Making peace with food is the third principle of Intuitive Eating - one of the more daunting principles that you may face and often one of the more time-consuming ones - BUT, also one of the more rewarding ones. This is the unconditional permission piece where you allow yourself to eat anything and everything you want. Sound far from your reality? I get it, and I was there too. The process of making peace with food doesn’t just start and stop with this principle. You will likely continue to make peace with different foods or ways of eating throughout the remainder of your intuitive eating journey and in the years that follow. Principle 3 is introduced closer to the beginning of the Intuitive Eating journey, but it also weaves through some of the future principles we will get to.
This process might bring up scary emotions if you have been stuck in the diet cycle for a while. If you’re sitting there reading this thinking, ‘Once I start eating foods I want to eat, I’ll never stop!?’ - you’re not alone. This fear is incredibly valid because the overeating response is probably the most common response that you’ve experienced with your forbidden foods.
Enter these ‘forbidden foods’. You fear eating these foods because you’re worried about overeating. You try to eat these foods quickly because you know you ‘shouldn’t’ have them. These foods you feel guilty for enjoying or send you into a spiral of body shame. Forbidden foods differ for each person, but they are created when you start to develop rules around which foods are ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ (keep your eyes peeled for a blog post about food rules in 2 weeks!).
Diet culture often labels and moralizes food as being good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, skinny or fattening... It takes away the autonomy of your body, disconnecting you from what you want and how the food feels in your body. It leaves you feeling out of control and like you are bad when you give into the “cravings,” but food is about so much more than just fuel for your body; it is also joy, happiness, peace, excitement, and comfort. Food brings you together with your communities, families, and friends. Food is for celebrating and is a part of many traditions and cultures - it is how you connect with people!
The struggle here is getting into a mindset, unlike anything you have ever tried. You are surrounded by rules daily, and they give you direction, but they also sabotage your efforts and create imbalances in your minds and bodies. Letting go of those rules can feel like you are giving up and may feel extreme for a time, but when you let yourself relax and give yourself permission, you might find that everything falls into place. This is the power of habituation - when you repeatedly expose yourself to something, the novelty of it wears off. Think of leftovers. They aren’t as exciting the next day, are they? A similar thing happens when you experience those forbidden foods more often - they lose their power.
In today’s post, we will discuss the joys of food and the psychology of restriction. Understanding the truth about food and how it affects you mentally helps you to take the next step and permit ourselves to eat. Read through for some tips to help get you started, and as always, if you are feeling a bit lost, I am here for questions along the way and to make sure that you have support when you need it!
The Joy of Food
As I said above, food is more than fuel for your body. Food is a part of your life! It is the foundation of your health, both mentally and physically. It is part of your culture, celebrations, memories, and traditions. It makes you FEEL.
Think back to a happy memory that you have, probably from childhood, before you felt the pressure of diet culture. It likely involved food. I remember baking with my mom, eating big dinners with my whole family on Sundays, and my dad taking us for ice cream that we ate without a care for the calories. The food wasn’t the main focus, but it was a way to connect with the people I love.
You can lose a lot of that when worrying about what you eat. You start skipping the cookies and focusing on the food instead of the family around the table. Fear steals those memories and special moments from you by making you focus on the unimportant parts (calories, points, macros…). When you are stressed about what you are eating or how you will have to make up for the meal at the gym, it is almost impossible to be present in the moment.
Culture and tradition are also stolen by diet culture. There are a lot of different cultures whose foods consist of the staples that have been demonized by diet culture (ie, white rice or butter), and in turn, people are led to feel disconnected from the traditions and teachings that connect them to the past. Cooking together is also a big part of many families and cultures because it connects us in ways that nothing else can. It is time together in a warm place where you can tell stories and share feelings. That is all taken away when you are hyper vigilant about how many calories you can eat, or whether or not the portion size is too big, or having to hold back from the dessert table.
Psychology of Restriction
This makes you ask, what is all this restriction and dieting doing to you mentally? Why do you always feel so out of control around food? Why can’t your willpower just be strong enough?
Besides the fact that your body is anatomically designed to stop you from starving yourself, you are also creating a scarcity mindset and a “last supper” mentality.
The scarcity mindset is the belief that one has limited resources. It is common for people with a past or present eating disorder to experience a scarcity mindset around food. It has less to do with the actual scarcity of the food and rather the mindset around it - the fear of not being able to eat it again, or not being enough food for you. If the double baked almond croissant is staring at you through the bakery window, but you are forbidding yourself from eating it, it will appear scarce to your mind.
The “Last Supper” mentality is part of the restrict/binge cycle. It is a common part of the diet spiral where you end up overeating foods that you are planning on limiting or feel like you need to restrict to be ‘good’. Your body knows you won’t allow it to have this certain food, so when exposed to it, you feel like we have to eat as much as possible because we know we ‘shouldn’t… feel familiar?
All of this is creating deep-seated anxiety and, for some, depression. Your body is designed to keep you alive, but diets go against that, and to sell you more products and plans. You are told that we are failures for not being able to avoid the cravings. So many of us are holding some level of guilt and shame around what we eat. We feel like we are less worthy of love, happiness, and not meeting that unrealistic definition of ‘health’ because we cannot starve ourselves, all at the hefty expense of mental and physical health.
Giving yourself permission to eat.
Learning to embrace the joy of food, to eat unconditionally, and to let go of the fear can set you free. I know you might think this is the first step off a cliff, that you don’t trust yourself, and that you are scared that you will eat all the food all the time.
And you will! At least at the beginning… That’s the point. It’s like coming up for a breath after being underwater for a while, you’re going to take a deep gasping breath of air, it’s not going to be a gentle shallow inhale. This is similar to what you will likely experience after years and years of dieting and restriction, your body and mind are going to want to eat these foods that you have limited for so long.
But while you are afraid that this might lead to gorging on snacks, cakes, and ice cream, it is more likely to lead you toward a more balanced and intuitive eating pattern. It’s because with Intuitive Eating, you are focusing on how these foods make your body feel. When you listen to your body and honor your hunger, you will likely find yourself craving a whole variety of foods (in the beginning, it’s probably going to be foods that you haven’t allowed yourself to eat for a while). Sometimes, it will be snacks and hamburgers; sometimes, it will be fruits, veggies, and other key food groups.
All foods have a place on your plate. No one food will “ruin your health” or fix it for that matter. They all have their purpose and their value, both nutritionally and mentally.
Tips for Making Peace with Food
If you are starting this intuitive eating journey, and feel that you’re ready to make peace with food, here are a few tips I want to leave you with.
1 - Listen for that self-talk around food with should/can’t/shouldn’t language. If you can catch it in the act, you can examine it and maybe stop it. Ask yourself why you feel this way, who told you to feel this way, and whether it benefits you. Recognize your own version of the diet cycle - examine how it’s presented in the past, and make sure you can catch it in the early stages.
2 - Identify your forbidden foods and try to incorporate these into regular meals, have them in the home, and make them a regular part of your life. Start with one food and work down the list of forbidden foods. You may realize that these foods aren’t as good as you thought or are better in small doses when you are in the mood.
3 - Give yourself mindful eating experiences with these previously forbidden foods. You can do this by activating all the senses. Make the food visually appealing (like pouring chips into a nice bowl rather than eating out of the bag). Smell the food, breathing in deep and slow. Listen to the sound of the food as you chew it (or tune that out with pleasant music if chewing noises bug you). Take your time to chew slowly and enjoy the feel and flavor in your mouth.
4 - Habituation! Expose yourself to your previously forbidden foods often, and make them a mundane piece of daily life. This will take away the novelty of them, essentially reducing their power. After a while, you might realize that you don’t love this food as much as you thought, or it doesn’t make you feel particularly good. It just won’t be such a big deal anymore.
These are all examples of things that I help my clients master inside my 1:1 Intuitive Eating and Body Image Coaching Program. Within my framework, I empower my clients, just like you, to take Intuitive Eating beyond the kitchen so that you can unlock the ability to stop second guessing every meal, discover self compassion, and finally begin to feel at home in your body.
When the feeling of guilt comes up after overeating, when you are experiencing negative self-talk every time you step in front of the mirror, or when you are faced with the temptation of starting a new diet every monday, my program is unique because it is founded on support and accountability. You will have me there with you every step of the way. I understand you because I was you.
If you are curious about implementing this in your life, I invite you to join me. Your first step starts with filling out an application so we can chat and figure out if my coaching is the best fit for you.
The third principle of intuitive eating is not easy, but when mastered, it can free you and open up a whole new world of food, fun, and connection with the people around you. When you are less focused on the food and the morality of it, you can be present in the moment, creating joyful memories. Your body is not made to restrict. It is designed to keep you going and will send you the signals you need when you trust it to do its job and honor your hunger. When you go against it too often, you might end up stuck in a spiral of diets, restricting and binging. The scarcity mindset can lead to anxiety, depression, and more. Giving yourself permission to eat is the ultimate act of self-love. Check your self-talk around food and take the leap. Eat the food and let yourself feel the joy of it again.