What are your non-negotiables?

If there’s one thing I want for you, it’s to quit dieting forever. I fully realize how unconventional & provocative this sounds. That it’s the opposite of what you’ve been told by the experts your whole life. Because I suggest you do “weird” things like:

Don’t follow a meal plan to a T.

Don’t eat at specific hours. Eat when you are hungry.

Don’t listen to the food pyramid.

Listen to your hunger & fullness above all else.

Eat carbs. Plenty.

Eat animals.

Follow a nutrient-dense, whole-food diet, mostly.

Eat what your body wants.

Include non-negotiables.

These are things I wholeheartedly believe in, and I know they are scandalous and frankly, terrifying. I thought so, too, in my dieting days. But that’s exactly why I continued dieting.

Obviously, diets are popular because they promise weight loss. And most of the time, if followed properly, they work. But they always come with a backlash, leaving you back at square one, desperate, depleted and frustrated. Which is precisely why the diet industry is still a thriving, booming business: it has repeat customers. The diet keeps you coming back for more promises. Binge, deprive, rinse, repeat. Binge, deprive, rinse, repeat. Over and over again.

UGH. That ubiquitous cycle is exhausting, and not surprising when one begins a diet. I mean, what’s to be expected when you’re overly restricted with the amount of calories you’re eating (meaning your body cannot function properly), and deprived because most extreme diets do not allow room for any of the foods you truly love and enjoy (which makes me sad and angry).

We are humans, and we thrive off of pleasure. Food is one of the greatest sources of pleasure on this earth. If you’re reading this, I suspect you’re someone who loves or is at least curious about food. So let’s conclude that you LOVE food. I LOVE food. I cannot deny how happy I get when I eat the foods I love. And happiness is a part of life, right?

But what do diets do? They either completely deprive you of what you love, expecting you to eat in a way that is downright unsustainable. As you go through a restrictive diet, it’s probable you’ll become more and more resentful of the way you’re currently eating (whether it’s through the typical caloric restriction or the exclusion of a macronutrient group), which will turn you into a human ticking time bomb, who will inevitably explode at some point in the form of a binge. And binges serve up emotional and physical pain with a side of shame. This is something I’ve been through so many times, and something I’ve vowed to never go through ever again in my life (and have not for several years now) just because of one thing: the addition of non-negotiables in my diet.

Because at some point we heard that X was bad for us. That we should NEVER eat it if we want to lose weight or be healthy or live a full, glorious life. That thing has too many carbs or too much fat or avalanches of gluten or dairy and it’s going to destroy us. But what if we love that thing?

Then we should include it, sometimes. Within boundaries. If something makes you feel like complete and utter garbage and affects your life then it’s really up to you whether you want to eat it or not. I would tell you to not do it 99% percent of the time, but if it’s really really worth it to you, and you can afford to spend the next day glued to the couch, then be my guest.

But if something makes you feel fine, or just a liiiiittle bit off, then definitely include it deliberately. These non-negotiables in your diet are the KEY to not bingeing ever again.

For example, several years ago, in an attempt to take my body to the “next level”, I heard that carbs were the devil. That bananas were pure evil, and sweet potatoes should only be eaten if I was an Olympic level athlete, which I was not, which meant I never ate sweet potatoes or bananas.

This made me really sad. And I did not eat bananas or sweet potatoes for TWO YEARS. And what did I do that entire two years? Binge.

I adore chocolate, too. But I heard sugar was even worse. So I also did not eat chocolate, and every time I was in a store that sold chocolate (which, um, is EVERY DAY! I cook for part of my living) I literally felt a magnetic pull towards the chocolate and I’d have to force myself to look away or distract myself. This is not a way to live.

Inevitably, when I indulged in the chocolate (always in secret, never with people), I’d eat the entire bar or more, always dipped in extra ghee or nut butters, and vow to never eat it again. And then I’d go to the grocery store…and the cycle would repeat itself.

It wasn’t until I allowed myself full, unabashed, and unapologetic permission to eat my favorite foods out in the world whenever I wanted them that I never binged again.

Now, there are foods that I STILL really love but make me feel SO shitty that they are not non-negotiables to me. I’ve been around that rollercoaster so many times, trying to incorporate them, but their backlash just isn’t worth it. Their cost outweighs their benefit. These are things like real cake, bread, pizza, lots of cheese, lots of alcohol. Basically the best tasting things in the world. But my life and brain are better without them, and I’m fully at peace with my decision to not include them in my diet.

Nowadays, I am vigilant about paying attention to the way I feel and the impact that foods have on me. Additionally, I’m also vigilant about my mental state around food and make sure that I am NOT restricting myself from things I love. I eat them every single day, and I am a calm, happy, relaxed human around food.

So, how do you discern what you should include as a non-negotiable?

They are:

Things that you include in your diet daily or weekly or monthly that prevent you from bingeing. You love them, and they add value to your life. They make you happy and satisfied. They are worth it.

They are NOT:

Things that make you feel guilty or out of control, physically terrible, or make you want to binge further when you eat them.

Non-negotiables should NEVER make you feel guilty or shameful. They are entirely up to YOU to decide whether you want to eat them or not.

Because of these inclusions, food is now fun for me, when it used to feel like a burden and a prison.

So, what are my non-negotiables?

  • Salted butter (the real stuff – Kerrygold)
  • Bananas with insane amounts of nut butters & dried fruit (no joke I eat like two bananas a day now)
  • ALL THE FRUIT (I used to never, ever eat fruit but now I eat it freely)
  • Dried mango
  • Sweet potatoes LOADED with ghee or salted butter
  • Fat perfect pieces of avocado with almost every meal
  • Chocolate
  • Flourless chocolate cakes (less, but I do still eat them)
  • Bacon glazed with maple syrup & brown sugar and walnuts
  • Mexican food
  • Olive-oil packed tuna (never in water, GROSS)
  • Salmon roasted in butter with herbs
  • Sushi
  • Nitrogen ice cream (super makes me feel like crap, but super worth it a couple times a year)

 


You might think these are really simple, but this is honestly what makes me really happy and doesn’t make me feel like shit. You have to eat these things with full presence.

You might be wondering how often you should eat the non-negotiables, and I say, experiment. Because this is NOT an excuse to just eat junk all the time. I have to be clear that that’s not the message. I’m saying to eat well most of the time, and include these non-negotiables in as often as they align with your current values and feelings.

Some of your non-negotiables can be simple things like flavors that you want to eat every day like Indian food or Mexican food or spicy food. Glazed food. French food. Whatever it is. There are some things I eat every single day (like my banana and sweet potatoes and avocado), and some things I eat every couple days (chocolate), and some things I eat once a month or so (flourless chocolate cake), and some things I eat every couple months (nitrogen ice cream & cheese).

I’m not saying that’s what you should do. You need to experiment and find out what works for you. I’d, of course, love to eat ice cream and cake every day, but this does not align with how I want to feel. This isn’t about restriction or strictness, this is about prioritizing myself and the way I want to feel and show up every single day.

My goal for you is to live in a way that you can enjoy daily, instead of living in a sad diet prison that’s followed by extreme bingeing of all the things you wish you could eat that you haven’t let yourself.

Let yourself. Thank yourself. Be free.

Sign up for news
and updates from my kitchen to yours:

get the newsletter

I'm here to help!

What are you struggling with?

mind
& body

cooking
& recipes

nutrition

healing my relationship with food & my body

We cannot make sustainable change with food, our bodies, or our surrounding habits until we honestly explore and get curious about our relationship with each of them. Mindset change is not easy, but so, so worth it.

learn more

cooking is the ultimate act of self-care

Being healthy starts with learning to cook simple foods in easy, delicious ways with approachable and practical recipes and techniques.

learn more

how to choose the right foods for my body & health

Our health begins with properly nourishing our bodies with nutrient-dense foods. I believe in bio-individuality: each person requires different types and amounts of food to feel their best. Learn how to eat intuitively for the rest of your life!

learn more

For daily inspiration, follow: @ashleykpardo