Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Making dietary changes and setting exercise goals in the name of health is often not the way to get where you really want to go.  It might even be holding you back. If you are truly concerned for your health, first, have you gone to a doctor or naturopath and had a full physical and blood work up? Is there something actually wrong with your health?

Ok - so let's say in this case that there is nothing wrong with your health, your blood markers are all in a standard range and yet you still want to have habits that will help prevent an illness or disease.  Or you want increased energy, or you don't want to have more than the occasional ache and pain and you want to feel happy and content and at ease in your life.  These are understandable desires.  How do you do that?

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One Chocolate Chip Cookie

One chocolate chip cookie.  Sitting in a bag on the counter.  How did no one eat that yet? It was homemade and everything.  This is something that a few years ago would never have happened, and I was struck by it's significance. I used to cook up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and I'd eat half the batter before the cookies even made it in the oven.  Nauseous and disgusted with myself I would then continue to eat the cookies until they were gone or I had to leave some for my family.  They were so delicious and the guilt from feeling like I shouldn't eat them only made me want to eat them more.

I stopped making cookies. I couldn't take the pressure and the guilt and the shame of how I ate them and I thought that making them was the problem.  I was clearly addicted to sugar and had no control over myself.

And then I started practicing Intuitive Eating.  There are many parts to this practice but one of them is making peace with food.  This means allowing yourself to eat what you want when you want it.  There is no trickery. It's not trying to get you to eat less.  (Although eating less of something  often happens as a natural byproduct of not restricting.)

To make peace with food, first, you must put weight on the back burner.  Not because you are going to gain weight, but because you will continue to restrict yourself if you still have weight as a focus.  "But I'll get fat or fatter", you might worry.  That is a genuine concern since our society puts an overemphasis on the thin ideal.  But stay with me here and lets walk through what could happen.

Let's say you eat the cookies and you eat as many as you want for as long as you want until you don't want anymore.  It may take a day, it may take 3 weeks.  Trust me, eventually you will no longer want to eat the entire batch in one sitting as long as you aren't trying to stop yourself in any number of subtle ways.  There is a phenomenon called "food habituation" that occurs when you eat one food over and over.  You won't actually want it as much anymore.

So by giving yourself the freedom to eat the cookies, you will stop feeling at the mercy of the cookies or __________. (insert your forbidden food here)

So what is the problem? Why wouldn't everyone give themselves full permission to eat? Oh yes, that dreaded fear of weight gain.  That is a doozy to dismantle isn't it? And when it comes down to it, the fear of weight gain is the main reason most people continue to restrict, abstain and live in fear of forbidden foods.  Or people worry that it's not good for their "health".  This often means they are concerned with their weight, but yes, some people will also restrict because they are concerned with certain health markers. This fear of forbidden foods is even why some people  think they are food addicts.  (For more on dispelling the food addiction myth - check out the awesome Love, Food podcast, episode number 70 with Julie Duffy Dillion and Marci Evans.)

So what sounds healthier to you? Bingeing on chocolate chip cookies whenever you make them and sending your body into a stress spiral and filling yourself with the negative emotions of guilt, shame and sadness? Feeling disgusted and out of control and depressed over........cookies? Or feeling joy at the experience of eating delicious chocolate chip cookies and enjoying every single one that you eat, no matter how many.  Not feeling stuffed and nauseous, feeling nourished and supported and loved.  Which experience would you rather have?

When you are afraid of food, you are in a state of constant stress and struggle. This is not good for your mind or your physical body.  Foods will always seem to be forbidden and tempting.  There will always be guilt and shame and perhaps eating more than you were really hungry for since you don't know when you will have certain foods again.  You will be unable to respond to your internal hunger and fullness cues.

The more you try to control your food, the more it controls you. 

Getting past the fear of food by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat  is the key to break the cycle of stress, guilt and shame.  What it comes down to is basic psychology.  People want what they are told they can't have. It's perfectly understandable. So give yourself full and unconditional permission to eat.  It's the only way out of the fear of food.  It's the only way to leave a chocolate chip cookie on the counter and not hear it calling your name.

I now make chocolate chip cookies again.  When I make cookies now, I eat some batter if I want it, or I don't.  There is no compulsion. I also sit down with a plate and a glass of milk and the warm cookies and enjoy the experience of eating each one.  I usually find I am full after a few and I save the rest for the family. I'm not trying to only eat a few, I am listening to my body and it tells me quite clearly when I've had my fill.  I know I can come back later or make them again tomorrow if I want more.  I have cleared myself of a major source of guilt, and despair and no longer have this Jekyll and Hyde feeling when it comes to food.

Do you have forbidden foods or foods you feel out of control around? For more help on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, you can read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, or check out their Intuitive Eating workbook. If you still find you need help putting the principle of unconditional permission to eat into practice, support from someone who has been there can be helpful too.  You can message me at elizabeth@elizabethehall.com if you want to schedule a session with me for more support.