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Step by Step Intuitive Eating: Principle 3

Begin Intuitive Eating by Making Peace with Food For years I believed there were certain foods I just couldn’t have around. Because when I was around them, I was out of control. Have a jar of peanut butter (Jif, obviously) in the cupboard, and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from taking a spoon and soon scraping the bottom of the jar. Leave me unattended around a birthday cake and I’d cut “just another sliver” about 15 times. Boxes of cereal had a short shelf life, and I don’t even want to think about how I treated chocolate chips. These experiences were embarrassing and led to discomfort (gastro and mental). Sometimes eating one of these foods would lead to continued bingeing on another food. Soon I’d had a whole box of cereal and a jar of peanut butter and ice cream from the carton and chips. I’d find myself exhausted and unsure of how I had done it, and even less sure of how it had tasted. I needed to Make Peace With Food. Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels Deprivation Intuitive Eating (affiliate link) suggested I was depriving myself of certain foods. Many of which were favorite foods. These behaviors were occurring because I was not allowing myself to have these foods on a regular basis… This was SO TRUE, but I felt there was a definite reason I was not allowed to have them: I clearly had no control in their presence. Any jar of Jif would tell you that. The more I thought about it though, the more I could question it. Just like when you’re a child and you’re told you can’t go outside because it’s raining. Suddenly, only the great outdoors will satisfy you. There could be indoor games suggested or other fun toys presented, but all you can think about is that you cannot go outside. It’s novel now. The forbidden fruit is really what we go for every time. Deprivation occurs on two levels:

  • Biological: your body lacks the food and begins releasing those hunger cues

  • Psychological: your mind can experience cravings, obsessions, and compulsions when a food is forbidden

Forbidding yourself to be around a food is one obvious way we see biological deprivation. But psychological deprivation might be even sneakier. We see psychological deprivation in the little catch phrases we tell ourselves. You can just have a taste. No more than one this time. You’ll need to workout more if you eat that. Okay, just a scoop, and no hot fudge this time. Get the cauliflower version, not the real thing. You shouldn’t be eating this. You can’t have this without eating it all. Thoughts like these, whispered to our psyches, create a second way in which we limit ourselves and set ourselves up to overeat or binge. Suddenly, you see a window of opportunity. Here is this food, this novel, forbidden food. And here’s your chance. The time is now. Our salvatory glands activate, our mindset changes, and we experience rebound eating. Rebound eating When you believe you’re breaking a rule or making an exception to eat something, you’re telling yourself THIS IS IT. Your body and mind feel they may never have Jif again, so you might as well soak it up fully now. It’s natural. Ever have a favorite shoe or bra discontinued and find yourself buying every pair you can find online to “stock up?” No? Just me? Last Supper Mentality Another way we play into deprivation and bingeing is the Last Supper Mentality. You might allow yourself to have the peanut butter today but you’re reminding yourself throughout the whole ordeal that “the diet starts again tomorrow.” Pretty soon it’s not just peanut butter that feels fragile, but also the marshmallows, nutella, tortillas, slices of plain bread, whipped cream, Twizzlers, and last night’s mac and cheese (eaten cold, standing up). When we believe we will not have access to foods soon, they became precious. We want to have them all before “they’re gone.” Guilt And what’s more is that rebound eating typically is served with a silent serving of fresh guilt. The more we allow ourselves to eat, the less deprived we feel, but the more guilt we experience. Ridden with guilt, we might vow and plan to restrict heavily the next day…. Which, yes, increases deprivation. The cycle is destined to repeat until we make peace with food. Unconditional Permission To Eat This cycle does not have to be your reality. Sounds nuts, but letting yourself eat more is the secret to reducing overeating and bingeing. Allowing yourself to freely access all foods that appeal to you decreases their power over you. Knowing there’s always a jar of Jif in the kitchen means I can have it when I want it (need it). Allowing myself to have peanut butter when I’m wanting it (daily) means it’s not novel anymore – it’s just a part of my life. Habituation Some stop here because the idea of allowing themselves to eat anything they want sounds “unhealthy” or like “letting go.” It’s important to remember that Intuitive Eating does not overlook nutrition, but approaches it with flexibility. Many of the foods you restrict may be labeled “unhealthy” by diet culture, but this label is not always accurate and does not have to be a Mr. Yuck sticker. Read: Eating food labeled “unhealthy” foods does not make you unhealthy. You might believe that if you’re allowed to eat anything you will not be able to stop eating, and sometimes Making Peace With Food feels like that at first. But this does not last. It’s unlikely that anyone would begin to subsist entirely on donuts and cakes if listening to and honoring their hunger. Your body is just too smart for that. Habituation is the theory that the more exposed we are to something, the less appeal it has. This applies to food. Eating donut after donut will soon result in donuts not looking super appetizing. (Perhaps you’ve already experienced this with various diet foods you’ve tried to eat regularly? Rice cakes really don’t look great when you eat them every time you want a snack, do they?) Your body will send you signals for something else with a different nutrition palette. But you and your body need to know first that donuts and cakes are not off-limits. Unconditional Permission to Eat creates a harmony with your body’s cravings and your responses to them, allowing your precious energy to be directed toward things you’re actually passionate about.

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