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Intuitive Eating Principles Summarized - #3 Making Peace with Food

Welcome back for another post recapping the wonderful Intuitive Eating (IE) principles we’ve been working through. Today we will be taking a look at principle #3, “Make Peace with Food”. This principle is an important step, and *spoiler alert* will help build your case for the next principle of challenging the food police.

You may have seen on Instagram or heard in the non-diet world, the idea of unconditional permission. Part of making peace with food is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Yes, you read that correctly, unconditional. This is quite the opposite of a diet, which is dictated by external rules and conditional terms.

When we limit or restrict what we allow ourselves to eat, we will inherently experience the deprivation setup. Both biological deprivation and psychological deprivation can set off the same chain of events. Anytime you restrict something in life, it becomes all the more alluring. Think of if you were to place a “social media” or cell phone ban on yourself and only allow yourself to use your phone for certain amounts of time a day (or if this doesn’t apply to you specifically, maybe for your children if you’re a parent?), don’t you find you think about your phone and what you’re missing on it even more? The same goes for depriving oneself of food items. The moment a food becomes off-limits, it becomes more crave-worthy, which heightens with each and every diet or restriction of the food. As the deprivation deepens, which you may view as yourself “being good” and avoiding the food, the craving deepens too. Banishing a food and causing psychological deprivation can cause increased feelings of cravings, obsessions related to food, as well as compulsive behaviors.

When we think of food as “good” and “bad”, it becomes easy to think that any certain kind of food needs to be restricted or limited altogether. This triggers “last supper eating”, or the idea that this is the final time you will have this food before the next diet. It causes a tumultuous way of eating where you find yourself overeating in an attempt to get as much as you can before said food is banned. In fact, a common occurrence is for “last supper eating” to happen prior to meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Even if the RDN utilizes a non-diet, Intuitive Eating approach, like myself it can still seem like you’re walking into a trap and must consume all yummy things before meeting with the RDN. In reality, it is not an IE-equipped, non-diet RDN that you should be wary of; it is any and every diet. Every imminent diet increases the fear and feelings of deprivation. Then comes the following chaotic eating or overeating, loss of self-control, and ultimately a lack of trust in self and food choices.

If you remember being a child, playing on the playground, can you picture a seesaw for a moment? There is a syndrome called the seesaw syndrome, which explains deprivation versus guilt. During a diet, deprivation is at the top while guilt may be lower as you believe you’ve been “good” or “eating right” based on diet fueled food choices. Because guilt is at a low point you may begin to include more banished foods back into your eating patterns. This causes the seesaw of deprivation and guilt to be fairly equal. As guilt begins to increase with the allowance of eating “bad foods”, deprivation is basically non-existent because you’ve been allowing yourself to eat whatever you want. And just like with any seesaw, this up and down is going to be continued as long as you’re on it (AKA on a diet).

Is there way to get off the seesaw? Yes, with unconditional permission to eat. First, you must begin to do away with the preconceived idea of “good” and “bad” foods (foods do not have moral value!). You must allow yourself to eat whatever you really want. And do so without compulsory punishment or the thoughts of “this is OK now, but diet starts Monday!”.

Making peace with food will be a process, also known as the “food-freeing phase”. It is completely normal to experience fears or a lack of self-trust during this process. Common fears are that you will not be able to stop eating or will not eat healthfully. The idea though is that by making all foods allowed, the urgency to eat anything in large amounts will dissolve. When you are given unconditional permission to eat all foods, the body will maintain equilibrium by consuming mostly nutritious foods with “fun foods” mixed in. But the only way to see this for yourself is actually allow it, and have positive food experiences. It is also important to note that nutrition or eating for nutrition only cannot be the driving force behind food choices during your IE journey. You also cannot allow yourself pseudo-permission, where you physically eat the foods, but in your mind continue to think of it as “bad” or “not allowed”. This means your brain is still in diet mode.

See below a list of steps to make peace with food:

  1. Honor your hunger, if you are biologically hungry you will overeat or have chaotic eating experiences regardless.

  2. Start to think of foods that are truly appetizing to you - create a list!

  3. Go through the list and mark off what foods you already allow yourself to eat. Make another mark to denote foods you’ve been restricting.

  4. Start with unconditional permission to eat one food on your list - order it at a restaurant, buy it from a grocery store, vending machine, cafe, etc.

  5. Eat the food. Assess if it tastes as good as you thought it to be. If it does, great, continue to eat it. If not, well now you know!

  6. Continue to keep the food accessible (or if that seems a bit too daunting), order it at a restaurant so that your body will know it can have this food at any time.

  7. Proceed through the list until all foods have been eaten, evaluated, and liberated from the “restricted” portion of the list.

Lastly, please be mindful of thinking “I can eat whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I want”. It is still crucial to honor and respect your hunger. Eating whatever you want, in whatever quantity, at any time may not create a positive or satisfying eating experience - and would you consider that truly honoring yourself to cause physical discomfort or chaotic feelings?. As referenced in principle #2, you may want to utilize the Hunger Fullness Scale during this process as well to stay in touch with your body’s satiety signals.

Until next time :)

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