Early in my journey, when I was wrestling with God about surrendering my food desires, I remember journaling about how I just didn’t want to give up the pleasure of bread and butter! I mean, I really, really didn’t want to give it up!
I was resisting constraints, resisting boundaries. I wanted my freedom!
The thing is, I really wasn’t all that free.
I was attached to food. Now, I fully believe God wants us to enjoy food. He is the one who invented taste buds! But there’s a difference between enjoyment and attachment. I was relying on food for comfort, and that kept me tied to food.
Tied. Shackled. Not free.
I thought that boundaries would end my freedom. Instead, they opened it up.
How boundaries free you from decision fatigue
It’s estimated that the average adult makes around 35,000 decisions every day — with 227 of those related to food. (source) Decision fatigue is what happens when your decider gets overloaded! And when fatigue sets in, we tend to make poorer choices.
When your boundaries are fuzzy, or when you haven’t really embraced them, they can end up sucking a lot of mental energy, because you’re always questioning, second-guessing, and waffling over decisions. But when you’ve decided firmly ahead of time on clear boundaries, then you’re free from the minute-by-minute decisions.
How is this different from following a diet? Because on a diet, you’re usually following someone else’s rules, which may or may not work for you all the time. Then when it doesn’t, you have decisions to make.
Sure, setting up your well-defined boundaries will take time and decisions on the front end, but then those decisions are done (well, they may need a little tweaking in the early days as you fine-tune things), and then you can move on to a life with about 200 fewer decisions to make each day!
How boundaries bring freedom from anxiety
A team of landscape architects once conducted a simple study to see whether having a fence around a playground would impact preschool children for good or bad.
“By observing teachers and their students on a playground surrounded by a fence, and on a comparable playground with no fence, the researchers found a striking difference in how the children interacted in the space.
“On playgrounds without fences, the children tended to gather around the teacher, and were reluctant to stray far from her view. On playgrounds that were fenced in, however, they ran all around the entire playground, feeling more free to explore.
“The researchers concluded that with a boundary, in this case a fence, children felt more at ease to explore the space.” (source)
I think, whether we’re aware of it or not, when we have no boundaries around food — or when we have ill-fitting boundaries — that tends to make us have a lot of anxiety connected with eating. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Am I bad or stupid for eating this?
Having good boundaries, though… Well, let me define good boundaries. A good food boundary is one that keeps you healthy, but also one you’ve thought through, you know why it’s good for you, and you’ve decided it’s something you can live with forever.
So… Having good boundaries eases that anxiety. When you know where your boundaries are and why they’re there, and you own them, then you’re comfortable with them, and you know you can move around freely within them.
How boundaries free you from consequences
Most of us are unaware of how food affects our well-being. Most people have forgotten how good their bodies were designed to feel. Once you start paying attention to how you feel a few hours or the next morning or many even a couple days after certain foods, it’s an eye-opening experience. And you begin to see boundaries as friends who protect you from discomfort and pain.
For example, here are some of my boundaries that free me up from feeling bad later:
- I don’t eat sugar too late at night. It works like caffeine on me, so this frees me to have a good night’s sleep.
- I don’t eat cheesy crunchy things. This is the category that sets off my cravings like mad, so I know I’m more free without it. Free from battling cravings! (Junk food doesn’t satisfy cravings: it creates them.)
- I only eat desserts if they’re an 8 or higher on my do-I-love-it scale. Some things are worth it to me; some are not. I’m free from wasting regret on sweets I really don’t love that much.
That last one is an example of a boundary that isn’t about never eating a food: it’s about putting restrictions on when or under what circumstances I will eat a food. This is incredibly helpful for building boundaries you can live with forever. (You might also find it helpful to read about How to eat guilt-free at parties.)
“Initially, I struggled with setting up food boundaries because I felt deprived and it’s simply no fun telling myself no! But I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of boundaries. I’m more free submitting to boundaries than being enslaved to food. Instead of looking at boundaries as my enemy, I now see them as my friend.”
– a student in one of my classes
Boundaries and you
So how do you feel about boundaries? Do you tend to be a follower who welcomes rules? Or are you (like me) a bit of rebel? I generally find that if I understand a good reason for a rule, I’m willing to follow it.
If you’re a rule follower, defining your own boundaries will help you feel even better about your choices.
If you’re a rebel, you’ll need to make sure you set boundaries that really make sense to you.
If you’re still feeling doubtful about your ability to stick to boundaries, I encourage you to think about boundaries that already exist in your life. If you have a job, you probably show up on time most days. You pay bills. You may have a budget. If you’re married, you probably have guidelines to keep your relationship solid. You may have boundaries about what you wear, what you say, what movies you watch.
You probably follow all of these without thinking because they make sense to you, and you see how they protect you from harm. It might take a little renewing of your mind as you learn to think differently, but I bet you can grow to see food boundaries the same way.
“Boundaries are the borders of flourishing. Rather than the edges of everything we can’t have or can’t do… boundaries can be the fenced plot of the garden where we will grow.” @kjramseywrites
Find more articles about food boundaries in Trail 3 articles.
Need help setting your boundaries? I can help!