This article is part of a series detailing the science-based approach to healthfully nourishing ourselves known as Intuitive Eating and the sensible approach to good health described by Health at Every Size.
Giving in to forbidden foods seems like the ultimate fail to a dieter. You have been so “good” by shunning (fill in the blank) cookies, cake, chocolate, potato chips, and so on. Then you blow it by eating the whole package.
Birth of the Binge
This outcome, the binge, should not be the surprise that it always is. When we elevate sweet and fatty foods to the level of “must never eat,” we are giving them a power over us that will inevitably end with a binge. It’s the completely human response to deprivation. When we make certain foods off limits, we are setting ourselves up for cravings and food obsessions.
To try to stay in control of their eating, dieters set up rules about what they can never eat. When they disobey the rules, there goes the restraint and the forbidden food becomes a binge. No wonder dieters think certain foods trigger binges. But it is not the food itself, it is the artificial food restrictions that will ensure a binge. These rules can only be followed with a mindset of complete dietary restraint and deprivation. This mindset can lead to “Last Supper” style bingeing, since after this last binge you will “never, ever eat this food again.” Dieting, by its very nature, sets you up for failure.
Making Peace with Food
Bingeing leads to guilt, which can lead to more binge eating. How can a dieter get off of this restraint/binge cycle? By making peace with food.
A peaceful relationship with food is a natural state of being. For Intuitive Eaters, all foods are viewed as potential nourishment. Some foods are chosen most often for their flavor, satisfaction, and nutritional benefits, while others are chosen for fun. None are banned. Making peace with food means that ice cream or chocolate will have as much power to sway your choices as fruit or salad.
Once you truly allow yourself to eat “forbidden” foods without judgment or guilt, you will find that they no longer hold their previous attraction and power over you. Habituation studies show that when you eat the same food, when you allow yourself to eat as much of it as you like, you will eventually get tired of it and want something different. It may take a matter of days or weeks, but when you really allow that it is totally OK for you to eat any food, you may find you no longer crave it, or that when you eat it slowly and mindfully, you don’t even really like it!
Tips for a Peaceful Relationship with the Foods You Eat
But to really believe and understand this, you have to go through the process yourself, bite by bite. These tips, adapted from the book Intuitive Eating, can get you started on a more peaceful relationship with the foods you eat. Be sure you are honoring your hunger. Waiting to eat until you are ravenous encourages you to overeat.
- Make a list of foods that are appealing to you.
- Circle the foods on this list that you have been restricting.
- Give yourself permission to eat one of your forbidden foods from your list. Buy it at the store or order it in a restaurant.
- Mindfully eat the food. Check in with yourself to see how the food really tastes to you. If you really like it, continue to give yourself permission to buy or order it.
- Make sure that you keep enough of the food at home so you know it is there when you want it. Alternatively, order the item you like from a restaurant as often as you like.
Attunement with your body’s cues of hunger and fullness is an important part of this process. After each few bites, ask yourself: Am I still hungry? Does it still taste good? By paying attention to these natural cues, you will learn to eat enough to be satisfied, without the discomfort and guilt that results from binge eating after dieting deprivation.
For More Information
Intuitive Eating www.intuitiveeating.com
Ellyn Satter Institute http://ellynsatterinstitute.org
Health At Every Size: www.haescommunity.org