One of the most complicated parts of weight loss, for me, has always been that dreaded “no.” I’ve written essay after essay after essay about how to develop the ability to say no, which is totally doable… but that says nothing about how hard it will be. It says nothing about the fact that learning how to “say no” doesn’t erase all the memories you’ve connected to saying “yes” for your entire life.

The day I gave up processed food is the same day I gave up smoking cloves. It was just one day when I decided I wasn’t going to buy them anymore. It was an expensive habit, it was a lethal habit, and it was a self-enabling habit. The smokes, much like the processed food, made me happy in a situation and lifestyle where I was increasingly unhappy. I was frustrated, hurt, feeling really hopeless, and wasn’t dealing with it at all – I didn’t have the tools to do so. I felt so out of sync with myself, that I felt like the only way I could feel any semblance of peace or happiness was through smoking. Or cookies. Usually both.

It’s officially been four years since I last smoked. I’m proud of the choice I made to hang up the habit, but sometimes I get this urge… if I walk past someone who’s smoking a clove – not a regular cigarette, mind you – or if I feel that feeling I used to feel before I’d smoke, I’d say to myself, “Damn, I really wish I smoked.” I’d eventually go on about my business, still not smoking, but I had to at least admit to myself that I felt the feeling. I’d also follow it up with “…but I don’t smoke anymore.”

I’ve spent a lot of time, in these past few months, really analyzing this feeling. I gave up something that I enjoyed, because I could actively recognize that the benefits of letting go would outweigh the benefits of clinging onto it. That’s the obvious part. The more interesting part, at least it is to me, is that even though I can acknowledge how “good” the indulgence felt to me, I can still let my “no” stand firm.

Lately, I’ve had to start analyzing my food journals to look for little holes in my eating – places where extra calories might creep in, little indulgences where I might not be sticking to my portion sizes, and things I can swap in and out to make my consistent calorie goal. Training looks and feels different when you’re training for muscle development – you eat tons of calories way more often, and your body gets comfortable growing in healthier ways. But now that I’m back to focusing on fat loss, I’m scaling back. In short, I’m right back at square one, learning how to say “no” to things I said “yes” to in large quantities.

The memories associated with all those “yes”es are damned powerful. Just like I can still feel the smoke billowing out from me after my first deep exhale, I can feel the first rush of sugar from biting into those cookies. Those memories, they try to serve as little promises of what would come if I gave in. Whenever I’m faced with the challenge of saying no, I do it in the face of those memories. It’s hard, and I wouldn’t be doing myself justice if I didn’t admit that I’ve been brought to tears at the realization that saying “no” would be denying myself the joys of that indulgence.

Everything feels so much more exaggerated when you’re an emotional eater, in recovery or not. You know how they say that people have “addictive personalities,” meaning they’re the type most likely to develop an addiction? That’s the kind of fear you live under – worrying about whether or not your next choice will send you ten steps backwards. Whenever I have to say “no,” I fight all the memories of “yes” using this fear – nothing will taste as good as the ability to keep myself from bingeing will feel. Nothing. Those memories tell me a lot about the feeling I’d gain, but that fear tells me so much more about what I’d have to lose.

Sweets, sugary treats (boy, did I love my candied ginger), smokes, alcohol… knowing that I’m the kind of person who is still developing coping mechanisms to accept and embrace my emotions and feelings, and knowing that I’m still trying to be a better problem solver, I had to give all of these things up in order to both strengthen my resolve, but also protect myself from backsliding. I don’t always get it right and, in some cases, I’m even becoming better about giving myself a little taste and tucking away the rest. Even I can use a reminder, every now and again, that saying no never becomes easier than saying yes has ever been, and I will never forget everything that comes with saying “yes.”

When I look at my food journals and think to myself about how much it’s gonna “suck” having to give up what I enjoy, I might groan and lament the new changes, and it might be one hell of a challenge to let go. But now, I have so much more to live for and enjoy, such a new perspective on life and living, and such a deeper understanding of how I’ve been handling my emotions… that I can adequately say that I have far more to lose by saying yes, and it makes saying “no” even easier.