Not long ago I stumbled across an essay written by a woman dealing with an esophageal burn. To promote healing and lessen the pain, she was asked to follow a soft-food diet.
With many staple foods no longer an option, she was forced to confront the slew of arbitrary rules she had assigned to her eating over the years. In time, through consultation with a dietician, she was able to switch her focus to finding foods that didn’t cause discomfort, which required disregarding many of those self-imposed restrictions. She writes:
“I had never eaten a pint of ice cream as a meal in my life; I was convinced this was some kind of food rubicon I would cross, and that afterwards, all my meals would become pints of ice cream.”
One day hungry, and stuck in traffic, she bought ice cream:
“I ate my fill of dulce de leche ice cream with a plastic spoon as it grew cool and viscous at the edges and felt like I’d won a prize. Literally nothing bad happened. Instead, two good things happened: I was no longer painfully hungry, and I’d had ice cream.”
While the article then turns to discussing the benefits of intuitive eating – an approach to food that involves consuming foods to satisfy hunger, without restriction or labeling foods as “good” or “bad” – I was struck by her final observation.
At the worst of my injury, friends would say enviously, Oh, at least you get to eat all this ice cream. But guess what: We all do, whenever we want.
Wait a minute? I can eat ice cream for supper? Say it isn’t so!
This reminds me of an article/podcast episode from Gretchen Rubin where she relays the experience of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. Ironically enough, this excerpt also involves an adult consuming ice cream in a way most would consider unusual (more specifically, unusual in the context of the unwritten “rules” of adult moderation). It also succinctly highlights that we adults have far more autonomy over basic decisions than we acknowledge or leverage.
As a side effect of mild anemia, I struggle with cold extremities; my hands and feet are perpetually frozen (ice blocks, my family calls them). I exercise regularly, bundle up, wear heated socks, use Magic Bags constantly, turn up the heat, wear slippers, and have invested in the best quality winter gear for Canadian living. But, at the end of many days, the only thing that can bring relief is a very hot shower. For years I would look forward to the evening so I could finally get warm, thinking longingly of just getting the kids to bed so I could get relief from the penetrating cold.
This year I had an epiphany. I could take two showers in a single day. I could take ten if I wanted to. There was no shower patrol limiting my access; no cutoff valve on the hot water tank that would cut me off after five minutes of gloriously scalding water.
While I don’t do it very often, on those particularly frigid days when I just cannot get warm – I take a second shower. And, literally, nothing bad has every happened.
Another example involves sleep. One evening my husband and I, usually very responsible about our bedtime, stayed up and binged the entire Waco mini-series on Netflix. It was close to 2 AM before we finished and I felt both horribly guilty and exhilarated. It felt like I had just broken some high-school-era curfew; when the morning rolled around and my elders learned about this, I’d be grounded for a month and lose access to the family car to boot. But, once again, nothing bad happened.
Truth is, I’m an adult. A perk – and curse – is the right to make a tremendous number of decisions. Most of the rules I project onto my life are completely my own construct.
I can eat ice cream for supper. I can have dessert before a meal. I can mix a load of light and dark laundry. I can say yes to that late-night conversation with a friend, even though it’s past my bedtime; I can skip my morning run even if I’ve got a 30-day exercise streak; I can decide not to give teacher gifts this year.
Mileage will vary on this; I suspect different personality types would find wildly different applications. And I’m not advocating for rampant embrace of unhealthy decisions. But I think we would do well to revisit the rules we’ve assigned and see if they are adequately serving our needs. Eating ice cream for supper doesn’t make me an unhealthy person…it just makes me a person who ate ice cream for supper.
I’m actually not a big fan of ice cream anyway…now Zesty Cheese Doritos are another story. But chances are, if I pick up a bag for supper tomorrow night, literally nothing bad will happen.