Principle 3 – Make Peace with Food
This principle reminds us that “all foods fit”. There are no “good” or “bad” foods, and we are not morally superior for choosing broccoli over cake. By the same token, you’re not a “bad person” for eating the REAL cheesecake over the dairy-free-coconut-cream-no-added-sugar version! Making peace with food requires us to give ourselves UNCONDITIONAL permission to eat. Yes… that means there are NO food rules. Now, if you are allergic, sensitive or intolerant to certain foods, this will mean that there may be foods which need to be avoided. But, what’s important to remember here is that even this is an act of eating intuitively. Listening to our body cues and responding accordingly is even more important in the instance of allergies and sensitivities, and this is exactly what Intuitive Eating is about. If you’re feeling significant resentment, stress and anxiety due to any restriction which may be required for medical reasons, this is the best time to engage the help of a qualified therapist or nutritionist who is trained in the psychology of eating.
Making peace with food is fundamental to becoming an intuitive eater because it allows us to really stop and listen to our BODY, as opposed to our judgemental mind. We are given the freedom to ask ourselves if we really like the food, want to continue eating the food, would/wouldn’t choose that food again etc… without the stigma we often attach to food or eating a certain way (think: “I can’t, it’ll make me fat”, “that’s only what unhealthy people eat”, “that food is poison”). This is really important from a physiological perspective because, as we explored back in Principle 1 (Reject the Diet Mentality), the more we diet and restrict, the more our body thinks we’re starving, and so goes to great lengths to retain weight. This is how the weight loss-gain cycle continues, which is extraordinarily detrimental to our health. This also means that we’re unable to truly honour our hunger, because we can’t tune in to our hunger/fullness cues. For more on hunger/fullness cues and the hunger/fullness scale, check out this Mindful Eating article here.
Psychologically, it’s necessary to avoid restriction and food rules because of the emotional and cognitive effects of dietary deprivation. This is a REAL phenomenon, with REAL research to back it up, and this research essentially says:
- Chronic dieters (which is most of us at some point in our lives) lose the ability for interoception (the skill of looking inward for cues and awareness).
- Periods of restriction and deprivation are followed by periods of intense bingeing, overeating, and then guilt. This is usually triggered by a life change, event, stressful experience etc… which makes it difficult (impossible) to stick to the food rules.
- Once a food rule is “broken” this triggers an “all or nothing” response, where ALL the food rules are then thrown out (and this ends in the dieting/non-dieting cycle we see so often).
- The more we tell ourselves we can’t have something, the more we want it and think about it. We become consumed by thoughts of how we can get it, and this leads to bingeing (eventually).
- When one food is restricted, it will normally be replaced by a whole range of other foods instead. So, rather than just eating the piece of chocolate cake at the party that they REALLY want, a dieter will eat 5 crackers, 6 olives, 2 pieces of cheese, 8 peanuts etc… etc…. all just to avoid the cake. This behaviour also serves as a way to gain some dietary satisfaction, when in actual fact the only thing that would satisfy them is the cake which they truly desire!
- The only way to avoid the restriction backlash (which involves bingeing and overeating on forbidden foods) is through exposure to that food. That means the food needs to be readily available. I can’t even begin to count the number of times clients tell me that they can’t have chocolate in the house because they’ll just eat it all. When you first give yourself permission to eat unconditionally, this may be followed by a period of bingeing on those forbidden foods (you have years, often decades of restriction to undo!!). But with time and neutral exposure to the food, it’s no longer a big deal. It’s just any other food which you know you can eat at any other time. It’s not a “cheeky treat” or even a “special food”… it’s just FOOD. You will come to recognise that you can eat it when you want, in whatever quantities you want, knowing that it will be there should you choose to have more later. This is the opposite to the deprivation effect, where we feel we have to eat HUGE amounts of the food when we can, because we don’t know if and when we can have more of it again.
I invite you to think of a few things when considering making peace with food:
- What are your food rules? What foods do you currently restrict/avoid, and most importantly, WHY? What are you afraid will happen if you eat them?
- How do you feel when you eat a forbidden food? What thoughts and feelings come up for you? Do you then engage in any compensatory behaviours? E.g. eat less of other foods, exercise more etc…
Once you have explored these questions, it’s time to determine if you are in fact ready to make peace with food. If you are, then a slow, supportive exposure period is the next step, and this is best done with the help of your nutritionist, coach or therapist. I am here to help – so don’t hesitate to get in touch if this something you would like support with on your journey.