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