Challenge the Food Police:  Intuitive Eating Principle 4

Challenge the Food Police: Intuitive Eating Principle 4

We all hear them.  The voices in our head that say, “you can’t have this”, and “you shouldn’t have that”.  Those voices tell us when we are allowed to eat and when we are supposed to stop eating.  They also tell us that some foods are off limits and only certain foods are allowed. In the Intuitive Eating world these voices are called the food police.  Enter principle four:  Challenge the Food Police:

The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created.  The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments.  Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.  

The first big step in challenging these thoughts is to explore them.  Write them down and begin to dig into each belief and where it came from.  Some examples of food rules or beliefs are:

  • I am not allowed to eat carbohydrates unless I work out
  • I shouldn’t eat after 7pm
  • Sweets are off limits unless it is the weekend

These all or nothing rules come from society, familial, and other influences but tend to take over and ruin your relationship with food and your internal body cues and lead to what is called the deprivation effect.  

The Deprivation Effect

Basic psychology suggests that when we deprive ourselves of something it makes us obsess over it and want it more. Chronic dieting often requires you to follow rigid rules that tell you what you can eat and when. It causes us to second guess our bodies’ needs and ignore our hunger and satiety cues. It works at first but then something like a social event, mental health struggles, or being unprepared and you end up breaking said rules. In the end the extreme restriction leads to overconsumption and the cycle continues.

Diet Restraint Theory

Describes what happens when dieters go off of their diet or break food rules (Polivy and Herman):

  1. The What-The-Hell Effect – success is defined by getting through the day without breaking food rules. If a rule is broken consumption of more food is triggered.

  2. Perception – restrained eaters likely to overeat even if they only perceive that they violated one of their food rules

  3. Anticipation of Food Restriction – consumption of forbidden food increases before and after restriction periods. Anticipation of starting a new diet triggers a farewell to food feast.

  4. The Irony of Thought Suppression – trying to force yourself not to think of food or specific food will cause you to actually think of the food you are trying not to think of more frequently and will increase eating behaviors

  5. The Forbidden Fruit Phenomenon – research on children shows that the more parents restrict children from eating certain things the more the children are likely to rebound and eat more of the forbidden food

What foods make you feel out of control?  What foods, when you eat them, cause you to feel guilt and lead to a binge?  Below are some things you can do to feel better around these “bad” foods or the food rules you follow.

Make a List

In your journal make a list of all of your food rules and foods you consider not good.  Write down what you feel or how you react any time that you break a rule or eat a food that you consider off limits.  Notice if your thoughts seem perfectionistic or unrealistic and see how you can reframe the rules you have set.  Challenge the rules with the opposite logic and change the critical voice inside of your head.  Try to think back to when you first established these rules.  Did they come from your family?  A coach?  A trusted friend?  Think back to why you started on that path.  

Create a Progress Chart

Create a list of experiences that you have with your rules and off limits foods.  Each time you eat one of your forbidden foods or break a rule you have set for yourself make a note of it and write down how you feel.  For instance, “I ate some cookies before bed and I didn’t eat the entire bag like I normally do.  It felt really good to allow myself to eat them and not feel out of control”.  Do this with one rule or food at a time and see how it goes.  Take your time and don’t expect perfection.  Remember, you are challenging the “food police” who have been directing your thoughts for a long time.  This will take time.  

Listen to your Inner Food Voices

Your inner food critic can be very harsh and hard on you.  For instance, if you eat that piece of cake you will gain 5 pounds.  Or, if you eat a piece of pizza you will eat the entire pie.  Practice replacing these negative thoughts with more positive and helpful thoughts.  Change them to, if you eat that piece of cake you will enjoy it and move on.  Or, if you eat a piece of pizza you will have a few pieces and move on.  Every time one of these thoughts pops into your head challenge it.  You are in charge of your thoughts and you can change the thoughts.

Working through the critical thoughts will help you get closer to your inner Intuitive Eater Voice which will help you live a more fulfilling life.  Social outings, work events, and family gatherings will be more fun and you will begin to trust your body again.  

Next week we will discuss principle five and begin to explore how to truly feel our fullness.  Join me on Instagram and Facebook in the meantime and have fun shooting those negative thoughts down one by one!  


Make Peace with Food:  Intuitive Eating Principle 3

Make Peace with Food: Intuitive Eating Principle 3

We have all been there right?  We tell ourselves that we can only eat the cookies on the weekends.  We wait patiently all week and “behave” around food all week perfectly.  Friday comes around and we are faced with the cookies we have waited for.  Do we eat just a few?  Nope.  We eat almost the entire box or bag.  We have lost complete control around the cookies and it ends in a binge and major guilt.  Insert any food you feel out of control around and the cycle continues.  The next day we restrict and maybe even over-exercise to work them off.  Once you have started the process of learning how to listen to and honor your hunger it is time to explore making peace with food.  Intuitive Eating principle number three is to Make Peace with Food:

Call a truce — stop the food fight!  Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.  IF you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.  When you finally give in to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity that it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.

I am a perfect example of this.  I used to do this very thing.  Friday or Saturday was my “cheat day” where I had all of the foods that I had deemed bad or off limits.  I hung my hat on the fact that I had so much self control, that I could eat 100% clean and restrict all week long, so I deserved a reward at the end of the week.  Sadly this never ended well.  The guilt was intense and the cycle began every Sunday.  

Once I decided to allow all foods into my life again, the process of making peace with food began for me.  When I tell people that they can have whatever they want whenever they want the first thing I hear is, “I will gain so much weight”, or “I will eat everything all of time and lose all of my progress”.  These comments may be accurate, but it is a process y’all.  Neutralizing food and finding food freedom may lead to weight gain at first or bingeing at first but I can tell you from experience that it will definitely end with peace and happiness.  Why wouldn’t you want that?  Let’s explore the psychology of what happens when we restrict.

Diet Restraint Theory

Describes what happens when dieters go off of their diet or break food rules (Polivy and Herman, 1984).

  1. The What-The-Hell Effect – success is defined by getting through the day without breaking food rules. If a rule is broken consumption of more food is triggered.

  2. Perception – restrained eaters likely to overeat even if they only perceive that they violated one of their food rules

  3. Anticipation of Food Restriction – consumption of forbidden food increases before and after restriction periods. Anticipation of starting a new diet triggers a farewell to food feast.

  4. The Irony of Thought Suppression – trying to force yourself not to think of food or specific food will cause you to actually think of the food you are trying not to think of more frequently and will increase eating behaviors

  5. The Forbidden Fruit Phenomenon – research on children shows that the more parents restrict children from eating certain things the more the children are likely to rebound and eat more of the forbidden food


Dieting creates what is called the forbidden fruit phenomenon (Jansen, Mulkens, and Jansen 2007) which ends in an increase in consumption of the forbidden foods.  The forbidden foods remain exciting and novel so we continue to put them on a pedestal.  Think about getting a new car.  At first you are in love with it and treat it perfectly.  You wash it every day and make sure it is in tip top condition.  After a while the excitement wears off.  The same thing can happen with your forbidden foods.  This is called habituation and dieting makes sure that the habituation process does not occur so the cycle of restrict, binge, and guilt continues.  

So What can I do to Make Peace with Food?

Make a list of your forbidden foods and food rules

What rules do you have around food?  For instance, “I cannot eat after 7pm”.  What are the foods you tell yourself you cannot have?  Review your list of rules/forbidden foods and write down how you felt the last time you ate them.  How does eating one of your forbidden foods make you feel the rest of the day?  Do you restrict more?  Do you work out more?  

What are your fears around eating your off limits foods?

What are you afraid will happen if you allow all foods?  Weight gain?  Loss of control?  Judgement from others?  Write these down and explore how these fears guide you.  Is it worth it?  

Make a Milestones Chart

Track your progress in making peace with your “bad” foods.  Any time you allow yourself to eat them, write down how you felt before, during, and after eating this food.  Start slow on this one.  Pick one food at a time and expose yourself to it and see what happens.  This isn’t something that will change over night but note changes and small victories over time.  

Baby steps y’all.  Again, this is a lifelong state of mind that you are trying to change.  You have been conditioned to diet and restrict for a long time, so expecting perfection is not realistic.  Be gentle and go easy on yourself.  I’d love to hear your progress on this and your small wins.  Share with me on Instagram or Facebook.  The next principle is to Challenge the Food Police.  Enjoy!  



Honor Your Hunger:  Intuitive Eating Principle 2

Honor Your Hunger: Intuitive Eating Principle 2

Last week we explored how to begin to reject the diet mentality.  This week we dive into principle two of Intuitive Eating.  We are born with natural cues that tell us when we are hungry and when we are full or satisfied.  Over time, we are exposed to diet culture myths and we lose touch with these signals.  Even worse, we learn to ignore these cues and let diet rules tell us when to eat, how much to eat, and when we are full, in essence causing us to lose trust in our own bodies.  Intuitive Eating, principle 2, is to Honor Your Hunger: 

Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates.  Otherwise, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat.  Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant.  Learning to honor the first biological signal of hunger sets this stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.  

If you need air you breathe, so it stands to reason that if you need food you should eat.  It makes no sense to ignore hunger signals because your macros or calories will be thrown off or because you were told by somebody or some book that you can’t eat at that time of day.  Simply put, if you are hungry, just eat.  Dieters tend to view hunger as a bad thing but it is actually a great thing.  It means your body is working the way it is supposed to!  Here is a little science behind hunger.  

Hormones and Hunger

Ghrelin is our main hunger hormone. Ghrelin receptors are located in the hypothalamus – an area of the brain responsible for appetite controls. The more you ignore hunger the more ghrelin is produced.  So, the more you restrict, the more your body fights back basically. This, in essence, is why diets fail.  When you eat, ghrelin is suppressed, but if you are a chronic dieter ghrelin may stay elevated due to you being in an energy deficit. Studies have shown that ghrelin levels in someone who has been dieting can be elevated for up to a year!!  Hence, rebound weight gain after a diet people!  When you eat, ghrelin levels go down and leptin, our fullness hormone, goes up. Simple right?  Can’t fight biology.  If you continue to not eat enough your body makes more and more ghrelin and you keep feeling hungry and the cycle continues.

A side note on Carbohydrates:  one of the biggest controversies in the nutrition world.  Are they good or bad?  Y’all know how I feel about them and why I think they are so necessary, especially for active people, but did you know that our bodies are hard wired to crave carbs?  

You see, we have a little neurotransmitter called Neuropeptide Y (NPY) that actually increases your appetite for carbs. It is stimulated by our friend ghrelin and drives up cravings for carbs. The more you try to ignore it the more you will end up bingeing on ALL THE CARBS.  And we all know when we are hangry like this, we don’t make the wisest choices for our bodies and minds.  In essence…Eat. The. Carbs.

All of that being said, you might be asking, what do I do if I have been dieting for so long I have no idea when I am actually hungry.  Below are some activities you can do to begin to work through learning how to honor your hunger. 

The Hunger-Body-Mind Connection

When your body is hungry there are many ways that it will let you know that you need to eat.  Mood and energy levels change and even increased thoughts around food can occur.  The longer you wait the more intense hunger becomes.  If you have dieted for most of your life, listening to these body cues will be a challenge at first but the more you listen the more it becomes habit. 

Next time you are hungry make a list of what you feel.  Some examples of this are stomach growling, gnawing in your throat, headaches, cloudy thinking, bad mood or irritable, low energy, or lethargy.  Make a list of these things for a day and practice tuning into those things each and every meal so you can get used to knowing when you are hungry.  

The Hunger Game

The Hunger game activity, developed by Precision Nutrition, will walk you through learning how to notice the physical cues we explored in our first activity.  You will need this PDF to work through this activity:  HungerGame.

After you have done this for several days answer the following questions:

  1. What trends do you notice with your hunger ratings?
  2. At which level does the sensation of hunger feel just right for you?
  3. What pattern of eating, in regard to timing, works best for you?  For instance, do you feel better eating every 4-5 hours or every 2-3 hours?
  4. If you ate lighter or smaller meals, how did that effect the frequency of your hunger?  Do you get hungry sooner rather than if you ate bigger meals spaced out more?

I Can’t Be Hungry Yet!

Have you ever eaten breakfast and then felt hungry an hour later?  We all have.  It can be frustrating and confusing for sure and most of the time we would say “I can’t be hungry, I just ate”.  In this scenario we might just tough it out till lunch and starve throughout the morning since we just ate right?  Consider this, however:

  • You may have had a harder workout the day before. 
  • You may have eaten very little the day before. 
  • Your breakfast may have not been satisfying enough or filling enough and may have just been more of a snack. 
  • You are having just a hungrier day.
  • You had an early morning workout, so you didn’t eat much for breakfast as your hunger was naturally lower when you had breakfast.
  • You are on your period or about to be.

The point here is that you cannot just say “I can’t be hungry” because many factors can be in play.  Honoring your hunger can be confusing but it is the same thing as using the restroom when you feel the sensation to go pee.  It is biological and the more you respond to that cue by feeding yourself the more trust you create between yourself and your body!

Next time you get hungry at a time when you don’t think you should be hungry, think about these other variables and write down how you are feeling.  Do you need to eat to take care of yourself?  Are you avoiding eating because you just ate?  If so, take note of what you ate before you got hungry.  Was it a small meal that doesn’t sustain you?  Should you add to that meal next time?  You get the point.  

You will find that it is very freeing to actually satisfy your hunger and even more freeing when you learn to recognize your fullness.  For now focus on learning to recognize and honor your hunger.  I would love to hear how this goes for you throughout the week so be sure and reach out on my Instagram or Facebook.  Stay tuned for next week when we will address principle 3:  Make Peach With Food.  Happy eating y’all and be sure to add yourself to my mailing list for all things Eat the Banana!

Reject the Diet Mentality:  Intuitive Eating Principle 1

Reject the Diet Mentality: Intuitive Eating Principle 1

In week 1 of my series on Intuitive Eating (IE) I explained what IE entails and outlined the 10 principles that we are going to go over for the next 10 weeks.  For a look back at that you can click here.  This week we are going to dive into principle number one:  Reject The Diet Mentality.  With this principle it is your goal to reject the books, articles, websites, social media channels, and environments that tell us that we are less than if we are not a certain weight.  Learn to ignore the next best diet trend that is going to change your life for good and make the decision to reject anything that gives you hope of getting you to the best shape of your life or to that magic number on the scale.  

As with anything, before you can see improvement or change, you have to first accept that there is a problem or an issue.  In cases of addiction for instance, one has to admit he or she has said addiction in order to make progress.  This is similar, but the problem here is not you, the problem here is diet culture and the messages you have been absorbing your entire life.  As a baby we are a blank slate.  We know how to eat when we are hungry and we know when to stop when we are full.  Unfortunately, diet culture tells us that we should not trust those signals and we lose touch with our natural biology.  It is my goal to help you trust yourself again and improve your mindset around food and exercise.  

Diets do not work in the long run.  We have all been there before right?  We get to our goal weight and we are elated and feel great.  Slowly, however, your weight starts to creep back up to where you started and often times even higher than that.  This is your body telling you that the starvation and deprivation you have put it through is not something it can sustain so it fights back.  It hangs on to whatever it can and strives for homeostasis.  

Dieting actually increases your risk for gaining even more weight than you started with. When you diet you put your body into a famine state and your body and your cells will do whatever it takes to survive. In addition, dieting hurts your psychological health and well-being by damaging trust in your own body because you are following food rules rather than listening to what your body wants and needs (Tribole and Resch, 2017).

Some other harmful effects of dieting are:

  • extreme food preoccupation and obsession
  • bingeing
  • dangerous weight-cycling
  • increased stress
  • mood swings, depression, and anxiety
  • increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder
  • low self esteem
  • body dysmorphia (unrealistic body expectations) 

Below are some suggestions that will help you to begin to reject the dieting mentality.  I recognize that it is hard to make sense of that concept and that it is hart to let go of control.  In my discussions with clients I often hear the fears around letting go of control and mainly that if they don’t diet they will gain 100s of pounds and become obese.  This process takes trust and patience and will be a lifelong journey of self discovery and honesty with yourself.  I recommend getting a journal or notebook to work through this process as we go.

What will I do instead?

Ask yourself what you will do once you reject dieting and drop out of diet culture.  In other words, what will you focus on instead of calorie counting, weighing yourself, exercising just to burn off food, and body perfection.  Preoccupation with food and the scale tends to take us away from real life and true happiness.  For instance, are you truly able to experience a family dinner out if you are too busy calculating the macros of every menu item you are going to order?  Are you truly able to enjoy your family beach vacation if you are obsessing over how you will get your exercise session in each day?  You get my point here.  What are you missing out on?

Explore your dieting history

When you think back on all of your diets you may think that they worked but if you sit down and reflect upon them, you get a chance to see if they truly helped you in the long run.  Make a list of all of the diets you have tried over the years and try to remember how long you were on the diet, if you gained or lost weight, how long the weight stayed off, how much you re-gained if any, and how you felt before and after each diet.  Consider the why behind why you began dieting in the first place.  Notice any trends?  Is it more difficult now to stay on a diet?  Was it easier at first to be successful on a diet?  What is the longest period of time you were able to keep weight off following a diet?  

Get rid of the tools of dieting

We all have them.  Apps, calorie trackers, step trackers, food scales, and scales to weigh ourselves.  One of the most important steps you can take in rejecting the dieting mentality is getting rid of these tools.  All they do is keep you from your natural born intuition.  Delete the apps.  Throw away the scales.  Unfollow and delete any social media accounts that make you feel like you need to lose weight in order to fit in.  Throw away any diet pills, teas, or elixirs that you have in your pantry.  Take this one slowly.  Delete one tool per week if you have to but set a goal to remove it all from your life.  

Be mindful of the script in your brain

As I mentioned above, the diet culture script is engrained in our brains from an early age.  This won’t happen over night but take note of the things you say to yourself in relation to diets.  For instance, do you deem carbs bad, feel guilt when you miss a workout, tell yourself you need to burn off that cake, or starve yourself in order to prepare for a dinner out?  These are just a few examples of the lies we tell ourselves.  When you hear yourself say anything related to diet culture explore it.  Write it down and take note of any patterns or feelings that emerge.  What can you replace these lies with?  

Set a goal for yourself to try one of these things over the next week and please share with me.  Also, if you want another resource on intuitive eating I recommend Eating Enlightenment and this article on the principles of IE.  You can find me on Instagram and Facebook and I’d love to hear your progress and questions.  Next week we will be going over principle 2:  Honor Your Hunger.  As always, be sure to sign up for my weekly email to stay informed on all things Eat The Banana!



Three Ways to Manage Stress around Food and Fitness during the Quarantine

Three Ways to Manage Stress around Food and Fitness during the Quarantine

As soon as this quarantine began, the posts on social media about fears of gaining weight, eating all of the “bad” foods, or lack of exercise began to flood my feeds.  While I can certainly empathize and understand these fears I am here to tell you that this is not the time to worry about this. Your body has a physiological reaction to any stressor and we all have enough to worry about as it is.  For instance, lack of income, homeschooling, and our overall health and well-being.  Adding weight gain and food fears to this list does us no good.  Instead of telling you to take a walk, do yoga, or mediate, all of which are amazing things to do to help with overall stress, I am going to outline three things you can do to destress around food, exercise, and weight gain during this quarantine.  

Eat the Damn Ice Cream

Just like I tell you to eat the banana, I am telling you to relax and eat the ice cream or whatever you are craving that you think is bad for you.  One of the first images I saw on instagram after we were told to stay home as much as possible was a picture of ice cream and a picture of “healthier” options being compared to each other.  The message was, “you don’t have to let this be an excuse to eat nothing but ice cream while under quarantine….here are healthier options to keep in the house”.  While I understand the value of eating nutrient dense foods most of the time, diet culture is rearing its ugly head at an even more alarming frequency due to the quarantine.  Posts like this perpetuate the fear around gaining weight during this time, thus increasing our stress levels.  

restriction pendulumAs I have explained numerous times, restriction and deprivation lead to an increase in stress and pre-occupation with food, and can inadvertently lead to excess weight due to higher cortisol and of course the inevitable binge cycle.  As Christy Harrison, author of Anti-Diet, explains, restriction and dieting is like a pendulum.  Basically, you restrict restrict restrict and when the pendulum starts to drop because you can no longer resist your cravings it does not stop in the middle.  It naturally sways to the complete opposite side; in this case bingeing.  There is no way you can go right from restriction to a healthy relationship with food in other words.

Add to that, as I outlined in my blog on why diets don’t work, diets are not a long term fix.  They increase your obsession with food, lead to rebound weight gain, disconnect you with your body’s natural ability to experience hunger and fullness, and wreak havoc on our mental well-being.  So I will say it again, eat the damn ice cream and enjoy it!  

Get Rid of Your Scale

Being stuck at home for days on end can certainly cause us to go off the rails on our road to intuitive eating or eating disorder recovery.  We aren’t as distracted by every day life so it is easy to fall back into the habit of obsessively weighing ourselves.  Especially because we all feel a little bit out of control in relation to this virus and quarantine.  

If you cannot stop weighing yourself or are obsessed with the number you see on your scale, try to just get rid of it.  Our weight fluctuates so much day to day and even hour to hour and as outlined in my blog on weight set-point ranges, there is not a whole lot we can do to permanently control our biological set-point.  In addition, weight can fluctuate up to 2-4 pounds throughout the day depending on what we eat, drink, do for exercise, our stress levels, and even sleep, so weighing yourself every day or even multiple times in a day is futile and ends up being mentally harmful. Not only is the scale not accurate, it can trigger eating disorder behaviors and is not an indicator of overall health.  Try to replace weighing yourself with a more beneficial activity.  For instance, when you feel the need to weigh yourself, mediate, journal about it, or go on a walk.  Slowly you will start to remove this habit from your life and I promise you will be much happier!

Give Yourself Permission to Chill

It is challenging not to compare ourselves to others when our social media feeds are filled with people doing workouts, cooking healthy meals, and homeschooling their kids as if it were their full time job.  If you struggle with comparing yourself to what others are doing and it makes you feel less than, get off of social media or limit your time.  Social media can be beneficial in replacing the much needed social time we are all not getting at the moment but it can also be very detrimental to your overall happiness.  Pick and choose what you want to follow and go from there.  

In regards to learning how to chill, it is challenging to lose our normal workout routine but it is also ok to do different things to move our bodies and stay active.  In fact, our bodies need a break from high intensity training and this time in quarantine is the perfect time to try a new activity or skill.  This is the time to relax and do things you do not normally do.  Read books, take naps, go on walks, play games with the family, or get some much needed yard work done.  Do whatever makes you happy and don’t feel the need to go balls to the wall every day to be the most productive quarantine family in America.  There are no awards or medals for this.  We are all in this together.  

If CrossFit, OrangeTheory, or some other form of high intensity interval training is normally your thing and you don’t have access to it, try going on some outdoor runs or get a few pairs of dumbbells or kettlebells and make up your own lower key routine to move each day just a little bit.  It is not about how high intensity your workouts are, it is about simply continuing to move your body and stay active.  These weeks off will go a long way to help you when you return to normal activity so take advantage of it.  

Not only does this give your body a chance to recover, but it allows you to be more creative with your exercise routine.  Who knows, maybe you will discover something you will learn to love and incorporate into your routine permanently.  Try a Zoom Yoga class, download the Peloton app, and try some guided bootcamps or meditations or simply google “at home workouts”.  Give yourself permission to chill and do what feels right RIGHT NOW.  

In summary, there is no wrong way to do this quarantine thing but I do know that you do not have to stress over food, weight gain, or your exercise routine changing.  This too shall pass, and there are more important things to worry about like spending time with family, catching up on sleep, and finding toilet paper, so let’s all just eat what our bodies tell us to eat and move forward people!  




How PANS Put My Intuitive Eating Philosophy to the Test

How PANS Put My Intuitive Eating Philosophy to the Test

PANS and Intuitive Eating must go hand in hand.  My 8 year old son was recently diagnosed with PANS.  A child who could eat en entire package of bacon if you let him or an entire personal gluten free pizza in one sitting suddenly could not eat a thing.  Everything was “too chewy” or felt weird in his mouth.  It started slowly and then BAM suddenly he was down to nothing but smoothies, apple sauce pouches, and yogurt.  As of late we have added goldfish and cheez-its even though they have gluten (he is a gluten free child).  At first I was wondering if he was looking for attention but when I saw him visibly sad and angry about being unable to eat his favorite things I knew something was off so we went to our amazing pediatrician.  

What is PANS?

PANS is the acronym for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, a more recently defined disorder which encompasses the more familiar medical condition, PANDAS or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal infections. PANDAS is now considered a subset of the broader classification, PANS.  The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) acknowledged that PANS, a treatable autoimmune condition, could be triggered by any number of infections (other than strep), and that patients could be diagnosed with the condition even if the infectious trigger(s) was unknown.  

“Parents will describe children with PANS as overcome by a ‘ferocious’ onset of obsessive thoughts, compulsive rituals and overwhelming fears. Clinicians should consider PANS when children or adolescents present with such acute-onset of OCD or eating restrictions in the absence of a clear link to strep.”

— Dr. Susan Swedo, NIMH

This has been a huge challenge to say the least.  As a parent and in my own life, I like to promote balanced nutrition and intuitive eating.  In my blog “Raising the Intuitive Eater” I discuss many strategies to encourage this philosophy to prevent children from being obsessed with food and diet and to help them feel free to choose what their body wants at any given time.  Of course I still try to make sure he gets an ample amount of protein and vegetables in his diet and try to let him fill in the rest.  As a parent it is our job to provide the general structure and let our kids fill in the rest as they learn to ask for what they want in the hopes that they will choose nutritious options most of the time.  We all want our children to learn how to fuel properly and learn what their bodies need to survive and thrive, but we want them to learn to make these choices on their own eventually.  

When his diet switched to smoothies, apple sauce, yogurt, and processed goldfish/cheez-it crackers due to this medical condition my intuitive eating values were put to the true test.  At first I did not have a lot of patience.  Trying to explain to an 8 year old who has no idea why this is happening that he still needs protein and vitamins and minerals to feel his best and to grow is like talking to a wall.  I found myself reverting back to the “you need to eat and clean your plate philosophy” real quick and even telling him that he would get sick if he did not eat enough.  Very easy to fall back into that when your motherly instinct is freaking out that your child is not getting proper nutrition.  I was literally losing my mind and he witnessed my mommy tantrums in their finest moments.  

After about a week of this stressful battle I realized I needed to let go of all control and let my child decide what he wanted to eat even if that meant cheez-its and ice cream for dinner.  So challenging.  Have I found ways to sneak protein in?  Yes, we do almond milk and chocolate protein and his smoothies have protein as well but it has been very hard to accept that his dinner includes something processed like goldfish and cheez-its every single night.  You learn to pick your battles and learn that right now it is out of your control.  

Intuitive eating allows you to have freedom and allows you to let go of control but this has truly tested my intuitive eating philosophy and made me realize that I have to let him choose right now.  That means giving up all control and letting him eat chocolate chips for dessert.  It means only packing yogurt, goldfish, apple sauce pouches, and a drink for lunch, knowing that is not a complete meal.  It means experimenting and sending protein bars to school just in case he might want to try one again.  It means offering up anything that he might want to try again in the hopes that he will try it and not run out of the house and spit it in the back yard.  It means possible judgement from other parents if they see what my child is eating on a regular basis.  And, it means acting like it is no big deal in front of Liam’s face but crying behind closed doors when he is in bed at night or after he is dropped off at school.  The stress is real and the struggle is real but I know this too shall pass and his happiness and sense of normalcy in his life is most important right now.  

There comes a time when you have to accept what is right now.  If goldfish is the new normal then that is the new normal.  If grinding up his vitamins in a smoothie because he can’t stand the texture of his once favorite vitamins is the new normal then so be it.  This is true intuitive eating here folks.  Perspective is key.  With any medical condition or diagnosis, eating and nutrition and any social norms surrounding food consumption, are out the door.  I have to let him eat exactly what he wants and celebrate that with him even if it is a food that I know does not serve him well.  After all, this is what I would want if I were going through something similar.  So, thank you intuitive eating Gods, I hear you loud and clear and Liam appreciates it.