How Monopoly Taught Me More About Intuitive Eating
When you've grown up in diet culture, you might have a habit of restricting and binging. I've only just realised this has affected more than food.
I don’t let myself have Monopoly on my phone. In fact, I don’t let myself have Ticket To Ride, Candy Crush or even some test tube game where you have to pour the coloured liquids from one test tube to another until they match. I also don’t let myself have The Sims on my computer. Ditto Rollercoaster Tycoon or Diner Dash. All three were my childhood favourites along with Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? and if that still existed, it would probably be banned too.
Growth Spurts with Michelle Elman is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Why are these banned? Well, I waste too much time on them. I’ve had entire weeks disappear when I have downloaded even one of these games. People cease to exist, I don’t even notice when people walk into a room and time just disappears until I’ve realised three days have passed and not only have I not slept but not eaten as well.
The only way I am able to do all of the above bannings is once every few months, (or with the more extreme elements like The Sims, once every few years), I let myself have it. I will block out a week and indulge and let myself have my fix, on the condition that on the date I set as my end date, I actually delete it and get on with my life. I usually let myself have this indulgence after a massive deadline or in the middle of a pandemic with nothing to do. I satisfy my craving and then on the final day, I do have to hit that delete button impulsively and what demotivates me from reinstalling it is all my game progress is deleted anyway so I don’t want to start from scratch.
All of this has led me to believe that I have an addictive personality. After all, no ‘normal’ person would be this hooked or have to resort to these absolutely ridiculous measures (and yes, I am aware they are ridiculous!). Surely this is a ‘me’ problem?
This is how I operated for many years, without questioning it or even disclosing this behaviour to anyone. Until this year, when my boyfriend moved in and this secret quirk was unveiled. It started with this test tube game being discovered a few days before our first holiday together. I am quite good at not being on my phone when I’m with people but every time he would go somewhere, even just the loo, out the game would come. It made him laugh and every time he did, I would promise that on the last day of the trip, I would delete it. He didn’t think I was being serious so when we boarded our flight back home and he saw me going to delete it, he was horrified.
“Stop! Why would you do that?”
“You’ve seen how I’ve been with this thing. I would get nothing done if I had things like this on my phone”
“But you enjoy it? Why would you delete something you enjoy?”
“Because I can’t be trusted with it”
And almost like a flashback, I realised this was not about an addictive personality. This was about diet culture. When I uttered that sentence, I realised that’s exactly what I used to say about chocolate. I used to say that chocolate was banned in the house because ‘if it’s there, I will eat it’. I would talk about how I had no self-control and even once, I went to a hypnotherapist because I was convinced I was ‘addicted to chocolate’.
I was, of course, not addicted to chocolate. I do not have an addictive personality. I was simply engaging in a restrict-binge mindset. Whenever your brain feels like there is a scarcity, it will hoard that thing because your brain believes it will disappear. Whether you do this with food or phone games, it’s the same thing.
All that ever happened when I banned chocolate from the house, is I would resist for a certain amount of time and then one day, I would binge whatever was in the house. Usually, my housemate’s stash of chocolate since I didn’t allow myself to have any of my own, further cementing the idea that I can’t be trusted and that I have no willpower. It’s not about willpower though, it’s about how our brains are wired in order for survival.
It’s been years since I have banned chocolate from my house. In fact, I now almost always have such a vast selection of chocolate in my house, that when my friends come over, one of the first things they do is open my fridge and get some chocolate off the top shelf but being able to do that was a long process. How I unlearned everything around my beliefs about chocolate was by always having surplus amounts of chocolate in the house. My brain eventually figured out that there wasn’t a chocolate scarcity and there will always be more chocolate and therefore I don’t need to hoard it or eat it all in one evening. In order to learn that though, you have to go through the inevitable process of having those binges happen and continuing to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you are not being punished and you can have another piece of chocolate if you want. The journey was hard but the end result, years later is chocolate is always in my house, it is not very interesting to me. It’s there if I want it and more importantly, there are times I don’t want it.
When I deprived myself of it, I ALWAYS wanted it. I even wanted chocolate that I didn’t particularly like because the irony of binging is you don’t really ask yourself if you are enjoying it or whether it tastes good and that’s where another piece of diet culture comes in. It’s not just about restricting, it’s also about the denial of pleasure. The reason I started banning chocolate was the same reason I started banning video games. I believed I couldn’t be trusted with things I enjoyed but actually, it’s about something so much deeper. I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy things. Until my boyfriend asked me that question:
“Why would you delete something you enjoy?”
So for the first time, I didn’t delete my games. I deleted that stupid test tube game because it got annoying but I let myself have Ticket To Ride and Risk and I even redownloaded Monopoly, a game I haven’t let myself have since I was 24 (I am 29 now!). I absolutely went through the binges where I was playing maybe 5/6 games a day but now there are days that go past where the apps aren’t touched. I needed less because I was actually letting myself enjoy them rather than feel guilty for the time spent on them. And just like how I discovered I actually don’t like doughnuts. I actually don’t like Risk in the app version. In summary:
It’s not a waste of time if I am enjoying myself.
Spending time playing is not a waste simply because it isn’t productive.
Let yourself have those tiny pieces of joy in your day.
Lots of love,
If you enjoyed reading this, feel free to give it a share!