Try to think of one thing you were deprived of in the past, and how it shapes your behavior now. Maybe you lacked attention from your parents when you were younger, so now you crave love and affection from others? Or maybe watching television was forbidden during your childhood, so you now view it as something extra special? The food restriction rules that we put on ourselves, that others put on us, or that come with most diets have a similar effect.
First, let's start with what food restriction is and what it can lead to. Food restriction involves not allowing yourself to have a particular food. This can lead to intense feelings of deprivation and severe cravings for that food, which can ultimately result in a loss of control and bingeing. This not only causes harm physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.
Let’s look at this scenario as an example: Lily believes potato chips are bad and will make her gain weight, so she cuts them out of her diet. In the beginning, she feels empowered and in control; however, she soon becomes preoccupied with thoughts of the chips. When she finally gives in to her persistent “forbidden” food cravings, she eats chips far past the point of physical fullness, and then feels guilty and ashamed of her lack of discipline.
In addition to the uncomfortable fullness, self-deprecating thoughts, and negative emotions that result from giving into food temptations like Lily did, chronically restricting yourself from the foods you desire can diminish your awareness of your internal hunger and fullness cues. You may start to detach from and dismiss your hunger cues, and instead allow food rules and other external factors to guide when, what, and how much you eat.
So, what can you do about this? As Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch explain in their book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, “the key to abolishing the pattern of restraint and subsequent overeating is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat.” This involves ditching the beliefs that foods are “good” or “bad,” eating what you want rather than what various fad diets tell you to eat, and eating without punishing yourself through restrictive behaviors or compulsive exercise.
Taking the next step in becoming an intuitive eater is making peace with food, which allows you to eat and enjoy ALL foods. Choosing to eat chips is as allowable and acceptable as choosing to eat an apple. By allowing yourself to eat previously forbidden foods, your body learns that it can enjoy that food at any time, and the intense cravings and inevitable binges stop happening.
There are 5 steps to Principle #3: Making Peace with Food, found in Intuitive Eating:
Make a list of foods that look or sound good to you.
Circle the foods you currently restrict and place a check by the foods you currently eat.
Allow yourself to eat one of the foods that you’ve been restricting. Go buy that food at the grocery store, or order it at a restaurant.
When you eat the forbidden food, ask yourself how the food tastes. Does it taste as good as you imagined it would? If so, continue purchasing or ordering that food.
Keep enough of that food in your home so you know it is available anytime you want it. Follow these steps with each restricted food on your list, until you are freed from all food restrictions.
Following this advice can be hard in the beginning, especially if you have been restricting certain foods for a while. Taking small steps is a great way to start creating changes that will make you feel better both physically and emotionally. Maybe that means you start allowing yourself to eat a piece of chocolate or two after lunch, or you order the side of fries instead of salad with your entrée at your favorite restaurant. We encourage you to aim for progress, not perfection, because no one is perfect!
Here at Restore Family Therapy, we have dietitians and therapists who specialize in Intuitive Eating and can help you take steps toward making peace with food and your body. If you are interested in learning more about the different treatment options that we provide, please reach out for a free consultation at restoreft.com.