Are you afraid to give yourself unconditional permission to eat? It’s not surprising if you are afraid. Many people are – which is why so many people restrict themselves. Some people restrict intentionally, and some people don’t even realize they are doing it. But everyone thinks that restriction is what they “should” be doing and they even beat themselves up if they aren't restricting enough.
Let's debunk some myths about what it means to give yourself unconditional permission to eat.
But if I give myself unconditional permission, I will eat too much. Ironically, it’s always the restriction that makes you eat more than feels comfortable and drives you to eat even more of foods that you consider “bad” for you. The deprivation sets up the binge. (For some people, you may also feel like you are an emotional eater –and you eat more than you are hungry for to handle stress and your emotions. The path to healing is the same – start with awareness and permission to eat emotionally and then go from there. Your coping mechanism is helping you and should not be demonized. More on this in future posts.)
There is something called habituation that happens when you eat what you want of something until you are satisfied. With habituation, you get used to a certain food and then don’t necessarily want it anymore. Yes, you might eat more of it initially – especially if you have been restricting – but if you allow the food unconditionally, then no matter what it is, the food will eventually lose it's magic and take its place as just another thing you can eat if you want to.
How long it takes for this to happen depends on how long you have been restricting yourself. Or how able you are to really let go and give yourself unconditional permission, both physically and emotionally.
But if I give myself unconditional permission, I will gain weight. If it’s not hard to pick and choose what you eat, and you barely give food a second thought, and you aren’t back lash bingeing, and you never have to white knuckle yourself through a craving– then you aren’t really restricting and you aren’t keeping your body at a certain size – you are probably right around your set point weight and this is what size your body wants to be and you are already eating foods that you find satisfying. So if you stop judging yourself for eating certain foods and give yourself unconditional permission to eat, you will be doing your mental health a huge favor and your weight is not likely to change all that much.
If you do restrict certain foods, and all you can think about is food, and you are hungry all the time, and you binge on occasion because this food is just calling your name, and you are not functioning optimally mentally or physically, well – your body may want to eat more food, and it may or may not want to be bigger. Biologically, it is fighting you because you are suppressing your natural appetite. This is not going to get any easier, it’s only going to get harder. The stress is also going to take a toll on your body and your mental health may suffer along with your physical health.
Or your body and mind may simply be craving the freedom to eat without guilt and it's the deprivation that is causing the hyper focus on food. Your weight may not change at all even if your eating does.
But if I give myself unconditional permission, I will only eat foods with no nutritional value. In this case, the disordered eating (i.e. the restriction) needs to be healed before gentle nutrition can be considered. If you try to incorporate gentle nutrition too soon, you are likely to keep yourself restricted.
Once all foods are allowed, and you are in tune with your body’s hunger and fullness and you are in tune with how your body feels when eating certain foods, your body will be your guide. Your body won’t want to eat all of one thing or another over and over again – whether that is kale or potato chips. I know it sounds crazy but our bodies are really incredibly smart and don’t need all the micromanaging that we do.
In addition, our bodies actually process foods better when we enjoy them and are not judging them and feeling guilty about them.
Once all foods are allowed, and we know how we feel when we eat certain foods, it will be ok to create goals for yourself or want to make changes in your eating based on how we feel. Sometimes we might be in a rut and not taking the time to feed ourselves well and it has nothing to do with permission to eat. It's ok to notice these things and want to shift. That is good self care as long as it doesn't come with rules and it isn't a plan to change what you eat so you can change your body - that will take you back to square one - diet land.
But if I give myself unconditional permission to eat, my blood sugars will go through the roof and I am a diabetic. The truth is, the practice of intuitive eating, with all of it's components, has been shown to stabilize blood sugars. It takes experimentation and practice, but it's still crucial to take the judgment and fear out of what you are eating. Restricting and bingeing is not doing your blood sugars any favors and can be more harmful. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and then being mindful of how you feel from a place of curiosity and compassion will help you find the balance between eating foods you enjoy and keeping your blood sugar in check. For more on this, please read this resource from Linda Bacon.
But if I give myself permission to eat, I might lose weight. Funny, you don't hear many people complaining about this. Thanks to our misconception that thinner is better. But it can happen. I hesitate to even point this out, however, because then people will assume that if they are not losing weight then they are not "doing Intuitive Eating" the right way and it can mess up the permission you are trying to give yourself. I am pointing it out though, because it's important to know that when you embark on intuitive eating, your weight might go up, go down or stay the same and therefore, it is imperative to put weight concerns on the back burner while you explore or else you will never break free from rules and judgment.
As always, I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that our culture is fucked up when it comes to weight and size and that people come in all different sizes and shapes and the reason so many people are miserable or struggling with food and body image is because they are trying so hard to keep their weight at a place that feels unnatural for their body.
If we all left ourselves alone from birth and practiced Intuitive Eating, and did not have weight stigma in our world, there would still be fat people and thin people but it would be no more of a concern than tall people and short people which is as it should be.
For now – consider whether you struggle to maintain your weight and consider whether you give yourself unconditional permission to eat. When you give yourself permission, your weight will settle where it wants to be and will stay in a certain range and you will no longer struggle. If maintaining your weight at a certain level is an uncomfortable daily struggle, then consider that your body wasn’t meant to be at that weight or that it's time to let go of the fears you have over the food you are eating.
There are also other steps to come in the process of Intuitive Eating that will help support you on the path to peace with food. Unconditional permission to eat is an extremely important first step, but it's not the only thing to consider. So if it feels scary, that is understandable, remember there are other tools that will come into play and remember too, there is no such thing as perfect eating. Somedays you will be over full and some days you might not feed yourself enough. Life is fluid and eating should be too.
Bottom line: you don’t have to be engaged in this constant tug of war. You can drop the rope and walk away and you will actually be happier and healthier in the end.
Do you have other fears about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat? Send me an email and let me know.