When people ask about my success with getting healthy, I talk about retiring from certain foods. Not only do I choose not to eat them, I have no desire for them. As I was at the supermarket today, I walked through the bakery section past the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes with peaks of frosting and sprinkles—and none of them had any appeal to me. Here’s how I did it, and why changing one’s mindset towards food is crucial in getting healthy.
When I started working on my health in 2019, I decided I would take a different approach to weight management. It started with changing my language.
The problem with dieting is we assign moral judgements to food. Some foods are good, some bad, and certain foods we should never, ever eat. We don’t just see this with weight loss, but with all sorts of quick-fix nutrition programs. Your emails (and possibly, the ads Google presents on this site) brim with junk science and bad (and often dangerous) nutritional advice.
However, we can’t change our health without changing the foods we eat. But the moral judgements and demands for nutritional purity get in the way. If you’re told a certain food is forbidden, you are more tempted to eat it. Your desire for cheesecake becomes less about hunger and taste, and more about reclaiming something that has been taken from you. Something you mourn for and feel empty without. You may even have a sense of rebelliousness. And it won’t be enough to a have a taste. You want to devour the whole thing. And when you do, you apply all the language of morality: You’ve backslid, fallen off the wagon, and given into your weaknesses. You feel like a failure. You are too weak to deserve better health. And when you feel that way, you give up and gain more weight than before.
All of that happened to me.
I knew I had to do something different this time when my life was on the line. That’s when I came up with the idea of retiring from certain foods.
Retirement takes the moral judgement out of food. They aren’t good or bad. I just choose not to have them anymore. I loved Carl’s Jr. hamburgers. They’re delicious. They reminded me of the time I worked there. But they don’t serve my body anymore, so I decide not to eat them.
In fact, we see retirement as a good thing. How many of us working adults look forward to retirement so we can spend more time doing things we enjoy? (Given the state of our 401Ks and Social Security, we might never get there.) Even athletes at the peak of their careers contemplate retirement so they can focus on their family.
Likewise, retiring from certain foods frees us to make healthier choices. After turning up my nose at seafood for years, I’m eating more fish. Instead of fast-food French fries, I make them fresh in my air fryer. My plate is incomplete if it doesn’t have vegetables. Decaf coffee with sugar-free creamer makes an excellent dessert. I actually eat more food and feel satisfied for longer with light, well-balanced meals. They say nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. But nutritious food tastes and feels amazing.
That’s why the foods I retired from no longer appeal to me. The large birthday cakes I used to love (the ones that say 48 servings, but to us, there were 4) are too overwhelmingly sweet to me now. The massive fast-food burritos that were a lunchtime staple sit too heavily in my stomach and leave me hungry a half hour later. I’m not saying birthday cakes, burritos, and hamburgers are bad. They’re delicious and fine for certain people. They’re no longer for me.
Retirement gives me power over food. I’m free to choose what I want and what I don’t want. Nothing is demanded, and nothing is forbidden. There is no moral judgement. We look forward to retirement from work so we can have freedom over how we use our time. Likewise, retiring from certain foods gives me freedom over what I eat. I can have the memories of what I used to enjoy and know there are more fulfilling and beneficial choices available.
Those choices have given me greater health, more energy, less dependence on medication, more strength, and a chance at a longer life. By retiring from certain foods, I don’t feel deprived. I made a whole range of possibilities available to me—from new foods, new clothing, new activities, and hope for the future. To achieve your goals, you have to leave whatever holds you back. By retiring from foods that no longer benefit me, I’m free to choose the foods that do—and all the other things that improve my life.