.

We know that restriction often leads to rebellion and overeating, which is how many eating disorders develop. Have I been inadvertently creating the very result I am trying to avoid? By restricting sugar, am I worsening my cravings and giving it way more importance in my life than it really has? I am certainly behaving in accordance with the idea that restriction leads to overeating and binging. So, what happens if I stop trying to restrict sugar? What happens if I decide to work on my belief that it’s a villain to be avoided, my belief that I can’t control myself around it, and start eating it when I want it and paying attention to how my body and mind feel? And, most importantly, what happens if I refuse to beat myself up for eating it, overeating it, or gaining weight in the process? Will taking away the restriction and the self-flagellation lead to a more healthy relationship with food and eventual weight loss, or will it allow my primitive brain to say, “ooga ooga! Now we get to eat all the sugar all the time, woohoo!” and lead to weight gain over time? I don’t know, but what I do know is that what I have been doing until now — periodically restricting sugar using willpower and white-knuckling and losing some weight only to regain it when I loosen up on my iron grip — has gotten me to my current weight hovering in the 140s to 150s, but never allowed me to live in emotional peace.

I don’t know what will happen to my weight, but I do know that I am so fed up with the “will-I-won’t-I” anguish-ridden tug of war in my mind, and the shame and self judgement I feel after eating sweets when I say I shouldn’t, that I am willing to give intuitive eating a try. I believe that I have done enough work over the past 2 years to be able to eat intuitively in a productive way: I’ve done work on awareness of how my body feels when it’s actually hungry, sated, or over full, how emotional or autopilot eating feels different than fuel eating, how cravings intensify when I feed them and die out when I allow them to be there without feeding them. All of this experience with awareness of my body and how it feels with different types and amounts of foods is going to be critical for this new intuitive eating experiment to lead to a healthy relationship with food without a lot of weight gain. Certainly, I’d love to get to 135 pounds one day, and #Project135 isn’t dead just yet, but right now I am giving up a weight goal in favor of a self compassion goal. No more food rules, no more telling myself that sugar owns me. I may gain a little weight and overeat sweets a bit as I embark upon this journey, and I have to let that be ok. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time and decide that it’s not working for me, but for now, I can’t tell you how relieved I feel. The constant resistance I felt in my own mind is beginning to soften, and that inkling of peace is a true joy to feel.

Project 135 stats

Starting weight: 159.6 (May 2020)
Week 1: 157.2
Week 2: 155.6
Week 3: 155.4
Week 4: 153.8
Week 5: 151.0
Week 6: 152.8
Week 7: ? (Dad’s death)
Week 8: 150.8
Week 9: 152.6
Week 10: 154.2
Week 11: 152.6
Week 12: 150.8
Week 17: 155.2 (sugar binges)
Week 18: 154.4
Week 19: 153.8
Week 25: 146.6
Week 26: 148.2 (Halloween candy)
Week 27: 146.8
Week 28: 146.6
Week 29: 148.8 (Thanksgiving)
Week 30: 148.4
Week 31: 149.0
Week 32: 152.2
Week 33: 153.0 (Christmas)
Week 37: 153.8 (January 2021: Start intuitive eating experiment)

Total weight loss: 5.8 pounds (3.6%)


With love,




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