Making Peace with Food
This week we are back with tenant number 3 (out of 10) of Intuitive Eating; make peace with food. Check out the previous two posts if you missed them on rejecting the diet mentality and honouring your hunger!
This tenant is all about waving the white flag on the war against food. No more labelling foods as “bad”, “off-limits”, or “cheat items”. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we know from a whole heck of a lot of anecdotal evidence that when we are told we can’t have something, that is exactly what we want the most all of a sudden!
No matter what the restriction or “off-limits” item is, more often than not, humans are driven to want that thing even more. This phenomenon is seen time and time again in chronic dieters, and it looks something like this:
A particular food is “off-limits” on a new diet you’re following.
All of a sudden, you start to crave that particular food more than you ever have before. You may feel preoccupied with thoughts of the food.
In an effort to be “good”, you try to ignore or suppress your cravings by turning to alternatives or diet-friendly items, which may then be consumed in excess.
Eventually you “give in” to having “just one” of the forbidden food items.
The eating experience is so heightened due to the item being “forbidden” that a binge or overeating is more likely to occur. The mindset of “I already blew it, might as well go all-in”, also knows as the “Last Supper” effect, kicks in.
Typically, feelings of overwhelming guilt follow, along with self-criticism for “failing” or being “bad”.
You commit to starting over the next day, and the cycle repeats itself.
Sound familiar? You are not alone! This cycle is characterized by something called “Deprivation Backlash” or “Rebound Eating”. In the same way a child is driven to touch something they were told they couldn’t, a dieter is driven to consume whatever item they are being deprived of. This not only is a biological drive to overcome starvation, which we talked about in the previous blog post, but is part of human nature. We cannot “hack” it.
The thing about this cycle is the deprivation and guilt are inextricably linked. They work hand in hand in an opposite or seesaw manner. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch refer to this as the “Seesaw Syndrome”. It looks like this: as one end of the seesaw goes up (i.e., deprivation) the other end goes down (i.e., guilt). So, as the deprivation on a diet rises and is in the elevated position on the seesaw, the guilt goes down. However, we know that deprivation can’t stay up forever, so the positions will eventually switch - meaning the guilt is the one that takes the elevated position while deprivation is at a low, which could look like a binge as illustrated in the scenario above.
So, how can we make peace with food and stop the diet cycle? It starts with giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat whatever foods our bodies are asking for. This looks like stripping off the detrimental labels we place on food and removing the dichotomies of "good" and "bad" that food gets sorted into. While this sounds like a radical idea to many, when we take this step towards food freedom, we are also erasing the underlying deprivation we place on ourselves with virtually every diet that exists. This means we are less likely to cycle through the diet mentality or take a ride on the guilt/deprivation seesaw.
What does food freedom or making peace with food look like? Here is an example:
Your thoughts are drifting to food or you get a craving for a particular food item that used to be an “off-limit” item.
You listen to your hunger cues/cravings and allow yourself to eat the foods your body is asking for in a mindful way.
You enjoy your food, without judgement, and stop eating when you feel satisfied.
You move on with your day feeling proud of yourself for listening to both your hunger and satiety cues, without suppressing your cravings.
Your day is not plagued with guilt or a preoccupation with food, so you are able to get more important things done and show up in the way you want for friends, family, and/or work.
You plan to continue living more freely, and this new cycle repeats itself.
How can we get here?
Breaking the diet cycle and taking the steps towards food freedom is certainly not an easy feat, but it most certainly is a possible one - and one of the most rewarding experiences I have personally ever been on! What I want to add is this: I 100% recognize and acknowledge my own privileges on this journey: white, thin, cis, able-bodied. I validate the fact that all these privileges have assisted me somehow in this journey. While my journey started through the lens of an eating disorder and a severely broken relationship with self and food, I still cannot fathom how difficult it would have been if I was not born with the privileges I was.
It is because I have seen the detrimental effects of dieting, not thinking we are good enough, labelling ourselves as "failures" for not following a new diet to a T, that I think navigating the process of making peace with food is so important. Sacrificing our mental health to achieve our "ideal body" is never worth it.
When we legalize all foods, we take away their power. Once the allure of “forbidden” foods is gone, our relationship with food can become more neutral and morally stable. This happens because when we know the food will be there and allowed, day after day, consuming it immediately and in excess does not become so important to us! This is how food loses its power over us, and how we can start to call a truce on the war against food.
What if I never stop eating?
Humans undergo processes of habituation to food, so while the initial allure of eating the forbidden foods all day every day may seem strong - it is unlikely to last long. As we start to gauge how we feel when we eat certain foods, and we eat the once-forbidden foods more mindfully, we start to crave more nutrient-dense items over time since they make us feel and function better in the long run!
That wraps up today's blog! If you have any questions, or would like more information on how you can start your food freedom journey, feel free to reach out to me via email at email@example.com!
Check out Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch's Intuitive Eating book for an in-depth dive into this concept and much, much more!
Resource: Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th edition. St. Martins Publishing Group.
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